How do you handle boundaries around issues like what are too many dates per week, use of protection with non-primary partners, and navigating transitions from just kind of open relationship or non-monogamy to polyamory?
So this is a really interesting question because this is the kind of question that like there isn’t going to be one answer to because it’s very much about kind of how you approach things and what you individually need.
For me in my relationships, I don’t tend to have boundaries around like how many dates per week people can have with other partners because that’s not what my concern is.
Like my concern is, am I getting what I need?
And what they do with their time beyond the time that I need in order to feel like I’m getting what I need from a relationship doesn’t really concern, right?
If I have a partner and I need to see them once a week and I have another partner who need to see them twice a week and it feels good for them, that’s great.
There’s no – that doesn’t really matter.
The problem tends to be when like I have a partner who I want to – if I were to have a partner who I wanted to see like two or three times a week, they have another partner they are already seeing two times a week, they want to have at least three nights a week to themselves, like then it becomes more complicated about like is there time and space for everybody to get exactly what they need?
And if not, like whose wants and needs are being – are like who is making compromises and it what ways?
And does that still feel good to us?
This can be really complicated and really challenging.
I think that the question of like how many dates per week is usually one of like how much of the energy and connection and quality time that I’m getting.
And so, I think again, the question is not like how many dates can we do with other people?
It’s more about what do I need in terms of time and attention and connection to feel like my needs are getting met?
When we are talking about like sexual risk, about like using barriers with partners who aren’t – this person put the question said non-primary partners, I don’t really do hierarchy.
The way that I handle barrier use in my relationships is I let people know what my testing protocols are.
I let them know that in general, I tend to use barriers with most of my partners.
And if I have someone that I want to not use barriers with, I usually have a chat with the partners with whom I’m in like significant romantic connections just to like see how that would be for them, to see if it would change anything for them.
If my partners want to have sex with other people without barriers, that is a choice they get to make with their body like it’s not my job ever to tell someone else what they get to do with their body.
And that may mean that I then end up wanting to change what kind of sex we have based on the decisions that they are making with other people.
So like I had a partner once who when they really like someone, they would want to go to barrier – to like not using barriers for sex fairly quickly after starting to see a person that they were into.
And they usually when they discuss why they didn’t frame it as like a risk management choice but after being with them for a while, it became pretty clear that it was actually a lot about like if they were really into someone, they wanted to not use barriers.
And so, what we ended up talking about was that like they get to make these choices with their body and we weren’t using barriers, and so if they keep making these choices in a way that is about like doing what they feel like in the moment rather than having discussions, figuring out what they want to do that we may need to either be like go back to using barriers or just not do certain sexual activities for a while because it didn’t feel like I was getting what I needed to feel good about the sex that we were having.
So when we were talking about like use some barriers and other kinds of protections, again, the question is like, what do you need for your body?
If someone is going to interact with your body in a particular way, what are the requirements for that?
If they choose to do something else like that is their body and they get to choose it.
And you get to choose what that means about how they interact with your body.
So like if you have a partner with whom you don’t use barriers and they decide to not use barriers with someone else, you can let them know that that might mean you don’t have sex anymore in certain ways, you don’t have sex without barriers anymore, whatever it is that that would impact so that the two of you are on the same page about what those decisions mean and they are still empowered and in their full autonomy to make those choices.
In terms of navigating transitions from like just kind of an open relationship to like polyamory where you’re having multiple loving or committed connections, my biggest advice about like that transition either from monogamy to polyamory or from monogamous romantic connection to polyamory whether it’s not non-monogamous sexually or not is that it is often more helpful to think of that as the death of your previous relationship and the start of an entirely new one because if you try to think of it as it’s our relationship with an edit, it’s going to be a lot more challenging in a lot of ways because when we set up our relationship to be monogamous either sexually or romantically, there tend to be a lot of assumptions and expectations baked into the foundation of that framework that are hard to change by just looking at like, “Now, you’re going to date more people but we don’t have to change anything about us.”
Usually, there’s a lot of mononormative ideas and expectations and understandings that have created the foundation on which that relationship has been built and while you can just start doing polyamory without unpacking that, it’s likely that you’re going to run into a lot more hurdles if you don’t do some unpacking first.
So I think that it’s helpful to say like our monogamous has ended or our like open relationship has ended, what we are doing is starting a polyamorous relationship.
How do we want to have a polyamorous relationship?
What are the things that I want and need?
My book actually has some really great worksheets to look at like what your desires, what is it that you want and need from a relationship, what are the commitments that you are making?
And using those worksheets, you can find those for free at drlizpowell.com/book-resources.
You can just get those worksheets and go through them and see like in this relationship, what do I want and need with this person?
In this relationship, what are my boundaries?
What are my expectations?
What is it that like I’m committing too?
What are the commitments that I’m making?
What is it that I want in general across any of my relationships?
And coming together to talk about your relationship as something new that you’re building when you make that transition from monogamy or from like just open but not polyamorous I think is a really good way to do it.
A follow-up, how do you determine what needs or wants are in a relationship?
So like the handouts from my book are really helpful.
I think a lot of us tend to struggle with determining what our wants and needs are if we have a history of like perfectionism and/or people-pleasing because if you spent a lot of time focusing on making other people happy, you’ve probably disconnected yourself from like your own body and your own heart and your own desires, and that’s understandable.
We’ve all been there.
It just makes it a little bit more challenging when it’s time to figure out like what you actually want and need.
And so, I think what can be helpful is figuring out how to listen to your body when you think about saying yes and no to different things, because our brains are very good at lying to us.
Our brains are great at convincing us that we are going to be OK with something, that something is going to feel good for us in a way that like our body will not let us pretend.
And so, I think it can be really helpful to just like imagine yourself saying, “Yes, I’m OK with this.”
And then see what happens in your body like do you feel like a sinking sensation?
Do you feel light?
Does it feel relaxed?
Does it feel tensed?
What happens as you imagine these different ways of doing things?
Because that can give you really important information.
I also think that it’s helpful to think about it as like a question that you answer independently of a particular person because for most of us, a lot of our wants and needs are fairly stable.
They just – we have like different ones that we bring in different amounts to different relationships that we have like it’s pretty rare that someone is like, “Quality time is really important to me but only if we are like significant partners.
If we are not significant partners then I don’t fucking care.”
The amount that we care tends to be proportionate to the amount of like connection and attachment we have in the relationship. But I don’t think that the wants and needs are super discreet or separate.
And so what I would say is like, notice what you get upset about as well like what pisses you off and gets you all grumpy?
And is that actually what you’re grumpy about?
Because I think a lot of times when we are feeling grumpy about something, we have like an unmet need or something that that we want that we haven’t talked about.
We will focus on something else that’s easy to point to as like the thing that we’re upset about.
And I think that if you notice that you keep having these weird petty fights like these things that keep upsetting you are like these weird petty little things, start examining like is there something deeper here that you don’t talk about or that you haven’t talked about that might actually be what is creating this conflict and that might be where those underlying wants and needs are.
So yeah, the worksheets from the book can be really helpful.
Again, it’s drlizpowell.com/book-resources.
Also, the book Polysecure is a really helpful book in looking at how you create secure attachment both within your relationships and within yourself, how to improve your own internal secure attachment.
I think a lot of times when we run into unmet needs, there’s lot of stuff that it touches on that has to do with our attachment styles and ways in which we are either reliving attachment wounds or experiencing issues within an attachment.
And so, figuring out for you like what you need to feel securely attached within relationship is very helpful too.