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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Poly Radio Blah Blah

Don't miss your chance on Monday to ask us questions live on the phone!

Mischa and Leon will be the featured guests on Love Online Radio, with Laura Banks and Susan Winter, from 11 am to noon on Monday, April 30. The show can be accessed through your computer or iPhone at

To call in and ask a question or express an opinion, the toll free studio number is: 866-404-6519. We'd love to hear from our members and faithful readers!

There will also be a podcast version of this show available from iTunes in the next few weeks.

Update: the show is now available as a podcast on iTunes. Click on the show for 4/30 to download the podcast into your iTunes.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Agreeable relationship agreements

Hello Friends,
I'm looking for a list of questions that my partner and I can ask ourselves in trying to make an open relationship agreement.
Negotiating Newbie

Hi Newbie! Thanks for addressing what I consider an important but often overlooked part of poly: working together to make all parties happy. Since your question involves just the two of you at this stage, I'll address both of you with my suggestions, although these should be easily extrapolated for larger groups.

I find that most relationship negotiations are best handled in this order: 1) figure out what you want; 2) figure out what your partner wants; and then 3) figure out the best solution for everyone. If you're familiar with the concept of game theory - this is it, applied to real life. The idea is to find the path which leads to the most collective happiness and the least collective dissatisfaction.

Find some time you both can set aside uninterrupted, at least an hour (but could easily be more).

For step one, I'd recommend that each of you should on your own (no peeking!) write up a list of things you'd want in your relationship going forward, both long and short term. Include things you feel are mandatory, best-case scenarios, and what you'd be happy 'settling' for. Also include any dealbreakers you have which you would NOT consider at this point. Be as detailed or as general as you like, but cover as much ground as you can. Also remember these are ideas and talking points as much as they are ingredients for agreements, and nothing at this point is set in stone. It's just a list of what you want - all of which your partner should know.

Step two, communicating with your partner, is more than just sharing the lists, although that's how it starts. The biggest stumbling block in negotiating relationship agreements I've found is where people think they're on the same page but it turns out they're not. Therefore,
be prepared to explain your underlying reasons for each item on your list, even if you think they are obvious. The key here is understanding why your partner wants what they want. I would recommend being as honest as possible about your true desires, even if you think your partner wouldn't agree to or doesn't share them, because the better your partner can understand what you want and why, the better chance you have of reaching mutual understanding. Conversely, when your partner is sharing things with you honestly, you may be surprised by some of what you hear. Keep an open mind, and remember that listening openly is part of the exercise. Make sure you each have the chance to speak as much as you want, and don't move on past any item until you both feel you understand the other. Negative feelings may arise, but if you have a strong underlying primary relationship, and you mutually commit to holding your relationship as special, you will come to appreciate their sharing their desires with you, rather than feeling jealous or uncomfortable. Practice compersion.

Once you feel you have shared what is important to you, and have heard what is important to your partner, it's time for step three, coming up with the actual agreement. Since you're both new at this, your ground rules should be mutually agreed upon in writing, with definitions included if needed. (What is 'sex'? What is 'overnight'? What is 'together'?) Try to include a catch-all, a plan of action to take if you're unsure about what to do in a situation. Each of you should get a copy, and it's a nice personalized touch to have each of you sign the other's. Agree to revisit the rules after a set period of time (a week, a month, six months, whatever), or before then if one or both of you have concerns. Also remember that miscommunications happen, even after you've spent all this time clarifying them. Sometimes rules seem to conflict or become impractical in practice. In addition, negotiated rules cover the situations you can imagine, but what happens if something you haven't covered comes up? This is where sharing the underlying rationale for your rules comes in handy; once you truly understand the rationale behind your partner's desires you can usually extrapolate appropriate behavior for situations you haven't yet considered. But check in with your partner if you're not sure about something. I also recommend letting any new partners you may have know about your agreement; you don't necessarily need to each walk around with your copy at all times in your wallet (although you could!), but definitely make sure new people in your life are aware both of your existing relationship/s and its relevant terms.

As an aside, I've found that most negotiated relationship agreements evolve over time, and after time they may simplify or even disappear entirely. The whole point of an agreement is to find ways to reach that mutual "win" that takes each of your wants into consideration, and the more you find you understand each other, the easier it becomes to achieve. Eventually you may reach the point where you each do the things you want, automatically incorporating the things you know make your partner happy, and you'll find you won't need that piece of paper after all. Good luck reaching relationship nirvana! Mischa, what's your take?

Well, I really don't have much to add to all that! You have definitely laid out the whole process soup-to-nuts....spoken like a real attorney! And if you are an attorney (like Leon is) then I'm sure this all sounds perfectly fine to you.

[Insert lawyer joke of your choice here]

I agree wholeheartedly about getting to the underlying reasons one person wants something from another person. Contrary to popular rumor, poly people aren't immune to jealousy. But there is always a way to deal with it constructively versus destructively. Remember that jealousy is one partner's issue; no one "makes" you feel jealous. You control your own feelings based on what you've agreed to with your partner(s). If they don't honor those agreements, then you can feel disappointed and hurt, but put the blame squarely where it belongs and for a specific action without condemning the whole person or the relationship.

