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Resources for Non-Monogamous Relationships

Self-help for poly, kinky, open, swinger couples

Alternative relationships demand intense communication and negotiation

I am seeing increasing numbers of relationships which choose to embrace different expectations of monogamy and sexual fidelity. Many of these couples (I’ll say couples here, but many relationships are more complicated than that) struggle to find therapists and supports in their lives, as they approach the work related to making such relationships succeed. All relationships require work, but nonmonogamous relationships have unique challenges. There are lots of different “flavors,” labels and choices available to such couples and relationships, and many different ways to design their relationships. This wide range of choices can sometimes be overwhelming, especially because it’s tough to find resources to help people make thoughtful, informed decisions about their relationships. This article is intended to lay out a few of the resources and strategies I often suggest to people who come see me, or contact me for help.

One of the most significant issues is that there are few therapists out there who understand them or are willing to work with such relationships from a place of nonjudgmental attitude. Many such couples have come to me and reported that they had to keep their relationship secret from their therapists, or worse, that when they shared their relationship choices with the therapist, they were judged, challenged and told “this kind of relationship just doesn’t work.” I’m often contacted by people seeking help in finding therapists who can suspend judgment and work with the couples, “where they are.” Here’s what I recommend to these folks:

  • The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom has a long-running listing called “Kink Aware Professionals,” which is also a great resource, for finding not only therapists, but physicians and attorneys as well.
  • The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) is a way to find therapists who’ve had specific training in addressing sexuality issues. Such therapists are more likely to approach issues in a “sex positive” manner without assumptions around monogamy.
  • On the website Opening Up - “The Open List.”
  • Polychromatic offers listings for “Polyamory-friendly Professionals,” for those people who specifically identify as polyamorous, though other types of relationships, such as swingers and open relationships might find resources here as well.
  • Many communities have “Rainbow” newspapers for the LGBTQ community, with ads and listings for LGBTQ therapists. Therapists who are gay, or gay-friendly, are also often more accepting of alternative types of relationships.
  • You can also try the "Grow Your Own" strategy with an open-minded therapist, and refer them to these resources, as well as this primer for counselors.

There are lots of books out there for such relationships. Many such books are regarded as “bibles” of nonmonogamous relationships. Many of them are great, very helpful, and more come out every year. It’s hard for me to recommend specific books, because I don’t want to leave anybody out. I rarely suggest books by name, but instead encourage folks to check out the books on my shelf, and to search Amazon and their own library. I always encourage people to read these books as a “starting point” to help them explore their own ideas, needs and interests, and begin to be able to communicate them to their partner(s). My shelf includes books by Deborah Anapol, Easton and Hardy, Block, Tristan Taormino, Elisabeth Sheff, Anderson, Joe Kort, the O’Neills, Bergstrand, Ryan, Perel, and many others.

One new book that I’m using and recommending highly is a different type of book, by Kathy Labriola. The book is called “The Jealousy Workbook,” and contains a wealth of worksheets for readers to complete, helping them to identify the things that trigger their own feelings of jealousy. One of the things I truly appreciate about this book, is their acknowledgement of the fact that there are many different ways to experience jealousy. People feel envious and jealous of time, attention, fun and recreation, as well as sex. Labriola’s book does a great job of coaching people through exploring the many different levels and types of jealousy, and beginning to communicate around them. The worksheets are great tool to facilitate conversations within relationships.

Another powerful new resource to help couples have these conversations about their relationships, is at the website “OurOpenAgreement.” This website helps couples to create documents that reflect their agreements about all kinds of things, from sex with other people, to whether those other partners can be around the couples’ children. As with the worksheets by Labriola, the tremendous value of OurOpenAgreement is that the couples have to TALK to each other about all kinds of things. Many such relationships founder because they encounter problems or situations that they haven’t prepared for, didn’t expect, and haven’t communicated about. It’s critically important for couples to discuss such issues, in advance, whenever possible. For instance – is kissing another person cheating or not? What about holding hands, or sharing deeply personal information? What are the things that might cause you or your partner pain? It’s ALWAYS better to know where landmines are, BEFORE they blow up in your face.

Finally, one last tool I often recommend to clients and couples, is the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid. Issues of bisexuality are a common theme in many nonmonogamous relationships. The KSOG helps people to see that sexuality and orientation are not simple, linear things, but are complex, rich and fluid paradigms, involving social relationships, sexual behavior, fantasy and emotions. Sexual fantasy, and sexual behavior are often two different things. Some people are only able to open up emotionally with people of the same, or opposite sex. Helping couples to complete the KSOG invites them to increase their personal understanding of their own needs and desires, in a richer, more nuanced way which furthers their future communications and negotiations.

Communication is a lot more than shouting

In my clinical practice, I’ve seen many successful, and unsuccessful relationships which involved alternatives to sexual fidelity. Across the board, success in these relationships (truly, in ANY relationship) depend upon three things:

  • Self-awareness, and an ability to engage in honest self-examination about one’s needs, feelings and desires;
  • Open and honest negotiation and communication about one’s needs and desires, accepting that win-win compromises are the desired outcomes;
  • Mutual respect for each other’s needs and desires. This means that sometimes, we choose to “not sweat the little things,” and accept that our partner is another person, who makes their own decisions. Our job is to communicate about what are the most important things for us, so that our partner can consider them.

My hope is that the list of such resources and tools can continue to grow, so that more people have a greater access to things and ideas that can help them to be successful in their relationships, no matter how they choose to structure them.

Follow David on Twitter: @DrDavidLey

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