*If you want to jump straight to the Relationship Toolkit list… scroll to the bottom. (But perhaps you should ask yourself why you’re unwilling to put in the time to first read through the discussion.)
Non-monogamy often gets a bad rap, and is seen as significantly different than monogamy. There are always big arguments between the monogamous communities and the non-monogamous communities. Which side has it right? Which side knows more? Which side can “do” relationships better? The problem is that one way of loving is not inherently better, or more advanced, than the other. They are both valid ways of engaging in relationships.
That is, of course, if we are talking about healthy relationships. Healthy monogamous relationships, and healthy non-monogamous relationships. You can have unhealthy versions of either one. However, the unhealthy ones do not negate the value of the healthy ones. Often monogamy is seen as toxic all around because of a lot of the traits we associate with monogamy. There is definitely a lot to be said about toxic monogamy, but monogamy itself is not toxic. Neither is non-monogamy. Non-monogamy is usually seen as bad because it is being looked at through the lens of monogamy, and seen primarily as cheating. There’s also different variations – some involving simple things like slut shaming. But monogamy is not toxic, and non-monogamy is not toxic. They each work; they are simply different and work for different people. There’s nothing toxic about it, it’s just a choice of which kind of loving you want to engage in.
Hell yes – there are toxic traits up the ying-yang if you look for them, and that means anywhere. Toxic traits can be literally anywhere. There can be some super shitty, toxic relationships within non-monogamy. And there can also be some super shitty, toxic relationships within monogamy. It’s the traits that are toxic, though, not the relationship types. It isn’t the monogamous dynamic, or the non-monogamous dynamic, in itself that is toxic. It is those specific traits that add toxicity to it. Some people will be toxic whether they choose monogamy or non-monogamy. And some things will still be toxic whether conducted in monogamous relationships or non-monogamous ones. That’s just how it is. Toxicity is rampant in general, but that doesn’t make the structure something to get angry about.
Whose Toolkit is Whose?
Consensual forms of non-monogamy, such as polyamory, are said to need skills that monogamous people just don’t have. (IMPORTANT: Non-consensual forms of non-monogamy are just as abusive and toxic as non-consensual monogamous situations.) The focus on communication, honesty, healthy boundaries, respect, autonomy, etc. and just the general amount of self-work that people put in to deal with their emotions and work through things with their partners when engaged in non-monogamous relationship forms, is seen as some crazy, daring feat and therefore is branded as something monogamous people could “never do.” What’s the problem with this?
First off, these are things monogamous people should be doing anyway. Monogamy and non-monogamy use the same toolkit. It’s just that it’s easier to be in a monogamous relationship without addressing issues and doing the self-work. In non-monogamy there is typically no room for bullshit – there are more people involved and shit can hit the fan very fast if you haven’t worked through all your insecurities and learned good communication skills or coping mechanisms. This doesn’t mean that all non-monogamous people are just better at these things, or that they have everything figured out. We’re all just humans, too. We learn as we go, and we deal with difficult emotions as they arise. However, non-monogamy puts a magnifying glass up to you and identifies (very quickly) where you have and haven’t put in the work.
For those who are new to the concept of non-monogamy, and thus just starting out on their journey, it is generally very easy to see where they tend to let shit slide that they shouldn’t. The fact is, that the tools (or skills) used in non-monogamy are just as important in monogamous relationships. However, society tends to try and bend the rules for monogamy – and pushes toxic traits and behaviors as healthy, when in actuality it is just as unhealthy to be possessive, or non-communicative, or otherwise manipulative or controlling, in monogamy as it is in non-monogamy. The fact that these things are more traditionally accepted within monogamy, is where we get the term “toxic monogamous culture.”
What’s Mine Is Yours
We need to stop focusing on “this is what you need to work on if you’re monogamous, but here are the things you need to work on if you’re non-monogamous.” Truth be told, we ALL need to work on the same things. Healthy relationship resources shouldn’t be exclusively for monogamous individuals or for non-monogamous individuals. The things I need to work on to be in a healthy non-monogamous relationship are the same things you need to work on to be in a healthy monogamous relationship. Yes, they may be applied slightly differently (especially where it comes to having either a single partner or multiple partners); but the actual skills that we need to develop are the same.
Let’s talk about jealousy for example. Jealousy is a big one. Lots of controversy over jealousy, regardless if it’s being discussed within monogamous or non-monogamous spaces. It pokes at people’s nerves. They get defensive or angry or feel hurt. But that’s exactly why it’s so important to talk about. Is jealousy a normal, healthy emotion? Yes. Is this true within both monogamy and non-monogamy? Yes. Everyone has the potential to experience jealousy – whether it pertains to your partner dating other people, or their connections with friends and family, etc. A person can become jealous over just about anything.
Should jealousy be seen as a bad thing? No. But it also shouldn’t be seen as something that should be aspired to. It isn’t sexy or romantic to be jealous. It isn’t cute. It doesn’t mean you love someone more. It just means that there’s a red flag going off in your brain – you feel uncomfortable about something. The skill set here (whether you’re in a monogamous relationship, or a non-monogamous one) is to figure out how to decipher your jealousy. What is it telling you? What does it mean? What are you insecure about? Are those insecurities really something that you should be concerned about, or just things you’re needing to work through? Is your jealousy telling you that something isn’t right? Is this relationship not working for you? Are some of your needs not being met? What is causing the jealousy? What is behind it?
