February 5, 2021
Polyamory, Toxic Monogamy, & Ethical Non-Monogamy: What Therapists & Practitioners Need to Know
Kevin Patterson & Dr. Liz Powell join us to talk about their new course, Unf*ck Your Polyamory Pro — for both individuals, couples, groups and professionals. They discuss shame, stigma, stereotypes, metamours, toxic monogamy, hierarchies, compersion and lessons that we can all learn from — regardless of whether we consider ourselves monogamous, ethically non-monogamous or otherwise inclined.
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This is a computer-generated rough transcript, so please excuse any typos. This podcast is an informational conversation and is not a substitute for medical, health or other professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the services of an appropriate professional should you have individual questions or concerns.
Episode 199: Polyamory, Toxic Monogamy, & Ethical Non-Monogamy: What Therapists & Practitioners Need to Know
You’re listening to the Sex with Dr. Jess podcast. Sex and relationship advice you can use tonight.
Welcome to the Sex With Dr. Jess podcast, I’m your co host Brandon Ware here with my lovely other half, Dr Jess.
Dr. Jess (00:25):
Dr. Jess (00:27):
How you feeling today?
I’m feeling pretty good, you?
Dr. Jess (00:31):
I’m good. I woke up in a bad mood. But I’m feeling much better. I’ve have had really wild morning, some exciting meetings, learning about some new topics. And I’m really looking forward to today’s topic here on polyamory, and toxic monogamy, and compersion and a whole bunch of other hot topics.
Should be a great conversation. I’m looking forward to it.
Dr. Jess (00:54):
Yes, before we dive in. I want to thank http://www.letsgetchecked.com for their ongoing support of our program. Check them out http://www.letsgetchecked.com for all your at home health testing needs, and use code DRJESS to save. And I thought I’d mention something. My friends over at We Vibe, which is really my favourite sex toy brand honestly. I’ve been working with them forever. I’ve been using them forever. And my favourite toy is called the Touch. I’ve had my Touch forever. It sort of looks like a flat thick purple tongue. Is that a good way to describe it?
Yeah I would say so.
Dr. Jess (01:29):
Or like a skinny computer mouse.
Yes both of those.
Dr. Jess (01:34):
I’ve been pulled over by TSA, and they’ve asked what’s in the bag. They’re like “are those computer mice.” Cause I always have a bunch of them. I’m like not exactly. I always just tell them they’re sex toys and they let me go on my merry ways, because they don’t want to go into my suitcase.
That’s one that I’ve used on the plane, as a neck massager.
Dr. Jess (01:51):
It might have been. You’ve also used the Wish, the blue one.
They all work.
Dr. Jess (01:58):
Anyhow. We Vibe has come out with a new and improved TouchX, as well as their new Tango. And I’m super excited because these are kind of our old stalwarts. These are the toys that I’ve had in my personal kit for so long. And now they’ve been upgraded and yeah, I’m just really excited to try them. I’m not gonna lie and say I’ve tried them yet. Because I’m still in Jamaica. And if you know anything about shipping to Jamaica it’s a whole other can of worms, but if you want to check out their new toys at http://www.we-vibe.com, you can also use code DRJESS to save, so happy shopping. But without further ado, let’s dive into this topic of uneffing your polyamory. Joining us now are Liz Powell and Kevin Patterson. Kevin Patterson is the author of Loves Not Color Blind and the For Hire series. And Dr. Liz Powell is a psychologist speaker and author of Building Open Relationships. Happy to have you both here today.
Dr. Liz Powell (03:02):
We’re so happy to be here.
Kevin Patterson (03:03):
Dr. Jess (03:04):
Now Kevin, we’ve chatted before and you’ve shared your personal story, the story that took you to writing Loves Not Color Blind on a previous episode. But could you give us a quick version for folks who missed that episode, although I recommend they go back and have a listen.
Kevin Patterson (03:21):
Yeah I’ve been ethically non-monogamous, consensually non-monogamous, for going on nineteen years now. It was a bit of a learning curve going into a local polyamory community that was mostly white, despite being in a local area that wasn’t entirely white. And it led to me talking, talking led to me teaching, and teaching me led me to writing Loves Not Color Blind: Race and Representation in Polyamorous and Other Alternative Communities. And being a geek led me into writing the For Hire series, a queer and polyamorous superhero novels.
Dr. Jess (04:02):
I love it.
Dr. Liz Powell (04:02):
Those are amazing, if you haven’t read those books. They are so good.
