Love is Accepting your Partner, flaws and all

They say attitude is everything and from school, to business, to relationships “they” might be on to something.

When I read about other polyamorous relationships and the ideas behind polyamory a lot of the time the biggest lesson is accepting everything about your partner without wishing they would change.

I have been lucky to always be in relationship where I felt accepted and have been reassured about the acceptance if ever it seemed to be in question. Today I want to share a few ideas about what this kind of acceptance looks like.

Forgiving Our Partners their Flaws

Everyone is flawed, in some way. We’re only human, after all. We have a natural urge to help and fix. We imagine that we can make our partner happy by making them be more perfect in our eyes. In reality we cause a lot of stress, doubt and damage this way.

Instead, remember that your partner is human and if you chose them their flaws can’t be so serious or worth picking a fight over.

Seeing and Accepting our own Flaws

A lot of the time the “flaws” we see in others are extensions of our own insecurities. We start to nit-pick and get frustrated when we want our partners to somehow puzzle piece in to our lives in a way that corrects everything we wish we could change about ourselves.

When we practice acknowledging and forgiving ourselves for the things we don’t favour in ourselves it becomes easier to do this for other people.

Don’t take it Personally 

It’s hard to believe, maybe, that not every thought in your partners head is related to you. This comes up with the idea of attraction to someone else, for example.

Thinking someone else is attractive can be just that. Your partner sees another human and thinks they’re attractive. It’s just a reaction to that person. It’s not a statement about you, your attractiveness or your participation in the relationship.

I struggle – as many of us do -with always wondering if every action or thought is somehow related to me and if I’m being a good enough partner. Hint: Nope. It’s not all related to me and that’s okay.

You’re probably tired of hearing this but it all comes down to
communication

Very few parts of a relationship happen in total isolation or silence. If there’s something you’re working on – like being more accepting or embracing different parts of yourself and your partner – talk about it!

A lot of confusion and misunderstanding is avoided by just mentioning the things you’re thi8nking about and working on, even if you’re not asking anything of your partner.

Polyamory: You have to have Humour

People tell us all the time they just couldn’t do what we do because they’d be jealous. We definitely understand that! Don’t think we never feel a little green. The secret is we handle it differently (or try to handle it differently) than we would if we were monogamous.

My best advice: Try replacing jealousy with humour. As long as you trust your partner or partners and know, all emotions aside, that you trust them completely you can start to break down jealousy and embrace other reactions.

I emphasize trust here because ultimately I believe it is the cure to jealousy. Jealousy usually emerges with thoughts about someone breaking the relationship rules or putting some other aspect of their life over you. It happens when we think either we have been wronged (broken rules and boundaries) or we’ve been denied something we deserve (like priority or time, etc).

If you don’t trust your partner, if you truly believe they would break that boundary or that they would make choices that hurt you knowingly, it will be impossible to turn off that feeling of jealousy and mistrust.

If you do trust your partner, though, if when it comes down to it you don’t really believe they could do those things then it becomes possible to answer jealousy and replace it with other emotions.

My recommendation? Humour.

Particularly with polyamory or any open relationship structure you’re going to find yourself in situations you never imagined. You’ll have conversations about the moments you share with other partners, and if you habitate you may even walk in on those moments. It’s the reality of making the relationship choices we have.

Living this lifestyle is going to be a lot more challenging in the long term if each time these unexpected situations occur you react with anger and jealousy.

Instead, laugh at it, a little. Laugh with each other about the surprise of it all and support each other through the unexpected encounters.

Remember that you define your relationship boundaries and part of deciding to involve more people in your life should be a mutual mental preparation for all the consequences of overlapping relationships.

On a final note – don’t feel like you have to deny the existence of jealousy. It’s a totally normal, human emotion and it should be acknowledged. However, when you feel jealous you have some choices about what to do with that jealousy. I recommend humour instead of anger so that the role of jealousy can be reduced and you can prevent it from defining your relationships and the relationships of those around you.

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

Polyamory and Commitment

People sometimes ask us about how commitment fits with being polyamorous. The question can be framed in several ways. We get asked why we got married in the first place, or if we really value our marriages and how we could value our marriages but still want to date other people. We also get asked how we could commit to our partners when we’re already committed to someone else.

