When is the right time to start a polyamory convo with a long-term partner?
Panelists respond to a listener who’s on the fence about opening up a monogamous relationship.
Wild & Sublime Podcast Transcript
#S3E14 | Should We Open Up Our Relationship
Tazima Parris: You start by not knowing. You start by asking questions. The main thing that I encourage people to take with them into these situations is curiosity. What is it about this that intrigues me? What is it about this that totally terrifies me?
Karen Yates: Welcome to Wild & Sublime, a sexy spin on infotainment®, no matter your preferences, orientation, or relationship style, based on the popular live Chicago show. I chat about sex and relationships with citizens from the world of sex positivity. You'll hear meaningful conversations, dialogues that go deeper, and information that can help you become more free in your sexual expression. I'm sex educator and intimacy coach Karen Yates. This week, our panel answers the question, "When is the right time to open up a relationship?" Keep listening.
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Hey Folks. Today we'll be talking about polyamory, a subject that is coming up more and more. Last year, Newsweek reported on a recent study of 3400 Americans of all genders, orientations, cultures and economic levels that 17% wanted to be polyamorous, 11% had been polyamorous at some point in their lives, and approximately 6.5% said they knew someone who was or is polyamorous. The research found that no particular social group was overwhelmingly more likely to be polyam than another, and the study authors were quoted as saying, "Existing research suggests polyamorous relationships may be more common than the average person might think." Which brings me to today's question about whether or not to open up a relationship in order to see other people, especially when there's underlying ambivalence in the partnership. This conversation was part of our monthly patreon Q&A last year with a supporter writing in on the subject. You'll be hearing from sex positive therapist Matthew Amador, sex coach Tazima Parris, and surrogate partner and intimacy coach Brandon Hunter-Haydon. I am recording from the unceded lands of the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi nations, colonially known as Chicago, and I'll be jumping straight into the question here. Enjoy.
Here we go. "Can you comment on people opening up their monogamous relationship when they're already having difficulty? Does this ever work as a strategy to strengthen a relationship? Or is it kind of like having a baby to save a marriage? I ask because my husband and I have talked for years about trying nonmonogamy, but nothing came of it. Maybe because there was some ambivalence on both sides, and maybe some floundering about the realities of, okay, so how do we do this? Now it's coming up again, when we are in a rough patch. He brought it up. I'm still ambivalent, but I'm at a point where I'm thinking maybe it's not a bad idea. I have heard some people say it was the best thing they ever did. But would love some advice here. Thanks. Signed, Mono e Mono." So, a lot of questions within the question. Matthew, why don't you start us off?
Matthew Amador: You know, when there's the question of, 'Is this something that can be helpful right now?' If we're already having difficulty? It makes me curious. Like, I think it could be helpful if it's actually addressing the things that they're having difficulties with. A lot of times, sex in general, and sometimes just proposing something like nonmonogamy can be a distraction, if there's something else that actually needs to be addressed within the relationship. And I guess my question here would be, is proposing nonmonogamy addressing what's actually the core issue? Which could be, are there concerns about intimacy? Are there concerns about sexuality? Are there concerns about intimacy with other people? Is that where like, where the cracks are right now that you're noticing in the relationship? Or are the cracks more something about intimacy between the two of you? Or is there something financial that's at hand? Anything else that actually could be worked on between the two of you? If that's the case, then introducing nonmonogamy is just a distraction.
As an example, I really got into it with my mom over text, like during the holidays. We were talking about political stuff. And then as I'm trying to ring her up to be able to talk about something, like Black Lives Matter, for instance, all of a sudden she sends me a picture of a flower with a bee on it. And she says, look, there's a bee. I'm like, what? And then I'm like, oh, yeah, this is her way to just distract and get out of the conversation. So, if introducing non monogamy is you or your partner's way of saying, hey, look, there's a bee, and not actually talking about the problems that are hand, that you're trying to get to have a conversation about, then maybe it's not the best idea, and maybe it won't be able to help. But if it is something that actually has to do with what you need to converse about, or can get a conversation started by actually looking at this, then I say maybe yeah, give it a thought.
Karen Yates: Yeah, I really like that idea. I think it's a great thing to think about, like if, say, one partner is really kinky and wants to continue to develop that. And the other partner is like, I'm just not, it's not going to happen — then it becomes a real thing. I think that's what you're saying here. Correct?
