Friday, 28 September 2012

Relationship Wheel

One of the reasons my husband and I were able to recover from my cheating, move onto the open marriage path and go from having virtually no (and mediocre) sex to fabulous sex was because we explored how we looked at ourselves as individuals and our relationship. One of the things we did was to work through the exercises in Love Unlimited, a book by Leonie Linssen and Stephan Wik. For Nic and I the most helpful exercise in the book is the “Relationship Wheel.”

The Relationship Wheel is a way of looking at what a specific relationship means for you. If your partner/s also create a Relationship Wheel, it can show up differences and similarities between your attitudes to your relationship. This can reinforce positive opinions, build confidence in your relationship, and help to resolve conflicts bought on by misunderstandings. To create a Relationship Wheel, you might consider thinking about the significance of ten categories and how important they are in your relationship:

  • Emotional
  • Physical (nonsexual and/or sexual)
  • Recreational
  • Economic
  • Family
  • Spiritual
  • Intellectual
  • Passionate (not erotic passion, but sharing a passion i.e. for gender equality, social justice)
  • Cultural
  • Esthetic (sense of beauty, i.e. art and design)

The thing to remember about relationships is that they change, so when you, your partner, or your situation changes so will the wheel, it is never fixed. When I first completed the wheel for my relationship with Nic (about 15 months ago), this is what I came up with:

Nic also completed the wheel. He didn’t feel the economic connection to me (he was the higher earner, so it was less relevant), nor the esthetic connection (interior decorating seemed to be less important to him, *sigh*). But, everything else matched almost exactly! We even had the same difficulty with expressing how important the physical aspect of our relationship was for us. We had already been seeing a sex therapist for about two years at this point and we had all manner of difficulties, but the physical contact we did have was very important for both of us, particularly hugs and snuggles.

This is where Relationship Wheels become really helpful for people in multiple relationships. Although, at the time, sex was not how I felt connected to my husband, sex in and of itself was very important for me. By showing Nic that sex had nothing to do with why I loved him and why I enjoyed being with him, I was able to explain more easily that my need for sex was not to do with him. My need for sex is a deep part of my psyche and, while it would have been wonderful to have great sex with my husband, that was not why I was with him.

Through the Relationship Wheel we were able to openly discuss this while knowing how wonderfully matched as a pair we are in nearly all ways. Relationship Wheels helped me explain how there is space for me to have certain needs met elsewhere.

As an example of how Relationship Wheels work for different people, here is a wheel I created for my relationship with James, my play-partner/boyfriend until recently. Our relationship changed a lot and often, but this is a fair summary of how I viewed it as a whole.
My wheels for Nic and James are totally different. More than that, whereas Nic's wheel was very similar to mine, James's wheel for me would probably be more physical (a difference which helped lead to our break-up). I don’t love Nic any less because of James (more, if truth be told, how amazing of Nic to let me have a partner!). Likewise, I don’t desire James any less because of Nic. What I have/had with each of the men were and are unique relationships.

So, what about my Relationship Wheel with Nic now? If I were to complete the wheel today, it would look similar but the esthetic connection would no longer be there (the house is finished!). The physical connection would be slightly larger. Criticially I would no longer say that the physical connection is only about hugs and snuggles, I also feel connected to him sexually! Hoorah! That doesn’t mean, however, that there isn't space in my life for other people, whether as friends, lovers, or "significant others." In fact, right now I could create Relationship Wheels for everybody I know, irrespective of the label I and others may give the relationship.

Relationship Wheels helped Nic and I explore how we saw each other, how we see ourselves, and the different elements of relationships we need from different people. It is a deceptively simple exercize which challenges and entertains at the same time!

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