All of the answers go back to one truth that is central in our choices and our relationships: How these things fit together really depends on how you think about them and the role you want these things to play in your life as a whole.

Of course, if you think of romantic commitment and monogamy as being the same thing, then it doesn’t fit with polyamory. There are lots of people out there who choose to have open relationships or engage in non-monogamy of some form but still see their long-term lifestyle revolving around one, monogamous partner.  There’s nothing wrong with commitment meaning monogamy for you but that doesn’t mean that the definition or boundary carries over for other people

For us, making a commitment of any kind is simply a personal decision where you decide to incorporate something into your long-term vision of your life.  We all do this with jobs, choosing where to live, lifestyle choices like going to the gym or doing yoga, having kids, etc. We are designing our forever. We are deciding what our goals are for 1 year, 5 years and 10 years from now. We are using our current situation and experience to understand what we want from the future. I think we all have a few “never agains” and a few “forevers”.

Therefore, in our lives, it’s okay to decide that a partner who isn’t our spouse is still part of our forever.  We’re looking at our lives right now, our experience of the past year or so, and our experience prior to dating each other and we’re realizing when we imagine our future, we see each other in it.

Sometimes I get the sense that people worry for us and feel we’re taking this big risk.  They fear we’ll get our hearts broken and as people who love us, they don’t want to see us experience any kind of pain, least of all heartbreak.  I love and respect that the people in our lives care for us this way and would do anything to protect us from pain.  Still, I don’t think we’re taking risks that are truly above and beyond the unavoidable risks of love.

Honestly, from day one I have known that it would hurt if I lost Ben. I have loved that man through a lot of ups and downs. We’ve done a lot of growing up together.  If my marriage ended, it would be an unimaginable loss for me. The thing is, marriages do end. When I married him we put ourselves at risk of becoming bitter divorcees.  Falling in love and furthermore, basing your life around that love by moving in together and facing the world together, is a leap of faith.

It’s the same leap of faith whether you do it once, twice or more.  And it’s still the same leap if you make it with one person at a time or three.

I believe love is worth it. Ultimately, I am okay with taking the risk because I believe in love.

Alright, so I’m cheesy. That’s not new!

Maybe that helps clear up some of the misconceptions about the ability to be committed to more than one person. We generally all have more than one person we see in our lives forever. Best friends who talk about our lives, our dreams, and goals with. Best friends who we hope will have kids the same age as ours so they can grow up together, too. In my life, it just happens to be that I’m dating more than one of my forever people.

But there’s another misconception at play, too. Many people who are aware of polyamory or at least various threads of non-monogamy have the idea that while polyamorous relationships might have many goals, commitment isn’t one of them. As polyamory becomes more widely discussed in the media and more widely known, a list of potential relationship goals such as romantic and emotional fulfillment, support of different interests, and meeting different relationship needs is also known. Maybe you have one partner who is more reserved and supports your undying love of watching movies and talking about philosophy while another partner loves to party and supports your need to experience new things and travel.  However, most people don’t imagine polyamorous relationships as committed.

In fact, many of them are!

For us, being polyamorous is a belief about our infinite ability to love and choosing a committed lifestyle is a relationship preference. We could believe in infinite love but not want this “settled down” lifestyle. We could also want this settled down lifestyle without wanting polyamory or even want an “unsettled” lifestyle but with only one partner at a time – none of them gaining our commitment.

You see? Loving one or loving many and loving short-term or long-term are two different preferences. It just so happens, for us, we prefer to have multiple partners who are committed to a long-term life.

“Date Night” in the Polyamorous Life

There’s many conventions of dating that can change or shift when in a polyamorous relationship.  Deciding to engage in a polyamorous relationship hasn’t taken away our favourite conventions from our days of monogamy but it has affected exactly what those conventions look like. For example, date night.

Of course not every night you’re with a loved one is inherently a date. Especially as a relationship goes on, you move in together, you must handle day to day tasks and not all your time together is spent focused on how much you adore each other.  That’s what makes date nights so special, right? Ben and I have always tried to plan date nights where we can focus on each other and maybe take time to get outside our routine to try something new or do something just for fun. This was part of Maggie and Tom’s marriage, too, so it’s no surprise that we all still love a good date night.

