Tag Archives: counseling

balance

Balancing: Depression, Anxiety, Aliveness… and Polyamory?

What is Aliveness, and How Does It Relate to Depression, Anxiety… and Polyamory?

“Aliveness is composed of one part energy, one part emotion, one part meaning, one part engagement, and one part relatedness. For aliveness to be in balance, each of these five components of aliveness must be in balance as well.”
— Steve Bearman, founder of the Interchange Counseling Institute, in http://www.interchangecounseling.com/blog/depression-anxiety-and-the-mismanagement-of-aliveness/

The article is a bit long, but well worth a look, in my opinion. 🙂

As Steve Bearman points out — and is so often the case — balance is the key. In your life, how do YOU bring yourself into balance?

And because this is a blog about polyamory (and other forms of outside-the-box relationships), I’m curious to know:

Do your poly/open relationships tend to bring you INTO, or OUT OF balance and aliveness?

For me, polyamory is key to my meaning and relatedness, in particular, as well as — when things are going well — bringing me energy, positive emotion, and engagement.  When things are going poorly, however, poly-drama can rapidly suck my energy, and cause swirls of negative emotion. It has the possibility to either enhance, or detract from, my life overall, depending on my ability to stay in balance. Continue reading

Green First Aid Kit

Is Jealousy Ever a GOOD Thing?

Hey polyamorous and open people, what do you think?  Is feeling jealousy ever a “good thing?” What do “feelings of jealousy” mean to you? or about you? Check out the letter below from one of my readers, and my response, for some more thoughts on this topic.

Dear Dawn:writing icon

I hope this is quick.   I don’t feel I have any place in a jealousy workshop, because I don’t see myself ever feeling jealous, because I think jealousy has to do with feeling upset because I’m not getting attention I feel is owed to me, and I don’t feel anyone owes me, or would ever owe me, attention.  Is that a sign of low self-esteem?  That is, is feeling jealous when one’s beloved gives attention to someone else ever a good thing?  Thanks!

signed, KW

Hi KW:

Jealousy is neither good nor bad.  It just IS.  It’s a collection of feelings, and those feelings are *information.*  What you do with the information is up to you, ultimately (though for some folks, it doesn’t feel like it.)  If you feel “jealous” when your lover gives attention to someone else, in my view that means it’s a signal that there’s something there for YOU to pay attention to.  Ask yourself questions like “what need do I have that feels like it’s not getting met (enough)?” “has my ‘love tank’ gotten filled enough recently, and if not, what could I possibly ask for (not demand!) that might have me feel more loved and more at ease with my partner?”  It’s not about your partner “owing” you attention — it’s about you and your partner/s having a “winning relationship” in which the *relationship* wins because everyone’s needs are getting met, and everyone in the relationship feels like they’re “winning” (i.e., getting what they need in a win-win-win… manner.)

I think you might find the teleseminars interesting and thought-provoking, so I’d encourage you to sign up, and get the handouts at least. And if you listen to the recordings, you will hear some nice “relaxation meditations” by Kathy, and also get other people’s definitions of jealousy (they’re not all the same as yours!)  I’d also encourage you to buy the “beta” version of my KISSable Agreements book (if you haven’t yet), wherein I discuss the win-win-win model I mentioned above. The ideas work well together, and in that book I walk you through a process of discovering your own (and maybe your partners’) needs.

Hope that was a helpful response!

Thanks for writing!


Dawn

Here’s wishing you few jealous moments, lots of compersion, and happy relationships!
Because no matter who or how many you love…Love is always OK!

~♥ Dawn

Green First Aid KitGreen First Aid KitGreen First Aid KitPS: Have you signed up for the 3rd and final teleseminar with Kathy Labriola and myself, on Monday October 21st at 5:45 – 7pm Pacific Time?  Called “More Options for More Jealousy,” this is ANOTHER all new call, feature a new relaxation meditation, more models and options for dealing with jealousy, and a step-by step process for examining your beliefs and fears around your jealousy triggers.  We’d love to have you join us! (or, if you can’t be on the call live, sign up anyway, and get the recording and the FREE “take home materials”!)

∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

[© 2013 Dawn M. Davidson]

Polyamory Therapy & Counseling: Resources, and Survey

polyamoryiswrong

Polyamorous people who have sought therapy (whether couples, family/group, or even individual) often experience challenges in locating a therapist that understands and supports polyamory as a valid relationship option.  As we discussed a couple of weeks back at the International Academic Polymory Conference 2013, there are numerous prejudices around polyamorous people and relationships, including such common misconceptions as “poly people can’t commit,” “polyamory is just another word for cheating,” or “polyamory is bad for the children.”

Fortunately for those seeking poly-friendly and poly-knowledgeable therapists, there are now some good resources available.  In particular, Joe Decker’s Poly Friendly Professionals site has been in operation for over a decade, and has a pretty good selection of therapists across the US, and some internationally as well.  The NCSF Kink-Aware Professionals (KAP) directory is another good resource, especially for folks that are both poly and kinky (but even for poly folks who are not kinky.) Of course, the more metropolitan the area, the better the selection, but even smaller or more rural areas are starting to feature folks who have some knowledge of polyamory. (And of course I also offer phone, Skype or Google Hangout coaching anywhere in the world, or in-person in the SF Bay Area. I’m happy to set up an introductory session if you’re interested.)