Kevin Patterson (04:06):
Dr. Jess (04:07):
And that’s coming from another author, Dr Liz you wrote Building Open Relationships, and I have this book. I’ve used this book. I recommend it. It is a workbook for really, I mean the way I see it, is that it’s for anybody in a relationship. Can you tell us a little bit about about your book?
Dr. Liz Powell (04:25):
Absolutely you know, Building Open Relationships for me, came from me seeing so many books about non-monogamy that were really excellent books, but primarily about theory and how to think about non-monogamy. And what I saw over and over again, both in my own relationships and in my friends and in my clients, and my practice, was that people wanted something that went beyond, “How do we think about it? How do we think about what non monogamy is?” Into more practical, “Okay. So I’m in this conflict, like what happens now?” Or “What are the common issues that come up and how do I start to work on them?” And so I wanted create a resource for folks that is usable, that is practical, that they really dig into and use again and again and again, to handle the kinds of problems that come for them in their lives. And you’re absolutely right, it’s marketed as being about non-monogamy, but the way that we relate in our romantic and sexual relationships is the way that we relate in our work relationships, and our friendships, and our family relationships. So the skills that the book can help you with are the same skills that work for all kinds of relationships that you have.
Dr. Jess (05:32):
I really appreciate that. I think oftentimes we talk about monogamy and consensual or ethically non-monogamy as separate right, as these mutually exclusive experiences. But of course there is a ton of overlap in terms of communication. There’s a ton of overlap in terms of conflict. There’s a ton of overlap in terms of emotional experience. Because human relationships are just that, you know regardless of whether you’re with one person or three people or eight people. Snd so you are now offering training as a duo in polyamory for professionals and for therapists. Can you tell us why you decided to offer this training, why it’s so important?
Kevin Patterson (06:15):
Well like I said, I’ve been at it for nineteen years, Dr. Liz has been at it for quite some time as well. We’ve been teaching classes together on and off in different settings. And last year we made a point to create a class that was for, sort of civilians, for people who were trying to learn polyamory, people who were trying to get their feet under them, and try to find their way. And it just became a talking point between the two of us that you know, one of the problems that polyamorous people face is wanting to go to a therapist, coaches, service providers who were familiar with polyamory. And then next thing you know, you’ve got to actually educate your therapist while getting help from your therapist. And so we decided we wanted to address that, as well as we are addressing everything else.
Dr. Liz Powell (07:08):
Yeah and you know, I’m a therapist myself. And the reason I initially got into private practice was, I was stationed in Savannah, Georgia, when I was still in the army full time, and I was in a relationship and we were polyamorous. I was trying to find a couples therapist, and for some reason I couldn’t in Savannah, Georgia, find a couples therapist who knew anything about polyamory. I know that’s going to be shocking to folks, but you know I called a bunch of therapists and the closest thing I got to someone who actually knew about non-monogamy, was someone who said “polyamory? Yeah sure I can work with that.” Which was not the most reassuring thing to hear. Once I opened that private practice, a lot of the clients that I worked with came to me and said that their previous therapists had made whatever they’d come to them about, whether it was depression, or sleep issues, about their non monogamy, or about their kink, and that really hard for them. It was harmful to them to be told that the reason they’re depressed is because they’re not monogamous, when for a lot of these folks the non monogamy was one of their best tools for handling their symptoms with depression. And so I wanted to create a space where people could come in and be seen and affirmed exactly as they are.
Kevin Patterson (08:23):
Yeah, there’s non monogamy communities, polyamory communities, filled with so many horror stories of not just people who are ignorant, not just people who are under educated about kink, or non monogamy or what have you, but people who were well meaning and thought they had it in hand, and just thought that, like something I talk about in Loves Not Color Blind, is that when you’re trying to create inclusive environments, you can’t hang up a welcome sign. You can’t just say everybody’s welcome and expect the magic to happen on its own. You have to actively seek that inclusivity, you have to work towards it, you have to foster it. And the same is true when it comes to looking for non monogamy service providers, or non monogamy friendly service providers. It can’t just be like well, I’m not gonna turn you away at the door, so I guess I can do this. You have to know about it to be able to address the topic in a way that’s not harmful, in a way that’s not problematic.
Dr. Jess (09:18):
And you have to undo all the social conditioning right, in a world that normalizes monogamy and puts it at the top of the hierarchy. I think all of us, even folks who are ethically non monogamous have to undo actively. It’s a process, it’s never totally done. And so you know it makes me think that every therapist ought to receive training in polyamory, and I think actively work to challenge toxic monogamy and that’s you know, God’s work, the work you’re doing. So I’d love for you to kind of explain what toxic monogamy is and what it isn’t, ’cause I know it’s a trigger word for a lot of people, you know if you’re monogamous and you hear me say that, you might be thinking that I’m judging you, that I’m saying monogamy is bad. But when we talk about toxic monogamy, that’s not what we mean. So can you kind of explore that concept a little bit us?
