Safe Sex Vs Safer Sex

I don’t know about the rest of the world, but in the US over the past ten years or so, it has become common to speak of “safer sex” instead of “safe sex.” The idea, apparently, is that sex is never 100% safe, no matter how careful you are there is always the risk of getting an STI or someone getting pregnant, and, therefore, it is misleading to speak of “safe sex,” we should always and only speak of “safer sex.”

I’m calling bullshit.

When I was learning to drive I didn’t take a “safer driving” course, I took a safe driving course. The mandatory certificate for food handlers is called ServeSafe, not “ServeSafer.” Neither driving nor food handling can ever be made 100% safe. In the case of driving, because no matter how careful you are, some other idiot on the road can ram into you. In the case of food, because if the spinach came into your kitchen with e coli already on it, no matter how carefully you wash the leaves, someone might get sick from your salad.

In every similar context, American English is happy to use “safe” to mean “making the best effort to be safe.” But suddenly, when it comes to sex, “safe” can only be used to mean “100% without risk.”

Folks, show me anything 100% without risk and I will show you where you are wrong. Life doesn’t work that way. But in the rest of life, we are comfortable saying, “Yes, there is risk, I accept that and do my best to reduce the risk.” The push to use “safer sex” is coming from the same sex shaming viewpoint as the pamphlets at the local anti-abortion place that tell people you should never have sex outside of monogamous marriage or you might get an STI.

Like I said at the beginning, this may be just a US thing. God knows we have sex stigma to spare here. But it needs to stop. Which is why throughout this blog series I talk about safe sex. Not safer sex.

This post is part of the Safe Sex and STIs blog series.

Salvaging an Abusive Relationship

Standard advice when you realize you are in an abusive relationship is to get out. But most of us, wisely or not, want to try to save our relationships. We love our partners, we believe they love us, and there’s probably a fair bit of sunk cost fallacy at play as well.

Whatever the reason, I’m not going to try to tell you that if you are in an abusive relationship you are wrong to want to save that relationship. I am going to tell you that you need to be smart about it.

Before I get deep into this topic, be aware: it will take both of you to salvage your relationship. If your abuser isn’t willing to own up to their behavior and do the work to fix how they treat you, you on your own will not be able to save this relationship.

First and foremost, you need to be safe. This mostly applies to situations with physical abuse, but if other forms of abuse are pushing you to self-destructive behavior that applies too. If you have any reason to believe you are not safe, you need to have space between you and your abuser. If you live with your abuser, that can mean going to stay with another partner or a friend or family for a while. If you don’t live together it can mean only seeing them with someone you trust. It can mean not seeing them at all for a while—talking over the phone or internet. It may mean not contacting them at all for a while. Whatever it will mean for you, make sure you are safe first.

Second, you need to have a clear idea of what kind of abuse is happening. Are you being gaslighted? Manipulated? Threatened? Assaulted? Coerced into sexual encounters? What is it that needs to stop?

You may not be able to identify everything right away. Abuse is insidious, and once an abuser has battered away our boundaries it can become really have to recognize some of the ways they control us.

Speaking of boundaries, step three is to define clear boundaries for yourself. Boundaries that clearly define at least some of the ways you have been abused which you will no longer accept or allow to happen. “I will only have a sexual encounter when I want one.” “I will walk away from conversations if I am threatened or manipulated.” “I am the only one who decides my schedule, I will go on dates with who I want, when I want.” “I will not spend time with someone who makes me feel unsafe.” These boundaries give you a tool to protect yourself from being controlled.

When you have done all this, it’s time to talk with your abusive partner. The word “abuse” is very polarizing in our society. So when you talk with your partner you may be better off talking about specific behavior—types of manipulation, examples of coercion, times they have belittled you, etc—rather than bringing up abuse as such. !Whether you choose to raise abuse directly or not, make it clear that you are not talking about isolated incidents but a pattern of trying to control you.

The reaction you want is something along the lines of “I’m sorry, I understand why you are upset, and I’ll try to stop it. Please tell me if I start doing it again.”

More likely your partner will get defensive because they are human and that’s what most humans do when we hear something we don’t like about ourselves. There are two broad types of defensive reactions.

1) “I love you, I would never want to hurt you!”
2) “How dare you accuse me of _____.”

