What COULD Work? Insights into Relationship Negotiation from Kink & Polyamory
|Posted by [email protected] on February 25, 2015 at 1:35 PM||comments (0)|
I recently co-presented a mini workshop/demo on how to negotiate a BDSM scene prior to engaging in one. And with the #50Shades movie still garnering a lot of attention, from both within and without the BDSM community, I thought this might make a good blog post, as well.
Engaging in negotiation in non-sexual and non-kinky contexts is different from what I presented on at that event, but there are overlaps and things we can learn from how kinksters communicate. What does negotiation mean, anyway? In vanilla (non-BDSM) crowds, “negotiation” often seems to be equated with “compromise.” That word “compromise” often leaves an unpleasant taste in one’s mouth, because it seems to imply that everyone has to give up something that’s important to them in order to get something that’s more important. It suggests that people who are in negotiations are at odds with one another.
To complicate matters further, just add people. Polyamorous households that consist of multiple adults in various intimate configurations who need to figure out how to live peacefully together soon become masters at negotiation, or the household soon dissolves.
Step one: Remember you’re on the same side
One of the first things to do when you realize a negotiation is due or necessary is to change your thinking about it. Instead of dreading the conversation and wondering what you’ll have to offer up in exchange for getting what you want out of it...try imagining you and the person/people you’re negotiating with are ON THE SAME SIDE. Rather than pitted against each other, every person for themselves, remember that you are partners, members of the same team. This is an opportunity to find the Win/Win solution to whatever thorny issue has cropped up.
The kinky crowd really gets this concept. When two kinksters are negotiating a scene, they both recognize the fact that they’re working together to create the best possible experience for BOTH of them. These negotiations are not conducted like a high-powered executive business meeting as portrayed in #50Shades. The movie did get one element right - these initial scene negotiations are conducted between equals, so that no one is acting from a place of feeling coerced or pressured due to an unfair power differential. It’s not until the negotiation is over, and satisfactory and agreed to by all parties, that the power exchange begins.
In a polyamorous family, the best outcomes are also achieved when all the members feel that they have an equal voice in a negotiation that affects the entire household. Issues between any set of individuals is not subject to group negotiation, but household functioning issues often are hammered out in family meetings. Any good group leader knows that even the quietest person needs to feel safe and empowered to offer their opinions and get their needs met.
Try a different position to shift the energy
If you’re finding it difficult to step out of the combative positions you and the other parties may have taken in order to protect your interests in a negotiation, try suggesting a change in your physical positioning. If these talks typically happen around a kitchen table, with everyone facing off, an alternative might be to throw some pillows on the living room floor and everyone lay down with their heads in the middle. This change of positioning changes the energy and the context and participants can experience an internal shift in how they show up for the discussion, as well as see a difference in how everyone treats each other.
Of course, this isn’t to suggest that kinky folk don’t also fall prey to the same mistakes everyone tends to make in relationships around communication, conflict management, and relationship negotiation..
Step two: Engage in active listening
Step two in your negotiation discussion is to allow each other the space to be heard, safely and completely. You already know what is most important to you about this issue. So clear your head and truly LISTEN to your partner(s) and engage in active listening, so that they feel heard and understood. Validating another’s words does not mean that you agree with them; instead it conveys understanding and acceptance, of both the message and the speaker.
Active listening involves being mindful of your verbal and non-verbal cues to the speaker that you’re paying attention. If you don’t already do this, then in more social situations (where a relationship is not at stake), practice tuning in to how you’re communication during a conversation while you’re not speaking. See what happens when you lean in toward the speaker slightly, widen your eyes, and make small murmurs of encouragement. Experiment with listening so intently to what the other person is saying that you can restate in your own words what you just heard, BEFORE trying to formulate a response. There are many other things involved with active listening, and learning to become adept at this can improve all of your relationships, whether kinky, poly, or vanilla.