But what exactly does date night mean for us now?

Just the Two of Us

Well – any two of us, really.  I have date nights with Ben, date nights with Maggie and date nights with Tom.  What we do with the time depends on who I’m with and what we need in that moment.

Having multiple relationships pushes each of us to be cognizant of the time, effort and energy that we give each other.  If we weren’t conscious of our actions and efforts it might be easy to become very romantic with one partner while becoming very pragmatic with another.

For example, Maggie and I are both planners. We like organization, timelines, details and knowing exactly how our days and weeks should unfold.  Both Ben and Tom are used to these qualities and leave a lot of planning to us.  This means that in our time together it’s easy for us to get preoccupied with planning.  We check in with each other about upcoming events, meal plans, who needs to be where when…. before we know it dinner is over and we might be super satisfied with the plans we made but we didn’t really take time for ourselves.

Planning a date night is a signal to ourselves as much as it’s a signal to everyone else: This is relationship building time. The practical stuff can wait. Right now, it’s about nurturing our love for each other.

In all three of my relationships I look foreword to our date time and the chance to nurture these unique relationships.

Have Fun you Two!

We often plan date nights according to events we’re interested in. Concerts, plays, and festivals all make great venues for a date.  We also plan according to important dates like anniversaries.  This can mean that a date night for one couple isn’t necessarily a date  night for another.

For example, if Ben and Maggie go to a beer festival that doesn’t automatically mean Tom and I will hunt for date plans.  We’ll more than likely be enjoying the time to ourselves but in a less formalized way.  We might catch up on some t.v, sneak out for icecream and maybe get some derby cars built.

I’ve written before about the effect of “compersion” – the opposite of jealousy. This can really  be felt on a date night where two of us staying home are perfectly content and happy for our partners who are off to enjoy some well deserved time together.

I guess it’s also convenient too as we can choose to invite partners to events that interest them and not force partners that aren’t interested. Maggie and I can catch all the “girly” movies together, call it a date when we get our nails done, and plan shopping trips to spend time together.  Meanwhile Ben can take Maggie to all the beer festivals which they both enjoy and neither Tom or I have interest in.  Tom and I this summer have gone to watch a lot of the derbys he hasn’t participated in while Maggie and Tom have always liked a good dinner and movie date.

Ultimately having multiple partners has meant having more opportunity to connect over common interests and not force date nights in venues only one partner is really interested.

Three’s a Crowd and Four is…?

Not surprisingly there are things that get all 4 of us interested.  Sometime’s it’s a new Marvel movie or a big concert like Trackside Country Music festival in London, Ontario. On these occasions we go as a family.  I guess the idea of being out somewhere and seeing your partner with other partners is very strange to some but it’s become our daily norm.

It’s really nice to get out sometimes and bond as a family.  However unique our individual relationships with each other we’ve ultimately moved in together and committed to living our day to day lives together. It’s nice when our common interests bring us together.

We’ve had our Weird moments, and Gotten Over It

I guess in conclusion the biggest thing people struggle with is thinking of all the potential for awkward moments and weirdness.  Like is it weird knowing that your spouse is on a date? Is it awkward saying bye to them as they leave, or greeting them when they come home? Do we flip coins for who’s with who for what?

Yeah, we went through that phase too. We spent time staring at each other trying to figure out how to ask for a date night or suggest a date for an event or something.  We wondered what the proper protocols might be for coming and going and how to interact with each other in all kinds of new situations.

Then, all of a sudden we woke up one day and didn’t wonder anymore. We loved each other, we trusted and were happy together, there was nothing to be weird about.

Emotional Responsibility in Polyamory

Sharing emotional responsibility was easy in a monogamous marriage.  I could ask my husband to take some of the burdens if I was feeling less than peachy, and I could do the same for him.  It felt like a normal part of a partnership and truly, there was nothing wrong with it.

But in polyamory that just doesn’t work.  With three partners to balance I can’t expect them to take on my emotional baggage or take on all of theirs myself.