The first reaction is a good one. Annoying, because they are probably too busy defending themselves to listen any longer. But it shows that their first thought on hearing they have hurt you is to be upset about it. They have heard that you are hurt and they are responding to it. Once (if) they get past the initial defensive reaction, they will want to do what they can to stop hurting you.

The second reaction is a red flag. It either isn’t registering with them that you have been hurt by their behavior, or they don’t care. In my opinion, there is nothing left to salvage from this relationship. This person is all but saying outright that they love their image of themselves more than they love you. No healthy relationship is possible with that attitude.

If they get overly defensive and the conversation starts to become all about them, you may need to get up and walk away for a while. Come back later and pick the conversation up from where you want it to continue.

Once they are listening, lay out the boundaries you have established for yourself. Tell them you will be adding new boundaries as you learn more about your needs. Make it clear that you expect them to respect your boundaries.

Be aware: abusive behavior can become a habit, so even if your partner is actively trying to fix their behavior, it will take time. Be prepared to enforce your boundaries. An abuser who is trying to stop will listen when you enforce a boundary, “Wow, I didn’t realize I was doing that, I’m sorry.” If they ignore you when you enforce a boundary, then they are not trying to fix things.

The first few times you enforce your boundaries it will be scary. You may slip a few times and not enforce a boundary when you need to. That’s okay. You are learning new habits too. Just keep working at it.

Building a healthy relationship out of an unhealthy one is hard. But sometimes it can be done.

Check here if you are the abusive partner in your relationship.

This post is part of the Abuse in Polyamory blog series.

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Fluid Bonding and Safe Sex

Fluid bonding is a common term in polyamory safe sex discussions. Fluid bonding commonly means having sex without a condom or other barrier method. The idea being that your fluids are mingling and joining together.

In hierarchical poly relationships, fluid bonding it usually reserved for the primary couple or group. In egalitarian or solo poly fluid bonding is a sign of a highly entwined relationship and a great deal of trust. It is also a potential minefield.

Fluid Bonding and STIs

One of the more popular discussed reasons for fluid bonding is it reduces the risk of getting infected with an STI. By only having barrier-free sex with people you trust, you get some of the benefits of a closed relationship (barrier free sex, lack of worries about infection with the people you have sex with most often) while still being open. So far so good, right?

Here’s where the trouble comes in: barriers are not 100% effective in preventing STIs. For instance, the last time I checked the research, male condoms were believed to be 80% effective in reducing transmission of HIV. 80% risk reduction is damned good—but it is not risk-free. And barriers still only protect against some STIs. It is still possible for people in fluid bonded relationships to pick up an infection and spread it to their fluid bonded partners.

Whether or not you are fluid bonded, you still need to get tested, regularly.

Fluid Bonding and Pregnancy

Whether or not you prefer to practice fluid bonding, pregnancy throws a wrench in the works. Some people rely on fluid bonding to prevent pregnancy outside the “main” relationship. Some people prefer not to fluid bond, but want to have a baby. In both cases, it is vitally important to remember that there is no such thing as 100% effective birth control.

I’ve harped on this point until I’m blue in the face. The vast majority of people who think they are protected from unexpected pregnancy, aren’t.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use fluid bonding as part of your birth control plan. It does mean you need to be honest with yourself about the risks of whatever approach to birth control you choose.

Fluid Bonding and Assumptions

Fluid bonding requires using barrier methods with everyone other than your fluid bonded partners. Simple, right?

Well, if your partner agreed to fluid bonding because they were worried about pregnancy, they may not see a need to use dental dams. You, in the meantime, are trying to reduce your STI exposure and assume barrier methods are being used with all genital contact. Can you say “Recipe for drama?”

Whatever your reason for fluid bonding, check your assumptions at the door. Make sure you and your partner(s) are on the same page about what you expect. Whether your relationship is built on agreements or boundaries, don’t let assumptions bite you on the ass.

Face It: We’ve All Got Baggage

I’m delving a bit more into dating advice than I’m really comfortable with today, but there’s an issue I’ve skirted around in a few places that recently smacked me between the eyes. And I’m calling bullshit.

A common trope of polyamory is the desire for “drama-free” relationships. The desire to avoid partners with lots of baggage. The idea that there are some people who dating is more trouble than it is worth.

