What is Polyamory? (A Look Inside Ethical Non- monogamy | by Helena Domenic)

What is Polyamory? (A Look Inside Ethical Non- monogamy | by Helena Domenic)

Hello! I am Helena Domenic, and I am an artist, a writer, AND a Life Coach for people who are choosing non-traditional relationship styles. You might wonder what I mean by this, and I’m here today to talk about different relationship styles and clear up misconceptions.

You have probably seen a lot about polyamory in the media through articles, documentaries, and even shows on Showtime like Polyamory: Dating and Married.

All of these are depicting a relationship style known as “Consensual Non-Monogamy,” and even with all of this information coming at us from a variety of sources, there are still several misconceptions about what exactly that means. Full disclosure – my husband and I have been practicing consensual non-monogamy since 2011, and we consider ourselves to be polyamorous.

We are entirely devoted to one another, and we both have additional partners with whom we are involved in an emotional and physical level. You may wonder why we do this, or how this even works for us.

Consensual and/or ethical non-monogamy covers any relationship style in which ALL OF THE INVOLVED PARTIES are agreed that they will not be sexually or romantically exclusive to one another. These various styles then fall into categories such as polyamory, swinging, polyfidelity, and even polygamy.

So what exactly do each of these relationship categories or styles mean? Of course, there will be those who disagree with me, but on the whole, this article will cover some definitions of what these styles are. There is a difference between swinging and polyamory.

Generally, swinging is a lifestyle usually involving couples who are seeking sexual experiences with other consenting partners. I say Ocouples because the swinging scene is dominated by married, heterosexual couples who either attend nightclubs for swinging or who meet their other sexual partners online.

Everyone is aware that both husband and wife are married to one another, and they are seeking to have sexual encounters with other people. Some swingers only swing as a couple, others attend parties or clubs together and pair off with other people, some engage in “soft swap” in which there is no intercourse, while others engage in “full swap.”

It is generally understood that there is not to be a romantic or love connection with partners outside the marriage. Extramarital partners may be one-offs or regulars, and often swingers form groups of friends that they swing with. Emotional connection is not the goal in these relationships- they are more about sexual exploration.

The significant difference between polyamory and swinging is that polyamory emphasizes the formation of emotional connections. Sex is also involved, but not always. It takes many different forms – there are as many possible configurations as there are people.

Couples may be polyamorous; however, some single people practice “Solo Poly,” meaning that they are not in a dyadic relationship, but may have multiple partners – all of whom are aware of one another. There is even a name for a partner’s partner – metamours. Sometimes people form complicated “polycules” in which entire communities of lovers and metamours form a network.

There are also triads – a grouping of three committed partners, who may be male or female – and quads – a cluster of four committed partners. People often ask me where “Friends with Benefits” or “FWBs” as they are known to figure in polyamory. Friends with Benefits is something some people choose; however, as with any polyamorous relationship, it must be with the full disclosure and understanding of anyone involved.

Since emotional attachment does tend to be the focus of polyamory, it is considered bad form not to let someone know if Friends With Benefits is all that someone is seeking. Ethical consent involves the ability to make informed choices, so if a partner finds themselves wanting something more profound, they should be informed of the other partner’s desires to be FWBs so that they can choose someone else.

It is usually at this point in my conversation with people about polyamory that the questions begin. “How does this work?” is the most common response I hear when trying to explain polyamory to monogamous people. Our culture is set up on the notion of couplehood – that everyone will meet and fall in love with one and only one soulmate, and anything outside of that dyadic norm is considered cheating or dishonest. It is anything but that.

It works through all partners communicating with one another and being completely honest about everything in which they are engaged. It doesn’t work without full communication and honesty. Some partners have complicated rules for their  relationships, such as they must meet and approve of all possible new love interests, whether they date them or not, and sometimes they are as simple as “Don’t be a jerk.”

Polyamorous people spend lots and lots of time talking with their partners, ensuring that people’s feelings are in the right place and that everyone feels comfortable.   The next most common question I encounter is: “Does jealousy occur?” Of course, it  does! We are human beings, and jealousy and envy are part of our basic makeup.

This is where excellent communication skills are critical. All partners must be not only committed to one another, but also committed to talking about the times when they are jealous, envious, or just plain uncomfortable.