Step three: Have a creative brainstorming session
Back to negotiating...step three is to engage in a creative brainstorming session. After each speaker has had a chance to fully describe what’s important to them about the current issue, pose the question, “What COULD work?”. Often, when we reach the solution-seeking portion of a negotiation, the other parties will engage in “devil’s advocate” games, in which every solution is picked apart and the reasons it WON’T work are highlighted. When the OBSTACLES are given more energy than the effort to find workable solutions, everyone will become frustrated and discouraged by the exchange. However, if you can engage the problem-seeking party in a solution-seeking discussion, the energy of the whole conversation changes and becomes more positive. This can lead to looking through doorways of possibility that may have remain closed before, allowing everyone in the discussion to entertain creative notions of how to get everyone’s needs met.
From here, it’s just a matter of continuing to take everyone’s needs into account as each option is evaluated. For help in learning to have these discussions, for moderation in situations that feel out of control, and for help in developing protocols for family discussions, scene negotiations, and important relationship talks, please contact us at The Sex Positive Coach. We will take your family’s needs and dynamics into account while we help you figure out how to resolve differences without dissolving your relationships.
The Hidden Gift of Jealousy
|Posted by [email protected] on February 19, 2015 at 12:00 PM||comments (0)|
The Hidden Gift of Jealousy
A recent set of studies, published in the Psychology & Sexuality journal, and reported on in Psychology Today, has revealed that “contact theory” (which states that the more exposure one has to something, the more favorable one is likely to be toward that thing) is true when it comes to polyamory as well. The study, “How to Make People More Accepting of Polyamory,” found that most people are fairly accepting of the concept of consensual nonmonogamy, although those interested in trying it are much fewer in number. One interesting find in this group of studies was the types of people more predisposed to be accepting of polyamory include those who are more adventurous, younger, liberal, and apparently weren’t as focused on their jealousy issues.
Myth: If you’re jealous, you’re not doing poly right, or you’re not really poly
It is a common myth both in and out of polyamorous circles that in order to be poly, you have to be one of those rare individuals who don’t feel jealousy at all, or you are supposed to swallow it and instead focus on learning compersion (the feeling of happiness as a direct result of your partner’s joy at being with someone else). However, jealousy is not necessarily a bad thing. All of our emotional states exist for important reasons. Our feelings give us clues about things occurring in our subconscious and can help us uncover deeper desires, limits, needs, or areas of confusion.
Myth: The jealous partner must be cut off or broken up with to prevent drama
Just because someone in your poly group is experiencing jealousy, this is not a reason to end the relationship, to request/require your partner to end their relationship with the jealous party, or to disregard, dismiss, or belittle the one having those feelings (Including if that person is YOU!). Instead, this is a prime opportunity to engage in more communication with one another. Allow yourself to open to the possibility that the jealous reactions of yourself or another are rooted in a place of pain, fear, or need. This is a chance to send messages of love, acceptance, safety, and trust. The gift of jealousy is that if offers the opportunity to deepen trust, solidify connection, and create an even more intimate relationship IF all parties can courageously meet the challenge of working through it together.
What IS Jealousy?
Usually, a feeling of jealousy is a result of EITHER a need not being met in the one experiencing those feelings, OR a boundary has been crossed so that the one feeling jealous winds up feeling less secure in the relationship. There can be other sources, but these are the two primary ones, in my experience. So it’s important to ask the person feeling jealous for more information about that feeling and about what has triggered the feeling. It requires the person having a jealous reaction to take a breath and a step back and to seriously and honestly analyze their reactions to a situation or a person to determine what exactly is going on inside of them.
Is There a Need Not Being Met?
We are only responsible for own feelings; no one can make us feel anything. So when we have a feeling, we need to develop the capacity to identify it, express is in a healthy manner, and resolve it. When it comes to jealousy, see what other feeling is also present - it could be a sense of sadness or (impending) loss, it could be grief, it could be pain, it could be fear of abandonment, it could be a feeling of inadequacy or low self-worth, or something else. This other feeling gives us a clue as to what else is lacking for the person, what need isn’t being met. This feeling could be compounded if the jealous person PERCEIVES that this need is being met for another person by the shared partner. It’s important to reiterate that fixing the jealous person’s feelings is NOT the responsibility of the other partner.
