Consensual Non-Monogamy: I Didn’t Sign Up For This Sh*t

One of the earliest blog posts I published here took a look at some of the ways that individuals who were starting to think about the potential of a consensually non-monogamous relationship – but who were already in a monogamous relationship – could introduce that conversation with their partners (you can read that post here).

In this post, I want to take some time to address how you might be feeling if you’re the person on the other side of that interaction – the person whose partner just said “Hey, uhhh, what do you think about… ?” And actually, even more specifically, in this post I’m going to focus less on those of you who might have been like “Oh, interesting… I hadn’t thought about that, but tell me more about what you’re thinking” as a first response. (Not that you and your partner don’t still have plenty to figure out if that was your reaction; it’s just that for you, it might feel a little more clear how to go about figuring that out.) But right now I want to talk to those of you whose first reaction to the idea of consensual non-monogamy was… “Oh, hell f***cking NO!”

I just want to say – explicitly – I’m here for you too.

I feel like that might be important for you to hear. Because, you know, that other group… the “Hmm, yes, consensual non-monogamy, interesting. Yes, My Love, I do see the appeal. Go ahead and tell more, Dear” crowd? They’re more like to read through my site and be like “Oh, wonderful! Here’s a therapist who’s focusing on supporting people who are in – or interested in – consensually non-monogamous relationships. That’s us! And that’s what kind of therapist we’re looking for. What luck!”

But, you on the other hand… You’re not quite as sure if I’m talking about you when I say “people who are in – or who are interested in – consensually non-monogamous relationships.” You end up thinking something like Well, I’m definitely not in a consensually non-monogamous relationship. And I’m “interested” in consensual non-monogamy the same way a person whose car just broke down in the middle of nowhere is “interested” in hitchhiking: not my idea, it feels terrifying and I’m pretty sure I hate it, but I’ve gotta figure out if it’s my least-bad option right now.

You’re probably feeling like it would be helpful to have some support in figuring out if consensual non-monogamy is your least-bad option, because so far every time you and your partner start talking about it, the conversation goes downhill quickly. You sometimes feel a glimmer of hope, like I know my partner didn’t seem to understand when I said this the first dozen times, but maybe this time I say it, something’ll click for them; but usually you end up back at square one. Or maybe you’re not even at square one anymore… maybe the way the conversation has been progressing (or, rather, not progressing) has you questioning whether you want to be in this relationship at all even if you and your partner could ultimately agree to keep it monogamous. Or, maybe you just stopped talking about it altogether to try to keep the peace, but you’re noticing that it’s weighing on both of you and it’s blocking you both from connecting in other areas because of it. So you’re feeling like therapy might be helpful.

But you’re also feeling kind of trapped. Because on the one hand, what if you go to see a therapist who isn’t as familiar with consensual non-monogamy**? Are you and your partner going to feel comfortable talking openly about what’s going on? Is the conversation going to get shut down before it even gets started and before the two of you are able to come up with a shared understanding of your needs, wants, and values in the relationship? Or, will the therapist will somehow confirm some of the worst things your brain might already be telling you, like “Oh, yes. Clearly the fact that your partner is even thinking about consensual non-monogamy is a sign that you’re not a good enough partner.” Or, in some strange way, if the therapist agrees too strongly with you and pushes back against your partner, are you going to be put in a weird situation where you actually feel like you want to rush to your partner’s defense – even though you’re still really unsure about how consensual non-monogamy fits into your relationship, if it fits at all?

** I just want to say here, I think there are a lot of therapists who don’t specifically advertise consensual non-monogamy as a specific focus, but who are capable of – and consistently do – great work with clients who are considering that. But I also recognize that it can feel really risky and vulnerable to bring up topics like this if you aren’t sure how the other person will respond, so it might feel easier in some situations to just stay quiet… even if that other person is a therapist.

On the other hand, if you’re like many of the clients I’ve worked with who are hesitant about the whole consensual non-monogamy thing, you might be nervous that if you work with someone who does focus on consensually non-monogamous relationships, that they might not take your concerns seriously. You might worry that you’re setting yourself up on the short side of a two-against-one scenario, and you’ll be outnumbered, out-voted, and out of luck. Or that agreeing to see a therapist who focuses on consensual non-monogamy somehow means that you’re consenting to be consensually non-monogamous.

Look, consensual non-monogamy has enormous potential. I think that is true. But I also think that consensual non-monogamy only really works when it’s a genuine reflection of the values, needs, and desires of everyone involved. Honestly, it’s not that different from monogamy in that regard. As I start talking with clients or potential clients in relationships where there’s a disconnect between partners and how they feel about the potential for consensual non-monogamy in their relationship, we often come to the realization that it’s actually not the potential of consensual non-monogamy that they’re disagreeing on; it’s often that they’re having difficulty distinguishing between the potential of consensual non-monogamy, and a fantasy of consensual non-monogamy. [Or, depending on the perspective, between the potential of consensual non-monogamy and a nightmare of consensual non-monogamy.] And often, the conflict has more to do with not wanting to be dragged into someone else’s fantasy than it does about the relative merits of monogamy vs. non-monogamy. And I just wonder…

Would it feel different for you if conversations about the potential of consensual non-monogamy were actually conversations about the potential, rather than about a fantasy? Would it help soothe the anxiety or fear that comes up for you if your partner could really demonstrate that they not only understand what you’re feeling, but that they really care about how you feel? Would having support in tending to unhealed wounds from the past make it less painful and overwhelming to have these conversations about what the future could look like? If consensual non-monogamy didn’t feel so much like a fire that was trying to burn your relationship to the ground, would you feel more confident that you could talk about the parts of consensual non-monogamy that actually do feel a little intriguing to you without feeling like you were just adding fuel to the fire? Are you able to envision a scenario where you actually feel more secure and confident in your relationship with your partner because you’ve seen how your relationship is capable of shifting and growing and adapting with you, as you and your partner grow, and your circumstances change over time?

I can’t offer guarantees on how your relationship will progress, or what the outcome of therapy would be. But I can offer reassurance. Reassurance that the process of wrestling with these fundamental questions of “What types of connections do I and my partner need, and how can we build and maintain the kinds of relationships that provide that?” is worth it, regardless of how you answer those questions. Reassurance that your feelings and experience are not only valid (even the really difficult feelings), but that they’re actually providing super important insights if you and your partner can find a framework for understanding and working with those feelings instead of against them. And reassurance that, even if you’d classify your “interest” in consensual non-monogamy as being more like “interest-by-association” or “interest-under-duress,” I’m here for you too.

Feeling like therapy might be helpful for you or your relationship? Let’s talk. Use the button below to self-schedule a free 20-minute consultation with me at a time that works for you.

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