It’s late Sunday evening and my husband and I just finished cleaning up the kitchen. While many spend their Sunday evenings with family, ours are frequently spent hosting a houseful of people who come to our home … to talk about sex, gender, and relationships. But mostly sex!
On this particular night, the topic of non-monogamy was a hot one. It’s no secret to most that my hubz and I have been non-monogamous the entirety of our nearly 20 years together. What seems to be a secret is that we have had some struggles with it over the years. The comment we tend to hear the most is: “You both just have it all so figured out.”
What we’ve figured out is … how to cultivate a good impression that we have it all figured out.
What we’ve also figured out is … how to talk. We talk A LOT.
In all honesty, we have had our fair share of ups and downs with our unconventional relationship style. However, what we have the benefit of experiencing that many couples don’t, is developing complete transparency in our communication with one another. Whether monogamous, swinger, polyamorous, kinky or just a good ‘ole ethical slut, communicating openly and honestly is the very best skill one can learn.
Don’t be afraid to share with your partner how you feel.
Too often, whether spending intimate time with someone for a couple of hours or for a lifetime, we keep our feelings about what we’re experiencing to ourselves. If you want to be held, talked dirty too, caressed or spanked — say so. If you’re feeling especially needy or if you want space — say so. Nobody is a mind reader and what worked with the last partner or this partner the last time you were together, may not be working right now. Likewise, that new trick you just learned from your last partner may be just the thing to send this next person to new delicious sensations.
Don’t assume you’ve been heard, or heard your partner(s) accurately — keep talking until you genuinely get where one another stands — or sits or lays.
There have been times my husband and I have talked a situation to death only to realize that neither of us actually heard the other. It’s easy for feelings to get hurt or for misunderstandings to occur when emotions are high. Whenever possible talk at a time and place where each of you is feeling clear-headed. At the same time, don’t wait for unreasonable amounts of time for a good time to talk. Waiting too long can only cause negative feelings to fester.
Assume positive intent.
Recognize that the person before you is a real person with real feelings and more than likely those feelings don’t include intentionally hurting you. Most of the time when people are making a choice to interact intimately with each other they’re both (or all) hoping for a good time. That good time rarely (unless it’s your kink) includes hurting anyone’s feelings.
Recognize when you have “Sex Brain.”
Early on in our relationship, there were times that we’d be at a party or meet someone new that one of us (usually me) would get so excited about the new person that we’d neglect to check in with the feelings of the other. For most who live non-monogamously, the idea or act of their partner having sex with another isn’t cause for jealousy or hurt. Hurt occurs when there’s an impression of deceit. It’s important to check in with one another frequently — not just at “party time.”
Hold space for your partner.
There will be times that one of you has had an amazing sexy experience and the other has not. This can be a tough one to work through. It’s easy to feel guilty because of the pleasure you experience with someone other than your partner. It’s easy to feel left out when your partner experiences pleasure with someone other than you. Kind communication is vital here.
It’s possible to sit with your feelings (positive or negative) and not project them onto the other. It’s also possible to sit with the positive or negative feelings your partner is experiencing and not have them influence your own. To harness that skill takes practice and insight from a sex-positive therapist that can be especially helpful.
Lastly, give yourself permission to create a sexy blueprint that speaks to you. There are a million different ways to do relationships — the only right way is the one that works for you.
Dr. Laurie Bennett-Cook is a Clinical Sexologist with a private practice in Salt Lake City. She is also the director of Sex Positive Utah, an educational and social group that can be found on meetup.com. She can be reached at DrLaurieBennettCook@gmail.com