Love in Abundance
- Kathy Labriola
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two specific communication issues are specific to open relationships: first, problems regarding disclosure about other relationships; and second, lack of clarity about the goal of your communication.
For instance, you may think it is fine to consent to your partner’s request to have a date with a new person and pursue sex and romance with this new lover. However, when said partner actually does so, you may become distraught. It may take awhile to pinpoint what is distressing about this situation and what you need from your partner to feel safe and loved. It may be that this particular person triggers jealousy for some reason, or this may be a bad time for you because of other stresses in life, or you may be going through a lot of conflict in your relationship already and the relationship can’t handle the additional stress of this new partner at this moment. As soon as you are able to discern what you want, directly but gently express these feelings to your partner, acknowledging that you did actually consent to this, but that you have found that you need a change in the agreement since this is creating more pain than you can tolerate right now.
In open relationships there is a very strong temptation to lie about some parts of outside relationships, because we have never had any training in how to talk with a partner about another concurrent relationship: doing so seems so counter-intuitive that our default programming is to lie.
Most often, if someone asks a lot of questions and demands a lot of detailed information, what they really want to know is this: “Is this other relationship a threat to the stability or survival of my relationship? Am I in danger of being displaced or replaced by this other person?” Usually, if you can answer that question honestly and reassure your partner that they are safe and loved, their need for constant updates is likely to subside.
It is often difficult to know which pieces of information will be helpful and which will exacerbate jealousy and anxieties. Most people learn by trial and error what level of disclosure and what kind of information they really want, and which will only cause pain. As one woman said to her husband, “If your new girlfriend gives better blowjobs than I do, I’m happy for you, but please don’t tell me about it, because it will only make me feel insecure. And if she’s a brilliant genius with an IQ off the charts, please keep that to yourself, too, because it will only make me feel inadequate.”
if you can clarify whether you want to express your feelings, be comforted, create intimacy, or if you are asking for some specific action or change, many arguments and hurt feelings can be avoided.
I advise clients to treat jealousy as a given: assume that it will occur, and be prepared with strategies to successfully address it and minimize the distress.
To get to the core of your jealousy, think back to what attracted you to your partner in the first place. What is the most valuable thing you receive from this relationship that caused you to fall in love with your partner?
Like a smoke alarm that may go off when you only burned the toast, jealousy may sometimes be an overreaction. When the smoke alarm goes off, it makes you pay attention. Once you’re sure the problem is only burned toast and the house is not on fire, you can relax and forget about it. However, if the house is on fire, or your relationship is in danger, you can take whatever steps are needed to strengthen your relationship and fix whatever is causing the problem.
Ask your partner if they are willing to listen to your feelings about what happened. This step is important, as they may be feeling too wounded right now to hear how you experienced this, and you may have to agree to talk about your feelings later when they are feeling more resourceful and emotionally resilient.
Usually the first several months of exploring this new relationship style is the most difficult.
It is clear, in my experience, that people with a BDSM orientation tend to be more successful at establishing and sustaining polyamorous relationships than vanilla or non-kinky people.
(As in any poly relationship, what starts off casual and friendly can rapidly escalate to falling in love.)