There’s also a good written resource for individuals and poly groupings to take to their therapist, to help to educate them on the topic. Normally one could find it on the NCSF site, but they’ve recently reorganized, and the link seems to be temporarily broken.  But I found a pdf of the document, called “What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory,” at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

Also, for those who’d like to contribute to the body of knowledge about what therapists and counselors should know about polyamory (and thereby help future people who are seeking these resources), there’s a recently announced survey from researchers Mitchell and Barger at Edgewood College:

Subject: Polyamory Survey: What Therapists Need To Know
Date: 2/27/2013 8:00:37 P.M. Eastern Standard Time
From: polyamorystudy2013@gmail.com

We are graduate students at Edgewood College in the Marriage and Family Therapy program.  In an effort to support mental health practitioners in offering culturally competent care, we are conducting a survey to gather information about the experiences and attitudes of polyamorous people, age 18 and over, about therapists and therapy.  Would you be willing to post the enclosed link:

https://edgewood.us2.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_80O1cks9tv7xjLf and welcome message for our survey and welcome message on your Listserv, Blog, News Letter, or Website or email list?

Polyamory Survey: What Do Therapists Need to Know?  If you are 18 or older and polyamorous, please take our survey: https://edgewood.us2.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_80O1cks9tv7xjLf and help us answer that question.  You will be asked questions about your personal and family history, experience you may have had in therapy, views of therapy, and the qualities you see as valuable in a therapist.   This information can assist therapists and educators as we work to create and enhance culturally competent models for therapy.  A reason we ask for informational on personal and familial history is because without this information, damaging myths, biases, and stereotypes can arise about polyamorous people and why polyamorous people seek therapy.  We are interested in presenting a realistic view of polyamorous people and supporting polyamorous people who seek therapy in getting the best quality care.  Thank you!  https://edgewood.us2.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_80O1cks9tv7xjLf

If you have any questions or would like to contact us, we can be reached at: polyamorystudy2013@gmail.com

Thank you,

Atala Mitchell and Madeline Barger, MFT Clinical Interns

Also:

This project has been reviewed and endorsed by a community advisory board of the Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities, a community-based research support organization which includes members of alternative sexualities communities. This project has scientific merit, follows ethical guidelines for research, and avoids community harm in its design and methods. For more information, please contact https://carasresearch.org.

Please note that there have been some issues reported on p. 3 & 4 of the survey. They were supposedly addressed, but last I heard, there were still problems, so just be aware.

Thanks to those of you who choose to participate in the survey, and good luck to all who seek counseling/therapy.  And always remember:

love_is_ok_rainbow_heart_tshirt

No matter who and how many you love, no matter their gender, their body shape or size, their race or the color of their skin, their political affiliation, their talents and abilities, their spiritual or religious leanings, their education…

Love is ALWAYS OK.

May you always love boldly, safely, and well,

~♥ Dawn

PS: If you like the T-shirt above, you can get one like it over at Zazzle. Tell the world that your love is ok!

∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

[© 2013 Dawn M. Davidson]

 

Heart equals OK

Love Is OK

Heart equals OK

Hi!  My name is Dawn Davidson, of LoveOutsideTheBox.com. I’m here to help polyamorous people and other relationship explorers to better connect to themselves and those they love, even if they’re feeling lost, alone, or like there’s something wrong with them for who and how they love.

Today I’m writing you a love letter of sorts.  It’s a love letter from my heart, to your heart, and the hearts of everyone you love.

I’m here today to tell you that love is OK.

“What?”  I can hear some of you saying, “Just OK?  Isn’t it better than that?”

Well, yes, of course, love is also wonderful, amazing, “all you need” and “what makes the world go ’round.”  I’m not disputing that!

Mostly though, what I’m here to say is that love is always OK.  No matter who and how many you love, no matter their gender, their body shape or size, their race or the color of their skin, their political affiliation, their talents and abilities, their spiritual or religious leanings, their education…

Love is ALWAYS OK.

All the rest? Honestly, those are just the details, the how and the why of your particular love.

Now, if you’re looking for help in those details — maybe around communication skills, or jealousy; maybe you need help making some Agreements, or you want to talk about how to talk about your new boyfriend to your existing girlfriend, or try to explain to your friend why you’d like to bring +2 instead of +1 to their next party — whatever those details, if you want help, I’m happy to listen. Once I’ve helped you figure out what your particular needs are, then I can offer you some coaching, some tools and resources, or point you in the direction of others who can help more. Whether you take me up on any of those offers is totally up to you, and we can talk about it in one of my free 1/2 hour consultations  if that’s what you want.

