6 Tips for CNM Relationship Maintenance During the Pandemic
Part 3: Expert advice on sustaining healthy CNM relationships during lockdown.
Posted Jun 03, 2020
As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on and some people re-emerge from quarantine, others remain firmly isolated at home. Even those who are no longer quarantined at home are facing a society deeply changed by the virus, with greater physical distance here to stay for some time. All of this distancing and isolating has been incredibly wearing on some people who miss the intimacy of touch and direct contact.
This is the third post in a series addressing the impact of COVID-19 on polyamorous communities in the United States. The first post identified the advantages and disadvantages that come with being polyamorous during the pandemic, and the second post examined the role that social hierarchy plays in quarantine and who is choosing to social distance or not. This third post provides tips from experts with a wealth of advice on how to sustain a healthy and happy CNM relationship during a pandemic.
1. Self-care is relationship care
It can be difficult to carve out time for self-care when quarantined with others 24/7. With trips to the gym, ice cream parlor, or massage therapist suspended for the time being, creating new strategies for self-care demands ingenuity at a time when people have high levels of creativity-killing stress. Zach Budd, a social worker and self-described consent warrior, affirms that self-care is critically important right now because “the entire word is in the midst of a protracted trauma… you wake up in the morning it should be the first thought you have because literally most of us aren't going to get through a week without doing something for self-care. I know we sometimes get busy or we're worrying about things but, at this point, self-care has to be proactive.” Budd recommends taking breaks from the 24/7 news coverage of the virus, exercising more, taking naps, and listening to podcasts instead of watching TV.
2. Asking for what you want
While it can be difficult, avoid expecting your loved ones (kids, friends, family, etc.) to read your mind. When your needs are not being met it can be tempting to critique the person you expect to meet them, especially if it is a long term relationship that has built up its own emotional baggage. Rather than critiquing your partner for failing to read your mind, ask clearly for what you want.
Kitty Chambliss, a sex-positive open relationship coach, says, “It can be seductive to look outside of ourselves and blame others for the way we are feeling. Yet it is so empowering to realize that the only person we can control is ourselves (not our partners). By looking inward and examining our own thoughts and subsequent feelings, we can get in touch with our unmet needs that may be the root cause. To create a positive outcome, we can then practice self-responsibility by vulnerably sharing our own feelings, needs, and values while not making the other person ‘wrong.’ This can build intimacy, understanding, and more trust and connection with our partners. A win-win!”
This can be especially important for people in CNM relationships because they have fewer role-models that establish what kinds of needs people have and how to meet them. CNM relationships require extensive communication, which seems to be easier for people who are just establishing a relationship and can be challenging for people in relationships that have established engrained habits or strategies for meeting needs or dealing with conflict. Kitty Chambliss states, “From a place of self-responsibility, we can let go of habits and disempowering beliefs, and instead learn better habits and strategies that can spiral us upward towards positivity, love, joy and connection. It all just takes a bit of practice and sometimes the intervention of a professional to get us pointed in the right direction.
4. Giving each other (and yourself) a break
Dirty Lola, a sex educator and host of Sex Ed a Go Go, explains that “We also need to take a step back and realize that our decision making processes right now are colored by loneliness, anxiousness, depression, all of these things that are really not making us good decision makers right now.” Sustained stress like we have all been under means that even the most personally aware person might have a difficult time maintaining perfect coping skills all the time. The rest of us mere mortals are likely to make a mistake or be snappy or use up the milk even though we have expressly been told that it was designated for the French toast tomorrow morning.
With fewer distractions, these mistakes might take on additional importance because they dominate the immediate environment in which everyone is already experiencing higher levels of stress. Dwayne Smith, an author and Ph.D. student in Computational Social Science, recommends that people be gentle with themselves if they encounter a rough patch. “Be okay with not being okay… you're gonna have highs, you're gonna have lows, so be prepared to be kind to yourself and go hide in bed when you need to.”
5. Connecting when apart
Dr. Amy Moors, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Chapman University, Kinsey Research Fellow, and co-chair of the American Psychological Association’s Division 44 Consensual Non-Monogamy Task Force, has noticed an uptick in creative ideas for connecting online. Moors reported that her content analysis of Reddit threads revealed that there are “really creative things people are doing to stay connected… People are going on lots of virtual dates, you know like [the game] Animal Crossing. Different ways to do dates and stay connected. Zoom is big, there’s also different things like house parties."
6. Addressing submerged issues
In my own relationship coaching practice, I am seeing an increase of relationships that had some issue that people were aware was problematic but never really wanted to address because it was not all that bad or they simply wanted to avoid it. These issues that were moderately irritating (at least on the surface) suddenly became unmanageable when they were magnified by unrelenting confinement. Some relationships facing this dilemma have broken up over things that used to be less of an issue but peaked during lockdown. Those who are still together might take this enforced proximity as an opportunity to use the tools the experts listed above for a relationship intensive that addresses issues directly, with love and compassion. This could be the time for folks in these relationships to find resources, get support, get brave, work up their compassion to the highest level, and face the issue directly.
7. Caring for others
If you are lucky enough to be comfortably housed, still earning money, and making it through the pandemic in relative comfort, it can really help to share your good fortune with others. Focusing on others helps us feel grateful for what we have and get out of our own (sometimes self-involved) problems to work for a wider good. Jennie Mae, a communications strategist and mutual aid organizer specializing in medical solidarity and skills sharing, advocates for mutual aid: “If you can organize a themed party or a group camping trip, you can organize food solidarity for your neighborhood. This doesn't have to look like having a ton of time or ability to spend outside or to go outside, this doesn't have to look like having a well-oiled machine … it can be something as simple as committing to checking in with your neighbor. Perhaps you know someone on your street is an elder or is immune-compromised or is otherwise unable to leave their house or is in a situation of financial security or some kind of scarcity.” By providing emotional support, practical help, and material assistance, you can significantly benefit your disadvantaged neighbors in this time of need and refocus from yourself on to others.
Zach Budd advocates for a collective response to the pandemic. “In order for someone to consent to an interaction, they have to be informed of what the potential risks and benefits are. In the world of COVID-19 pandemic, the problem is we just don’t know the risks right now … We're all part of a human family and we are all going through this together. So we really have to try to let go of the individual’s thinking. I know sometimes whenever we’re talking about consent and individual interactions, it’s just the people that are involved, but you need to understand ... this isn’t just about you.” Taking others’ needs into account with simple actions such as wearing a mask and maintaining physical distance can contribute to community well-being, provide a small sense of control in an out-of-control world, and help to refocus from your own misery to helping others.