How your Relationship can Weather any Storm

It seems obvious that the days we argue, find ourselves on different pages, and miss each other’s signals are the most difficult days in my relationships.  I mean, duh, right? Nobody likes fighting or feeling like something is just off in their relationship.  It’s unpleasant, uncomfortable and it can feel downright scary when you don’t know how to get back to the good days.

I was blessed in that my parents never fought – well, certainly never in front of me.  If they disagreed or ever felt off-kilter I never saw it. I love this about my childhood and when I talk to people who tell a different story I feel really grateful for the harmony that always existed in my household.  While this blessing taught me a lot, there’s one thing it didn’t teach me: how to weather a storm.

I had an amazing example of what love looked like and what happiness meant but I never witnessed a relationship survive a fight.  I never knew how a marriage could navigate rocky times without sinking or even that a little friction here and there could be normal.

In the first three years or so of Ben and I’s relationship, maybe even longer, we never ever fought.  People who knew us as a couple wondered out loud how we could be so damn happy all the time. I appreciated the praise for our relationship success but I could never articulate how we had achieved it.  For me, it was just natural and normal. It looked like my parent’s relationship and like Ben’s parent’s relationship.  We never had to work at it.

The hard truth is that in those days it might have been easier to live this bliss because life really didn’t have too many serious stresses.  We were in high school and then at University.  We were only just beginning to taste adulthood and we knew then that life was sweet with minimal bills and a lot of time available to spend together.

As we’ve progressed into full-time jobs with more serious bills (ahem, student loans – the very ones that previously made finances so stress-free.) and a lot less leisure time to spend with each other or with anyone, for that matter, we’ve had to face a new and evolving set of challenges.  I think our relationship has faced a couple of unique sets of challenges, actually.

Building a life together brings one set of challenges.  From living together and maintaining the house together, lifestyle choices to mutual bills.  Building a life together has challenges and difficult conversations built in.

On top of that, we’ve had to grow up together. I’ve talked a little bit about this and probably will talk about it again from time to time. As romantic as it is being high school sweethearts if the relationships are really going to last forever there’s some work to be done to transform from teenagers who love each other into adults who function as a team, whose lives work together and who still love each other.

I think we’ve been lucky.  Even with the challenges we’ve faced we really haven’t had to weather too many storms.  That being said I wanted to take a second here on getting through the days we don’t like to talk about.

Finding ourselves lacking harmony some days was really scary because for so long we never felt that way and we didn’t see a lack of harmony in our households growing up so it started to feel like we must really be doing something wrong.  It wasn’t our normal so it felt like a battle neither of us was ready for.

The way we survive and the best advice I can give is simple: love first.

When the love of your life drives you crazy, disagrees with you, makes little mistakes over and over again or just seems to be lacking something you need from the relationship, take a deep breath and love first.

Someone somewhere in something or other I was watching about relationships once said couples have to fight while still being on the same team.  You can be upset with each other and you can ask each other to do better in the relationship but always be on the same team.

When you start to feel like you’re on separate teams in some sort of ultimate opposition everyone loses.

What does that look like?

Sometimes it means pausing the argument to ask yourselves what you want the result to be and finding out if maybe you just have different ways of trying to get to the same place.

This happens to Maggie and I sometimes.  We’re both strongly opinionated, highly organized, goal driven and a tad bit stubborn.  When we see someone else in the pod, particularily each other, veering off the path we really feel we should be on… or if someone asks us to change ours… get ready for a world of resistance and friction.

Then at some point someone asks what the freakin’ point is and we realize we both have the same answer.  We’re trying to force each other to the same destination we’re just trying to get there in different ways.  Realizing we were on the same team and had the same goals the whole time has solved basically any fight we’ve ever had in a matter of seconds.

Fun fact: Want to clear men out of a room? Start an argument with your girlfriend.  Never seen Ben or Tom make themselves dissapear faster than when their women are on the path to disagreement!

Sometimes it looks like creating a compromised vision of how you want it to end so that even though you weren’t fighting for the same thing to begin with you have created a new goal you can both work towards.