Kevin Patterson (10:08):
I’m gonna jump in here right before Liz, because I know Liz has an intelligent answer. But I’m gonna give a goofy one. Toxic monogamy is that, there’s a T-shirt that gets advertised to me on my facebook all the time that says something like, “Stay away from me. Don’t talk to me. I’ve got a boyfriend. My boyfriend is crazy. He’ll cut you. It scares me a little bit, but he really loves me. And it’s okay.” That is toxic monogamy. Toxic monogamy is, they make a ring, that’s printed “married” on the inside of that ring, so if someone takes off their wedding ring it’s print is pushed into their finger, “married” so that they can’t take off the ring and cheat. Like all of these things that we normalize, all these wild banana things that we normalize in order to keep our partners or ensure trust, you know. Key loggers, on your unsuspecting spouses computer or what have you. That’s toxic monogamy.
Dr. Liz Powell (11:14):
I mean, I think the thing that I would say, is that toxic monogamy is the combination of the various ways that our society enables and promotes oppression, put into our relationships. So the same ways that patriarchy and white supremacy and ableism and sexism and classism are about control, and about moving power and autonomy from some people to other people, toxic monogamy does a very similar thing within a romantic relationship context. So within romantic relationships in mono-normative culture, what we’re taught is that if you’re really in love with someone, if the relationship is important, they should be able to tell you what to do. They should be able to say you can’t be friends with someone, or you can’t talk to someone, or you can’t stay friends with your ex, because they’re the most important thing in your life now. Toxic monogamy is the structure that says that the person that you happen to be dating or having sex with, will suddenly take more precedence in your life then people you’ve been friends with for decades, because relationships that are sexual are more important for some reason. And toxic monogamy is also this idea that when you are in this relationship with someone, it has to move in a certain direction, it has to go a certain way, and follow this relationship escalator. And if at any point you want to stop or go backwards, that means that the relationship is wrong and dead. You have to never speak to that person again and start over at the bottom with someone new. So it’s all of these ways in which we find coercion and control showing up in our relationships, that we find ourselves forced into following scripts that are not ours, and that might not even fit for us, and that take away power that should be ours and give it to somebody else.
Kevin Patterson (12:58):
Toxic monogamy is me forcing or buying or asking a partner to wear a t-shirt with my face on it to ward off any other potential suitors.
Dr. Jess (13:10):
This is so much, like when you described that T-shirt from facebook, and the ring, I got goosebumps over my body. And it is really a reminder that you can be monogamous and not be toxic about it. So now you’ve told us, and you’re such a great combo, like I can’t wait to get into into your course and talk about that. And hopefully people will sign up. But what’s the difference between toxic monogamy and just plain old monogamy?
Kevin Patterson (13:42):
I feel like monogamy at its centre, is just understanding and having the conversation and understanding that the commitment that you’d like to make is exclusive, and that’s it. Without having to force it, without denying the difficulty therein, without trying to make it into a fairytale or compulsory thing that everybody needs to be a part of. Just making the decision between you and one other person and saying you know what? Let’s just do this together, alone, the two of us. And that’s it.
Dr. Liz Powell (14:17):
Yeah I mean, I think what I would say is, you know some people, they like to have one best friend. And it’s not that they don’t like other people or have other friends, it’s that the way that they operate, is they have one best friend. And that’s their closest friend. Some people like me often have multiple best friends. They have a best friend for this setting, and a best friend for that setting. I think that healthy monogamy is that same kind of model. It’s not a “I’m policing how many best friend you get to have. You don’t have any other best friends. Don’t get too close to anybody else.” It’s a, “I just tend to have one best friend. You also tend to have one best friend. Let’s be each other’s best friends.”
Kevin Patterson (14:52):
Yeah like every once in a while, somebody will point to some work from Dr. Liz. And I’m like “oh wow yeah, Dr. Liz is one of my favourite people.” And then like someone also show me a post from from Dirty Lola and I’ll be like, “Dirty Lola is one of my favourite people” you know? Alyssia Bunion Sampson? One of my favourite people. Chris Smith, one of my favourite people. It’s fine, it’s fine. I love these people.