Jealousy is a very human emotion and not an emotion that one should feel ashamed about, or afraid to discuss. Discussion is the only way of working through jealousy. Workings on one’s feelings of insecurity and self-worth or lack thereof are also critical.

Discuss what it is about the scary situation; suspicion is based on fear, often fear of what might be lost. In polyamory, partners may fear the loss of their “nesting partner” – the person with whom they share a home, children, finances. Fears like these need to be discussed, and that brings me to the subject of trust.

Trust is also vital in maintaining healthy polyamorous relationships. I trust my husband to make good choices, and I believe that he loves me and will not leave me for another partner. I also imagine that should his feelings change for me; he will discuss that with me, rather than leaving me abruptly, or in some other negative way.

Monogamy is no guarantee of trust, as we know so many people who have been cheated on or have been cheaters.   As mentioned in a previous paragraph, polyamory is not a lifestyle that is the norm in our culture, and none of us have grown up with resources instructing us in how to navigate these uncharted territories.

Writer Amy Gahran wrote a book called Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life. Gahran defines the relationship escalator as, The default set of societal expectations for intimate relationships.

Partners follow a progressive set of steps, each with visible markers, toward a clear goal. “The goal at the top of the Escalator is to achieve a permanently monogamous (sexually and romantically exclusive between two people), cohabitating marriage — legally sanctioned if possible.

In many cases, buying a house and having kids is also part of the goal. Partners are expected to remain together at the top of the Escalator until death. Those of us who are polyamorous may have been on the relationship escalator multiple times, but realize that we can love more than one person.

One could even say that my husband and I took the path of the relationship escalator – dating, moving in together, getting engaged, and getting married. We had many friends at the time who were polyamorous – many of them successful at it, some of them not so much.

We are both adventurous in our ways, and decided to embark on learning more about polyamory together, and went to a Meetup Discussion group to meet more people who were like-minded. From there, we each began dating other partners.

If you think polyamory might be for you, you must be very honest with yourself about your ability to deal with all of the things I have mentioned above, as well as many things that you might not even be aware of now!

Being polyamorous looks much different than thinking about being polyamorous, and everyone I know who is polyamorous has discovered it seems to uncover triggers and insecurities they never knew they had. It is not for everyone; unlike some people, I don’t think polyamory is something that all people should explore.

If it is for you, you must be fearless in your moral inventory, mature and calm  in your responses to a variety of emotional situations, and compassionate to both yourself and your partners, and your partner’s partners.

I will list some websites and books that I recommend to anyone interested  in pursuing polyamory,  and p l e a s e    d o    n o t     h e s i t a t e     to     c o n t a c t     me at helena@artofhelenadomenic.com if you would like  to schedule a coaching session.

Recommended Books:   More Than Two, Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert’s The Relationship Escalator, Amy Gahran Opening Up, Tristian Taormino The Ethical Slut, Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy The Polyamorists Next Door, Elisabeth Sheff Eight Things I Wish I Knew About Polyamory Before I Tried and Frakked It Up, Cunning Minx

Recommended Websites: More Than Two, Polyamory Weekly Podcast, T h e P o l y a m o r o u s M i s a n t h r o p e,  How to Educate Your Therapist about polyamory, Off the Relationship EscalatorLoving More NonProfit Organization – sponsors two national conferences each year 

Codependency: how do we let go?

Codependency: how do we let go?

“Codependency” happens when one becomes dependent on another person or controlled by the needs of another person. Recovery from codependency is key to having healthy relationships.

Often the codependent may say that if my partner or child would just change, I will be ok; however, codependency is a sign that you are not living a life in personal balance. The focus becomes on “the other” as either the source of happiness or unhappiness in life.

People become addicted to other people in the same way that we become addicted to alcohol or drugs or other compulsive behaviors. “Seeking” something outside of you is not the way to feeling whole or happy.

Unfortunately, we live in a society that emphasizes the belief that with the latest new medication, exercise, diet, podcast, etc., that we are going to find the answers that we are looking for to fix what is wrong inside of us.

Along with that is the theory that if I find the perfect partner, or if my children are on the ideal path and are doing well, all will be good with me, right?   Our experience with “the other,” meaning another person, can be disappointing and limiting if we are not in a good personal space with ourselves.

The capacity for joy comes within us first and not just from our experience with another person. If we can’t experience joy within ourselves, no partner or other relationship can create happiness within us.