In this case, if there’s a need that isn’t being met, having an open and honest and non-blaming conversation about that could result in finding a new solution for that need to get met, either within the existing relationship or through some other outlet. Discussing the fear or the pain or the need and then exploring options together is the best bet for arriving at a satisfactory outcome.
Has a Boundary Been Crossed?
If the issue is more about boundaries being crossed, it’s very important to examine what lines might have been violated and if those lines had been explicitly agreed to by all parties, or if they were implicit boundaries, assumed to be understood and accepted by all parties. If the case is the latter, then the conversation needs to be about renegotiating boundaries, being very careful to be extremely explicit and detailed oriented in the discussion. Sometimes this means getting all the way down to defining terminology to make sure everyone is on the same page with what certain words (like “intimacy” actually mean. I’ve known some larger polyamorous households that created their own dictionary, where they would have a family meeting to discuss and come to agreement on whatever tricky words had come up for them.
If the issue is the former, and someone has crossed a line that was specifically and explicitly agreed to, then the focus must shift to the offending party. It is still the responsibility of each individual to manage their own emotional state, but the one who crossed the line must now be honest both within themselves and with their partner(s). What happened to facilitate that boundary-crossing and what can be done to mend the trust that crossing has caused?
No Matter What, Stay True to Yourself & Open to Hearing the Other
These are very difficult and delicate discussions. No matter what is going on to cause the jealousy, it is so very important for everyone involved to be true to themselves while being as open as possible to hearing the other(s) out. It’s important to give the benefit of the doubt; in most relationships, the partners are not trying to hurt each other, that was not the intent, but rather an unforeseen or unexpected consequence of getting some other need met.
Can You Ever Go Back to the Way It Was? Should You Even Want To?
All of the so-called “negative” emotions have a reason to exist, a purpose in our lives and relationships. The complex set of feelings we call “jealousy” combine to become a red flag. What need may not be getting met? What fear may have been triggered? What boundary might have been crossed? These are the places to start. And there is help...you don’t have to wade these murky waters alone. A coach like myself can help your family navigate this dark and bumpy terrain so that you wind up back in a place that is good for all involved. I can’t promise your relationship will return to the way it was. In fact, that’s nearly impossible. You know that old saying, “You can’t step in the same river twice” ? Anytime something difficult happens, it changes the people involved. This is an opportunity for growth. What can you do to facilitate the growth process?
Curious about how to treat Kinky or Poly clients?
|Posted by [email protected] on February 5, 2015 at 7:05 AM||comments (0)|
Are You Curious?
That’s how some of the ads for the upcoming movie, “50 Shades of Grey” begin. That series of books, which came out in 2011 and 2012, has led to a huge swell of interest in all things related to BDSM. And now the movie is about to hit the big screen (release date of Feb 13), which will introduce this lifestyle to even more people...many of whom may wind up in your office. Many longtime adherents of BDSM may already be your clients and you don’t know it.
Diversity is now the norm
We live in an age in which diversity has become the norm. In the U.S. today, you can find people who identify all over the sexuality spectrum. No longer is the question just “straight or gay or bi;” now people can identify as “pansexual,” or “kinky,” or “polyamorous,” or “gender fluid.” And these are just a few of the varieties that we are now beginning to see in our offices everyday. Popular media such as the bestselling 50 Shades of Gray book series (and upcoming movie), and cable network shows like “Big Love” and “Polyamory: Married and Dating” are bringing to light many diverse sexual and relationship practices. These books and shows are also making it more possible for the thousands of closeted individuals who identify in these ways to start coming out and seeking services.
Unfortunately for most of us, our training did not prepare us to work with such individuals. Most mental health and counseling training programs are barely adequate at preparing providers to discuss any aspect of sexuality.
Many of our codes of ethics require us to refrain from imposing our values on our clients, but often we don’t realize we’re imposing because until recently it was believed that “everyone” held the same values in some areas (i.e. monogamy). Ignorance breeds fear and hatred, which can be communicated subliminally to our clients, especially if we’re not even aware of or clear about our feelings on a subject.
