Part One: Three Lessons from Nonmonogamy to Empower the Unpartnered Monogamist

Part One: Three Lessons from Nonmonogamy to Empower the Unpartnered Monogamist

workshop-parallax"Always go as fast as the slowest person can handle" was one of my favorite gems of wisdom from Liat Wexler from the International Conference on the Future of Monogamy and Nonmonogamy in Berkeley. Wexler presented on the unique elements of domestic violence among non-monogamous communities, yet the wisdom coming from professionals, academics and community members devoted to designing the most growth-oriented, nurturing outlier relationship structures is applicable to all of us.

Through these articles I'm summarizing some of the teachings from the Future of Non-Monogamy and Monogamy, and I'm also including some applications both for people not yet in relationships as well as people ready to test the waters with deepening a newer relationship.

Unpartnered and newly partnered monogamists looking for love and partnership, take note!

Part 1: Clarify Your Rules, Guidelines and Principles; Use Them to Create a Vision.

Eric Fitzmerdrud, Ph.d presented The Importance of Commitments & Agreements in Non-monogamous Relationships. He brilliantly distinguished the difference between rules, commitments and agreements, which I'll outline below:

Rules 

Rules are clear and inflexible, which makes them both easy to follow and confining. Rules such as "No having sex with a new partner before I give you explicit permission to do so" are very clear and build in an opportunity for collaboration among a couple before sexual boundaries are crossed. But what about clothes on making out with an acquaintance repeatedly? Since this behavior is generally not seen as sex, it would still be permissible under this rule, yet would likely evoke jealousy and distrust from the partner who discovers this has been happening for months with a mutual acquaintance. This rule is addressing a behavior, but does not necessarily build in guidance for the well-being of the people following the rule.

Often new monogamous couples implement rules that were inherited from past relationships, peers, family or the media. Some common ones are:

  • No talking to your ex (So, I can still talk to my crush who I've known for years longer than I've known you.)
  • Dating apps must be closed (Exchanging contact info with new attractive people I meet at events is still ok)

Rule Agreements

Relationship agreements take care of our emotional needs.

Agreements require a shift to emotional orientation rather than goal-orientation. If the goal is to prevent your partner from having sexual penetration without your knowledge, rules are your jam! If your desire is more about developing and maintaining love and respect, agreements are your gateway. Agreements prompt questions such as:

  • Who is available for us to partner? Friends, strangers, travelers?
  • What will new relationships look like? Casual flings, friends, part of our family?

 

How this Helps Monogamists, and other Relationship Rockstars

Agreements make for great discussions in new relationships. Instead of making agreements about dating outside the relationship, emotionally focused questions for a new couple can be asked such as:

  • What kind of role do we want to play with each other's family and friends for now?
  • How do we want to show appreciation and voice concern so that we both feel safe and respected?

Let's revise some of the typical monogamous rules, and shift them into emotionally driven agreements:

  • No talking to your ex -->Don't intentionally connect with people you are still attracted to. If you do have these connections, find a respectful way to reduce contact with this person. If you end up being in repeated contact with someone you have had a sexual history with, you need to tell me and give me space to share my feelings.
  • Dating apps must be closed--> Don't intentionally look for new romantic or sexual attractions. If you suspect there might be a mutual or one way attraction with a new person, inform them that you are in an exclusive relationship and that your connection with them will be platonic. If this person shows up in your life repeatedly, tell me and give me an opportunity to share how this makes me feel.

 

Guideline Agreements

Guidelines are ideas about how needs can be met, but are not as narrowly described as agreements. Guidelines are more loose than rules; less descriptive than agreements

Example: I will only date people that don't appear to be members of our shared community, and if I discover that they do share acquaintances or friends with us, I will inform you as soon as I find out and we will decide how and if I will continue that relationship.