Happiness between two people gets created when both can find a familiar place together to create it. Often it comes from an offering or invitation to join into a pleasing activity; a smile or a laugh can be infectious!

One person makes the offer, and either the other(s) step into that moment or the moment is missed.  People become addicted to drugs, nicotine, food, sex, and other things to satiate needs. Just as people become addicted to these things, we become addicted to the feeling of being in love.

We all know there is nothing better than meeting someone new and the roller coaster of butterflies and excitement that comes from a new relationship. The “love hormone” oxytocin is released during the romance stage of a relationship, so in essence, we are experiencing a lift in brain chemistry similar to drugs.

Once that phase of the relationship has passed, we move on to a more mature part of the relationship, and that’s where the work of really getting to know each other begins. As soon as we have declared love for another, the vulnerable state of an open-heart begins.

Often in love, we are filling up needs that come from longing for connection that may stem from unmet needs in childhood. We bring ourselves with all of our previous life wounds to relationships as adults.

Codependency develops when we seek in another person what is missing in us – wanting a relationship to heal the loneliness, insecurities, fears, anxieties, and depression from the past.

To reach true satisfaction in our connections with others, we need to bring a complete version of ourselves as a person to a relationship, thus bringing the capacity to connect and experience happiness with others.

Just like the idea of the perfect diet or medication is the fix for the part within us that needs help, our culture reinforces the belief that if we find an ideal partner or companion that our life will be complete. Without peace in ourselves, we may look for too much in another person.

It is a set up for the other person; looking for companionship is different than looking for a person to complete our lives and fill us up emotionally. The fantasy that we will find perfection in another person is just that a fantasy – people are human, and have their flaws.

Partners and loved ones can enhance our lives, but if we are looking to be held up or fixed, or are seeking only what we want, it is asking too much from another person and may set up feelings of constant disappointment and fear.

Accepting people as they are will allow for happier connections.   On developing a healthier approach to relationships Know who you are and be known. Partners, children, friends, and anyone else we find ourselves in a relationship with are there to share experiences with us. Joy comes from the shared space that gets created when people participate in a relationship.

Knowing yourself and your values and what you like and dislike are essential to being happy in a relationship. Sharing with your partner about what your values are, what motivates you, what brings you peace – these are important to communicate so that your partner knows who you are.

Identify your wants and needs so that you don’t keep your loved ones and partner guessing or making assumptions.   Speak your truth with an open heart The way to get needs met in a relationship is to be open and honest when you feel something that needs to be communicated.

Learning to notice when you need to talk something and then speaking up for yourself can change the dynamics in a relationship. Communicating from the most honest and heartfelt place inside of you will bring others closer to you.

Connecting comes when people take risks to share openly and honestly about the truth that lives inside all of us.   Have healthy boundaries come from having that sense of your wants and needs.

Conflict can occur in a relationship when one person has not set a boundary that needs to be set. If I feel that another person has not respected who I am or what I want or need, I need to say something.

Just the act of saying “no” that does not work for me, or I don’t agree with you is setting a boundary. When we always go along with another person, we can become deferential to others, which sets up a power dynamic.

If this continues, resentment can build in a relationship.   Let go of expectations Expectations of others can be a set up for disappointment. Everyone has their wants and needs in life and sometimes what I may want conflicts with what you want.

If I expect you to do or say something and you don’t want to, my expectations are not fulfilled. The truth is that people get to be who they are, not who we want them to be. I can ask something of another person, but that person gets to decide whether they choose to do it.

Bring joy and create invitations Having happy moments in relationships depends on all involved to bring something of themselves to the relationship.

If you want to feel joy, bring it! One way to create moments in relationships is to create invitations for fun and spontaneity with your partner and loved ones.

IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR

IT’S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR

Unless You Are Single! As a Relationship Coach, I work with many men and women who are going through relationship transitions in their lives.

Whether caused by divorce, death of a  loved one, or just a season of change, each Fall, I hear a common thread from my newer clients, “I just don’t know how to face the holidays alone.” Whether on the driving or receiving side of a relationship split, the first holidays often seem unsurmountable.

I hear clients struggle with how they feel about holiday party invitations – should they attend alone, will their friends invite them or their ex, would it be easier just to avoid visiting and avoid questions?

They often express anxiety over having to share the kids on such special days, how it leaves them feeling abandoned, how they are concerned about being upstaged with gifts by their ex, how the expense of the holidays causes its strain.

