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Open Relationships, Polyamory, or Monogamy?

For this particular piece, I’m not going to cite any studies.

One can often find any number of sources to legitimise what it is they are looking for.

If, for instance, you wanted to find predetermined, biological explanations for human sexuality and mating norms, you would look for studies with an essentialist slant. And, if you wanted to find studies discussing these very same phenomena, but in the context of cultural, societal norms, you would seek out studies from the perspective of social constructionism.

Neither will necessarily be right or wrong. In fact, it would seem that we find the closest thing to the “truth” when we take both into account (as, I think it goes without saying, but we happen to relate to this world from both of these places).

This is purely an opinion piece—wherein I would like it known that, no matter how you cut it, there is no right or wrong way to go about such things. So, this is perhaps more of a discussion, than anything else. A discussion about ways we relate to our lovers and our intimate partners.

Culturally, certainly, monogamy is often held as the norm in many societies. More and more, however, different relationship styles are taking precedence.

And, from a contemplative-psychotherapeutic standpoint, whatever seems to work in a relationship – as these things are oh-so very relative and contextual – should thusly be seen as alright.

I would never tell a couple – or a constellation, if there were more than two individuals involved – that what they are doing were wrong in some way. That’s an important piece to highlight. Do what works for you. Maybe get curious about it – if you find yourself in undue distress – but otherwise, why add additional shame onto a thing that seems to work?

And yet, I often find myself seeing a number of ways in which polyamory and open-relationships not working.

Although, sometimes they do.

But, if there is distress in such a relationship, I can’t help but wonder about possible causes and conditions, as it were.

Sometimes, the way we relate to intimacy is through compartmentalisation.

From a very simplistic perspective, we do this in order that we further ourselves from the experience of vulnerability. The more we compartmentalise our intimacy, the less we need to truly feel vulnerable with any one partner.

Compartmentalising might look like having a primary partner – as in the case of a monogamous relationship – while at the same time confiding certain secrets in a friend alone. It could look like cheating on that primary partner, if and when the agreement between lovers was one of not seeing other people sexually.

It could also look like a more conscious decision to see multiple partners (as in the case of a polyamorous, or open relationship).

The thought behind this compartmentalising is that we, as people, are actually quite frightened of vulnerability. Which is not a particularly revolutionary thought. As children, one of the things we often learn is that vulnerability is not okay. It’s not safe to be vulnerable; to let ourselves fall apart in front of another. The first people we learn to be vulnerable with are our caregivers, and if they weren’t able to show us their own vulnerability, or to hold a container in which we would be able to express ours, then we might not have learnt that it was a safe place to inhabit.

And, as we grew up, and began having intimate and sexual partners of our own, we may not have felt that we could really show all of ourselves to these people.

This is such a legitimate feeling. Because sometimes they won’t be able to see us in this place; and we will lose them.

But sometimes, our concern for this possibility – that our partners will not accept us when we show some of our broken pieces – keeps us from ever getting even close to such an experience of vulnerability.

And what an experience it can be, to allow ourselves to fall apart. To be okay with the fact that we don’t feel like we are okay.

But sometimes, we’ve learnt that this isn’t a possibility. That we need to keep our distance. That we need to keep it together, no matter what.

And yet, most of us need some type of connection. Sometimes that means sexual connection, and sometimes it means a different form of connection. Intimacy is actually quite a broad term, that encompasses many forms of connection; it doesn’t always need to mean sexual connection. Although intimacy and vulnerability do seem to go hand in hand.

So, sometimes we act in ways that prevent us from really feeling vulnerability and, likewise, experiencing intimacy. From this compartmentalising perspective, the more we compartmentalise our feelings, the less we really need to feel anything toward any one person.

And this can be a much safer place for many of us to inhabit. And, often, for good reason. Perhaps we are not in a place where we feel safe showing all of ourselves to someone else (and what a wonderful job we have done to protect ourselves, if this is the case).

While, at times, it might be that we in fact crave this intimate vulnerability, and yet we know not how to go about it now.

Although I would not say that all of us need only one partner in order to experience the depth of vulnerability, I find I do believe that some of us have created certain avenues to keep from such experiences. To show ourselves to one person, to trust that they will not abandon us when we do so; this can be quite a cathartic experience indeed.

No, for some of us it might not be right to have only one partner in which we entrust all of ourselves. It might be that we are able to experience a fuller sense of intimacy when relating vulnerably to numerous partners.

But, for some of us, it just might be. It might be the thing we have been holding back on. It might be that we – when having found a partner ready to see and hold us as such – are ready to honestly allow ourselves to fall apart.

And we might find that, having begun to do so, we feel more like ourselves than we ever thought possible.

You see, sometimes we need our partners to play the role of our caregivers; just as our partners may need this of us.

Because, although we have undoubtedly been hurt in relationship (as in the case of our caregivers), so too may we begin healing anew in relationship.

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Zeri Wieder

Zeri Wieder writes about relationships, psychology, and spirituality through the lens of personal stories and fiction. Follow him on Instagram and Facebook.

Possibly a good deal of what you will find in these pages will be bad advice. This can be no worse than many other treatises on psychology, or on spirituality, for that matter. Take what works for you, and leave the rest behind. What does speak to you, change it; make it your own. Create your own concept of the world. For this is all we really can do. We go through this life, chalk full of how others think things work, how others taught us what is what. We go along with the herd just a touch too often. We live in a universe of projections; ours and others’.

But, we create our own universes, if given the chance. Question what you are told, especially when it comes from any professional in their field (take a Buddhist psychologist, for instance). No one really knows what is what. That’s okay.