How To Handle Emotions
As with any other emotional response, it is important to understand the extent of it. You have to understand the whole thing. This is what people do in healthy relationships – they are constantly reexamining themselves and their feelings to figure out what’s going on with them. If you do this, then you can go to your partner with a calmer – more thorough – explanation of what is happening for you. You can discuss in a mature way, and get to the bottom of things. Truly work together and work through issues. Instead of just reacting to things without thinking.
No one is perfect. Sometimes we lash out. Sometimes we yell or cry or run off because something triggers us and we don’t quite understand it. Sometimes after trying to figure it out we still don’t get it. It’s perfectly acceptable to go back to your partner and apologize and say “I’m sorry I lashed out at you, but I still don’t understand what I was so upset about, can you help me figure it out?” But the point here is that you have that time of reflection to try and understand yourself. If you work through things better when discussing them with someone then do that. Sometimes you can go to your partner right away and talk to them about it. Sometimes you guys need to cool off, so you can talk to a friend or another trusted person. It’s perfectly acceptable to talk things through with someone in order to understand where your emotions are coming from. But whether you are sitting alone, or discussing with others, the important thing is that you’re doing it.
Don’t just get angry and yell at your partner and then come back and apologize without knowing what really set you off, or without actively engaging with it to try and eliminate the problem in the future. Don’t just sit and cry alone because you think something is terrible, but you aren’t willing to put in the work to change it or even bring it up. Your partner can only do so much to help you through a situation if they have no idea what you’re going through. But in order for you to tell them, first you have to know. If you don’t know – they definitely won’t know. But you have to engage in healthy discussion about your emotions. Not just screaming matches where you mention things but everyone is just tense and nothing really gets resolved. Be open, and honest, and try to stay calm when discussing things with your partner. Sometimes you may need to take a breather and continue a conversation later. That’s okay, too.
So, What Are The Tools?
What do you really need to know? What do you really need to work on? How about learning to recognize your triggers? How about taking responsibility for your actions, and for the self-work that needs to be done to fix relationship issues? Accountability is a huge one – don’t just throw blame at others, look inward. It doesn’t matter how much you feel your partner is the brunt of the problem… where could you have done things better? Always try to figure out where you could improve. We should constantly be striving for improvement within ourselves. There is always a better version of ourselves waiting just around the corner.
And how about when things are shitty, and you put in tons of work, but things just aren’t working? Either you can’t seem to find a way to be compatible, or no matter what you do the issues you have aren’t getting fixed? Or perhaps your partner just isn’t putting in any work, and it’s all falling on you? You can’t fix a relationship if the work is one-sided. It takes 2 (or more) people to make a relationship work. If everyone isn’t 100% in, then they are out. A skill set that really needs to be worked on, for most people, is letting go. Letting go of what we expected. Letting go of the potential we wish was being used. Letting go of hoping people will change for us when everything they’ve shown us proves otherwise. We need to learn to let go of relationships – even when we’re fully invested in them. It’s okay if things don’t work out. It doesn’t make you any less of a person. You need to do what is right for you, and sometimes the best course of action is to leave.
The Importance of the Self
No matter what the situation… we need to become happy and healthy within ourselves. We can’t put the responsibility of making us happy, or creating a healthy environment for us, on our partners. That isn’t really their job. We need to learn to love ourselves. To be good to ourselves. To care about ourselves. We need to learn to love ourselves when we’re with others, and when we’re all alone. We are worthy of love. We are worthy of respect. We deserve to be loved in a healthy way. But often we won’t receive the things that we deserve from others, the things we are worthy of, when we do not first give those things to ourselves.
We also need to be thorough in our journeys of self-discovery. How can we love ourselves, or allow anyone else to love us, when we don’t even really know who we are? It’s okay to take time to figure it all out. It’s okay to not commit to anything until you’re 100% sure. Try things out. Test your own boundaries. See where you fit in this world. Figure out what your needs are, and what your wants and preferences are. Decide what boundaries make sense for you. Find places in the world, and people in those places, that build you up and challenge you. Work towards bettering yourself, and in turn you’ll have better relationships. Better partnerships – romantic, sexual, or platonic. Better friendships and familial connections. Better work situations.
It all starts with you. You knowing you. You trusting you. You loving you. Without that, there are bound to be issues anywhere you look – no matter the dynamics you engage in. A partner should definitely make you feel happy, opposed to sad, but you shouldn’t rely on them in order to find your happiness. A partner should be a shoulder to cry on, a supportive companion, sure…but that doesn’t mean your problems all fall on them. You shouldn’t expect them to fix things for you. No matter what it is, you have to put in the work yourself in order to see results. You are responsible for yourself – no one else is. Your partner is there to love you, not to parent you. Treat yourself, and them, with respect. Do the work that needs to be done. Figure your shit out, don’t let it destroy you. Put in what you are hoping to get back out. And be patient – with yourself, and with others. Be patient, but never stop working on moving forwards.
*RELATIONSHIP TOOLKIT LIST:
(For all types of relationships – platonic, sexual, romantic, monogamous, non-monogamous, etc.)
1) Figure out...
[There are billions of other things that you could figure out or learn… never stop striving to learn as much as you can. There is always more. You don’t know everything. Learning is for life.]