Matthew Amador: Absolutely. Yeah. If that's something that could be addressed with nonmonogamy. But if something that you were arguing about consistently is, you're always coming home late? Well, that's not going to — if we're talking about time, that's not really going to address that necessarily. It could. You can stretch it to maybe talk about, like, respect for time and space, but it's not directly addressing it. So then I would be a little, ehhh, I'd be a little just curious about like, Okay, well, not a hard No, but just, let's just reexamine and see, either, if that is addressing it, or if there's a way that we can actually make it address it.
Tazima Parris: Yeah, I want to jump in on the mechanics inside of a nonmonogamous situation. Because everything that Matthew was sharing is definitely like, yes. Because band aids don't actually heal. I mean, they don't. And using this as a band aid is yes — I'm glad this person brought up the baby to save the marriage thing. If you're not addressing the actual mechanics of the relationship, this could add more complexity to an already challenging situation. I love the idea of potentially using other relationships or other connections to address existing challenges. And this is tricky, and I would highly recommend getting support to do it. Because there are a whole bunch of details and emotions and stuff that we have, and hangups and our own baggage that we bring into the relationship. All of these factors muck up the water to make this a less clear conversation, even with two fairly sober human beings. I mean, it's a lot, being able to address the intricacies of relationships, and then add more people or more situations. Adding more unknowns could be challenging in this situation. I'm not going to write it off completely as an option. I think it could potentially address some things, but what are you really going for?
And when I support clients around opening up their relationships, I ask them, what is it that you're desiring from a nonmonogamous situation? What's the thing that you want? Not all the things that you're afraid could happen, and you guard against those. What is your real desire around introducing more pals into your circle? So, checking in with the desire and not just the band aid or not just I'm not getting this or I'm afraid of that? What's the desire? And what I often find is that there are similar desires between the two partners that are negotiating. There's usually something that is a similar thread. And that can actually help you move forward. Even if you don't choose to actually bring another person into the situation, just having the conversation — finding out, oh, I want more fun! Oh, I want more spontaneity. Oh, I want more heat, passion. You might find that there's something that you two can do, even without adding — or even the conversation might be hot enough to spark something in your existing relationship already. So I would be open to not only the desire portion of it, but also be aware that this is not, like, a standard conversation. It's not gonna go as you plan, period. Just, we can guarantee, any of my colleagues here could definitely cite several examples of how these conversations don't necessarily go as we plan, even if we take a bunch of precautionary actions. You're dealing with a human being, and you are a human being. So, it's a lot.
Karen Yates: Yeah, you know, one point you brought up that I'm really happy you brought up is actually seeking outside help around negotiating this. Because, as I was reading this question today, and sort of considering what we were going to be talking about, I'm like, 'This isn't, like, you have a copy of Bride's magazine. 'We're gonna get married!' There's going to be Polyamory Magazine to thumb through for the latest columns on, you know, how-tos, whatzadoozies... This is like — this is alt. This is still alt. And you're not going to have a whole circle of friends being like, Yeah, do it! Yeah, I'm gonna support you and love you. So like, to have some sort of professional in your corner, who is conversant in these issues — a coach or a therapist — is like a really, really great idea. Brandon, what do you have to say?
Matthew Amador: I was really following the way that they're using language to describe their experience. And as it's written, as they've stated, one thing that jumps out to me immediately is when they say, I ask because my husband and I have talked for years about trying non monogamy, and nothing came of it. What does that mean? Nothing came of it? If you have this conversation, something happened in that exchange. And so I followed that immediately, because 'nothing came of it' suggests that there was an outcome idealized, right,? Something that was imagined to have been the case that either happened or didn't happen. What it doesn't tell me about, as much that I want to know more about, is what was the process of that conversation? Between the two of you? What was it like to bring it up? Who brought it up? How did you bring it up? At what time did you bring it up? What was going on when you brought it up? What did it feel like when you talked about it? That's what I'm curious about. Because that's going to give more information. It's less about deciding whether or not it's a good idea to do the thing. It's more about, what's the process by which this is happening? And if there's ambivalence, is the ambivalence about nonmonogamy? Or is the ambivalence about the relationship between the two of you? And those are two different things, right? Same with becoming a parent, in certain regards. I think nobody is ready for that to happen, just like nobody is "ready" to open the relationship and navigate all that stuff in terms of feeling totally prepared, and to just be rockin’ and rollin’, smooth sailing from the get go. It's not going to happen. However, if there is connection between the parties who are opening up, and a foundation and reliable communication that they know that they can return to, right, that they know that they have a secure base from which to venture from and a safe haven to return to, and the appropriate equipment and language between the two of them to honor those things, and have those resources in their life, then, yeah, they're probably ready to face that ambivalence about opening up together. But if the ambivalence is between the two of them, then they're not really a team, right? In order to go on that adventure together. That's what I'd be curious about. And I think that's what I would tease apart first, is where does that ambivalence live? And what does it mean, when you say nothing has come of your discussion so far? You didn't learn anything about each other, that didn't open the door for you expressing your desires, or what was hard for you to talk about? Or where maybe shame lived? Or maybe fantasies lived? Things like that.