Dr. Jess (15:20):
I’m seeing so much culture in that. And I don’t know which part of my culture but it’s like, “Oh that’s my favourite. That’s the best. Everything’s my favourite. Everything’s the best.” I love the comparison to friendship. Because when you get into a situation, in an intimate or romantic or sexual relationship. And you find that you know, your partner is being a bit possessive or you worry that maybe you’re just naturally being a little bit possessive because of your own fears, because of your own vulnerabilities, because of engrained toxic monogamy, I wonder, if you were to ask the same question about a friend, would you be so rigid in your answers? But you know, you’re correct that we we see sexual relationships as somehow different from every other relationship and again. This isn’t to say that you can’t have a very happy, fulfilling, lasting, monogamous relationship. But I think the concern too with toxic monogamy is that the idea of being monogamous is supposed to make the relationship work, when in fact it’s just one component of the relationship. So you know you talked in the beginning Dr. Liz about not being able to find a therapist in Savannah, Georgia. And this also brings me to the damage that therapists can do if they haven’t worked out their own biases with regard to monogamy. So I’d love to hear from either of you about the damage done in therapy, when we assume the monogamy is the only way.
Kevin Patterson (16:47):
I’ve got one more toxic monogamy one that just popped into my head. Toxic monogamy is our former vice president not eating dinner alone with women because he’s married men. And feeling like the only way to honour his marriage is to steer clear, possibly even denying opportunities and advancement to women for that reason. But moving on, very early in my non-monogamous journey, my wife and I, who I’ve been with for the entirety of my non-monogamy, we hit a rough patch. And we started seeing a therapist and one of the first things he said was “okay, well if you’re non-monogamous, maybe you can just not do that.” You know, something to that effect. He said something like, can’t you just break up with any other people that you’re seeing and focus on each other and work on that relationship?” And at the time, this was a great many years ago, we didn’t have people in our lives that were that important to us romantically or sexually, where that seemed like an unreasonable ask. You know, we didn’t end up doing that, but it didn’t seem unreasonable at the time. Meanwhile, if you asked me that today, if you said “well hey, you know, can’t you just treat your other people as disposable?” As integral and important as the people in my life are right at this moment, you know I’d leave. I’d get up and walk away. Because that’s just sort of what people feel like, where because we live in such a mono-normative culture, anything that isn’t monogamous immediately is seen as the problem you know? Meanwhile the problems my wife has is that I don’t close cupboards enough when I take stuff out of those cupboards, you know? That’s an argument that we’re going to have that has nothing to do with our polyamory or you know, her inability to pick me up something to eat when she goes out to get something to eat. That’s going to be the argument we’re going to have, which has nothing to do with non-monogamy.
Dr. Jess (18:58):
Dr. Liz Powell (18:59):
You know, I think I’ve seen a lot of therapists who are well-meaning who are basically operating outside of their competency. And this is true for all different kinds of professions. I’m going to give an example that is not necessarily a therapist, but I’m on Truvada, which is pre exposure prophylaxis for HIV. Not that I’m having a ton of sex these days in pandemic times, but before that I was very slutty, it was a thing I could do to protect myself and my partners, and I get my Truvada through the Infectious Disease Clinic at the local VA here. And Infectious Disease is people who specialize in work with stuff like HIV, so they tend to be much more educated about things related to STIs and those kinds of issues. I went to see the doctor and they were doing their standard assessment at the start of each of these appointments, where I’m getting my STI testing. And the doctor asked me “do you have sex with men, women or both?” I myself am gender queer, so I’m not quite either of those, and so I said I have sex with people of all genders. And then, the doctor asked me “well who did you had sex with since your last appointment, was it a man or a woman?” And I said it was a person with a penis, because that’s really the relevant piece of information. This happens all the time across a bunch of different professions. Where folks are asking questions that they were taught to ask, but that aren’t actually getting what needs to happen. And in a therapy context, other ways of this can show up can be therapists reinforcing these kinds of toxic monogamy ideas about what is or isn’t okay to expect of a partner or demand of a partner, because they themselves have not unpacked their own internalized scripts from toxic monogamy. Any therapist who says “of course it’s okay to treat other people as disposable, of course the main partner gets to tell you who to have sex with.” That is something that needs to be unpacked, because it is reinforcing these same ideas of coercion and control, that each person’s body is not their own. And that rather than helping the clients explore like “what is that request coming from, what is that about, what is it you’re trying to get from this?” They’re just going directly to a solution that was proposed. And that’s not helpful.