After five+ years of being told that I should leave my disabled partner because he wasn’t contributing anything to the relationship (in other people’s eyes), I have no fucking patience for the idea that some people aren’t worth being in a relationship with. And I am sick to death of the idea that some people got baggage and other people don’t.

Everybody got baggage. It’s just some people have baggage that society considers “acceptable” and some people have baggage that society disapproves of.

Do you know what is major baggage for me? A poly partner with a 9-5 job. That’s right, a poly partner with a regular, salaried job is, in my eyes, carrying baggage. As someone who sets their own work hours, and has people to take care of, dating around a 9-5 is a pain in the ass. A night job? Great! On your days off we can go out late at night after the kids are asleep? A weekend job? I don’t go out on Saturdays (Shabbat) anyway, how does Wednesday morning sound?

See, there is this mythical idea that some people are drama- and baggage- free. These would be people with good jobs, no medical problems, no legal problems, no mental or emotional problems, who bring rainbows and flowers to all their relationships with no problems or hassles or challenges.

It doesn’t work that way.

I got a shit ton of baggage, and so do you, and so does everyone. What matters is how our baggage fits together. Or as the musical Rent puts it:

You got baggage? I got baggage too… I’m looking for baggage that goes with mine.

polyamory drama
This bag might fit in my closet–but it would completely clash with my drapes. 😉 [Image by Lynn Kelley]
For some people, my depression and anxiety are clashing baggage they don’t want to deal with. For me, someone who doesn’t understand mental illness and thinks I can “get over” being depressed has baggage that will never fit in a closet with mine.

You know what is baggage? Being openly poly. You know what else is baggage? Being in the closet.

If I date someone who is openly poly, we don’t even notice the baggage because we are both open. If I date someone who is in the closet, then the conflict between our baggage will constantly be straining our relationship.

Drama is what happens when baggage doesn’t fit.

For Michael and I, Michael’s disability isn’t drama, it’s just part of life. It’s a shitty part of life, but then life is sometimes a shitty thing. That’s why we call it ‘life’ and not ‘heaven.’

For someone else—someone with a 9-5 job who would need to take a day off of work every time Michal had another test scheduled—being in a highly entwined relationship with Michael would be major drama because their baggage wouldn’t fit together.

Interestingly enough, if Michael was in a highly entwined relationship with both of us, the baggage might fit because I could handle all the driving to doctors offices. Lots of things can change the way baggage fits together.

Some baggage is very hard to find a match for. Michael and I both come with some very unusually-shaped baggage. Enough so that I often fear my dream of finding other people we fit with well enough to live together in multiple highly entwined relationships is flat out impossible. That doesn’t stop me from enjoying the less entwined relationships that have come both our ways. Because baggage also fits differently depending on the style of relationship.

So lets chill with the search for drama-free partners without baggage. People aren’t drama filled or drama free, relationships are. And everyone in the whole world has baggage. Own yours, don’t shame people for theirs. Be open about what baggage will just never work with yours, but don’t be afraid to try something that looks like it might not fit—sometimes baggage can surprise you.

Am I Abusing my Polyamorous Partners?

Maybe someone has accused you of being abusive. Maybe you’ve been reading along and started to recognize some things I’ve been describing. For whatever reason, you’re wondering if you may be the bad guy in your relationship(s).

First off, major kudos for being willing to ask. Western culture tends to portray abusers as irredeemable monsters or people helpless to change their behavior until their ‘one true love’ redeems them. Both are real shitty tropes that make it even more difficult than it should be to face the fact that you may be abusing your loved ones. Just asking this question is a huge deal.

If you are worried about being an abuser, I highly suggest seeking out a professional relationship counselor or therapist. They can help you work through what is causes you to seek control of your partners and learn new ways of being in relationships.

That said, not everyone has access to professional therapy services, so here is my unofficial, inexpert, advice:

Face facts. Specifically the facts of your relationships.