Right, Brandon? Like, why now?
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: Exactly.
Matthew Amador: Why, why now? Why not then?
Karen Yates: Right. Right. So, you know, back to the ambivalence. Ambivalence is an interesting state. Does opening up a relationship need to be a 'hell yeah'? To me, it's like, such a pretty intense proposition. And maybe this couple will get to the 'Hell yeah.' But it's like, ambivalence is not a great place to begin the launch. It's like, yeah, maybe this is good for us...? I would like to have more of a, like, heat in the belly like "Yassss. This is excellent." Tazma, what's going on?
Tazima Parris: Yo. There's this thing about adults, where we just feel like we just need to be so clear and expert at everything we do, no matter what. If we just, like — little kid, we don't have any expectation of a little kid. And the little kid is the most determined human being to tie that shoe that they can't yet tie. No one's being mean to the kid about, you can't tie your shoe, because they understand it's a new thing that they're embarking upon, and like, it's going to take some time. Same with this kind of stuff. This is a new thing. Ambivalence is going to be normal, especially with your adult-ass brain and your adult-ass anxieties and all the things that you've experienced, all the baggage that you're carrying, all the — and this is without any judgment. We all have these stories in our heads. We don't ever get rid of them. We just get better at acknowledging them and navigating with them, and skillful in containing them. That's really all we can hope for. So in your ambivalence, please understand, like, ambivalence is the product of a lot of experiences, and being unsure, and there's nothing wrong with being unsure about anything. You don't have to get to 'Hell yeah,' or top level of skill to start something. You start by not knowing. You start by asking questions. The main thing that I encourage people to take with them into these situations is curiosity. What is it about this that intrigues me? What is it about this that totally terrifies me? What is it about it that having a conversation with my partner totally terrifies me? bBecause it's one thing to have the ambivalence spinning in your head; it's a total other thing to start revealing yourself to your partner, which is a whole huge — it's a huge aspect of these conversations. So, ambivalence is normal. There's nothing wrong with you for being ambivalent. You are not an expert. No one's an expert when they just start. And it's okay. Take your time learning how to start the conversation. Get support from professionals, if you don't know how.
All three of you are pointing to this very — the most important part is clear communication between the two people at hand. And what is going on that is keeping that clear communication from happening? When is it like, window dressing? What's the process here? Matthew, it seems you wanted to say something.
Matthew Amador: All the talk about finding support — I so agree with it. Tazima, that was a rockstar suggestion right there. I'm not saying that just to pat ourselves on the back, and justify our own professions and our own existence here. I really think it's just so crucial. Because even with — Karen, you mentioned, like, you know, you don't have Bride Magazine, and like, okay, that's something that's supported by the dominant culture. Bride Magazine. And how many weddings do people struggle through? And that's supported by mainstream culture, by the dominant culture! And now we're talking about something that isn't necessarily widely supported by the dominant culture, like, it can be rough, it can be hard, there can be a lot of distrust of self, as there is also in Bride magazine. And people who subscribe — please, the support that you can get, the support you can get, because it's not going to be just in the background culture helping you out. Priceless, priceless.
Karen Yates: Let's move to the final part of this. "I've heard some people say it was the best thing they ever did, but would love some advice..." So, when does it become the best thing people have ever done? Point us toward what can bloom between two people when they do open their relationship?
Matthew Amador: Well, I would say it's probably not going to happen during a rough patch. Just to say that clearly. Not likely, not likely. Again, because of the protections and the connection and trust in the relationship, which is what you want to return to. The idea of it, the way that I've heard it described, and that I think makes a lot of sense to me, is part of opening up is to create a feedback loop of generative energy that returns to each individual, but also to your relationship. And I don't mean to just set this up in hierarchical nonmonogamous relationships, but to all partnerships involved, right? So all the dyads or constellations — is that, ideally, it creates a sort of generative energy that returns. And it's hard to do that if there are disconnections in place. Talk about what could possibly be enhanced. Well, communication is one of those things — it'll really test your boundaries, when you are faced with opening up, and for so many people, in some ways, for the first time, finally being in touch with some of their desires, and feeling the immense energy emerge in the wake of feeling that liberation, that excitement, that openness. So, having a sense of your boundaries and what your values are, and having those tested in the wake of your own fever, right? Or in the wake of the rush, right? The exhilaration, that you'll learn about yourself, and also your partner will learn about you. And also how safe you feel in your communication and your relationship when those things start to come up.