But it’s not what I’m really here about today.  Today I’m here to talk about the fact that Love is always OK. I’m guessing that if you’re alive and reading this now, that it’s a good bet that at some point in your life someone, somewhere, told you that there was something wrong about your love. Maybe you’ve been shamed for who and how you love, or told that it’s not ok to love more than one person at a time. Maybe someone else wants to put limits on your heart.  Maybe that someone is YOU! We’re often hardest on those closest to us… and that applies especially to ourselves in many cases. But whatever the reason, and whomever is speaking those words to you, I’m here to tell you that they’re wrong.  Love is always ok.

Now don’t get me wrong.  Sometimes it’s important to put limits on our behavior, or to moderate how we express those feelings. It isn’t ok to express love in a sexual way to someone for whom that would be toxic or damaging, for instance.  Nor is it ok to break existing Agreements (with your partner/s or yourself) just because you felt a chemical head rush in the heat of the moment. But there isn’t anything wrong with feeling love itself. That’s always ok.

Love is an amazing thing.  It can be a wild tempestuous journey, or a sweet, quiet smile between friends. It can make us feel the best and the worst that we ever feel in our lives. Love is often a teacher. Sometimes it’s a spiritual journey… or a crucible of change. We often don’t choose who and how we love, even though we can choose how and when to express that. But no matter what makes your love special, no matter how long or short that love is, no matter who and how many you love…

Love is always OK.  And so are YOU.

Thank you for sharing this moment with me today… this moment of love, and unconditional acceptance. Thank you for allowing me to share my heart with you, and for receiving my love. If you want to talk more with me about any of this, or if you’re interested in setting up a consultation session with me for any reason, you can fill out my contact form, and let me know how I can help you today.  Whoever you love, whatever forms that might take, or however many people you might love …

Love is OK.

And so are you. 🙂

 

May you always love boldly, safely, and well,

~♥ Dawn

PS: Want to talk more about this? I’m happy to listen! I offer coaching and counseling via phone, Skype, Google-hangout, or in person in the SF Bay Area. Drop me a note, and we’ll set up a time to talk, ok?  OK!

∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

[© 2012 Dawn M. Davidson]

KISSable Agreements (Tip #7)

Two stylized hands clasping, forming a heart. Copyright-free symbol designed by Ravi Poovaiah, Professor, IDC, IIT Bombay.This is Tip #7: KISS: Keep It Simple, Silly! in my Agreements Workbook series.

Questions or comments about any of these Agreements Workbook entries?  Feel free to comment below, contact me here, or on my FB Page, Love Outside The Box!

‘Nuff said… ;^)

~♥ Dawn

PS: I’ve still got some slots available for a FREE 1/2 hour consultation. Right now, it’s the only way to get my “Jealousy Judo” handout, with a few quick tips on how to manage jealousy in yourself.  Interested? Click here to pick an appointment time now! It’s cheesy but true: These free sessions won’t last forever, so get ’em while you can.  Oh, and did I mention I’m raising my rates in January? But you can still get my old prices through the end of this month… 🙂

 

∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

7) KISS: Keep It Simple, Silly!

As with so many things in life, simpler is often better. Unfortunately, that’s often easier said than done.  Here are a few quick tips for KISSable Agreements.

Practice makes perfect!

Most people need practice making Agreements, so start with small, easy ones, preferably ones that don’t have a lot of emotional “charge.” For instance, you might make an Agreement about turning out the lights when you leave the room, or picking up clothes and putting them in the hamper.  Once you’ve made these Agreements, and seen how the process works, move on to some of the smaller Agreements with more charge. Perhaps you might agree to reserve a pet name for one partner, or to each partner having one coffee-date with a new person. Whatever is a little stretch is good, but not too difficult. If you have the time, it’s great to build your Agreement-making muscles slowly, so you gain confident along with your expertise.

Short, specific, and to the point

Brevity is the soul of Agreements, as well as wit. Keep focused. Pretend you’re writing the Ten Commandments Guidelines for your relationship, and they all have to fit on a single tablet.

Break it down

Three small agreements are much easier to meet than one big complex one. The human memory can only hold so much at one time, about 7 bits of discrete data [ref: How We Decide However, we do some interesting stuff with “chunking” data as well, to make it easier to remember. That’s why our US ten-digit phone numbers are divided up into three sections, including the area code, the local exchange (or central office code), and the four digits of the phone number itself. So break down complex Agreements into several smaller ones, and if you can, arrange related Agreements near to one another in your book or document.

Simplify

Conversely, if your Agreements book is starting to look like the US Tax Code—simplify.  Too many concurrent agreements will also be impossible to keep. It might be tempting to include everything you’ve ever been annoyed by in this or other relationships in one monster Agreement, but try to keep focused on the most important Agreements that really make a difference.

DO Try This At Home! — A Multi-tasking Exercise

When I present this material in a workshop, I often include this short exercise. I know you don’t want to get up from wherever you’re reading this, but it really does work better if you try it for real.

No, really. Get up and try it!

Part 1:

Do these things in order:

Stand up, both feet on the floor, head toward the ceiling or sky.

Take one hand (doesn’t matter which), and rub your tummy. Stop.

Take the other hand, and pat your head. Stop.