    1. How do you react when a partner tells you they can’t or won’t do something? Do you accept it gracefully? Try to find another way to get what you need?
    2. Or do you try to convince, badger, or push them into doing what you want?
    1. When your partner states a boundary do you respect that boundary?
    2. Or do you try to make them change their boundaries?
    1. If your partner has questions or concerns about your relationship, do you support them reading books, talking with friends, or checking out forums?
    2. Or do you insist that you know the right way to do things and they don’t need anyone else’s opinion?
    1. Are you okay with your partners discussing your relationship with other people?
    2. Or do you try to keep them from discussing your relationship and accuse them of “bad mouthing” you or similar to their friends and family?
    1. Do you listen when they say no? (And I don’t just mean about sex).
    2. Or do you try to change their minds or make them do things your way?
    1. Do you respect their right do decide what to do with their body, their money, their possessions, their relationship?
    2. Or do you try to make them do what you want instead of what they want?

Regarding power exchange relationships: Discussion about abuse in power exchange relationships makes the whole thing way too complicated, IMO. If you the dominant in a consensual power exchange relationship, you do you not need to try to control your submissive partner, because they have given you control. You do not make them do what you want, they want to do what you want. While I am uncomfortable with consensual non-con, I believe this applies even there. They want you to force them to do something. Questions above still apply. If they’ve given you control, right on! If you’ve taken control against their wishes, you got problems.

While you are looking at these questions, remember the vectors of control.

If you answered “yes” to part 2 of any of the questions above, you may be abusing your partners.

How Do I Stop Abusing My Partners?

Before anything else, you need to talk with your partners. Tell them that you realize you’ve been trying to control them. You want to stop and build a healthy relationship with them. Will they forgive you and help you start again? Can they be patient while you learn how to have a healthy relationship?

If they are willing to stick with you, thank your lucky stars and don’t let them down. If they aren’t, try to move on without bitterness and commit to doing better in your next relationship.

Now, some nitty gritty.

First, you need to recognize when you are doing it.

This may sound obvious, but it isn’t. Most of us don’t think in terms of “Today I’m going to force my partner to do something they don’t want to do.” You may think in terms of “I need my partner to do this for me because….” or “My partner is going to get hurt if they don’t do this….”

Reading up on personal boundaries can help. So can talking with your partner and setting clear boundaries for what is any isn’t acceptable. Try to identify, hopefully with your partners help, the situations where you are most likely to try to control them.

You need to learn new ways of relating.

You may have difficulty stating your needs without being manipulative or coercive. Bad behavior can become habit. I was raised in a home where lying and manipulating were survival traits. It wasn’t until I had been out of my parents house for over a year that I recognized how much I tried to manipulate to get what I wanted, rather than simply asking. Even after I realized I was being manipulative, it was such a habit that often I would only realize that I had been trying to manipulate someone after the fact.

If this happens to you, the best thing you can do is own it. “I’m sorry. I did this, I shouldn’t have. Can I make it up to you?”

If you partner(s) are willing to work with you, then ask them to call you out. “You’re doing it again.” “Stop trying to change my mind.” “You need to stop. Now.”

Read up on the roots of abuse, and try to identify why you are trying to control your partners. If you can identify the underlying cause (insecurity is a common one), work on fixing it.

And you probably want to spend some time reading up on and practicing healthy relationship skills. If the only way you know how to relate is unhealthy, then wanting to fix your unhealthy relationships won’t do shit. You need to have healthy relationship skills to replace the unhealthy ones, or sooner or later you will find yourself back where you started.

This post is part of the Abuse in Polyamory blog series.

Want more great articles? Support Polyamory on Purpose on Patron. We’re $15 away from adding a post the first Tuesday of every month.

What Do You Want to Learn About STIs and Safe Sex?

I’m going to pick up and finally finish my extremely drawn out blog series on safe sex and STIs. Last spring I finally finished a run down of various STIs and their symptoms, causes, treatments, etc. Now I want to go back to that series and talk a bit about options when you or someone in your polycule has an STI, communicating about safe sex with your partners and a few other things.

But before I get too deep into that, I’d love for you to tell me if there is anything you really want to know about STIs and safe sex in polyamorous relationships. I can’t promise to have an answer, but I’ll damn well try. Leave a comment below, or contact me privately!

