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ACA 2016 - Consensual Non-Monogamy presentation


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Working with consensual non-monogamy including open and polyamorous relationships

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ACA 2016 - Consensual Non-Monogamy presentation

  1. 1. Cultural Competence with Consensually Non-Monogamous Relationships: Beyond the Dyad Steve Schoser, LPCC Dr. Sheila Addison, LMFT Presented at ACA 2016, Montreal, QC, Canada
  2. 2. Learning Objectives Attendees will be able to: 1. Describe a variety of consensually non- monogamous (CNM) relationships clients may engage in, and concepts common to various CNM relationship types. 2. Identify common presenting problems in CNM relationships. 3. Generate examples of how to apply conjoint therapy skills with CNM relationship clients. 4. Identify their own assumptions and biases that may complicate working with CNM clients.
  3. 3. Content advisory • This presentation discusses issues related to sex and sexual relationships. It may contain adult content and strong language.
  4. 4. Initial impressions: Case 1 • Akiko: 26, Japanese-American, graduate student • Currently dating several people, all of whom have primary partners • She finds she is often feeling lonely and depressed when she is not out on a date • She spends a lot of time messaging people on OK Cupid looking for dates • Often drinking when she is alone • She wonders if she might be a sex addict
  5. 5. Initial impressions: Case 2 • David, 35, African-American, lives with his husband Hunter (29, white) and their boyfriend Ruben (22, Latino) • The three of them come for joint counseling • They are fighting a lot over how to divide responsibility in the household • Ruben is currently unemployed • Hunter believes Ruben is not working hard enough to find a job
  6. 6. Discuss cases • What did your group come up with? • Case of Akiko • Case of David, Hunter, & Ruben
  7. 7. Dan Savage, advice columnist
  8. 8. Definitions • Monogamy – One spouse or partner • Serial Monogamy – One spouse or partner at a time • Polygamy – More than one spouse • Polygyny – More than one wife • Polyandry – More than one husband
  9. 9. Consensual non-monogamy • CNM = Umbrella term • AKA “negotiated non- monogamy” • Open Relationship • One spouse or primary partner • Multiple sexual “playmates” who are not romantic partners • “Monogamish” – Dan Savage • Swinging (aka “wife swapping”) • One spouse or partner • Multiple playmates under certain conditions • Chiefly heterosexual
  10. 10. Definitions • Polyamory: from the Greek and Latin roots meaning “many loves.” • Love-styles that involve • More than one partner • Openly • With the knowledge and consent of all involved. • Can refer to “multiple loves” without the relationships being sexual
  11. 11. Definitions • Different poly styles • Primary, secondary, tertiary – see later slide • Group marriage • AKA “Polyfidelity” • Poly singles • Relationship “shapes” • V-relationship • Triads/Quads/more
  12. 12. Consensual non-monogamy • More CNM types? • Mono/poly or “mixed” relationship • Non-exclusive relationship • AKA “just dating” • Intimate friendship • AKA “friends with benefits” • Couples who are currently monogamous who do not intend to remain exclusive
  13. 13. CNM & Poly terms • Metamour • “Partners of my partner(s)” • Compersion • Loving empathy for one’s partner being loved/engaged by others • New Relationship Energy (NRE) • AKA “limerance” • Fluid bonding • Veto
  14. 14. Hierarchical relationships • Primary • Implication: an enduring commitment of some kind • May co-habitate, share money, etc. • May raise children together • May imply greater claim on time, resources, etc. • May have “veto” over other partners? • Secondary • Loving, but without the degree of investment of primary partners • May or may not have their own primary partner(s)
  15. 15. Hierarchical relationships
  16. 16. Hierarchical relationships • Not everyone likes or uses the primary/secondary framework! • “Non-primary” • An intimate (romantic/sexual) relationship that by mutual agreement does not have the traditional goal of becoming primary life partners who share a household • These relationships can be monogamous, polyamorous, or otherwise • Non-primary relationships can be very long-term and significant, or not • Some prefer no hierarchical terms at all
  17. 17. Hierarchical relationships • Challenges of being a “secondary” • Feelings that grow beyond the relationship’s capacity • Self-care • Speaking up about needs • Managing expectations • Relationships(s) with metamours • Feeling “disposable” • Some people will not date a “secondary” who does not have their own “primary”
  18. 18. Hierarchical relationships • “Secondary” concerns • What’s realistic/reasonable for this relationship? • What are my must-haves and my boundaries? (i.e. “hard” and “soft” limits) • When and how will I seek other potential relationships instead of focusing on this one? (NRE) • It’s not for everyone • But it’s ideal for some people!