Hop up and down on one foot. Stop.

Whistle or hum.  Stop.

Part 2:

Now do all of those things in order again, but this time, don’t stop one before starting the next.

Stand up, both feet on the floor, head toward the ceiling or sky.

Next, take one hand and rub your tummy. Keep doing that,

AND take the other hand, and pat your head. Keep doing that,

AND hop up and down on one foot. Keep doing that,

AND whistle or hum as well.

Part 3:

Try to do all of them at once, starting all at the same time:

Hop up and down on one foot while patting your head with one hand, rubbing your tummy with the other, and whistling or humming at the same time.  Do NOT start one at a time; it has to be all at once. Go!

Part 4: Reflection

A few of you physically talented types will probably be able to complete the exercise without falling over.  Those few of you will just have to imagine my point, here. For most of us, though… Note how easy it is to do each activity one at a time.  Conversely, note how difficult it is to keep doing them all at once, despite the fact that you can quite easily do any one of the actions by itself.  Also notice that when you tried to do them all at once without working up to it, it was extremely difficult if not impossible to do.

The same is true in Agreements. Keep It Simple (Silly); start with small, easy Agreements and put them in place one at a time; work up to more complex Agreements; and don’t try to do too many of them all at once. You’ll find them easier to make, and to keep.

 

∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

[© 2012 Dawn M. Davidson]

Note that these entries are all rough drafts, and thus are probably missing things like references. If you know the perfect reference to add, feel free to suggest it! I always like to add to my resource collection.

[Previous Entry: Keep Physical and Emotional Agreements Distinct (Tip #6)]

[Return to the Table of Contents for the Agreements Workbook Series]

[Return to the first text entry in the Agreements Workbook series]

 

Definitions of poly/open relationships for therapists (and others)

There’s a (relatively) new article out about doing therapy with clients who are in various forms of open relationships, by Kevin J. Zimmerman, published in the Journal of Feminist Family Therapy. (NB: It’s written for an academic therapist audience, so non-therapists may not find it easy reading. Also, the link is to the publisher, where you can buy the article should you choose. I’m sorry, but I’m not at liberty to distribute a free link to the full article on this blog.)

I’ve barely begun it myself, but one thing that struck me is the excellent definition of terms at the outset of the article. Please note that these terms and definitions are the author’s for the purpose of the article– they’re not mine, nor are they meant to be considered to be “the only right way” to define these terms — but I found these descriptions of various subsets of the larger community to be succinct and quite useful, and thought I’d share.  I find them particularly interesting, given the ongoing discussions within the community/communities about the definitions of these words.  Enjoy!

[From p. 273 of the article: Kevin J. Zimmerman (2012): Clients in Sexually Open Relationships: Considerations for Therapists, Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 24:3, 272-289]

“Open relationship is an umbrella term that encompasses any relationship structure that is not monogamous. It is useful at the start to define some common relationship patterns that nonmonogamous clients may bring up in therapy. Partnered nonmonogamy refers to a committed couple that allows for extradyadic sex. Swinging is nonmonogamy in a social context, also referred to as “the lifestyle.” Polyamory allows for partners to have more than one relationship that is sexual, loving, and emotional. Solo Polyamory defines nonmonogamous individuals who do not want a primary partner. Polyfidelity refers to three or more people who have made a commitment to be in a primary relationship together. A monogamous/nonmonogamous partnership is one in which one person is monogamous and the other is not. Open relationships are different from infidelity or cheating because partners agree on the sexual boundaries of the relationship and there is no deception about sex. In this respect, successful open relationships typically involve individuals who privilege authenticity over conformity in their relationships.”

What do you think about the author’s definitions and statements here? I’m largely in agreement with him, though I have some small quibbles (e.g., I think “solo polyamory” could easily apply to people who do not have a primary partner, as well as those who don’t want one.)  I was particularly happy with his clear distinction between Polyamory/Open Relationships and Cheating, and with his definition of Polyamory:

Polyamory allows for partners to have more than one relationship that is sexual, loving, and emotional.

Seems like it hits the high points, though I think the concept of “honest” is important enough to include in the definition, if one is quoting it without the rest of the paragraph for context.  Here’s my own previously posted definition as one comparison point:

Polyamory is the belief in and/or practice of multiple loving relationships, with the full knowledge and consent of those involved.

So what does “polyamory” mean to you? Do you agree that “Open relationship is an umbrella term that encompasses any relationship structure that is not monogamous”? Or does “open” have a slightly different meaning to you, as it does to me? (See my blog article I’m Poly AND Open for more details.) Do you have any other comments or observations about how being open/poly/etc works for you, or what sort of things YOU think a therapist should know in working with you? How does the therapist’s understanding of these terms influence your comfort in the session/s?  Are these terms you’d find useful in discussing your own relationships/s with others?

As always, I’m happy talk about this stuff either here, or on my FB Page, Love Outside The Box. And if you’d like to go into greater depth about your own situation, I’m also happy to set up a private session with you (either a half-hour for free, or longer sessions on a sliding scale.)