So a good relationship agreement lets each partner know where the boundaries are that makes the relationship valuable and sustainable for them. If you follow Leon's process above and can't come to an agreement, then maybe the relationship isn't going to be what you want it to be. It could still be a positive thing in your life, but maybe it's not sustainable. Or maybe it's sustainable in a different form but doesn't have the intimacy you wanted, meaning you have to find that component elsewhere.

The point is that everyone is transparent about what they have, and everyone has the choice to take it or leave it.

While I also agree with Leon that relationship agreements tend to loosen over time, I'm not a big fan of making draconian agreements in the first place. My one little piece of advice is to keep agreements as simple as possible and try to make agreements that you are confident you can keep. Not everybody has the temperament to sit down and go through the whole litany of relationship possibilities at the beginning.

So another option is to tackle one or two big rules first, and work in the rest as time and experience dictates. It's like, instead of filling up your plate on your first trip to the buffet, just start with a salad and come back for the main course. The key is to create an atmosphere where every partner feels safe in bringing up new situations that might affect the relationship. Regular check-ins can be used to go over what rules are in place and what might need to change over time.

A great example of why this approach might work better is illustrated brilliantly in Franklin Veaux's blog post titled "If People Approached Monogamy The Way They Approach Polyamory." In reading this article, it's easy to see how relationship agreements that sound perfectly reasonable to a couple might make absolutely no sense to a potential new partner.

It's also a basic courtesy to include all parties that are affected by rules into the rule-making process (remember, we Americans fought a war over power imposed without representation - it's not something easily tolerated). So especially if you are just a couple for now, maybe you start small and work your way through new rules if and when a new person joins you, incorporating that person's specific desires and situation organically into your agreement.

And of course, if you get stuck, you might want to think about bringing in a professional, like our Open Love NY co-conspirator Diana Adams, a New York-based attorney who specializes in non-traditional and polyamorous relationship agreements. Her fee might be a small price to pay for a successful and happy relationship with the right person.

Good luck to you and let us know how things go!

Monday, January 30, 2012



First off, I'd like to thank you on running a great blog. I'm pretty new to polyamory and having this resource really helped me out a few times. I have sort of a general question about feelings of poly saturation. I have a primary and a secondary, and have been thinking about taking on a casual relationship with one other person, but I've been feeling a bit overwhelmed while talking to this third person about a possible relationship. While I don't want to hurt them by outright rejecting them, I really think I'm biting off more than I can chew. Have you got any advice?

Thanks again for great information!

Too many feelings

Dear Feelings,

Ah, the old question about poly-saturation! Juggling three relationships certainly can be challenging, especially for a beginner at poly. But if each relationship brings you joy and happiness, it can be very satisfying and rewarding too.

So from the way you phrased your letter, it sounds like the part that makes you feel overwhelmed is the actual talking about a potential relationship, not the hanging out and spending time with this new person. So the easy solution might be to table the "relationship negotiations" and just enjoy a casual friendship for now. There's nothing wrong with saying to the new person, "Look, I really like you and I want to keep spending time with you, but I'm just not ready to talk about entering a formal relationship with you right now."

Love may be infinite, but your time is not.

A big part of being poly is recognizing and respecting what each person is willing and able to give you in terms of time and intimacy, and deciding if you want to accept it or not. Everyone has the freedom to choose, and everyone has boundaries. Negotiating what you want within these parameters is the key to making polyamory work successfully.

So step one is to decide what you want. If you want some kind of new relationship, is it going to mean giving up time with one of your other sweeties in exchange? How will they feel about that? Are you willing to give up some of your "me time" instead? Will having less downtime negatively impact all your relationships?

Of course, a new relationship doesn't HAVE to take more time. Your boundaries could include a limit on the time spent together with your new partner. Again, they might not find that acceptable, so you'll have to negotiate. I can easily see how this can get overwhelming quickly.

But if you feel like you have a genuine connection with someone, there's no reason to reject them outright. If you're not ready to pursue it, put it on the back burner until you are ready to give it the attention it deserves.

Leon, what's your take?

Great question - and I agree with most of what Mischa wrote. The biggest problems when entering the poly world can involve jealousy, or communication, or simply shaking off the shackles of traditional expectations - but perhaps the biggest problem for people who are experienced with polyamory tends to be scheduling! There are only 24 hours in the day for each of us, and both cloning and string theory still have quite a ways to go before we can expect to be able to be in more than one place at once.

The fact you've gotten this far - where you're making poly work for you and feel comfortable with what you've got - is a good sign that you're doing things right, and sometimes you need to trust your gut when it tells you something is a little off. If you're feeling like this third relationship might be too much for you, you might want to spend a little time figuring what it is specifically that's giving you cause for pause.

If it's really a time management issue, figure out how much time you have to spare for exploring with this third person while keeping your other relationships strong, and decide whether or not you feel comfortable committing it - especially if you're not sure where you want it to go and how much time it might eventually absorb.

Otherwise, look at it clinically. Do they fill a need or desire you have but aren't currently getting from your current partners? Or is it more of a curiosity about a/this new person? Is it the potential for New Relationship Energy (NRE)? Conversely, might it be a situation in which you don't feel comfortable saying no?

There's a lot of potential depth and many angles here, but I think the most important point to take is this, in which it seems Mischa and I are both agreed: first find out what it is you want, then take steps to get it in a way that respects your current relationships, with your partners and with yourself. Only you can tell whether or not adding someone new to the mix is a good idea - or prevent forest fires.

Good luck!