BDSM only marginally accepted by the profession
As the recently revised DSM reveals, the professional thinking on the topic of “sadomasochism” (one aspect of BDSM or kinkiness) is shifting to a less pathological one. Many people today can accept that light bondage and playful slapping are not signs of a mental disorder or abuse. However, it is also possible that a 24/7 dominance/submission relationship can be a healthy alternative for some people. A lot of mental health professionals stumble when confronted with such a client and they either struggle to understand or they simply dismiss this behavior outright as too outrageous to be healthy.
Ethically non-monogamous folk face prejudice & discrimination
Polyamory and other forms of ethical non-monogamy are also concepts that are struggling against ignorance, misunderstanding, and value-based assumptions. People who practice these lifestyles are not necessarily “bigamists or philanderers or cheaters.” Throughout history, many different relationship and family configurations have existed, been accepted, and have worked. The cultural norm of monogamy and nuclear households is just that - a cultural norm, which of course does not mean “normal,” by any means.
Many polyamorous families struggle with the same issues as any other family, simply magnified several fold. However, people living in non-monogamous relationships also struggle against societal and legal prejudices against them, and have to cope with the reality that their rights cannot currently be recognized. They face job and housing discrimination, they can have their children removed from their custody, they struggle with hospital visitation and inheritance laws. These families are completely vulnerable and enjoy no protections under the law, which opens the door to all sorts of problems.
Healthy alternative or pathological issue?
In both cases, however, it’s important to learn how to determine if the non-conventional relationship is to blame for the problems with which the client is presenting. At times, there IS pathology, but many mentally stable and otherwise “normal” polyamorous and BDSM folk have left therapy due to a provider’s insistence that all their problems were due to their nonconforming behaviors.
Other poly folk and kinksters get frustrated when their paid session time is used up educating their therapist. Rather than doing the homework themselves, these providers turn their sessions with these clients into their own personal educational workshop. I’ve even encountered people who wondered if the therapist they were seeing might have been unnecessarily drawing out stories of their clients’ sex lives for their own prurient curiosity.
What can you do to increase your knowledge & acceptance in these areas?
YOU don’t have to be one of these uneducated, unethical, insensitive therapists. You could take advantage of a special opportunity and resource right here in your area. I am Inara de Luna and I am a therapy-trained relationship consultant and sexuality educator who specializes in working with the kinky and non-monogamous populations. I have also lived these lifestyles myself, so I bring both a personal and a professional understanding of these practices. I have been working with this type of client for almost 10 years and have been a member of these communities for almost 20.
There are several ways I can be of service:
Referrals. If someone comes to you with a problem that relates to their being polyamorous or kinky and you don’t feel qualified to help them with that problem, you can refer them to me, provided their issues could be adequately addressed in a non-therapy setting. We could be a sort of collaborative treatment team, sharing our notes and insights (with the client’s permission).
Consultation. If you are already working with someone and they reveal that they are polyamorous or kinky, and you wonder if that could impact or be related to the work you’re doing with them, or you simply want to understand that aspect of them better without asking them to use up valuable session time to educate you, we can get together for a series of consultation sessions.
Teamwork. If you’ve got a client or potential client that identifies as poly or kinky, and you’d like to learn how to better help them, we could always work conjointly with them. This way, you could retain the lead in their ongoing treatment and the client could continue getting insurance reimbursement.
Workshop or training. You could bring me in to speak to your practice, your students, or your organization about the best ways to work with either poly or kinky people (or people who identify as both, as there is considerable overlap).
Teleseminar or pre-recorded MP3 training. I periodically offer a one to two hour teleseminar training for counseling professionals. You could register for the next live session (which gives you the opportunity to have your questions answered live) or you could order a pre-recorded version of the class to listen to at your leisure.
If any of these approaches appeal to you, please get in touch and let's figure out how we can best work together so that you can show up for your kinky or poly clients with knowledge and acceptance of their lifestyle and expression! Call me at 678-825-5020, email me at [email protected], or send a message through this site's contact form.