May you always love boldly, safely, and well!

~♥ Dawn

∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

[© 2012 Dawn M. Davidson]

 

Agreements Tip #2b: Measurable and Verifiable Standards

Two stylized hands clasping, forming a heart. Copyright-free symbol designed by Ravi Poovaiah, Professor, IDC, IIT Bombay.

I confess it’s been a while since I posted an entry to the Agreements Workbook series.  I’ve been tangled up in some of my own process. See, a lot has changed in the last decade or so since I first wrote the list of Ten Tips that has turned into the outline for this workbook. I’ve been struggling with how or whether to represent some of those changes, and whether I needed to just redo the whole darn thing.  I have finally decided, however, that “perfection is the enemy of the good,” and it would be more valuable to both me and to you-all to just make some progress!  So here you are. 🙂

This entry in the Agreements Workbook series continues with “Agreements Tip #2: Have Clear Standards and Consequences.”  This entry is part b, about creating “Measurable and Verifiable” standards by which to judge when you’re complete with a particular Agreement.  Discussion about having clear consequences for when Agreements get broken will be in Tip #2c in a future post.

Please feel free to make comments or ask questions, either here, or on my FB Page, Love Outside The Box.

 ~♥ Dawn

PS: Looking for help creating your own Agreements (or anything else to do with polyamory)? I’m happy to help out, by phone, in person, or Skype! Ask for a free mini session here!

∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

Have Measurable and Verifiable Standards

How will you know if you have succeeded or fulfilled the agreement?  What metrics or yardsticks will you use?  Some Agreements have easy and obvious standards, and some don’t. Without measurable and verifiable standards, though, you can easily end up with a “yardstick with no ends”: a bunch of data that is meaningless because it’s impossible to know where things began or ended.  Or you might be arguing in circles because one person thinks things are better, and another person thinks they’re worse, and there’s no objective standard upon which to base an opinion.  Thinking about how you’re measuring “success” in advance will usually at least alert you to where you might need to get more specific about your Agreement. Especially in making Agreements around relationships — which often have very subjective standards — you might want to brainstorm a list of some possible “metrics for success.”

Objective Standards

Let’s say you and your partners have a desire to “be more energy efficient.” How will you know if you’ve succeeded? If you have an Agreement to “turn off all equipment when not in use,” you might be able to verify whether this Agreement is being kept by checking the power bill. Or perhaps you would like to verify that prospective partners are complying with testing and safer sex standards that meet your needs. One possibility would be to ask to see a hardcopy of a prospective partner’s recent STI testing.  These standards are all clear, measurable, and verifiable.

Subjective Standards

One of the challenges in creating workable Agreements in a relationship context, however, is that “measurable” goals sometimes can be hard to come by. Unless you really like keeping charts and lists (and some folks do!) it’s hard to know if you’ve had fewer meltdowns this year than last, or if your partner has been happier this month.  But that’s the sort of thing that you do need to measure, sometimes, in relationship.

Suppose one partner wants an Agreement to forego seeing any outside partners “until Person A feels safe enough.” In my experience, an Agreement of this sort is likely to be troublesome. “Safe enough” is very subjective, and Person A may— consciously or unconsciously— continue to ask for more time indefinitely, leading to frustration or anger on the part of Person B, or possibly even a broken Agreement. A measurable and/or verifiable standard — even if the data are subjective — might help to eliminate some or all of this frustration. (So might a Time-limited Agreement, which we’ll cover beginning on p.___ [in a future entry].)

Even though it might seem hopelessly geeky, you may want to consider tracking or charting some data to handle situations like this.  For instance, you might want to keep track of how many dates or overnights happened with which people, or how much financial outlay went toward this joint project, or that anniversary trip. These would all qualify as measurable and verifiable and could help to support feelings of safety.

The good news is that emotional states can be harder to track… but not impossible. Here’s one example.When I was doing a home-based course on “happiness” at one point [see How We Choose to Be Happy, 2004], I was encouraged to jot down, once a day, a number from 1 to 10 to chart my “overall happiness level” for the day. I posted it in my private online journal, which was easy for me because at the time I looked it every day without fail. Over the course of a couple of months, I could get a feel for the trends in my mood, and certain patterns emerged.

So if you have an Agreement that requires you to know whether one person is “feeling safe,” (or any other subjective measure) you may want to consider trying something like this for a while. If you do, you’ll want to make sure that it’s something that’s quick and easy to remember and to do.  You can’t get reliable data if the process of getting that data presents an insurmountable “passive barrier” to progress. A single number will probably work; a paragraph or two will be less likely to be completed every day.

One tricky point in creating measurable and verifiable standards, is that while it’s good to think about these things in advance, it’s also important not to create a situation in which one or more people feel overly scrutinized or patronized. The idea is not to make someone report to “Mommy and/or Daddy” (unless you’re into that sort of thing, in which case, go right ahead! ;^), but to create a way that everyone can know whether an Agreement has been fulfilled, and whether it’s been helpful.  Remember, these Agreements are here to create a win-win-win solution for the relationship, not another way to fail or another way to argue!

