I have a date tonight. He’s reserved us a table at a nice little spot with outdoor seating. He’s informed me of his social circle during all these months so I can be a bit at ease. My husband and I have talked at length about any potential risk I may be taking by going out with this new crush of mine during Covid times, and how those potential risks may affect him or anyone else in our family. Welcome to conversations of nonmonogamy.
When we agreed to live a non-monogamous life some 20 years ago we laid out all kinds of rules for each other. No kissing. No bringing people home. Be home by a certain time. No going places that are “ours.”
All of the rules we had were based on fear of our own personal belief of what the other should or shouldn’t be allowed to do, rather than respect for us as individuals. Somehow, deciding to be non-monogamous caused us to see each other as even less autonomous than had we stayed monogamous.
Being rid of the perceived safety that comes along with monogamy opened up every insecurity either of us had — many of which didn’t show themselves until that point.
It wasn’t long before we realized that what nonmonogamy looked like for my husband was different than it looked for me. We had to acknowledge that fairness did not equal symmetry. For his part, he was interested in parties and flings and friends with benefits that didn’t require any kind of commitment. For me, nonmonogamy meant creating and nurturing other love interests that may or may not involve sex.
It took a lot of mistakes, arguments, missteps, and communication to recognize that what we each wanted was not only okay but possible to create individually while at the same time growing in our closeness and relationship together.
For the first several years we’d both heard all the same crazy assumptions that many have about non-monogamous relationships in general: It’s just an excuse to cheat; you’re probably just non-committal; maybe neither of you have met “the one.” Humans are innately jealous so there’s no way it can work. And on and on and on.
Anytime we’d encounter a struggle in our relationship support was impossible to find because no matter who we talked to, our nonmonogamy was brought up as the cause. I suppose I have all those early nay-sayers to thank. If it weren’t for all their doubts, I probably never would have attended grad school and thus provide the kind of support and guidance for this unconventional world I wished I had.
So fast forward 20 years. The rules we once had are gone, and instead, we have shared agreements to communicate respectfully when either feels the need. My private practice is made up of people navigating the world of nonmonogamy in all its many forms. Of course, they are all deflecting the same misnomers my husband and I had to do. Thankfully, the level of deflection decreases over time as people cannot shame you for something you own.
When I help clients navigate relationships the main focus is put on respect and communication. These two marry quite well and are the cornerstones that have kept my husband and me doing so well after all these years.
We humans rarely communicate well with those we don’t respect nor do we often respect those with whom we’re unable to communicate. When we communicate our wants, desires, boundaries, we are showing respect for ourselves as well as the other who we are trusting to hear these things.
So tonight as I prepare to step out, I check in with my hubs, after making sure I look foxy in the mirror, asking if there’s anything he feels the need to express or any insecurities. Because yes, even after 20 years of this we can both feel a pang of jealousy from time to time. Checking in with him is respectful as is inviting his communication with me. Following my desires and going out with my new crush is respectful to me. Acknowledging how we both feel in this moment is respectful to us. For his part, he kisses me as though he’s the one taking me out this evening and wishes me a good time — and I know he means it.
Excitedly, I step out the door, looking not only forward to the dinner ahead with my crush, but also to coming home.
Dr. Laurie Bennett-Cook divides her time between LA and SLC and her private practice sessions are currently being held virtually. She can be reached at DrLaurieBennettCook@gmail.com