Dr. Jess (21:06):
When you bring that up it makes me think about triads and couples who are looking for a third. And you know, I’ve worked with so many couples whose focus is on prioritizing their relationship over the third person. You know, maybe discounting their feelings or making them secondary or tertiary or not even registering. So is that something you see often in maybe hierarchical polyamory or even among therapists, who as you said our well intended but maybe haven’t done the thorough studying that they could do through your course, which we’ll get to in just a moment.
Kevin Patterson (21:45):
Now some something I say a lot, as long as everybody’s checked in, as long as everybody consensual, there’s no like inherently unethical polyamorous structure. But there are unethical ways of seeking them. And a common problem with triads, like closed triads, is that they come from these pre-established couples who essentially asked a third person to fall in love with them equally and simultaneously in a way that you know human nature doesn’t always allow for. And so you get this power imbalance. And something that we wanted to address in our workshop is that power imbalance, like the very first session of our pro course deals with power imbalances in that same way. And because we get so much representation of close triads including some upcoming HBO Max show that they’re working on, a lot of time people think that like polyamory is only triads or only can be triads, or is mostly represented by triads. When that just isn’t the case. A close friend of mine had a situation where she and her husband were going through some rough times. She went to go see a therapist, who said “oh yeah, I’m knowledgeable about polyamory, I can help you.” And the first question was, “will your third be joining us?” This was not a couple, this was not a triad, this wasn’t you know, people who were in third. But just like the presumption of that and the confidence with which it was said, as if they had the terminology down and everything. But they were completely wrong. And that’s the kinda stuff we wanna make sure that we’re addressing really clearly, both with Dr. Liz academic background and my sort of “from the hip, anecdotal” background you know?
Dr. Liz Powell (23:53):
I’ve got the book smarts, and Kev has the street smarts. That’s totally wrong by the way, Kev also has tons of book smarts. I mean between the two of us, he’s the award winning author, and so I just wanna put that out there.
Kevin Patterson (24:06):
There’s a lot of overlap in our smarts. And I’m here for all of it.
Dr. Jess (24:10):
Kevin, I’m glad you brought up the fact, and I think maybe I maybe implied something different, that you know, there is no structure that is inherently bad. It’s just that sometimes structures open us up to these power imbalances. And you know, we can’t rid ourselves of power imbalances either entirely. We have to like work through them, talk through them, be aware of power and privilege and change the way we act according to it. So in your course, can you tell us first of all, what’s the course called, where can people find it, what does it entail? I know that you have a a weekend intensive launching very soon. Can you give us the details please?
Dr. Liz Powell (24:47):
Yes, so right now, what we’re launching is “Uneff Your Polyamory Pro.” Which is training for therapists, coaches, medical professionals, anyone who works with non-monogamous clients and wants to be sure that they are being on top of how to do that in the most ethical and affirming way possible. It is going to eventually be a full certification program for folks who want to make sure that they are on top of all the different dynamics involved in non-monogamy. So the first weekend intensive that we’re doing is February twentieth and twenty first, and it’s about autonomy and power dynamics so we’re going to be looking at various factors involved with like what increases someone’s power, what creates different power dynamics. How can we be mindful of them? How can we be mindful of the power dynamics in the relationships the clients are in, as well as the power dynamics between us and our clients, so that we’re handling those with care and being mindful of them. We’re also going to be doing weekend intensives in the future on polyamory 101 stuff, including terminology, structures, what looks like an ethical structure, what look like a less ethical structure, interpersonal dynamics, including things like couple privilege, and then boundaries, agreements, rules, communication. So it’s gonna be a full set of courses designed to help folks who work with non-monogamous people really understand what non-monogamy is about, and unpack their own ideas, about what relationships are. You know, as we’ve talked about a couple of times during this podcast, the issue is not whether a therapist is monogamous or non monogamous themselves The issue is much more, have they done the work to understand how monogamy culture has impacted them, has impacted what they think is reasonable in a relationship, has impacted what they think clients should be doing, and how they interact with their clients around their own relationships. And so most of this course is really focused on helping these professionals look at themselves and unpack their own biases, unpack their own assumptions, so that they can meet their clients in a much more open and curious and helpful way.
Dr. Jess (26:52):
And I see that you’re offering continuing education credits. People can learn more at Uneff Your Polyamory Pro. Now, you offer a professional course, you also have a course for regular folks who just want to learn more about polyamory. Is that an online course, is it a live course? How does that work?
Kevin Patterson (27:10):
That’s an online course, it extends from something Dr. Liz and I taught together last year, but it’s a six week webinar, I don’t remember all of the names of all of the classes off the top of my head, but it’s like a “polyamory 101,” a power dynamics course, a boundaries course, a course about metamours. But it’s 6 different sessions, it’s available at the same place Uneff Your Polyamory Pro. And like, Dr. Liz and I are really proud of it.