It’s not such a bad thing.  In one-on-one romantic relationships as well as friendships its normal to exchange emotional responsibility.  We always want to lighten the emotional load for those we love (as partners and friends), and we truly do appreciate how they do the same for us.  As I said, there’s nothing actually wrong with this.  As a common practice, it’s a tango we’re all pretty good at.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t value to changing the tempo a bit and taking more responsibility for ourselves.

Let’s start with the big one, shall we:

Jealousy

When I explain to people that I’m in a relationship with multiple people one of the most common questions is how we can love without jealousy.  There’s a couple points that I want to address on that front.

First of all,  we didn’t eliminate jealousy from our range of emotions when we chose this relationship.  However, we did make a commitment to manage all of our emotions, including jealousy, appropriately.

In our language, we tend to attribute jealousy we feel to other peoples actions.  For example: “He was flirty with her all night just to make me jealous.”  We talk about how other peoples actions are the cause of our jealousy and therefore we see it as their responsibility to relieve the jealousy with reassurance.

We might experience jealousy when we witness someone else’s actions but it isn’t something they actually created.  When you see your partner interact with someone else and feel jealous it’s an expression of fear and insecurity. Try this on: “He was flirty with her all night and I was scared he’d like her better than me.” 

Let’s be clear – it’s not inherently bad to have these fears and insecurities in our relationships.  Some people feel them more often or more strongly than others but they’re pretty normal.  My point here isn’t that you should or shouldn’t feel this way – just that you have to own that insecurity and address it.

Think of it this way: “If he chooses her over me – that’s his choice, and not a fault of mine.”

He can appreciate her beauty and still love me just the same.” 

I’m worth loving and we’re happy together. I trust him and don’t hold
his actions against him; I’m not looking for any reason to retract my
trust.”

Taking ownership of the jealousy means we have more power than we originally thought.  We can ease our own emotions and reassure ourselves.  We aren’t relying on someone else to remind us of our value.

It also ties in a way to my post on maintaining your own identity within your relationships – just like having your own hobbies and interests, you should know your worth and that it exists independent of your relationship, even when experiencing jealousy.

To be fair here we’re also humans and we don’t always handle our jealousy as appropriately as we wish we did. It’s hard for everyone but as much as we try to practice owning our jealousy and coping with it effectively we also practice forgiveness when we throw each other off balance.

Compersion is the opposite of jealousy

A word that quickly got added to my vocabulary as Ben and I fell for Maggie and Tom was compersion. This is the feeling of joy and happiness you feel knowing your partner is experiencing joy and satisfaction with someone else (no, it’s not just sexual but a whole and full relationship between two humans!).

Instead of inspiring fear that he’ll choose Maggie over me, I usually lean the other way and feel happy for Ben that he has such happiness in his relationship with Maggie.  It’s the utmost security knowing that his happiness with her does not diminish his happiness with me and so instead of resenting it and feeling jealous, I celebrate it and feel happy.

It helps that I have a relationship with Maggie that is separate from the boys, and have a relationship with Tom that is also unique.  Knowing from personal experience that loving Maggie and loving Tom has not lessened my love for Ben makes it easier to know that Ben can also love Maggie without it taking anything away from me.

When I read posts from others in a polyamorous relationship that are struggling with jealousy they are often struggling in part because their partner has one or more other partners but, for one reason or another, they do not.  I think that balance isn’t necessary – one doesn’t have to have something just because the other does – but it sure helps with an empathetic understanding of the emotional experience.

Take emotional responsibility In all your Relationships

Learning to be more consciously responsible for my emotions in my romantic relationships has opened my eyes to the value of emotional responsibility in general.  As a student in particular over the past 6 years, it’s been almost necessary to lean on each other.  In the high-stress atmosphere of University with half your friends in an identity crisis and the other half confident in who they are but stressed about their future the emotional exchange helped all of us balance out enough to function.

As I age into adulthood, my stress level, identity and relationships are all stabilizing and I see emotional responsibility as a way to maintain more even and balanced control of our own lives.  There will always be circumstances beyond our control and they will inevitably fuck with our plans.  We will also always be surprised by emotions we didn’t expect to feel – jealousy, anger, sadness, even strange amounts of joy that we may or may not know the cause of.  Managing these emotions on our own limits the havoc they may wreak on our daily lives and stabilizes our sense of self.