How this Helps Monogamists, and other Relationship Rockstars

When I worked for a matchmaker so often our clients would dismiss potential matches before meeting them because of age, race or height. More useful guidelines

  • I will not spend my time dating people who are not in a similar stage in life as me, nor will I spend my time dating  people who don't share my basic cultural values
  • I will check in with you before sharing sensitive information about our relationship with friends; in the event that we have a relationship threatening disagreement I reserve the right to share details of the conflict with only a small group of trusted friends who respect you (special thanks to Kimi Avary for guidance on this concept)

 

Principle Agreements

Principle Agreements are values-oriented statements that are intended to guide behavior and they focus more in the intentions behind the behavior.

Example: I will continue to honor and respect you and your needs even when I am in a relationship with other people.

Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship (my relationship is 16 going on 17 years old now) knows that even when partners have the best of intentions, we are not always satisfied with the outcome of their behavior. Often the explanation of the logistics about how we tried to be on time, remain respectful, or put effort into an important endeavor are not as effective as sincerely and frequently reminding our partner that our intention is to love and respect them.

How this Helps Monogamists, and other Relationship Rockstars

No matter the relationship stage, stating our intentions can help build trust and rapport with our partners, especially when one or both parties are prone to insecurity (hello, who isn't prone to insecurity in a new relationship?). Instead of being formal with a very new partner we can say:

  • I really intend to get to know you, although you should know that I typically work more than 55 hours per week
  • The reason I keep inviting you to group get togethers and not one on one dates is because my intention is to  integrate you into my community since I feel like this relationship has potential

Use agreements to forge a vision for whatever stage of partnership you are in.

 

The Vision 

Central to healthy Non-monogamy is discussion about why and how the relationship members are choosing this lifestyle. To co-create a joyous vision, some great questions to ask are:

  • What kinds of relationships do we want to foster?
  • How do we want to treat each other?

I hear so many unpartnered people list their rules or criteria about potential partners, such as height, professional achievement, willingness to participate in common activities, yet when I dig under the surface to learn more about what they desire in a partnership, their answers are vague allusions to happiness, companionship and family. More important than a list of rules or criteria for a potential partner is a vision for an enriching relationship. Some rules keep people safe such as "No physical violence", while others have no correlation with relationship quality such as "I won't date people shorter the me"

Often I hear monogamists describing their vision for a relationship with outward behavioral descriptions such as:

  • We will have children
  • We will have similar educational and professional goals
  • We will enjoy the same activities
  • We will or will not be connecting to our families of origin

 

While people have their own internal stories about what these behaviors mean, the emotionally undercurrents of these behaviors are quite diverse.

  • We will have children (We will spend some of our non-working time having companionship and/or a caretaker role for children in our circle of family friends;  we will spend our free time volunteering with children; we will prioritize the nurturing of our children above our personal pleasure; we will raise our children to be tough and competitive; let's talk about a Plan B for the tough, competitive parent who births a special needs child)
  • We will have similar educational and professional goals (we will both continue to strive for excellence in all areas of life, we will prioritize our individual careers above co-habitating as a couple which will allow for us to follow career advancement to different cities while staying in a partnership; we will continue to educate ourselves through reading, attending courses and bringing diverse people and experiences into our lives)
  • We will enjoy the same activities (we will prioritize time to do mutually enjoyable activities, we will expect companionship even when one of us becomes disinterested or physically unable to participate in activities we once enjoyed, we will not have one of us develop a time-consuming hobby that does not interest or include the other person)
  • We will show up for each other's family gatherings with an external appearance of enthusiasm and respect (We will discuss which aspects of our relationship get shared with our families of origin,  We will discuss how financial requests from our families are handled if we become financially interdependent,  We will discuss how to balance our authenticity with harmony in our families, we will agree whether or not to engage that racist uncle in a debate the one time a year we see him at Christmas)

 

If some of this wisdom resonates with your vision for beautiful relationships, stay in touch so that you can read the rest of this three part blog by signing up for my newsletter at www.loveleafcoaching.com

Happy Relating!

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