This Thursday night I sat down with my partners, Jazz and Brian, to watch Showtime’s new reality show called "Polyamory: Married & Dating". We were pretty excited because this show will be introducing some people in America to the idea of polyamory for the first time and we wanted to see how the relationships would be handled in the reality show format, especially since reality shows thrive on drama. Brian wrote a great synopsis with his thoughts.
For me this show renewed my interest in talking about something that’s been brewing in my mind for a while now. Because polyamory as a relationship style is still relatively new to a lot of people, I (and my partners) am often asked a lot of questions. The questions start: How does it work? Don’t you get jealous? Do you all sleep in the same bed? How does your family feel? I understand when something new is encountered there will be curiosity, however I’m still a little surprised at how often people relate to polyamory as some foreign species and I’ve become the newly discovered exotic bird.
This country thrives on divisive politics and binary ways of relating to everything from gender identity to sexuality. We also consistently look for what’s different or similar so we can see where we fit into the world. I’m not interested in pitting people or relationships styles against each other here. I’m interested in creating dialogue where we can discover commonality, learn more about ourselves and others and open up new possibilities for our lives. I’m challenging the idea that monogamy and polyamory are so different from each other.
Let's tie this back into the show by taking a look at three qualities that people demonstrated on the show:
Followed by three other things that some people in the show experienced:
If I hadn’t started with this conversation talking about polyamory, you would just think I had listed things that are part of many relationships and the imbedded assumption would be I’m talking about monogamy. What I’m pointing to here is that at the core what it takes to have a relationship work is the same. Additionally, many of the underlying roadblocks or challenges people encounter are the same as well. So another way of saying it is the icing on the cupcake is different for polyamory than it is for monogamy, but underneath it’s still a cupcake. Mmm, cupcakes! So if it's about having a tasty relationship, what do we do with the jealousy, the insecurity, the fears that sometimes show up whether we’re polyamorous or monogamous?
First it’s helpful to identify some typical things people do when these emotions come up. Here are a few to start with:
- Blame the other person for our feelings
- Create rules or demands of our partner(s)
- Be passive aggressive
You get the picture, it’s not pretty and often drama filled! It’s reactionary and designed to protect us from our emotions and will have us avoid taking responsibility for them.
The next thing to do is to be present to what you’re feeling. Instead of judging it, them or ourselves, what would it be like to use these emotions as an alert system to warn us that there is something we need to pay attention to? Let’s test it out and think of jealousy as the beeping on your smoke detector. The beeping isn’t the problem. We could blame the smoke detector but it wouldn’t address the real issue which is the batteries are running low and need to be replaced. So if jealousy isn’t the problem but an alert system that something is up with us, we can actually welcome the jealousy instead of running away from it. We can start exploring what jealousy has to tell us about ourselves and what we need to pay attention to. A few questions to ask:
- What is the trigger for the jealousy? What’s underneath the jealous feeling?
- What are my assumptions? What am I making this mean?
- What are the facts here? Imagine if someone neutral were describing it.
- What am I committed to in this moment? Is it being right or being in a tasty relationship?
It allows us to step off the rollercoaster of emotions to get present to what’s really going on. From there we can actually create instead of react. We can take responsibility for what we are feeling and deal with it instead of vomiting all over the other person in the conversation.
And key to it all is communication. Listening is as important as talking. Be honest, be clear and be open. One of my favorites things is to practice remembering we’re on the same team. In fact that’s where “Team Triad” came from. When Brian or Jazz or I feeling upset and get all positional on each other, the quickest way for us give ourselves a reality check is to say, “remember, we’re on the same team”. If I’m on the same team with my partner(s) my focus isn’t on being right, it’s on working through what’s at hand so we can get back on track. I invite you to practice this yourself.
So if you're planning on watching Showtime's "Polyamory: Married & Dating", perhaps consider a few things: Notice what is the icing (differences between poly and mono) and what is the cupcake (commonalities)? If there’s a dramatic scenerio, what’s underneath it? I’m sure the show will bring us plenty of other things to talk about so stay tuned! Love to hear your thoughts.