Developing Emotional Responsibility

So now that I’ve made the case for emotional responsibility, how can someone begin practicing it?

Reflect before you speak.  Before you share your emotions and get caught up in what others did that contributed to them consider what existing emotions allowed others to have an impact on you (ie: existing insecurities that turn in to jealousy, as explored above.) Consider how you can work through those existing emotions with a focus on your own abilities. When you’re approaching someone else it’s beneficial to both of you if you can ask for support handling certain emotions rather than just asking them to calm those emotions for you.

For example – approaching your partner to say “Hey, in this situation I felt really ______. I know that isn’t what you intended and doesn’t really reflect your intentions or behaviour, but it helps me feel better when you _____.”

Be open with those you love.  Owning and taking responsibility for our emotions doesn’t mean they have to be secrets. Share how you’re feeling and what you can do to alleviate any negative emotions. If I do feel a pang of jealousy or sadness I can say to my partners “I felt a bit jealous when —–, so I’m working through that right now.” It lets them know what’s gong on with me without obligating them to take action on my behalf.

Above all, stay calm. It’s easy to jump to conclusions and quickly fall in to old habits but take a deep breath and assess what’s happening as separate from how you’re feeling. Then assess how you’re feeling and look at how the two connect.  Try to be specific in identifying what you would like to change, what you can change yourself and what you need from others to accomplish the change you want.

Last but not least, before you ask for support consider exactly what you’re asking. Taking emotional responsibility is all about being more self sufficient and managing your own emotions. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask your partners, from time to time, to adjust their phrasing on a certain subject or keep an awareness of how a situation impacts you but asking that they completely change an aspect of another relationship or otherwise let your emotions dictate their behaviour may lead to trouble later on.  Keep this in mind.

Your quest for emotional responsibility may surprise or confuse others.

This has been the most unexpected part of this emotional journey. I think it has affected most of us in our little family. It seems natural to let our new found emotional attitude permeate through all the different relationships in our lives.  Since the most outward aspect of this journey is asking less of others the people around us have sometimes felt we isolated ourselves or abandoned them, depending on their perspective.

People are used to feeling needed just as much as they have need for other people in their lives.  We were focused on guarding ourselves and our relationships against negative emotions like unexpected jealousy or the disapproval of others. It was later we realized that needing our friends less for that emotional support meant finding new ways to look after them and show them that they are just as important to us as they always have been.

 

Well – that was a long one! Thanks for reading!

Carmen

 

 

 

 

 

Unsolicited Relationship Advice

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I know I grew up lucky, in some (ahem, many) ways. Many of my friend’s parents were divorced, and they moved between two separate homes.  My parents were together.  Perhaps even luckier for me, my parents were happy to be together. Parental yelling matches, dad on the couch or threats to leave are all unfamiliar stereotypes to me.

Perhaps it is because my childhood home was so happy that I find relationships and relationship advice to be such an interesting subject.

I also got married young. In fact, I fell in love young. I’ve been with Ben since I was 16 and got married when I was 23.  Young for my generation in both experiences.

Now, as many of my readers will know I am in three unique relationships and navigating life with five romantic relationships under one roof. Each of us values strength, stability and functionality in our relationships and we work hard to build our relationships around these values and our personal needs.

It must be a combination of all these factors that makes me feel entitled to provide some form of unsolicited relationship advice.

But you know that feeling when you see people struggling with something that comes naturally to you, and you just want to help and provide your knowledge and see if you can make their struggle less, their day easier? Yeah that happens to me a lot.

What the Advice Columns Miss About Fighting

I’ve seen all kinds of advice columns reassure their readers that fighting is normal. There’s a couple thoughts I want to  unpack here, so bear with me.

Let’s remember for a second that normal doesn’t mean necessary. It might not be all doom and gloom for your relationship if you argue from time to time but if you don’t fight at all, that’s okay too. (I’m assuming you don’t fight because you aren’t disagreeing; please don’t bottle it all up just to say you don’t fight. Remember, it can be normal!)

But then don’t the relationship columns also tend to tell us that if we’re fighting about “the big things”, like money, children or lifestyle, we should run for it because there’s no way to build a relationship when you can’t agree on the foundational aspects of a life together?