Dr. Jess (27:40):
I love that. Can I ask you for some definitions quickly?
Dr. Liz Powell (27:44):
Sure, can I do one quick thing?
Dr. Jess (27:46):
Yeah of course. Please go ahead.
Dr. Liz Powell (27:48):
The great thing about our “Uneff Your Polyamory” course, that’s for regular folks who wanna learn more about non-monogamy, is that we recognize how difficult it can be to afford these kinds of classes for a lot of people. And so that course is a “pay what you can” course, for everybody. So it’s got a suggested price, which reflects what the we think is a reasonable price for that course, but if for whatever reason you can’t pay that price whatever price feels good for you. You are down to pay.
Kevin Patterson (28:12):
Absolutely. And also, we also want to recognize when it comes to the pro course, that there’s a lot of gate-keeping, by way of resources of marginalized folks, so we have a “pay what you can” option for the pro course as well. It’s a limited number of slots, but it’s “pay what you can” for Black, Indigenous, people of colour, and disabled folks.
Dr. Jess (28:35):
Thank you, yes I saw that on the website and was gonna shout that out. So we will put the access to these courses, if people are interested, they will all be in the show notes, we’ll also put them out on our social media. But before we let you go, I wanted to ask a couple of questions, because you said the word metamour and folks might be wondering what that means. Can you briefly tell us what a metamour is, in the context of polyamorous relationships?
Kevin Patterson (28:59):
Very simply, a metamour is my partners partner, who I am not also in a relationship with. So my wife has a couple of people that she dates, those would be my metamours. The people that I date, that she’s not involved with, those would be her metaphors.
Dr. Jess (29:16):
Thank you. And I know in your course you talk a lot about this. I wish we had time actually to talk about what to do when one partner identifies as polyamorous and the other partner identifies as monogamous. But I was reading something the other day as a reminder that monogamy is what I am. And if polyamorous is what Brandon is, I’m actually not really putting anything on him. If I want to, I can be monogamous with him and he can be polyamorous and not monogamous with me. But this notion of having an identity like for example, “no I can’t do that baby, because I’m monogamous.” Cool, you can still be monogamous. He’s not taking anything away from me. But what I’m really saying when I say, “no, no no, I’m monogamous” is, “yeah I’m monogamous, and I wanna put that on you too. Is that something you explore in the work that you do or in this course itself?
Dr. Liz Powell (30:01):
I think we’ve both talked about that some, in different courses. And I think the biggest thing I see in mono-poly relationships, is the monogamous person having an expectation that at some point the polyamorous person will want to settle down, and get over this polyamory stuff. And once they really, really love them, it’ll change their mind. And I think if you’re a monogamous person, who’s dating a polyamorous person and you’re not ever going to be happy with them continuing to be polyamorous, you’re only going to harm yourself and your partner in the long run. If you are totally fine being monogamous with someone who is not monogamous with you, great, like go for that, have fun, but if your expectation is that at some point they will change their mind or be different, you know, that’s lurking the relationship. That’s the same as guys who complain about being friend zoned, and they’re being so nice to this woman who won’t eventually give them sex. It’s the same idea of, “I’m trying to trick you into a dynamic that I want and not being clear about my boundaries and what I expect and hoping that you’ll just come around without me ever having to call that question.”
Kevin Patterson (31:07):
And to be clear, that’s a common problem that I hear about it pretty frequently. And literally years of people’s lives are lost, waiting for that polyamorous person to not be polyamorous anymore. And that’s just not how humanity works, it’s not gonna fall into a little box in the way that we expect it to.
Dr. Liz Powell (31:31):
I think there are some folks who are like characterologically monogamous. And some folks who are characterologically polyamorous, and there are some folks who could kind of go either way. And so, I think if you are one of those people who is steadfastly monogamous, and you’re dating someone who’s polyamorous, it’s worth asking them like “would you ever be monogamous, is that something you would want to do?” And if not, you need to determine whether that’s gonna work for you.
Dr. Jess (31:57):
I really appreciate that. You know there’s another piece that came out of your course here that I’m looking at online, another piece of language I’d just love to also get a definition of. And I think we can bridge that to a closing conversation around what monogamous people can learn from ethical non-monogamy. And that’s compersion, this experience, compersion, would you define that for us please?