Sometimes it means going to bed and seeing how you feel in the morning.

Everyone says you shouldn’t go to bed angry. I sort of agree but I think more importantly you should never go to bed (or anywhere) letting your anger be bigger than your love.

I hate going to bed angry.  It’s a terrible feeling and I never get a good sleep.  But staying up all night depriving yourselves of any sleep at all is going to put ya’ll in a worse mood and move you further away from resolving your disagreement.

Ben and I have never slept in separate beds simply because we refused to sleep together. If we’re not sleeping with each other it’s because one of us isn’t home, because I am only sleeping for a few hours in between classes.  If we’re supposed to be in bed together, we are. Even when we’ve upset each other.

It’s part of putting love first and living the truth that we’re on the same team.  We don’t let frustration and disagreement divide us.

When it feels hopeless let yourself remember all the reasons you’re here.  How did you end up together? How did you end up living under one roof? How did you feel as you laid the bricks one by one and built this life together?  You made a decision – actually, you made a lot of decisions – to get here.

Staying here is a decision, too.  It’s a decision that makes sense with the hundreds and thousands of decisions you’ve made as a couple so far.  But ending it undoes all those other decisions.  Deciding to leave and turn away from love is a decision to remove all those bricks you laid and unbuild this life.

For me, it was worth building and on our worst days, it’s still worth fixing.

Lastly, when I read about peoples worst relationship days they talk about feeling like something is beyond saving.  Another piece of advice in my head that I know I got from somewhere but can’t remember where is that you can build something new.  Deciding that your relationship isn’t working the way it is doesn’t mean you need a new person.  Love is pretty limitless.  When you refocus on love you can assess what parts of the life you built aren’t functioning and focus on rebuilding those and doing better instead of swinging the wrecking ball and walking away.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes relationships end and there’s nothing wrong with deciding that what ya’ll really need is to part ways.  That being said, I believe in love and the way I see it love can weather a lot of storms when you are willing to repair what you’ve built when it gets damaged.

Carmen

Does Attraction to Someone Else mean Doom for your Relationship?

We set a lot of relationship boundaries based on policing our own and our partners’ attraction to others. Regardless of our relationship structure – polyamorous, monogamous, swingers – both in terms of limiting and encouraging it, we have rules about attraction outside the relationship.

It’s a difficult topic and I think the boundaries we ask our partners to agree to and how those conversations go tell us a lot about ourselves and what attraction means to us.

The reason I say it’s difficult is that I believe attraction is a natural feeling that we can’t really promise we will or won’t feel for someone other than our partner.  For me, the more important discussion is how attraction should be handled when you’re in a relationship.  I don’t believe we can ask our partners to deny ever feeling attracted to another person but we can set up rules, guidelines, and boundaries for what to do with those feelings.

From the beginning of my relationship with Ben onward the rule, I suppose, was to just ignore any attraction we felt for others.  Come to think of it, it really wasn’t a big discussion. In trying to think of what the rules and boundaries were in order to guide how I write this I realize they were implied more than spoken.  Perhaps the key was that we never denied the possibility of attraction to another person.  We accepted attraction itself as a normal part of the human experience and, if it ever came to it, emphasized our trust in each others loyalty and commitment.

The rule was that we were exclusive. Period.  Whatever feelings you might feel were normal and we weren’t policing each other.  Instead, we were placing importance on actions and trusting each other to maintain those boundaries.

The attraction was normalized at a very casual level like commenting on the attractiveness of tv or movie characters. It wasn’t a secret endeavor when I went to watch “Magic Mike” in theatres, and of course, it couldn’t be a secret what the selling point of the movie was. Even less so when I went off to watch “Magic Mike: XXL”. Ben never got upset or offended that I’d be interested in these movies.

Likewise, as we came to the time when friends were getting married and bachelor parties are happening I always supported the idea that one party or another may see him and friends going to a strip club or at least a Hooters where the selling point of the trip is no more a secret than the point of a movie called “Magic Mike”.

