Four years ago, I wrote about my first experiences with open relationships“I felt as if I had suddenly slipped into a relationship that no one had prepared me for and few people ever talked about.”  Two years later, I answered the most common question I get (“Don’t you want a committed relationship?”). It’s about time for my two-year update on what polyamory and open relationships have taught me. (TLDR: the only thing we have is trust and the only thing we do is [over] communicate.)

You be you

(Song: You+Me)

  • I’m a strong believer that one must be independent (singular) before being inter-dependent (two or more) before being intra-dependent (groupings of two or more).
  • The most beautiful and calming thing a partner has expressed to me is acceptance for me being me. “I’ve no illusion of who you are” and “You be you” are some of the kindest gifts a partner can give me — the free-swim space to run and be me so I can recharge and participate as a better partner for them.
  • The basic primer book on polyamory, the Ethical Slut, is repetitive in highlighting the many ways individuals can have open relationships. The myriad ways listed in the book does not even include the mesh of possible paths that we end up implementing in our lives. Whenever I’ve doubted if I’m doing it “right” or expressing “good poly” I’m reminded to accept what works for me as what’s “right”.

Own your emotions

(Song: Feeling Good)

  • Things happen in the world around you; they don’t happen to you. It’s important to remember that actions, emotions, and our reactions to those emotions are discrete and separate events. Sometimes we group them all together in the fight-flight automatic response. With practice we can understand that I may have an emotional response to something that happens around me but that thing is not forcing/causing my emotional response. More importantly, my reaction to my emotional response is fully under my control.
  • Now that we understand our feelings and tendency-responses, we need to communicate them to our partners. Sharing our feelings with others is always preferred to asking if the other person is feeling a specific way.
  • Constructive conflict and non-violent communication (NVC) teaches us to use “I” statements over “you” statements. Imagine saying, “I feel uncomfortable” vs “Why are you being a certain way?” To lean more about this, find an Authentic Relating and Circling event local to you.

Ask for what you want and set boundaries

(Song: What You Want)

  • Brene Brown talks extensively about (1) asking for what you want and (2) setting boundaries (video). You cannot do one without the other, but knowing what you want, asking for it, and setting boundaries can leave you fulfilled.
  • People are doing the best they can. Once you accept this, the world of relationships simplifies. It’s not to say that people can’t do better, but at this moment they are living life the best way they can.
    • If you believe this, you get better at asking for what you want and setting boundaries.
    • If you do not believe this, you end up complaining about others and are hard on yourself.
  • Is it a request or a demand? If it’s a request and not met then you’re ok with it, otherwise it was a demand. For example, “I’d like to know if you plan to spend the night with a new partner before it happens.” This could be a request. Alternatively, “I require evidence of STD test results before having sex with someone.” This is more a demand or hard limit.

There is nothing to compare

(Song: Nothing compares to you)

  • There are so many ways to compare yourself to others: sexually, actively, body type, money, spontaneous vs sedentary, old vs young, and the list goes on. The more similar someone is to you the easier it is to compare yourself. This is a path to unhappiness.
  • Your partner likes you for the specialness that is you! They like other people for their unique parts. Remember that, don’t compare, and you’ll all enjoy your relationships more.

Don’t make fear-based decisions

(Word: Alazia)

  • Jealousy, envy, and fear are the brings of breakups. Communicate your feelings using the NVC techniques (image): state observations, share feelings, express needs, make requests.
  • Actions taken out of fear show you running away from something rather than towards a desired goal. In the end, these decisions often manifest the fear and create a self-perpetuating prophecy. Imagine the person who says, “I don’t want someone who is negative” vs “I want someone who is positive.” What you focus on has a sneaky way of finding you, be it positivity or negativity.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

(Word: Socha)

  • Focus on what is real, not what is not real. We may imagine the intentions, actions, and emotions of another but until we communicate our own, neither we nor they really know, we only imagine.
  • Start small. Share often. Facing our fears, shame, and vulnerability is only possible when we bring light to them.
  • Trust is all we have. Be open to pain as well as joy and trust without hesitation. Though when the trust is broken, remind yourself that setting boundaries is one of the most powerful tools you have. If your trust is broken, keep it compartmentalized to that person or situation; do not let it set a rule and prevent you from trusting again.