 

♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥∞♥

©2012, Dawn M. Davidson

Note that these entries are all rough drafts, and thus are probably missing things like references. If you know the perfect reference to add, feel free to suggest it! I always like to add to my resource collection.

[Next Entry: Example of Safer Agreements http://blog.loveoutsidethebox.com/?p=1068 ]

[Previous Entry: Relationship Continua Worksheet! ]

[Return to the first text entry in the Agreements Workbook series]

 

Line drawing of box with lid opening out into a heart which surrounds the box

Love Is Nothing To Be Ashamed Of

Love Outside the Box: Line drawing of box with lid opening out into a heart which surrounds the box

Love is nothing to be ashamed of.

That’s the thought I finally came to, at the end of my journey of processing the request made of me a few weeks ago, that in order to stay in an online course, I agree to never mention my niche or the word polyamory. I was honestly shocked to get this request; shocked and traumatized, all of my worst fears about being ‘out’ about poly come to life. Here I’d signed on to this course to become more confident in bringing my skills and talents to the world, and to help people understand the joys and challenges of polyamory and other “outside the box” forms of relating (at least as I’ve experienced them and learned over 15 years of intensive study) — and merely mentioning my niche brought down censure on my head. Was she (the course leader) right, that polyamory is “not G-rated” and inherently “squirmy”? Was I the one out of line, to think it would be ok to talk openly about polyamory?

We here in the Uncharted waters have had many a discussion (on lists, in discussion groups, on the web…) about whether sex is an inherent part of the definition of polyamory. I generally don’t think it’s required, though of course I think it’s by far the most common case that polyamory includes sex. In my definition, polyamory most often includes sex, in the exact same way that monogamy most often includes sex, but can be experienced without it; they’re both relationship styles after all. But just as it’s possible to have a celibate or sex-free monogamous relationship,  it’s quite possible that someone might identify as polyamorous but not be having sex or in a sexual relationship.  The presence or absence of  sex is not like a light switch after all. Otherwise, we’d all walk around changing our status whenever we had a sexual encounter (or didn’t): Now polyamorous, now celibate, momentarily monogamous, polyamorous again ….

Yes, of course, that’s a very extreme and somewhat silly example… but is it any more extreme and silly than presuming that because my context is “polyamorous people,” that when I talk about communication tools, they are necessarily about communicating about sex? What exactly makes polyamory “not G-rated”? For that matter, is sex itself automatically R-rated, never mentionable to anyone under 17? And if so, why do they teach about it in middle school?? I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t my mind making polyamory into a 24/7 lurid group-sex encounter. Though I will admit to amusement when viewing this old ad that was going around on Facebook a couple of weeks ago:

Hanky Panky at the Beach?

Good clean fun at the beach?

No, it seems pretty clear to me that the issue with polyamory being an unfit topic for polite dinner-table conversation was in the mind of that beholder … and unfortunately in a lot of other as-yet uneducated-about-poly minds out there. When she thought about polyamory, she felt “squirmy,” aka uncomfortable, aka shame. One of the pernicious characteristics of shame is that it is “contagious”–it spreads from person to person, often below the level of consciousness.  Her shame triggered my shame. It took me days and a lot of processing to get through it. And that’s AFTER working on this stuff for years. Shame is pretty powerful stuff.

At the Open-SF conference in June, the excellent Charlie Glickman presented a wonderful workshop entitled “Love, Sex, and Shame.” In it he talked about the manifestations of shame (e.g., closed posture, averted eyes/face, mumbling or silence, “shifty”/”squirmy”, energetic disconnection), vs. the manifestations of love (e.g., open posture, direct gaze, easy communication, groundedness/ease, energetic connection, etc). Pretty much, actively experiencing love is diametrically opposed to actively experiencing shame. It’s hard to experience both at the same time.  Isn’t that interesting?

Unfortunately, much of our culture holds that sex is inherently shameful. By extension, anything that leads to sex (with the possible exception of procreative sex between male and female spouses) is by extension inherently shameful. I think that viewpoint is de facto harmful. Certainly it was harmful to me to hear as a young person that my normal feelings and thoughts were somehow bad and wrong… that *I* was bad and wrong. It’s hard to feel love, and to express it in a healthy way, if at the core you believe yourself to be broken. It took me many years, and a lot of heartache (not to mention a lot of money spent on therapists…), to finally move beyond that toxic frame into the freedom and joy in both love and sex that I now believe to be my birthright (and that of every human being.)

For me, the path of healing wound its way through many places, starting with making a choice to find my own spirituality, and winding up most recently with me refusing to be shamed and silenced for who and how many I love. Each step has involved me finding a bit that has been shamed, and being willing to entertain the notion that it wasn’t ME who was bad and wrong… but instead the unnecessary shame that had been forced on me for no other reason than that who and what I was didn’t fit into the particular box that was on offer at the time.