There is also the general loneliness they anticipate will be exasperated by a season when others are experiencing joy. All of these feelings are real concerns and are rooted in fear of the unknown. Facing any transition in life can be overwhelming, and the holidays are a time when one could have arising feelings of uncertainty.

Let’s explore ways to ease your journey in what may seem like a “not so wonderful time of the year.” Take a realistic approach to the days ahead.  It’s natural to mourn over the loss of what used to be, but you will find it easier to move forward when you accept the fact that things will be different.

Don’t just jump ahead and assume all the holidays will be stressful, instead take one holiday or event at a  time. Be realistic about the season and separate your feelings from facts. It is effortless to want a picture-perfect Hallmark Movie holiday; however, most people’s experience is far more like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation with flaws, failures, and more calamity than calm.

Be realistic that this year will be different, but that difference can be a rewarding experience.   Face them with a positive mind-frame and avoid isolation. It’s very easy to avoid social interaction when you are going through a relational transition; however, the holidays are an excellent time to change your mindset.

Focus on the things you have always loved most about the holidays. Keep up those traditions even if it means modifying the way you have done them in the past. Make sure you put up your tree or favorite Menorah. If baking cookies in the past brought you joy, host a cookie exchange, or invite an elderly neighbor to bake with you.

Pass on traditions to your children, and get them involved, explain why these things mean something to you. Avoid doing everything alone by shopping with friends or hosting a wrapping party. Focus on the good that’s happening in your life and marvel in your new independence, cultivating gratitude in your unique experiences.

If applicable, lean on your faith and even explore new traditions from your faith or ancestry. By keeping your focus on the positive things, and staying engaged throughout the holidays, you will be better prepared to handle the bumps when uncertainty surfaces.

You may even find ways to enjoy your new independence in the season. The important thing is to give yourself the gift of community. Focus on eternal things, instead of your situation. It is easy to get caught up by the many changes happening around you.

Don’t dwell on the past but look forward to what new happenings are emerging in your life. Remember the holidays are more about people than they are about things. Try not to allow financial pressures to burden you, instead make a budget and keep within it.

Give of yourself and your time if your resources are not as plentiful. Avoid feeling guilty if you can’t give gifts and find ways to create memories with people, which are more valuable than material items. Be patient with yourself as you work to change your focus away from your situation to others.

Reach out to others and find ways to bring joy into both of your lives. Remember, the greatest gift we can give others is ourselves, which will also fill us with joy. Try to make new traditions with people around you and fill your time.

Some find volunteering fulfilling; others may host a gift exchange with neighbors. Allow yourself happiness.  It may seem unnatural to be happy in your circumstances, but it will also build hope for your future.

Use this season to set a new course for your future, permitting yourself to celebrate in ways that bring you joy! I recall one client on her first holiday season alone. Her children were spending Christmas with her ex, and her family was all out of state. Instead of resigning herself to lying in bed all day in misery, she sought others in the same boat.

What she realized was there were quite a few parents she knew in the same boat on Christmas. She offered to host a “Friends without Family” Christmas Dinner. Setting her best china, she asked friends to each bring a dish to share and two identical gifts, one to exchange and one to give.

After their gift exchange and a satisfying meal, the group headed to a nearby city to hand out plates of leftovers and the extra gifts wrapped to the homeless. What could have been a handful of lonely people quickly became a day of cheer and giving?

By focusing on happiness, she was able to bring joy and happiness to not only friends but some unexpected homeless. What stood out to me about this client as she was ready to embrace the season with a realistic approach; she kept a positive outlook avoiding isolation, and she focused on others rather than her circumstances.

Not allowing her situation to overwhelm her, she was able to find happiness in the changes around her. In many ways, the most important lesson is to gift yourself the permission to be happy in the most beautiful time of the year!     Christine Olsen, Info@settlemedown.com SMD Life Coaching   Christine is a Certified Life Coach with nearly ten years of experience.

She is deemed an expert in Transitional Coaching, specializing in relationship, divorce, and hospice coaching. Transitional coaching involves helping clients recognize and navigate change taking place in their lives. Whether the change is by choice or circumstantial, Christine helps clients deal with difficult situations and emotions, while providing navigational tools to thrive in the conditions you face.

The Best Ways to Confront a Cheating Spouse?