  19. 19. Hierarchical relationships • “Relationship escalator” • Moving toward increasing commitment
  20. 20. Why CNM? • In love with more than one person • Desire more variety in relationships/sexual practices • To meet a relationship need/desire not met in other relationships • Between relationships/exploring • Feeling pressured by lover • Cover for cheating
  21. 21. Polyamory-specific culture • Values: • Honesty • Safe Sex • Physical health • Emotional health • Freedom • Consent • Don’t control others
  22. 22. Non-monogamy skills • All the same skills needed for monogamous relationships, plus: • Deep self-knowledge • Radical honesty/congruency • Commitment to consent • Exceptional differentiation • Abundance mentality “Love is that condition wherein another person’s happiness is essential to your own.” Robert Heinlein
  23. 23. Non-monogamy skills • Social justice perspective adds: • Ability to address power • Male privilege • Heterosexual privilege • White privilege • Couple privilege • Cisgender privilege • Age privilege etc.
  24. 24. Non-monogamy skills – addressing power
  25. 25. Non-monogamy skills • Social justice perspective adds: • Self-control/Self-regulation • Saying no when you want to say yes • Considering the well-being of multiple people & relationships, from multiple perspectives
  26. 26. Health/safety issues? • CNM people have more partners & sexual activity • But they are more likely to have HIV & other tests • More likely to practice safer sex • More likely to discuss safer sex
  27. 27. CNM in therapy • Agreements • Jealousy • Boundary violations • Poly-specific issues
  28. 28. CNM in therapy - Agreements • Negotiating what relationship(s) will look like when opening up • Or re-negotiating after a breach • Make sure to include: What do we do if it’s not working?
  29. 29. CNM in therapy - Agreements • Gottman model can be helpful • “Love Maps” • Accepting influence • Perpetual vs. solvable problems • Consider: • Attachment injuries • Ideals vs. realistic expectations • What is the right pace? • Slowing down can help
  30. 30. Agreements: Examples • What kind of contacts/relationships can each person pursue? • Is there a primary/secondary hierarchy, and if so, what does that mean? Examples: • Practicing safer sex with secondary partners • Time spent with other people including overnights • “Special” things – places, activities, sex acts reserved for one partner
  31. 31. Agreements: Examples • Do we pre-approve partner’s choices? Is there a veto? • Meeting other people partner is involved with? • Managing social overlap • Boundaries around personal information • Where and how to be “out” or not
  32. 32. CNM in therapy - Jealousy • Anybody can feel jealousy, under the right circumstances • The most effective way to handle jealousy is often to solve the underlying problem that creates it • Feelings are irrational by their very nature; jealousy is no exception. • “I’ve heard plenty of irrational thoughts; I’ve never heard an irrational emotion” – Sue Johnson • Address the feeling head-on, rather than attempting to dismiss it as “irrational” or “unjustified.”
  33. 33. CNM in therapy - Jealousy • Jealousy is not a one-person problem! • Many CNM resources focus on how the jealous person should “manage” their jealousy • Understand the triggers • Figure out what you’re really afraid of • Communicate • Let go of your fears • Rules are unfair to other people – do your work • Much easier said than done • Adult attachment research suggests that the threatened brain can’t process intellectually very well
  34. 34. CNM in therapy - Jealousy • Managing jealousy relationally • Identify relationship cycle and the vulnerable primary emotions underneath • Including others’ parts in the cycle, e.g. pursue-withdraw, withdraw- withdraw • Help withdrawers re-engage & be more present • Help pursuer/blamers soften and reach out with vulnerability • Relationship becomes a “safe harbor” to weather the storms
  35. 35. CNM in therapy - Jealousy • Requires attunement to self & others • Identifying, examining, and disclosing jealous feelings before they fester • Willingness to hear about partners’ feelings and hold them tenderly and non- defensively
  36. 36. CNM in therapy - Jealousy • Other strategies • Let go of attachment to “the one” • “Go for broke” romantic love discouraged • Embracing compersion • Cultivating “full-plate” lives
  37. 37. CNM in therapy – Boundary violations • Potentially intense sessions • Get comfortable with being directive • But stay balanced! • Often presents with defensiveness, entitlement, blame from the offending partner • Often hidden power/control dynamics in play
  38. 38. CNM in therapy – Boundary violations • Dealing with violations • “High-cost” behaviors from the violator • Time out, giving up a secondary partner, etc. • Self-examination • How will I stay “in bounds” in the future? • How will I make sure that new loves do not replace or displace existing partners?