Posts so far

(Updated February 8, 2016)

  1. STDs/STIs
  2. What are STD/STIs?
  3. STD/STIs Protection (Introduction)
  4. Protecting Against STD/STIs: Barrier Method
  5. Preventing STD/STIs: Testing Agreements
  6. Preventing STD/STIs: Be a Smart Slut – Open Relationships, Promiscuity and STD/STIs
  7. Protecting Against STD/STIs: Abstinence/Closed Relationships
  8. STD/STI Testing: Introduction
  9. Polyamory and STD/STIs: Getting Tested
  10. What Does STD/STI Testing Involve?
  11. STD/STIs: How often should I get tested?
  12. The Long List of STD/STIs
    1. Bacterial Vaginosis
    2. Chancroid
    3. Chlamydia
    4. Crab lice
    5. Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
    6. Genital Warts
    7. Granuloma Inguinale
    8. Gonorrhea
    9. Hepatitis (A, B & E)
    10. Herpes (1 & 2)
    11. HIV & AIDS
    12. Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
    13. Molluscum Contagiosum
    14. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
    15. Pubic Lice (Crabs)
    16. Scabies
    17. Syphilis
    18. Trichomoniasis (Trich)
  13. Fluid Bonding and Safe Sex
  14. Safe Sex Vs Safer Sex

When polyamory is a tool for abuse

When polyamory is a tool for abuse

We’ve all seen or heard examples of monogamy being used as a tool for abuse. From the idea that a spouse is “owed” sex to forcing a partner to stop seeing their friends, the ways monogamy can be used by abusers are well known, if rarely openly acknowledged.

Polyamory can also be a tool for abuse. However, the ways polyamory can become abusive aren’t as well known. That makes it easier for an abuser to get away with their abuse. A few months ago we looked at how abusers can use the saying “there is no one right way to do poly” to defend and obscure their abuse. They can also use it to coerce their partners to do things they don’t want to do. Here’s a blatant example:

“If this is going to work, I need you to have threesomes with me and my other partner.”
“Being poly doesn’t mean I have to have threesomes with you.”
“There’s no one right way to do poly. This is the way I do polyamory. Are you trying to tell me how I am allowed to structure my relationships? Cause that’s just wrong.”

The abuser has now put the responsibility on their partner. In this construction, the abuser’s partner is imposing their beliefs on the abuser by refusing to have threesomes. The scary thing is, this shit works.

What are some other ways polyamory can be used as a tool for abusers?

Coercing someone into a poly relationship—including using the whole “poly is more enlightened” shtick to get someone who isn’t comfortable with polyamory to go along.
Example: Randy isn’t sure he’s comfortable with opening his relationship with Sam. Sam tells Randy that his resistance to polyamory is just because he is still trapped by his upbringing and afraid to confront his emotions. If Randy really loved Sam, he would want Sam to be happy no matter what, and would be willing to enter a polyamorous relationship with Sam—in spite of his unreasonable fears.

Insisting the ends of a V need to be involved because poly means everyone is involved!

Using “own your shit” to push someone into doing something they aren’t comfortable with or don’t want.
Example: “I’m sick of hearing about how you don’t like spending time with my boyfriend. The three of us are having dinner tomorrow. It’s time and past time for you to own your shit. I’m not going to protect you anymore.”

In hierarchical relationships, “I’m your primary/they’re my primary” is a classic for imposing one person’s will on others in the polycule.
Example: Paula tells Robert to cancel his date with Liza. Robert objects, saying that she knew about this date and had agreed to it weeks ago. He had promised Liza this. “I don’t care what you promised Liza, I’m your primary, and I need you here.”

In non-hierarchical relationships, “They/you have no say in our relationship.” When the thing being objected to directly impacts/involves the person saying they have a problem.
Example: Jane is making dinner for herself and her boyfriend Raul when her live-in partner Al and Al’s girlfriend Shona show up. Al and Shona expect Jane to include them in dinner. Jane says that she wasn’t expecting Al and Shone to be in tonight and only cooked for two. Al replies, “You have no say over my relationship with Shona and I’m sick of you trying to tell me when and where I can spend time with her. If I want to invite Shone over for dinner, I’ll invite her over for dinner.” Then Al and Shone sit down at the table waiting to be served.

These are all ways that abusers can use the tropes and ideas polyamory is built on to control and manipulate their partners. Like a monogamous abuser using accusations of infidelity to separate their partner from friends.

There are more ways for abusers to use polyamory as a tool of their abuse. Hopefully, these examples will give you some idea of what to look for. The important thing to remember is that just because something is a basic idea of polyamory or a part of your relationship agreements, doesn’t mean it can’t be used by an abuser as a tool for control.

