What do we imagine when we say the words “relationship” or “commitment” or “marriage”?
Two individuals committing their life, sex, intimate self-knowledge, and dreams together?
Or how about three individuals sharing a house, kids, sexual adventures together and a part, and plans for the future?
We all enter into relationships having different expectations, desires, curiosities, and needs, and yet we often don’t realize we have these until they aren’t being met and we are feeling resentment or anxieties or as if something is missing in our lives.
For many of us, what we conceptualize as a “relationship” “commitment” or “marriage” is a product of what we’ve experienced in our own family of origin or culture. Then when we enter into a relationship with another individual or individuals, we often project the idea that they have the same or similar concept of relationship in their mind. The problem with this mentality is that we’d be wrong and be causing undue stress as a result. This is another person with their own cultural, familial, life experiences having influenced their concept and expectations of “relationship”, whether this is conscious or not.
No one owns the truth, as a result of these world lens we’ve developed over the courses of our existence. So what if we instead embraced a mindset of curiosity and gave ourselves permission to explore what potentially could be for us.
In other words, What if could design our relationship to however we wanted to?
Enter relationship design, where what is socially normative of “relationship” is not the only way we need to show up in our loves. Relationship design is the method of exploring, re-configuring, and powerfully choosing the relationship that is authentic and right for you and those you choose to share it with. Even if you decide to have a relationship that is conceptualized in the same way that is socially normative, going through a process and conversation designing your relationship can be a powerful experience in your choosing THIS and increasing motivation to work through any unforeseen challenges that might arise and shake the foundation. It becomes YOUR relationship, and not someone else’s idea.
Let me say this statement again with emphasis: You design and choose this relationship and it will increase your motivation to work through unforeseen challenges–because you will experience them, no matter if your relationship is called monogamous, polyamorous, swing, triad, pod, mono-poly, open, closed, playful, or whatever. Jealousy, infidelity, boredom, unfulfillment, sexual desire mismatch, miscommunication, and loneliness can occur to any human being or relationship. You then have the choice to either allow your relationship to change on it’s own accord or you can consciously take charge of it’s evolution and be active in it’s process. Either way, it’s going to change.
Read my dissertation research about partners who have two very different sexual identities and how they navigated through that here.
Want to start this conversation with your partner? First, establish safe space to explore your ideas and your partner’s ideas openly. BE MINDFUL that what is in our own mind, desires, needs, expectations, and dislikes have NOTHING to do with the other person’s value, but are, again, derived from our lived experiences. Show your partner this article and begin a talk on the following questions to spark curiosity and build intimate knowledge about this person or persons you have decided to share a life with. The journey of your chosen relationship is about to evolve.
Start with conversations describing the relationship of your parents or primary caregivers, as this gives us the first clue as to what has imprinted on your brain “relationship”.
Have there been other relationship types you’ve been in or been interested in exploring or learning more about?
What does intimacy mean to you?
How do you define commitment?
What are the most important needs you have in a relationship?
How did your parents express emotion? Affection? How well do you communicate what’s going on internally with others?
What constitutes fidelity? Are there specific actions that constitute as intimate, faithful,
What are some of your fears, excitements, concerns when you think about the type of relationship you are interested in exploring or learning more about?
Realistically, how much time and energy are you willing to put into a relationship?
Design and Negotiate.
Next step would be designing and negotiating the details outlining the relationship. I call these, relationship agreements and encourage partners to write these down, not as a concrete law, but as a place from which conversation and negotiation can come from.
CHECK IN, CHECK IN, CHECK IN.
Constant communication and checking in and debriefing with your partner helps to keep you both on the same page and alignment with how the relationship unfolds. Common and necessary moments include: when there’s a new partner, a challenge to an agreement, grey area situations, play parties, emotional triggers, needs, conflicts, intense feelings, hurts, and desires. Be present with your partner and avoid making assumptions or imagining them as some evil being trying to destroy your desires. We are all human and we have needs and unprocessed traumas or distressing events that can be triggered from time to time. It’s ok. We just want to be seen and heard and validated and supported and know that you are there with us. Practice patience and compassion. Practice getting undefended. You are on the same team.
Including Other Partners?
How do you want to refer to sexual or intimate partners? Lovers? Play-things? Pets? Primary Partner? Life Partner? Submissive? Girlfriend/Boyfriend? The list goes on.
What role do you want them to play in your relationship? How do you want to navigate potential experience of falling in love with these other partners? Is it just sex or dating? Is emotional intimacy allowed in these other partnerships?
Future Shared Dreams
You both or all have dreams and visions about how you see your future unfolding for yourself and your partner(s). Do you all share similar, or are they dynamically opposing to one another. What are your own non-negotiables? Where are you able to give?
There are evolutionary evidence to support the effectiveness of monogamy and polyamory and there are MANY real-life examples to support the efffectiveness of any other style of relationship imaginable. The one component for the success of any of these would be to choose one and powerfully choose it, every single day. Could it then evolve and change? Sure! And again, choose that powerfully, communicate openly, commit to moving through the unique challenges and benefits existing in ANY type of relationship, and be authentic with yourself and others when it’s not in alignment with you.
Let this article just be the beginning conversation of many more to come. Here are some more great reads to help you on your journey.
Opening Up by Tristan Taormino (some of the above questions came from her live training on developing open relationships)
The New Monogamy by Tammy Nelson
The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy
Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan, PhD, and Cacilda Jethá, MD
And if you’d like further guidance in this process, contact me by phone or email and let’s set up an appointment to discuss how I can further help you create the relationship of your dreams.