  39. 39. CNM in therapy • Poly-specific issues • Because I’m poly I shouldn’t (feel, say, do, want) • Lack of role models (“what are we doing?”) • Rejection by family/work/religion • Secrecy - How and where to be “out” or not • Need to process things taken for granted in monogamous relationships
  40. 40. CNM in therapy • Who should attend sessions? • “Open” – usually just the central couple • Poly – depends on relationship configurations & where the problems lie • “Unit of treatment” may change or be fluid
  41. 41. CNM in therapy • Who is the client? • Systemic thinking is more helpful than individual • Who is involved in the problem(s)? • Don’t automatically accept the client’s definition of the problem • “Help me be less jealous” (fix me) • “She doesn’t like my new girlfriend” (fix her) • Leveraging the whole relationship system for change • Opening lines of communication
  42. 42. CNM in therapy • Managing multiple adults in session • Your role may be fluid • “Traffic cop” vs. “director” vs. “coach” “audience” • “Therapeutic triangle” (Bowen) vs. enactments • Get to process and away from content • Interrupt fruitless complaining • Don’t problem-solve
  43. 43. Common traps • “Love is limitless” • Time, energy and resources all have limits • “Love may be limitless in the abstract, but in the concrete world of work and conflicting schedules and finite resources, it’s limited indeed.” - Ve Ard & Veaux, 2003, Polyamory 101 • Toxic corollary: NRE run wild (“shiny!”)
  44. 44. Common traps • Poly is more “natural” • AKA “you were just taught to feel that way” • Evolutionary psychology – beware! • Toxic corollary: Blaming jealousy on the jealous person
  45. 45. Common traps • “Poly people are more honest” • Honesty is the key to any successful relationship! • Polyamorous people don’t automatically possess these skills. • Polyamorous people do not always live up to their own ideals. • Toxic corollary: • “Poly people can’t have affairs” • Breaking agreements is a trust violation just like an affair
  46. 46. Common traps • “Polyamory is a cure for cheating” • Attempting to “fix” cheating by making a relationship poly is not going to work. • A person who can’t be trusted to behave with respect toward one person can’t be trusted to behave with respect toward more than one • Polyamory is best when your relationships and your relationship skills are already quite strong • Toxic corollary: “Relationship in trouble? Add more people!”
  47. 47. Common traps • Failing to communicate until it’s too late (expecting mind-reading) • Triangling in other partners
  48. 48. Common traps • Superiority complex - “more evolved” • AKA Poly will solve all problems – “poly-vangelism” • There are monogamous people who are enlightened, passionate, caring, compassionate, wise, and benevolent people. • There are poly people who are selfish, inconsiderate jerks. • You can be wise or you can be a jerk, regardless of your relationship model
  49. 49. Common traps • Covert power/control • Gaslighting • “Trump carding” (or the “mic drop”) • OPP
  50. 50. Common clinician mistakes • Assuming an individual’s presenting issue is due to their participation in a CNM relationship • Belief: Non-monogamy causes pathology & distress
  51. 51. Common clinician mistakes • Assuming an individual’s participation in a CNM relationship is a symptom of their presenting issue • Belief: Non-monogamy = pathology • Conflating CNM with sex addiction • CNM = commitment-phobic • CNM = emotional immaturity (inability to love, etc.)
  52. 52. Common clinician mistakes • Assuming you know what type of CNM relationship works “best” • Recommending a course of action, e.g. “if you’re having problems, why don’t you close the relationship?” • Self-of therapist work • Or that all CNM relationships are the same • E.g. assuming Poly = Open
  53. 53. Common clinician mistakes • Being afraid of challenging clients out of “respect for diversity” • Discrepancies between “what I say I want” and “what I do” • Discrepancies between “what I hope will happen” and “what actually happens” • Mis-matches between relationship needs and emotional injuries/skill-set • Impact on other people in the client’s system
  54. 54. “What about the kids?” • Ethnographic study by Scheff • 22 children over 15 years • Sense of honesty permeates family • Closeness & open acceptance • Well-adjusted • Extensive economic/emotional support • Many role models • No social stigma
  55. 55. “What about the kids?” • Some drawbacks: • Jealousy of partners’ relationships with parents • More turnover in parents’ partners • But this happens in many families (e.g. post- divorce dating)
  56. 56. When is it pathology? • Like porn, “I know it when I see it”? • Causes for concern: • Unrealistic assumptions • Unrealistic expectations of others • Evidence of developmental or psychological vulnerabilities
  57. 57. Stereotype, or presenting problem? • Unable to commit • Fancy name/justification for cheating • Sex addicts • Don’t practice safer sex • A sign of trouble
  58. 58. CNM benefits • Shared burden of adulthood • More financial resources • More parenting figures • Network of care • “Buffers” when a dyad is having difficulty • Natural “brake” on the tendency to merge • Better balance of autonomy & togetherness?