Was it unreasonable to expect, when we were so open about attraction in an abstract way, that it could also apply closer to home with the people we see on a regular basis?

Actually at about this point in writing this piece curiosity got the better of me and I messaged Ben (because we’re the kind of people that text when we’re in the same house) to ask if he had random crushes or felt attracted to anyone when we were supposed to be entirely consumed with loving each other in the tradition of monogamy.  He admits that there were people he found attractive and, being a man, he wouldn’t call it a crush but none the less.

I realize that feeling anything crush like when you’re in a relationship with someone is this big taboo. We’re supposed to deny that we can be so in love with one person and also kind of hoping some other person thinks we’re cute.  But it’s our nature and there’s nothing really wrong with it.

The trick is knowing what you can or should do with those feelings. For us the answer was to do nothing. Random attractions or crushes always faded but our love never has. Clearly, our love for and commitment too each other wasn’t damaged by knowing there were other attractive people out there.

It wasn’t until the spark between Maggie and I became more than a passing crush that Ben and I had to discuss what taking action might look like instead of quietly ignoring and moving on from a feeling of attraction.

Even in that moment, in those conversations, one truth guided us: Feeling attracted to someone else didn’t really mean anything about the feelings we had for each other.  Admitting that I had feelings for Maggie and an interest in pursuing those feelings never turned in to a statement about my relationship with Ben.

This is the common confusion I think people have for what multiple relationships mean.  People often imagine that developing feelings for and pursuing a relationship with someone outside of your existing relationship means that you’re choosing something instead of that relationship.  There’s a lot of implications that come with it – if my partner wants another relationship have I left them unsatisfied? What are they seeking that I don’t provide? Have I failed them in some way?

These are normal questions but they also reveal a fatal flaw in our thinking about relationships.  They reveal that we expect ourselves to be everything to our partners (and probably expect them to be everything to us in return).  Even with amazing compatibility, this expectation might be a bit much.

Most couples find whatever it is they don’t get in their relationship, whatever it is their partner doesn’t provide, in hobbies and friendships.  Hobbies allow them to connect with others that have similar interests. Their friends can provide different support than their partner. These things alleviate the pressure for our spouses to be all things at all times for us.

Not only that but they alleviate the pressure without anyone having a conversation about it.  You just kind of go off to your hobby or with your friends and don’t identify that what makes them different than your spouse is something you need and that without them there providing it you’d have to seek it.  We kind of act like everything in our lives could be stripped away and if we just had our spouse on a desert island we’d never want anything more.

However, in polyamory we accept the idea that there can be romance just as there can be other satisfying elements to the connections we build beyond our relationship and one romance doesn’t inherently harm or detract from another any more than multiple hobbies or close friends do.

Polyamory has allowed me to explore an interest in cars that Ben doesn’t share, allowed me to build a different network of friends and attend different types of events with Maggie.  It’s given me a lot more dimension and depth to my life without any of my partners being forced to feel inadequate or think of themselves as a failure because they, too, are able to become more whole and explore different sides of what they need outside of the relationship they have with me.

Now I said earlier most people find needs their spouse doesn’t meet by engaging with hobbies, work, friends, and whatnot.  There’s nothing wrong with this at all! We don’t need polyamory but we do need to acknowledge that attraction to someone else or desires outside our monogamous relationships are normal.

 

What Commitment means when you’re Polyamorous

With Valentine’s day around the corner I wanted to put something out there:

Polyamory is the belief that we can love more than one person. There’s no reason why the love you give to multiple people has to be any different than the fairy tale love we’re familiar with.  Polyamorous romances can be just as intense, long-lasting and committed as monogamous ones.

The thing is that when I fell in love with my husband there was a script for what to do with our feelings as a young, monogamous couple. We could easily google, for example, what we legally needed to do to become wed. We could find out about the process of applying for a marriage license, where to send it, what documents we would need to complete this process.