So, do we fight and stay because it’s normal or fight and run for it because we want different foundations for our life together?

Go ahead and argue, but not about the big stuff.

If you were a fly on our wall and you could catch us in a rare moment when we’re feeling off-kilter, you know what it would be about?

Food.

Yeah, you read that right. Like is it okay to have fries with dinner? Should my husband have brought home the bag of chips I requested or should he have said no because he knows I’m trying to lose weight?

Or can the meal plan be changed, and can anybody spontaneously stop at a store and pick up something that wasn’t on the grocery list?

What’s healthy enough for our healthy lifestyle goals and what’s healthy but not healthy enough?

How do we handle cravings?

Food.

We decided to have talks about what getting serious together meant fairly early on. We didn’t want to come out and fight off all the negativity just to find out we couldn’t really build a life together if we wanted to.

Let me be clear: When we talk about money, children (how many to have, how to raise them, etc), our lifestyle (financially, where we will live, what is important and what we don’t need, etc.) we all agree. In fact, we agree easily.  There are certainly some compromises but they were all easy to make.

So if you’re asking me (which you didn’t, but you read this far so I’ve got something going for me.), let yourself argue when you’ve got a bone to pick but if you’re not laughing at how silly a bone it was to get worked up over once all is said and done, that’s when you should worry about the fighting.

They say never stop dating, but more realistically, never stop infusing your relationship with the little, every day things that bring you joy.

Okay so “never stop dating” has a ring to it and saying it my way is a mouthful. But hear me out.

I’ve been with Ben for seven years. I don’t want to go to dinner and pretend that he doesn’t know anything about me so we can “date”. But you know what does happen at the beginning of a relationship and should be carried forward?

Finding little ways to brighten each others day. It’s bringing home tea from Tim’s when he knows I haven’t left the house today and could use a pick me up. It’s surprising me with something he saw and bought just because it made him think of me.

It’s different than dating – I think it’s more like showing how successful he was at dating me by showing how well he knows me now.

It’s spoiling each other from time to time.  About a week ago Ben offered to pay for my manicure knowing that dinner out would mess with my diet but still wanting to make me feel spoiled.

It’s knowing when he needs time to be an introvert and not burdening him with extensive conversation and crowded situations.

So by all means, keep dating. Recognize that as humans we grow and change so there’s aways new ways we can “get to know each other”…. but as the years go by go beyond “still dating” and make it about knowing and appreciating each other.

Okay just One More Thing…

Hey you’ve read pretty far in to this bit of unsolicited advice – I appreciate that!

This one’s important: Know the difference between joking and teasing. It’s trickier than you think but here’s the key:

It isn’t up to you.

It’s up to whoever is at the other end. For example if you’re making a joke about something your partner doesn’t laugh about (take me and my weight, for example) you’re just teasing and it probably isn’t fun for your partner.

Stick to things your partner can laugh about too. For me – I laugh at my own sense of style because I have enough confidence in it to take a joke from time to time. You kind of have to when you decide to dye your hair blue. So it’s fun for everyone.

Don’t be the person who leaves your partner feeling sad, self conscious or bad about themselves/something about them. Even if you don’t get why they’re so sensitive about something, respect it. As your partner you should be relied on for that.

 

Well thanks for reading – what are the things you wish you could shout from the roof tops when it comes to relationships?

 

 

 

Polyamory and Staying True to Myself

I realized the other day that delving into this polyamorous lifestyle has expanded my world and made me feel more complete in a few ways.  I think it’s true for a lot of people that even when they have different interests than their partner, they still rely on that partner when going on new adventures and we might hesitate to stray into interests that are really far from theirs.

Take Ben and I for example.  He is a computer scientist and a musician.  His hobby time is taken up with Dungeons and Dragons, programming and band practice.  I on the other hand, don’t have the patience for D&D or the skills for music. I like reading, blogging, and yoga.

It seems like we’re very different, and we are.  However, these hobbies have been with us since before we started dating.  Ben was in a band when we met, and has always tinkered with whatever tech he can get his hands on.  Likewise, I’ve always been a reader and enjoyed yoga.  Since being together we haven’t strayed away from these core hobbies in a big way.