Please share your experiences with abusers using polyamory in the comments.

This post is part of the Abuse in Polyamory blog series.

Want more great articles? Support Polyamory on Purpose on Patron. We’re $15 away from adding a post the first Tuesday of every month.

Book Review Ask Me About Polyamory: The Best of Kimchi Cuddles, by Tikva Wolf

For years, Kimchi Cuddles webcomic has floated in and out of my various feeds. It cropped up on Facebook, was shared on Twitter, linked to by other poly bloggers. So when I was asked to review Ask Me About Polyamory: The Best of Kimchi Cuddles, I was already familiar with the webcomic. But I’d never been a regular reader. Having only seen random comics, I got the impression that Kimchi was a series of stand-alone comics, and not an on-going storyline*.

So Ask Me About Polyamory was my first close look at the work of Tikva Wolf.

Gentlepeople, if you only buy one book about polyamory, I encourage you to buy this one. Skip the long wordy explanations writers like myself delight in. You don’t need them. Proving that a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, Tikva has captured the essence of poly life in these delightful comics.

For the first time ever I have not one single criticism to offer. I could go on raving about how much I love this book, but I think you get the point. And I’ve got several years of webcomic archives to catch up on.

Happy reading!

*Unlike many comics, Kimchi Cuddles strips work equally well as standalone and series. A quirk that Ask Me About Polyamory makes good use of.

When Polyamory Triggers Abuse

I have said before—and I stand by it—that polyamory is not abusive. Unfortunately, starting a polyamorous relationship, or opening up an existing relationship, can be a trigger for abuse. And if you’ve read about the roots of abuse, you know why.

One of the causes of abuse is insecurity. Some people are insecure in their relationship, or in themselves, or just in life in general, and they respond by trying to control everything around them. If just looking at someone attractive triggers jealousy, triggers abuse, the abuser in question is probably reacting out of insecurity.

And for people who have grown up in a monogamous culture, with a monogamous mindset (and let’s face it, that’s most of us), polyamory exposes a shit-ton of insecurities. All kinds of fears that can be silenced in a monogamous relationship–
what is they like their new So more than me?
What is someone is better in bed than me?
Why do they want to date someone else? It must be because I’m not good enough!
…and a whole host of others suddenly become very in-your-face when polyamory is on the table. And some people react to fears by trying to control the thing that makes them afraid.

It’s important to realize that polyamory didn’t create these fears. Going back to monogamy won’t get rid of them. They’ve always been there. But just like you don’t think about being afraid of heights when you are on the ground, you don’t think about your partner liking someone else better when there isn’t anyone else.

To be clear—there is no pattern fo who in a relationship will need to confront these kinds of insecurities. You might expect it to be most common among people who did not themselves want to try polyamory. However I have seen it just as often among people who convinced their partners to try polyamory—and then found the reality a lot different than they expected.

If your partner never tried to control your choices or behavior before. Never held your relationship over your head or used emotional blackmail, and now they are, you might be in a situation where their insecurities about polyamory triggered abuse.

For pretty damn obvious reasons, this can destroy a relationship. However, the destruction is often agonizingly drawn out.

What do you do when you realize that your relationship has become abusive, and if you think the abuse has been triggered by polyamory?

The first thing to do is make sure you are (physically) safe. This can include safe from physical abuse, safe from being pushed into suicidal thoughts by mental/emotional abuse, and having safe access to food, shelter, financial resources, etc.

Touch base with your support system—friends, the rest of your polycule, family, crisis networks, etc.

Next, check your boundaries. Mental and emotional abuse are most effective when you have weak boundaries. One thing the poly community does have great resources on is establishing and enforcing boundaries. Read up.

Finally, talk with your abusive partner. In this situation, your partner isn’t trying to be abusive. They are acting out of fear and uncertainty. So I suggest avoiding the word abuse entirely at this stage. Instead, use phrases such as “trying to control.” “Abuse” is a very loaded word and may shut the conversation down before it starts.

“I love you, and I know you are scared. I know you don’t want to hurt me. But you have been trying to control me. And that does hurt me, and it hurts our relationship.”