 

Ben and I

My Husband, Ben, and I

We could also find endless resources for how to plan a wedding. We could get ideas on how to make our wedding come together from tv shows, pinterest, magazines, friends or family and everywhere in between.

 

It’s a little different when you’re polyamorous and fall in love.

There aren’t tv shows about planning a poly wedding.  And because in Canada where we live you can’t legally marry more than one person it’s much harder to just google what the process might look like.

That’s kind of scary, for about half a second, and then it’s totally freeing.  There isn’t a script – we get to write it!

So here are a few thoughts on commitment when you’re in polyamorous relationships!

 

Living Outside the Closet

I have a great respect for people who keep some aspect of themselves and their love lives “in the closet”. Whether it’s polyamory, a matter of sexuality, or gender identity – it isn’t easy. We kept our polyamorous relationships secret for the first couple months while we all developed our own understanding of what was happening. We didn’t want to tell people what was happening before we had all the answers. At first, we didn’t even know what to call each other, much less if this was going to last. Until we knew those things, we worked on our relationships strictly in private.

It was hard. Given that we’re all reasonably privileged and had never had to hide a

Maggie and I

My girlfriend, Maggie, and I

relationship before it was frustrating and a constant, irritating limitation to check ourselves – not reaching for each other’ss hands or kissing in public.

 

That made the decision to come out easy for us. Make no mistake though, not all of the responses we got were easy to handle. We have a strong appreciation for why some people never come out.

But we’re glad we have and it makes thinking about living together, and staying committed easier to be excited about since we won’t have to hide the true nature of our relationships.

Where Do We Live?

Of course Ben and I had a perfectly happy little home, as did Maggie and Tom, before we all started dating. As the feelings grew stronger we had to start seriously asking ourselves where this could go. When we started dating our spouses that script was there to support us: if it’s going well, make it facebook official. When you don’t want to sleep without them anymore move in, and so on.

 

Tom and I

My boyfriend, Tom, and I

What about us now? Do poly people follow that at all?

 

The answer is – sure, if they want to!

And we do, so we are. Ben and I are moving into Maggie and Tom’s house. We have all acknowledged that this isn’t really for practical reasons – we were all perfectly able to run our own households. But we wanted the time together. We spend more time than we care to admit driving back and forth. Our current houses are about a half hour apart so it’s kind of a pain to always be commuting here and there.

When we sat down and thought out what we all value in our households, the presence of the people we love was number one. More broadly, our priorities and goals about how we believe a household should be run were compatible so the move makes sense for us and is underway.

 

To Ceremony or Not To Ceremony

Maybe we won’t do anything. Maybe we’ll just make our home and keep living our lives, happily ever after.  Then again, just because we can’t legally marry our new partners doesn’t mean that we can’t have a wedding. After all the legal part of getting married is a 30 second moment after the ceremony when we actually signed the paperwork.  It’s still a wedding without that moment.

As far as the ceremony goes… we get to make it up!  We can say vows that make sense to us, involve a wedding party or not, invite whoever we want… there aren’t a whole ton of rules for how this is done!

Just think – when I married my husband there were magazines and a tradition full of must’s and mustn’ts that I needed to follow in order to participate in the tradition.  Now though, commitment means designing something that reflects only us and nothing else.

Kids

At this point, children are probably the most popular thing for people to ask us about. Each of us being a couple years into our marriage, and between us having good jobs and stable relationships people were starting to ask us as married couples when we would have kids even before we got together.

The reality is that any thoughts of having kids have been shifted back a few years. We all really value forming tangible commitments before bringing children into the picture.  Give us time to live together and continue building our lives to match the new family structure before expecting us to add to the family!

That being said, people’s main concern seems to be who will parent the children. The short answer is: it’s not their business.

We all love each other. I don’t know who will create children with who, but I know those children will have 4 parents to love them unconditionally. And I expect that to be enough knowledge for the others who love our children.

 

All in all the most complicated part of being committed and polyamorous is figuring out how holidays like Valentine’s day work! We get to write our own script and I love that about the direction our lives are going.

Comment your questions and thoughts!

Carmen