Understand that I believe that not all boxes are wrong, either. Sometimes boxes (or containers, or marriages–use the word that fits for you…) are places of safety. They’re where we keep our most prized memories. They provide support and boundaries. Sometimes they’re very beautiful; sometimes strong; sometimes fragile. But not all things (nor all creatures, nor all people) fit inside of every box. You know how there’s often that one package at the holidays that just refuses to fit inside the standard boxes, so you end up wrapping a small box with a note in it, or giving them a card, or sticking a million bows on it and hiding it in the back hallway instead?  There’s nothing wrong with the gift for not fitting in that box — in fact, it might be THE best gift of them all because of the very thing that makes it not fit in the box! And there’s nothing wrong with the box either, just because that gift didn’t fit inside. It’s just a bad fit between that box, and that gift.

Well, that’s how I feel about polyamory, and about love. Polyamory is a great gift that doesn’t happen to fit the box that we got issued at the Universal Post Office. Polyamory is so chock full of LOVE that it spills out the sides and cannot be contained in the “usual” ways. (And lest you think I’m all sappy and Pollyanna (ha!) about poly, I also think that polyamory is sometimes the gift that proclaims “some assembly required” and for which the directions seem to be written in a foreign language.)  Polyamory is bold and beautiful and complicated and drama-filled and a damn AFGO (“Another F-ing Growth Opportunity!”), and the worst thing and the best thing that I’ve ever done, all at once. (No, I take that back. The best thing I’ve ever done is to birth my amazing daughter. But poly is a close second.) When you get right down to it, polyamory is just a whole lotta LOVE all squished into one package (some assembly required).

And love, my friends, is nothing to be ashamed of.

Go sing your own song. Go chart your own ways.

Bird Sculpture by Robriel Wolf, archangel.robriel@gmail.com

“A Little Bird Told Me”: Sculpture in wood, metal and glorious paint, by artist Robriel Wolf

Love boldly, safely, and well.

~♥ Dawn

PS: If you’re looking for some assistance in singing your own song, you can always drop me a line to ask for your own free 30-minute (or half-price 60 minute) session. I’m always happy to help others in the Uncharted waters (to mix a couple of metaphors!) 🙂

 

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©2012, Dawn M. Davidson

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Open-ness, honesty, and safety: Some actual data!

I‘ve long held the opinion (based on personal experience as well as some educated guesses) that people who were poly/open/ethically non-monogamous have stronger and more consistent safer sex boundaries and practices than folks who were cheating (or as this article frames it, “unfaithful.”) After all, when “no one’s looking,” it’s very hard to uphold any sort of boundaries that require long-term thought over short term pleasure (even for one’s own sexual safety.) However, up till recently, that’s largely been conjecture.  This article below reports results of one of the first ever studies on the topic. I’ve only got the abstract (and thanks for that go to N.T. from the Poly Researchers list), but the results reported are unambiguous.

“Unfaithful Individuals are Less Likely to Practice Safer Sex Than Openly Nonmonogamous Individuals”

The Journal of Sexual Medicine

Volume 9, Issue 6, pages 1559–1565, June 2012

ABSTRACT

Introduction. Given the prevalence and harm of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), there is a need to examine safer sex strategies in the context of romantic relationships and extradyadic sexual encounters. Sexual infidelity is associated with a variety of detrimental psychosocial outcomes; however, little research has addressed the sexual health ramifications of sexually unfaithful partners and members of other high-risk nonmonogamous lifestyles.

Aims. To determine whether sexually unfaithful individuals or “negotiated nonmonogamous” individuals are more likely to engage in sexual health risk reduction behaviors during extradyadic encounters and with their primary partner.

Method. Data were collected via an anonymous Internet-based study. Several hundred sexually unfaithful individuals and individuals with a negotiated nonmonogamy agreement completed a sexual health questionnaire.

Main Outcomes Measures. Self-reported measures of risk reduction behaviors within the primary relationship and risk reduction behaviors during the extradyadic encounter were assessed.

Results. Sexually unfaithful participants demonstrated significantly lower rates of protective sexual health behaviors both within their primary partnerships and during their extradyadic sexual encounters. Sexually unfaithful participants were also less likely to engage in frequent STI testing, and less likely to discuss safer sex concerns with new partners.

Conclusions. These data add to the literature on the negative effects of sexual unfaithfulness. Understanding rates of nonengagement in safer sex strategies will be helpful to those who lead efforts to increase condom use and other preventive STI measures. Conley TD, Moors AC, Ziegler A, and Karathanasis C. Unfaithful individuals are less likely to practice safer sex than openly nonmonogamous individuals. J Sex Med 2012;9:1559–1565.

This, of course, is one of the many reasons why I feel that openness and honesty are cornerstones of polyamory and other forms of ethical non-monogamy.  Honesty is not only the best policy from an emotional standpoint… it’s also a great “harm reduction” tool for everyone concerned.

If you’re looking for some help with your own safer sex testing, there’s a widget down along the right side of my blog here that will help you find a testing facility.  You can also find a few more resources for testing and other safer sex matters in my Resources list. And here’s a bonus link I posted recently in my Facebook, called Health Care Without Shame, by Dr. Charles Moser, which may also help you locate caregivers that can be appropriately responsive to your needs.