We’ve explored some hobbies together.  There’s a mutual love of food, a desire to travel, tv shows and events we’ve fallen in love with together.  However, there are always things I might enjoy that I know Ben would hate and things he’d like to explore that I have no interest in.  That doesn’t mean we want to explore those things alone. In some cases that’s meant just sticking with what we know and sticking with each other.

More relationships, more experiences

Until now… with Maggie and Tom in our lives, we all have more opportunities to pursue new hobbies without having to do so alone.  In my life right now that’s demolition derbies for example: In the last two years, we started going to more and more derbies to watch both Maggie and Tom have fun destroying some cars.  While Ben really enjoys watching the events, I’m fascinated by the cars and with every heat I watch I’ve wanted to be a part of it.  I wouldn’t have dared though – without Tom, I have no way to build a car, for one.  I have no knowledge and would be totally lost without a partner in crime.  It’s my relationship with Tom that has allowed me to start learning more about all things derby in a way I never would have before.

Meanwhile, Ben and Maggie have found all kinds of craft beer festivals to enjoy.  Neither Tom or I drink beer (we barely drink at all) so these events hold no interest for us.  Maggie and Ben’s relationship has given them a partnership where they can explore those interests without dragging uninterested spouses.

I never felt incomplete or unhappy in my relationship with Ben.  There are still things that we love to do together and everything we built in the last seven years still holds significant value.  We both could have lived happy lives continuing to find and explore things we enjoyed together.

As it happens, polyamory has given us the opportunity to broaden those horizons and live more true to ourselves, not just ourselves as partners to each other.

The Importance of Unique Hobbies

Not to mention, having activities and hobbies we enjoy with each partner helps differentiate each relationship so that it develops to be unique and independent of the others.  While the four of us enjoy our “pod dates” for activities we’re all excited about (usually food or go-carting related), we also enjoy having our own time with each other.

It’s important to us that each of our relationships is allowed to develop naturally and that in each of our relationships we are focused on each other, not just each other as someone else’s.

Having hobbies and activities that are unique to each couple helps with this natural development of the relationships and with the sense of each relationship being independent.

A more independent Identity

Honestly I believe when we settle in with someone for the long term – whether that’s getting married or just moving in together and planning a forever kind of life – we start attaching our identity to each other.

We become “his wife” or “her husband” or “their partner”.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this but it does affect how we make decisions about hobbies and interests.  Will our other half be interested? Will they want to go to that event? Will they enjoy this?

We do it to ourselves even without a partner – we get an idea of ourselves and who we are in our head and then start ignoring things that don’t fit that box without really thinking about it – but that’s another post.

With three partners I can’t totally attach half my identity or decision making to what I imagine they’ll think of an event or activity so instead I start recognizing my own interest first and then figuring out if I might have company – who would be most interested? Who could support me best for this interest?

Focusing on my own interest and following my own inclinations rather than filtering them through a partner’s interests has changed how I think about my time and what I enjoy – for the better! It’s made my identity more independent without making my life more lonely.

How about you? What hobbies do you enjoy with your partner?

The Art of Balancing Yourself with those you Love

I firmly believe that our relationships should not define us entirely.  Who are you when your spouse is at work? With their friends? Visiting family? Your relationship is, of course, a huge part of your life and will define many parts of the life you build together.  This is no reason to lose sight of who you are when you’re alone.

There’s an art to balancing yourself as an individual – giving attention to that self, doing things you enjoy by yourself – and yourself as part of a partnership, or multiple partnerships.  Come to think of it, this applies to friends too.  For my single girls out there who are living it up and building a life with your close friends (I see you, and I support you.), you are still your own person and not just a member of a friend group.

So here are my thoughts and tips for embracing your identity when you’re alone and balancing it with your identity as its related to other people:

Hobbies that others aren’t invited to

So you say you’re thinking of taking a class on something or trying out a new activity – you don’t always have to invite everyone else who may enjoy it.  You’re not obligated to include them every time. You get to make a decision about when it’s something you want to invite them to do with you and when you want to branch out on your own.