The Best Ways to Confront a Cheating Spouse?

So, you found out that you have a cheating spouse now what do you do? Although your mind is probably still reeling and your emotions extremely raw, the very first thing you need to do is try your best to calm down; if you can, get away from the situation for a few days, such as staying with a family member or friend (if you don’t have children), or if you do have kids, then ask your spouse to stay elsewhere for a while.

Confronting your cheating spouse can be a tricky thing, so here are some ideas on how to confront them without losing your cool.

1. Before confronting him/her, figure out what you want out of the conversation. Do you want the whole truth? Do you want to talk about the future and whether to stay together or not? If you have older children, should you tell them what is going on? The conversation is not going to be pleasant, but it must be done so be prepared.
2. If you have hard proof of the affair, will you tell your spouse? You have to think about this before confronting him/her, since most likely they will deny the affair if you come at them with either no proof, or just angry assumptions; if you do happen to have proof (such as incriminating text messages, photos or emails), then you might want to go ahead and let them know what proof you have.
3. Pretend you don’t know and simply act normally. Do this if you just don’t want a confrontation yet, especially if your emotions are running high and you’re afraid you would say something nasty and that you’ll regret. If your spouse does happen to notice that you’re acting as if something is wrong, then lie and say you’re upset about your job, a friend or something else.
4. Give your spouse a chance to explain him or herself. Before blowing up at them and hurling accusations, calmly tell them that you know about the cheating spouse, and then let them do the talking. Your spouse will either come clean and confess or deny the affair. If they do deny that anything is going on—and you have hard proof of the affair—now is the time to bring up this fact and see what else they have to say after being caught red-handed.
5. Make sure not to blame yourself or allow yourself to get caught up in anger and depression. You did absolutely nothing to cause your spouse to have an affair and holding onto anger and resentment will only make matters worse in the long run. Learn to forgive, if you can, and if not, forgiveness can come later. To make yourself feel a bit better, go out for a spa day with a close friend, get a mani/pedi with your daughter, or even book a room at your favorite hotel just to get away for a while.

Love Languages Explained

Love Languages Explained

Love is an important aspect of our daily lives, so are relationships. Gary Chapman wrote a book called The Five Love Languages, where he outlines five ways of expressing love: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Ben Nadel writes, “While this might seem obvious at first, it can become an impossible task if we are not aware of our significant other’s “Love Language.” As Gary Chapman explains, every person has one dominant love language. And, unless our significant other communicates with us using that particular love language, nothing that they can do will make us feel truly loved.”

Words of affirmation are used to express love, “word of encouragement, approval, and appreciation.” The second love language is quality time. It is where you spend time with your significant other, “having meaningful conversations or sharing recreational activities.” The third love language is receiving gifts, where gifts, handmade or commercially bought, are exchanged to express love. The fourth love language is acts of service. This language is “marked by the desire to have someone do things such as dish washing, dog walking, and laundry for you.” Doing chores for your loved one may be your way of expressing love and appreciation for them. The final love language is physical touch, “This love language is marked by the desire to be touched, whether it’s holding hands, hugging, kissing, a stroking of the skin, or sex.”

Now the trouble as Nadel points out is that these are different languages: “Love languages are like any other language; and, unless we are speaking the same language, no real meaning can be communicated.”

A lot of meaning can be lost if you and your significant other speak different languages and thus it is important to understand and discover how your loved one speaks of love, how does s/he express love? And how do you express love? How can you understand each other better?

“One thing Gary Chapman said that I found very interesting was that while one’s own actions may be a reflection of their love language, they don’t have to be.” Maybe you do not like acts of service and prefer a sense of touch and that stems from something in your personality, but it may be just a preference rather than having a hidden meaning.

Nadel speaks of another system called the Love Scale Quiz, where love is broken into six categories:
1) Romantic, which is “marked by passion and sexual attraction”
2) Best friends, “marked by feelings of deep affection and caring’
3) Logical, “When practical issues like money, religion, and values influence feelings”
4) Playful: a love scaled “Marked by the excitement of flirtatious and challenging interactions”
5) Possessive: “Marked by feelings of jealousy and obsession”
6) Unselfish: “Marked by nurturing, kindness, and sacrifice”
This system is created by Dr. Hatkoff. The love scale quiz “consists of 50 True/False questions that can help you determine which “Love Styles” are dominant in your approach to relationships.”