Where you go from there is up to you. Do you want to try to salvage the relationship? Do you need a break from the relationship while you heal? Do you need to tone things down a bit, see each other less often? Or do you need out entirely? There are lots of options.

If your partner is unable to understand or accept why their behavior has been hurting you, then your options get limited. If they can understand why their behavior was hurting you, or if they are willing to try and understand, you have a lot more options moving forward.

If you are going to try to rebuild the relationship, I strongly suggest seeking out a poly-friendly relationship counselor. Also, lots of discussion of boundaries. They will still need your help and support in overcoming their insecurities, and both (all) of you will be walking a tightrope while you find ways to discuss and address those insecurities without giving up your boundaries and self-determination.

Many people assume that when there is abuse the relationship has to end. That isn’t necessarily true. An abusive relationship can be salvaged if everyone, and particularly the abuser, is willing to do the work. A person driven to abuse by insecurity may or may not be willing to do that work. It’s up to you if you want to give them the chance.

This post is part of the Abuse in Polyamory blog series.

Want more great articles? Support Polyamory on Purpose on Patron. We’re $15 away from adding a post the first Tuesday of every month.

Book Review: Designer Relationships by Mark A. Michael and Patricia Johnson

Designer Relationships is actually two books. The first half is an exploration of why we need designer relationships. It delves into the history of monogamy, how modern monogamy developed and functions, why modern monogamy is failing, reasons individuals and couples might want to create a designer relationship, and the wide range of relationship styles that people are exploring as an alternative to modern monogamy.

The second half is a how-to book for building your own designer relationship. It looks at what you want out of your relationship(s), things to consider when creating a designer relationship, issues of trust, jealousy, and insecurity, and much more.

Designer Relationships is unabashedly couple-centric. As the authors explain, their primary audience is couples who are not comfortable with modern monogamy and are ready to explore alternatives. That makes it a poor read for many poly-folk who have no interest in a couple-focused approach to relationships. However, if you are new to polyamory or non-monogamy, whether you are part of a couple or not, you will find many ideas and concepts well worth exploring.

One area where the authors impressed me was their approach to rules. I believe they have proposed a use of rules in relationships that even Franklin Veaux couldn’t object to. As long as you follow these rules with everyone you are involved with. Instead of rules for how the relationship works, Designer Relationships proposes rules for yourself. Rules focused on how you treat your partners. “I will be as honest with you as I can.” If you prefer a rules-based approach to relationships, you definitely need to read this.

As the proposed rule above suggests, the authors take it as a given that we are all human and we all screw-up. There are times we can’t be honest with each other. There are times we hurt each other. There are times we make mistakes. And these times don’t make us or our relationships failures. They are just part of being human and something we and our partner(s) need to work through. This view has often been absent from books on polyamory. I’ve heard several people say they felt if they weren’t perfect they couldn’t be polyamorous. I’d love to see the authors approach of assuming mistakes and problems will happen–and that’s normal–in more poly-focused material.

There are quite a few areas where Designer Relationships contradicts the Big Book of Poly (not necessarily a bad thing). There are also several areas where I disagree with the authors. (Pet peeve: Romeo and Juliet was not a romance, damn it! It was about teenage infatuation, NOT love. Shakespeare wrote LOTS of romances and love stories with happy endings…okay, okay, irrelevant…grumble grumble.) Ahem. Several areas where I disagree with the authors in their advice for relationships. However, I found the vast majority of their ideas and suggestions valuable. And advice books are always “use what works, ignore what doesn’t.”

Unfortunately, I found the writing style unengaging. This was made worse by long divergences into unrelated topics. (Extended discussion of prenuptial contracts and other types of relationship contracts, how they work, their purpose etc, before saying that contracts are a bad idea in designer relationships.) Actually reading through the book was a challenge. Of course, writing styles are a very personal thing and what annoyed me may just be your cup of tea.

Overall, I highly recommend Designer Relationships for folks who are considering breaking away from the constraints of modern monogamy, couples (monogamous or not) who want to make a conscious decision about what kind of relationship they want, and anyone new to non-monogamy who wants a broader idea of the options available to them. People in established non-monogamous relationships who are finding their current approach to non-monogamy isn’t working will also find a lot of valuable ideas.

If you happy in your current relationship approach, then you may or may not find some useful ideas in this book. It’s worth reading if you get a chance.