Kevin Patterson (32:21):
I hear people call compersion sort of the opposite of jealousy. I think the better definition is just, it’s getting a good feeling from seeing someone else getting a good feeling. Experiencing joy in the joy of others.
Dr. Liz Powell (32:37):
And we all do this. If you’ve ever been really psyched cause your friend got a promotion, or really happy because your partner had fun at a party, thats compersion. I think a lot of people, especially when compersion was first defined, tried to very much limit it to this happiness that your partner is dating somebody else, and I don’t think that’s what compersion is. Feelings are very rarely context bound, so I think compersion is again, this ability for us to experience kind of secondhand pleasure, secondhand joy, secondhand excitement. Humans are wired to do this, we have a lot of neurons in our brain called mirror neurons, which essentially help us feel what someone else is feeling. And so compersion as the outcropping of that, it is seeing someone else’s joy and feeling a piece of that within ourselves.
I love both those definitions.
Kevin Patterson (33:27):
A lot of what goes on in polyamory is a very normal thing in monogamy, it’s just normal in different places, normal in different ways. Like if you’ve got a group of friends that you love for different reasons, despite the fact that they’re different, you already understand polyamory. Like Dr. Liz said, if you experience joy because someone got a new job, or someone got a new opportunity, you already understand compersion. It’s only when we toss it into this machine of jealousy and territoriality, do these things get muddy. But really these are things that we normalize in every other aspect of our lives.
I feel like I hear the term schadenfreude, I don’t know if I pronounced that properly, thrown around so so frequently. It’s the opposite of what you’re describing, which is the pleasure that you take from somebody else’s misfortune, so it’s nice to hear, this you know, taking joy, enjoy, taking joy in somebody else’s joy.
Dr. Liz Powell (34:24):
And I don’t think of compersion as an opposite to jealousy, because you can have them both at the same time. I’ve had a lot of times in my life where I was really happy at someone else’s joy and also kind of jealous or envious about it. So I think if we think of them as complimentary, it’s much easier for folks to build that skill of compersion and to really find that in themselves.
Dr. Jess (34:45):
I appreciate that. And from an erotic perspective, I find jealousy very exciting, right? I take a lot of pleasure in it, so I appreciate that it’s not necessarily the polarity of the two. I have so many questions for you both, and I’d love to have you back again. I’m excited for your course coming up. Again, it’s February twentieth and twenty first, the weekend intensive, you can learn more at Uneff Your Polyamory Pro. For everybody out there, folks who are not polyamorous, folks who are not therapists, what can we take away from ethical non monogamy? What lessons are really applicable to all forms of relationships?
Kevin Patterson (35:25):
Intentionality, intentionality. And I can’t stress that enough, like something you have to do when you’re in a polyamorous relationship, you have to like map things out, you have to be on point with your calendar, you have to be on point with your emotional literacy, you got to be really intentional with the things that you do. Because these relationships thrive on that. Whereas in monogamy, we get so much modelling from Disney movies and parents and pop culture, that a lot of times people can fall into a default setting. They can fall into an autopilot with their relationships. When really that is what keeps things fresh, and what keeps things new, and keeps things active.
Dr. Liz Powell (36:07):
I’d also add that, I think what a lot of folks who are monogamous can learn from non monogamy is real clarity, and communicating their desires and their wants and their needs and their boundaries. In monogamy, because we’re handed a script, it’s really easy for us to operate on assumptions that our partner thinks about things the same way that we do, or sees things the same way that we do. When they do research about what it means to cheat in monogamous relationships, answers are all across the board. And yet very few folks who are monogamous sit down with their partner and talk about “okay, well what do you consider to be cheating, what things are cheating in your book, what things are cheating in my book?” And so they’re operating from this assumption that they’ve agreed to be monogamous and they both know what it means, when in fact they may have completely different ideas about what that means. I think when you’re not monogamous, you’re forced to have a lot more conversations about expectations around time, around interaction, around labels, around what gets communicated and what doesn’t, around what your boundaries are, and that’s something everybody could benefit from doing more of.
Kevin Patterson (37:09):
Yeah because in one relationship cheating might be you know, giving away information that you don’t have consent to give away. And someone else’s relationship, it might be liking somebody else’s instagram post. You gotta have that conversation one way or the other right?
Dr. Jess (37:26):
And when you bring up liking someone else’s instagram post, I think we also have to have other conversations about why we have these boundaries right? What do we really feel? Is it actually about monogamy, or is it about you know an insecurity or an unaddressed conversation? Because that takes us into some very, I think potentially controlling and dangerous territory. I’m sure both of you saw the supposed research on micro cheating right? All the little things that can constitute.
