Saturday, 15 September 2012

14 Steps to Opening a Monogamous Relationship (part one)

When I encountered the term polyamory I knew my world would never be the same again. I was relieved that there was a reason I had the feelings I did. I was terrified because I knew I had to address it. I read whatever I could find online. I joined a polyamory forum. I carried on trying to be monogamous for a year or two. It was only when I ignored my principles and cheated (a one-night stand) did I decide to tell my husband. I told him everything about polyamory and the other guy. I knew two things 1) Nic had a right to leave me because I’m poly, and 2) Nic had a right to leave me because I cheated. I told him knowing those facts, not because I wanted him to leave me, but because I wanted him to stay with me on the basis of honesty. He didn’t leave, thankfully. He was hurt, scared and angry, but not surprised (I finished with two guys to be with him). This was the first step in opening our marriage.

Anita Wagner’s  14 Steps to Opening aMonogamous Relationship” is a simple but clear and effective way for embarking on the opening up process. For me, the process was helped considerably by changing therapists (all hail our wonderful poly therapist) and by the exercises in two books. One was Leonie Linssen’s Love Unlimited and the other was Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up. In a future post I hope to explore the usefulness of their exercises.

Of Wagner’s fourteen stages, the first eight took about six months to get through. Coming clean was the first one. I explained that I had had this realization, that it was nothing to do with my husband and that I could not ignore it. Nic never doubted me. As soon as I said it, a light-bulb went off for him just as it had for me. He didn’t want it to be true but, to be fair, neither did I.

Being poly was not, and never has been, about replacing Nic. The second stage in the opening up process involved me convincing him of this. I want and need him in my life. This was a difficult one! Intellectually he “got it” but emotionally he felt like I wanted to replace him. This has waned in time, but occasionally it still gets triggered and it is something we continue to work on. Speaking of intellectual and emotional differences: these are immense. My husband fully embraces the idea of polyamory as a logical way to live, but he does not feel that. The intellectual acceptance helps our situation, but because the intellectual and emotional are so at odds, we often have to revisit things and find new ways of approaching ideas and handling situations. Communication, understanding, and patience are key.

I would not be changing my mind was discussed in stage three. I would not suddenly have a monogamous mindset, I am a hard-wired polyamorous person (rather than someone who has just found themselves in a poly situation). This was obvious for both of us. I am very grateful for this.

The fourth stage was the acceptance that heartache is on both sides. I had to persuade Nic that the situation was hurting both of us, but differently, and that I wanted to find a way to make it work. This wasn’t a difficult thing to do. My husband never blamed me; he even felt sorry for me. I also had to accept his feelings, including his anger. This was very important for both of us. I have heard many instances where the poly partner rejects and resents the feelings of the mono partner. The poly person must recognize and accept that it is they who have changed and challenged the mono ideal. Only through accepting responsibility (although not through self-hatred, blame, or neglect) could I ever hope for my husband’s understanding and support in moving forward.

This led to the fifth stage, where I had to ask Nic if he was willing to commit to working on letting me see other people. It saddened Nic, but he did agree to try. He immediately told me that I should stop hiding myself away from people to whom I might be attracted. He told me to go to the places where I met the kind of people I like. He also told me it was fine for me to flirt and build emotional attachments to people. I did not ask for such an immediate and generous development but I was glad for it. It also made my life immediately better, to the point that Nic noticed how much happier I was. I cannot express my gratitude to him enough.

The seventh of the first eight stages was the hardest for Nic to accept. I needed him to accept the truth that I would love and care for him even when seeing someone else. Nic’s greatest difficulty with opening our marriage has been the feeling of abandonment. We work on this a lot and as a result the conversation about his importance in my life is a common one. We also work on our relationship by reinforcing it verbally, physically, and by going out and having fun together. Without a solid relationship it would be impossible to build the trust polyamorous marriages need. This was exacerbated because I had to rebuild trust after cheating on him.

The last of the eight “introductory” stages involved me persuading Nic that happiness can only be achieved when we are true to ourselves and that giving the gift of openness to the person you love helps them love you more not less. This he understood and accepted.

Of course, the stages were not so clearly delineated. They overlap, conversations go off at tangents and many points were often discussed at the same time. But having the stages clearly listed was enormously helpful. The most important thing to remember for us, other than honest communication and active listening, has been to continue to reinforce our relationship. We have become physically and emotionally more intimate as a result. I am very aware I am lucky. My husband accepted me from the very beginning. I have heard countless stories where couples have broken up at stage one.

For Nic and I, the real struggle came when I met someone I liked and trusted enough that I wanted to pursue a physical relationship with him. This is when stages 9-14 came into play, something I discuss in part two of this blog.

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