"It's Just One Big, Ambiguous Mess"
by Michael Dale Kimmel of Life Beyond Therapy
My book "The Gay Man's Guide to Open and Monogamous Marriage" came out in June. Ever since, I have been getting new clients whose relationships are similar to the couples I talk about in the book: "if you write about it, they will come".
I'm glad, because I really enjoy working with couples in "non-traditional" (e.g. non hetero-normative) relationships. I'd like to talk a bit here about three such relationships and how to address the challenges these couples are experiencing.
Couple One: "We have an open relationship, but, lately, my husband has been much more interested in a new guy he's gotten to know. So much so that I feel excluded. I've talked to him about it, but he just assures me that it's a 'temporary thing'. I don't care, I feel like I'm being phased out of his life."
Couple Two: "My wife and I have a poly-amorous relationship. We both meet great women and get to make love with them and become friends (usually). I want more: I want the ability to deeply love these women and experience more with them. This freaks my wife out: she's afraid I'll leave her because I'll fall in love with one of them."
Couple Three: "My husband and I and his best friend are in a triad relationship. I have sex with both of them, separately, and they have a friendship that is so close it only lacks sex to make it a gay relationship. The problem is that my husband is jealous of his best friend – my boyfriend. What do we do now?"
They are the kinds of problems that non-monogamous relationships often generate. Personally, I love working with couples who think "outside the box". These couples are usually high-functioning, successful people who are willing to explore new ways of loving (physically and emotionally) with the men/women they love.
Let's be clear, however, these kinds of relationships typically bring up lots of difficult emotions: jealousy, insecurity, feeling left-out, less-than, not-as-good-as. The title for this column came from a bisexual man who told me how he and his (bisexual) wife are glad to have an open relationship, but that sometimes "it's just one big, ambiguous mess".
When your relationship feels like that, what can you do? Here are some guidelines for working through difficult times/emotions in any relationship, open or monogamous:
Communication: This is the number one panacea for relationship problems. You've got to find a way to talk about the uncomfortable stuff with the person(s) you love. This is why I put so many "Questions to Consider" in my book: the questions are designed to help you, the reader, start the discussion with your partner that you've both been avoiding. Yes, this stuff is uncomfortable, but, a relationship isn't going to be very good or last very long if you keep avoiding the tough stuff.
Respect: If you don't treat your partner with respect, all the honesty in the world is going to sound mean-spirited and unkind. And it ain't easy to be respectful when you're so angry you want to rip their head off. Find a way to respect your partner and what she/he stands for, even if you don't like what they're saying or doing at a given point in time.
Ask for help: Lots of us were trained that it's weak to ask for help. This is twentieth century foolishness. You'd go to a personal trainer for improving your body, right? Why wouldn't you go to a therapist for improving your mind/attitude/relationship?
Expect that things will periodically feel like a big, ambiguous mess: Any relationship is going to occasionally feel chaotic and confusing. Anticipate it and talk with your lover about how you two want to handle things when they get rough. Because they will.
Take care of yourself and your needs: If you sacrifice your happiness for someone else's, you're bound to feel resentment and anger. Don't do it. Take good care of yourself: spend time alone and with friends. Don't make your man/woman your everything. Make sure that your "foundation" – your sense of self – is strong, so that no matter what comes your way, it won't knock you over.