Dr. Liz Powell (37:53):
It’s so ridiculous.
Dr. Jess (37:54):
I know I know. But I don’t want to discount people’s feelings right? Like they actually do feel something. And so rather than labeling it as micro cheating, let’s have some meaningful conversations, which is exactly what you’re both facilitating and we’re so thankful for that. And thankful for your time today. Kevin Patterson, author of Loves Not Color Blind and the For series, Dr. Liz Powell, psychologist and author of Building Open Relationships, do be sure to check out their course, “Uneff Your Polyamory”, both for regular folks and folks working in the field. Thank you so much for your time today.
Kevin Patterson (38:32):
Thank you so much.
Dr. Liz Powell (38:33):
Thank you so much for having us.
Dr. Jess (38:35):
You know over the years, my views of monogamy and consensual non monogamy have changed so much. And I’ve had to do so much unlearning and I continue to have to check my own biases. Even if I go back into my writing a few years back, I’m sure there’s a lot of mono bias, or even I don’t know, toxic monogamy in there, and I’ve had to kind of really unpack that, I don’t know how you feel.
Oh my gosh, if you feel like you have a lot of unlearning that you’ve done, I’ve got encyclopedias worth of work that I have to do, and a lot that I have done over the years. But it’s definitely, my perspective has definitely changed. And even when I think back about how I have felt about monogamy and polyamory, I’m much more receptive to different types of relationships now, than I ever have been. And the more people that we meet, that we interview, the more interesting all these different types of relationships become.
Dr. Jess (39:39):
Should I bring up that time when we first met? Do you remember on the beach when I asked you about monogamy?
I don’t even remember.
Dr. Jess (39:47):
You don’t, up at Wasaga Beach?
And what did I say?
Dr. Jess (39:50):
I had asked you whether you know, you’d be open to monogamy or non monogamy, I was asking more generally, and I mean you don’t remember being pretty upset?
Was I upset? I believe it, you know thinking back, twenty years ago, I definitely would have been, the doors would have been close to it. I grew up with the belief that you found a partner and that was your partner. And that was it. And over the years, I’ve met so many people in wonderful relationships who are poly, who are monogamous. And I just feel like I’m more receptive to different types of relationships now.
Dr. Jess (40:29):
It’s interesting, that Dr. Liz has said that maybe some people are hard line monogamous, some people are hard line polyamorous, and then there’s people who can go either way. And I definitely think I’m somewhere in the middle there, but I guess that’s a conversation for another day.
Definitely. And what you said to me during one of our walks recently, which was I choose to be monogamous, but the expectation that you automatically by default assume that your partner chooses the same when it’s like, no, you make the decision for what works for you.
Dr. Jess (41:03):
And it may be seen as less of a decision and more a core part of your identity right? So if a core part of my identity is that I am monogamous and a core part of your identity is that you are polyamorous, that doesn’t mean we can’t be together, because what I am is for myself. And so again, if I’m going to put that value or expectation on you, I have to acknowledge that it’s about what I want from you as opposed to maybe what I am. But I think that’s an interesting exploration. And I hope that, listen I never want people to walk away feeling badly or feeling inadequate or feeling like they’re doing something wrong, I hope that you know we’re all doing the best we can with what we’ve got and we can make changes today, and I really believe you can have the most blissfully happy monogamous relationships. I mean I know you can. And I believe you can have blissfully happy consensually non monogamous relationships. I don’t think whether or not you are monogamous is a key determinant in terms of relationship satisfaction. I think it’s a part of the relationship, and we spend a lot of time talking about it just because our culture is so prescriptive, and that prescription doesn’t work for everyone. So I wanna say thank you for your consideration and thank you for listening. Please do go and check out Kevin and Dr. Liz’s work. I think it’s really, really meaningful. So thanks babe, for talking with me, and this is really just the beginning, we have to keep this conversation going.
That’s what I love about these podcasts and these conversations, is every time we are, I feel lucky enough to interview somebody new, I feel like it just opens up something else me to look into and feel better about.
Dr. Jess (42:45):
Yeah and then you and I keep the conversation going offline, like we always talk after. Sometimes I think we should record those you know, put them on a Patreon or something, but I mean the truth is, it’s not that I don’t wanna let people in, but sometimes I just want some stuff just for us. Where I don’t have to be filtered, and I don’t feel particularly filtered here, but I’m still mindful. And yeah, sometimes I just want to go off the rails with no one listening. And that’s what I’m gonna do right now. So thanks again for being here folks have a great one, wherever you’re at.
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