Things you do as an individual you don’t have to do alone

Just because you didn’t invite your partners or close friends to this thing you’re doing for yourself doesn’t have to be a solo activity.  Maybe you’re catching a yoga class or joining a community sports team.  You can meet new people and enjoy a social activity all for yourself.  This isn’t about developing yourself in isolation so much as having a self that isn’t described in relation to another person.

Think of it this way, if you join a community sports team with your partner you’ll be people who joined as a couple – referred to by others on the team as so and so’s partner, etc.  But if you join without your partners you can be known for traits that are all your own, like your humor or your skills.

Family might still be involved

Maybe you’ll have something you always do with your mom, or a sibling.  Someone who has known you outside of your current relationships and will appreciate you in that light.  This walks a line in that if your activity involves other people like a team or class you might still end up defining yourself in that activity by your relationship to the family member you joined with.  That being said it’s a balance between being defined by your relationship to someone else and being known as your own person by the people around you.

It can change over time

You don’t have to have your set of things that you pick right now, and are all yours, and you do them forever.  Maybe there’s a series of new things you try or seasonal activities you enjoy.  It’s more about spending time valuing yourself and nurturing your own identity, and less about consistency in how that time is actually spent.

It’s one of the few areas in our lives where I don’t think consistency is particularily important for success and growth.

It doesn’t have to be only yours forever

When you do fall in love with somthing you might end up inviting people from your important relationships to join you in it after all.  Why deny them the chance to enjoy it just because it started as something you did without them?

There can be other things you do without them, as long as you’re paying attention to giving yourself that time.  Not to mention, if you’re inviting someone into an activity you’ve established yourself in you’ve already escaped totally defining yourself by your relationship to them at the outset.

 

All in all I think it’s easy to do things with our partners because they make us feel safe.  That’s why they became our partners, right? It’s part of loving each other to offer comfort and support to each other, and it’s easy to want to bring that comfort and support with you on new adventures.  In a world where I have three partners who I enjoy spending time and trying new things with I have found the importance of remembering who I am when I’m on my own. It’s a matter of knowing that appreciating and nurturing my own identity does not diminish my relationships or how fully I give myself to them.

What’s your fave hobby that your partners choose to sit out of?

New Relationships, New Boundaries

We’re all moved in! And we’re all super excited about it.

I’ve been thinking though, of what I might share about this process.  What have we learned and what has made moving in as a pod different from when I moved in with Ben for the first time?

One of the major learning curves for me has been, in all of my relationships, having two more people outside of it who know everything that goes on.

You see, one of the values my mama instilled in me about loving and being loved was to never air your dirty laundry.  If there was a disagreement between you and your spouse it was just that, between you.  There were a few other things, I’m sure you can guess, that are also on the list of “just between the two of you”.

But there are no secrets in poly.  To be clear, that’s a choice the four of us have made.  When we sat around the campfire and decided to rearrange our lives and let each other in we decided to be very picky about the boundaries we set.  Even the boundaries we originally set quickly became softer as love and trust grew between all of us.

The thing is that all of us were accustomed to open communication and freedom to behave with our spouses however we saw fit – as is true for most monogamous, married couples.  We all knew ourselves and had a strong belief that the success of our marriages came from the relationships developing and progressing authentically.  It didn’t make sense to put a lot of boundaries in our dating lives that would probably be more of an overall hindrance than a help.  Therefore we decided to be very picky and avoid setting arbitrary boundaries.

My mama also taught me not to keep secrets from my husband.  She never kept secrets from my dad and along with keeping your dirty laundry to yourself, she made sure that I knew this was part of a strong and healthy relationship.

So in multiple relationships how do I honor these ideals? How do I contain any disagreements or discord I have between myself and a partner, but not keep those parts of my life secret from partners outside of the disagreement?

The short answer is: I don’t. And it’s a good thing. While sharing the less romantic moments of my romantic relationships with others originally made me really uncomfortable it’s become a benefit.  Any dirty laundry still stays between the four of us. But if there’s an issue the four of us solve it together.  I said that our boundaries have softened as our love and trust has grown. This has meant that if an issue arises we can address it as a family of four and it usually makes all of us feel better.

So this is the first change that became super obvious since moving in and in the process of moving in.

Thanks for reading,

Carmen