If you’re looking for help creating Agreements to support safer sex (or safer emotional relating), then you might want to check out my in-progress Agreements Workbook entries. And last but not least, of course, you’re always welcome to contact me for a personal session (by phone, Skype, or in person), if you’d like to bounce ideas off of me, or get more personalized feedback and assistance.

May you always love safely, boldly, and well!

~♥ Dawn

 

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©2012, Dawn M. Davidson

12 Tips on How to Care for Introverts

Poly for Introverts

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
Emily Dickenson

One of only two poems I managed to memorize during Middle School, this paean to anonymity has lent me strength over the years, in those moments when I was feeling particularly unwanted or overlooked… or occasionally when I wanted to feel overlooked. *wry smile*

I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed in the last month or more, after a particularly active and social period involving hosting multiple parties and attending the groundbreaking Open-SF conference. Another friend (in a locked personal journal post) recently gave me a new term to describe what I think has happened to me, and that’s “Introvert Shock” — The state of doing too many extraverted/social activities in a short time, and then wanting to hole up for days or weeks at a time, to recover one’s energy, with the result that activities on the calendar get dropped or rescheduled by the droves, no matter how attractive they originally seemed… or indeed still are.

Of course, some of this is “just” the definition of Introversion, aka being the sort of person who recharges best alone, and for whom social activities are draining. But Introvert Shock is more than this, I think. More like a panicky, overwhelmed feeling (at least for me), in which the idea of any kind of exposure to other people is abhorrent and tends to bring up a desire to order in for pizza and watch Netflix movies (or better yet, read a nice quiet book) A.L.O.N.E. in one’s room … FOREVER.

My friend’s post contained this wonderful graphic on How to Care for Introverts that I’m sharing here, because I think it’s got a lot of good stuff to say on this topic in general:

12 Tips on How to Care for Introverts

In another thread of conversation about this, I hypothesized that this list of behaviors is not necessarily limited to introverts, but represents a pretty good set of suggestions for respecting other human beings in general (especially children, as mentioned by yet another Friend of mine.) It’s not 100% applicable to everyone all the time, of course (few things are), but I think it’s a reasonable place to start for many if not most people.

I also noticed — and I think that this is important for geeks especially (… of which we have many in the poly community, in my experience…) — that I’ll go into Introvert Shock over “excessive” activity ONLINE. If I’ve been writing and posting and putting up invites for events and engaging in lots of dialog on lists, that will register for me emotionally as the same as being out in the world surrounded by dozens or hundreds of people, even if my body has indeed been holed up in my room alone. The result is a sudden cessation of output, even though, and possibly because that’s exactly what I need to be doing to generate (online) income. The very process of exposing my thoughts and feelings to a crowd of faceless strangers (Dickenson’s “admiring bog”) causes me to be (at least temporarily) unable to continue to expose those thoughts and feelings, no matter how nice each individual out there undoubtedly is, nor how much what I have to say might be helpful on their path (or how helpful it would be in continuing to support my dependence on pesky things like food, or the Internet.) I long to return to the state of being “nobody,” even while attempting to keep some sort of contact going, because I know that a silent blog is a dead blog. It’s an exhausting and painful cycle.

Another of the things that strikes me as I go through this process (and am obviously starting to come out of it, as witnessed by me making this post!) is to observe once again that polyamorous introverts have a particular challenge here. As it happens, “Poly for Introverts” was the very first discussion group that my almost-ex and I convened, in the early 2000’s. The process of the discussion group, and then writing a workshop with that information and presenting it at the next Loving More conference, was a watershed moment in my life, and I gained a lot of insights in how to work with introverted polys. In particular in this situation, I’m struck by how there is a way in which polyamorous introverts — especially but not limited to ones in group households — are almost never alone. Lovers (especially extraverted ones) can start to get upset when their lover indicates that they want to stay home rather than spend time with them, or doesn’t want to go out with them tonight when they did just go out with another partner last night.

“Are you losing interest?”

“Do you love them/value them more than you do me?”

“When am I going to get my needs met?”

are all anxious questions that can start to crop up when a polyamorous person needs to step back and spend a bunch of time alone. It’s like we somehow give up our right to alone time when we get involved with a 2nd (or 3rd, or…) person. There simply isn’t enough time to go around already, so what often gets sacrificed is that “blank” spot on the calendar where I’m “not doing anything anyway.” It’s hard enough for introverts to guard their alone time as it is, but add being poly to the mix and sometimes it feels like one almost has to set up steel walls and guard dogs to keep a “free” night on the calendar!

So how do we, as people who are often driven toward and sustained by multiple connections, manage these connections in a time of overwhelm, or when we need to DISconnect? How do we do this without insulting our partner/s, or sacrificing future connections? What are some strategies to use … or NOT to use? What are some strategies that might have worked for YOU in the past? I’d love to hear from YOU about this. Feel free to comment here, or in Facebook. You can contact me directly, or use the handy web form. It’s all good!

In the meantime… I’ll be in my office… alone. ;^)

~♥ Dawn