  59. 59. CNM benefits • “Loss of passion” • Long-term couples - NRE diminishes • They have less interest in or need for sex with each other • Polyamory addresses this with NRE- enhanced new lovers • While maintaining the comfort and security of home and family
  60. 60. CNM benefits? • On the other hand, is a “NRE injection” the only solution to loss of passion? • Requires honest evaluation of what is motivating the desire to “open up”
  61. 61. CNM challenges • Cultural • Romantic love + non- possessiveness • Western culture’s emphasis on finding “the one.” • Concerns about exploiting women • Other taboos (fears), i.e., “what about the kids?” • For minority people: fear of fulfilling stereotypes of their culture(s)
  62. 62. CNM challenges • Relational • Avoiding displacement of long-term partners - NRE • Managing different expectations & preferences • Lack of follow-through on agreements • Good boundaries • Basic systems: avoiding triangulation, splits, etc.
  63. 63. CNM challenges • Personal • Managing feelings • Accountability • Telling our partners what we are up to! • Sharing power • Our feelings about our partners having equal rights to explore with others • Can activate our attachment injuries!
  64. 64. CNM challenges • Practical • Time, energy, money limitations • Discrimination issues • Housing laws • Property ownership • Employment benefits • Legal designations • Rights/access to children
  65. 65. CNM-friendly practice • Intake: • Are you legally married or in a registered domestic partnership? ❑ Yes ❑ No • Are you in any other significant relationships (however you may define them)? • If so, who are your other partners? • What terms do you use to describe your relationships?
  66. 66. CNM-friendly practice • Assessment: • What agreements do you have about your relationships? • How did this relationship come to be non- monogamous? • Did both of you have interest or was it one person’s suggestion? • How has it gone in terms of setting expectations & living up to them? • Do either of you have concerns about how things are going with other partners, yours or someone else’s? • CNM may or may not be significant to the presenting issue!
  67. 67. CNM-friendly practice • Common themes in treatment: • Decreasing shame and stigma • Clarifying and/or re-negotiating boundaries & repair mechanisms • Improving “early warning systems” (“poop detector”) • Communication skills • Recognizing one’s own feelings • Attunement to partners’ feelings
  68. 68. CNM-friendly practice • Common themes in treatment: • Increasing “secure base” of relationship(s) • Enactment of sharing vulnerable feelings and being held • Addressing power imbalances • Creating a more just system of relationships • Elevating un-heard voices • Increasing self-advocacy • Increasing everyone’s “other-orientation”
  69. 69. Discuss: Case 1 • Akiko: 26, Japanese-American, graduate student • Currently dating several people, all of whom have primary partners • She finds she is often feeling lonely and depressed when she is not out on a date • She spends a lot of time messaging people on OK Cupid looking for dates • Often drinking when she is alone • She wonders if she might be a sex addict
  70. 70. Discuss: Case 2 • David, 35, African-American, lives with his husband Hunter (29, white) and their boyfriend Ruben (22, Latino) • The three of them come for joint counseling • They are fighting a lot over how to divide responsibility in the household • Ruben is currently unemployed • Hunter believes Ruben is not working hard enough to find a job
  71. 71. CNM Print Resources
  72. 72. CNM Print Resources • Recommended • Opening Up (Taormino, 2008) • The Jealousy Workbook (Labriola, 2013) • “What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory” – via NCSF • “Working with Polyamorous Clients in the Clinical Setting” – via • Polyamory: Roadmaps for the Clueless and Hopeful (Ravenscroft, 2004) • With reservations • The Ethical Slut (Easton & Liszt, 1997/2009) • More than Two (Veaux & Rickert, 2014) • Not recommended • Sex at Dawn (Ryan, 2011)
  73. 73. CNM resources • Poly-Friendly Professionals • Open Minds Bay Area • therapists affirming gender & sexual diversity • - Bay Area LGBTQ friendly therapists • Kink-Friendly Professionals • Bisexuality-Aware Therapists