Karen Yates: And how safe you feel in your life in general.
Brandon Hunter-Haydon: Yeah.
Tazima Parris: One thing I would add to what can be a huge benefit is that — especially in an instance where the current constellation, or the current partnership is not providing something that is actually an essential thing for one of the partners, or one of the people involved — for example, if one person is kinky, and their partner cannot provide the kind of atmosphere where that person will feel held and safe, and will get the benefits out of the experience — if they literally can't provide that, either because they don't have the skill, or they don't have, literally don't have the equipment, whether that be a tool or a body part, or a way of being — that essential, let's call it a nutrient component of relating, is not available for that person inside of the current configuration. And that person getting that essential nutrient or experience can have them show up more fully, not only in the relationship with the established partner, but also in the rest of their life. And sometimes people are out of touch with this completely, or they're, because of the society's support of monogamy and lack of support for nonmonogamy, people will kind of grin and bear it when they're really not being nourished with the things that they need. And so, by introducing those experiences for a person who is in need of those things, it can completely enliven the person and enliven the connection, the already existing connection.
Now, that could also come with some jealousy experiences. And that's something that will, again, as Brandon was sharing, will encourage you to enhance your communication and stay clear and current with your partner, and have better conversations about what's needed, what's missing? How do I feel about this? What's necessary for me to continue as I'm observing my partner getting this essential nutrient that I can't provide? It's a lot. And again, this is not stuff that you can easily get support for, in regular mainstream circles. It's super-specialized information. Not saying that it's unavailable — it is available, it's just, you're not necessarily going to find the baseline supportive space all around you. And to customize what the situation is for the people who are involved, that's also a whole other level of complexity that we're adding to, because you know, two people, and then multiple people, like, there's a lot going on. So yeah, essential nutrients, getting that and getting those needs met, when they haven't been met for a while, or it's a newfound need. It can really enliven both the person, the connection, the entire relationship, and even kind of light up the constellation as well.
Karen Yates: Great.
Matthew Amador: Yeah, speaking on even just the moment of how do you know you're at that place where it was the best decision you ever made? I would almost say, you are constantly evolving. Your partner, your partners are constantly evolving. The relationship that you are in together is constantly evolving. This is the process. It's not just one thing to arrive at. Yep, best decision we ever made. No, it's kind of like, like I think of old-school Pac-Man. So old school Pac-Man — anyone who's on the Patreon feed, and you can see me do the visual thing. So Pac-Man wants to go this way, but he needs to get to the other side of the screen. And this is where there's like the ghosts, blinking ghosts and like the bouncing fruit. That's my stripper name, Bouncing Fruit.
Karen Yates: That's a good name.
Matthew Amador: Thank you, Pac-Man used to get to this side. When Pac-Man gets all the way over to this side, to his destination, what happens? He starts over right back at this side. It's a loop. It's a process, going across the board is just a constant process. And that's kind of what I think of this. Like, at one point, it might be a great decision, but it's going to be a continued evolving process. And further on in the process, maybe it's not going to be the best decision. And it's okay to change your mind, and say, Okay, the rules change for me here, right now. They're gonna change for you a little bit right now. It's going to shift, and that's okay. And maybe we'll shift back, maybe we'll shift to something else. There's a constant evolution.
Karen Yates: For more information on Tazima, Matthew, and Brandon, go to the show notes. As an intimacy coach, I work with couples in Chicago, helping them learn how to verbalize erotic desires in the moment, and master skills of sensual cooperation. If you and your partner are looking for ways to more deeply connect with one another and get out of limiting patterns, I can help. Go to karen-yatesyates.com for more information.
Wild & Sublime is supported in part by our Sublime Supporter, Full Color Life Therapy. Therapy for all of you at fullcolorlifetherapy.com.
Well, that's it folks. Have a very pleasurable week. Thank you for listening. If you know someone who might be interested in this episode, send it to them. Do you like what you heard? Then give us a nice review on your podcast app. You can follow us on social media @wildandsublime and sign up for newsletters at wildandsublime.com. I'd like to thank associate producer Julia Williams and design guru Jean-Francois Gervais. Theme Music by David Ben-Porat. This episode was edited by The Creative Imposter studios. Our media sponsor is Rebellious Magazine, feminist media, at rebelliousmagazine.com.
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- Tazima Parris – Sex Coach
- Matthew Amador – Psychotherapist for love, sex & gender rebels
- Brandon Hunter-Haydon – Surrogate Partner and Intimacy Coach
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