(Original written in French, translated by Divan bleu)
Every human being is unique. They have their own interests, values, and characteristics. These differences can also be manifested in their choice of romantic or relationship model.
Recently, our society has slowly opened up to new models other than monogamy. Despite this openness, our societal and personal history continues to tint our choices, presenting itself in the form of limiting beliefs, values, and judgments.
Here are some examples that I often hear in my office or that I have myself experienced;
“Is it normal for me to have a desire for another person even though I love my partner?”
“I ‘should’ be satisfied with the person I’m with, they have done everything for me.”
“All this desire in me scares me, I don’t want to hurt the person I love.”
“Can one person meet all my needs?”
“Is polyamory really for me or am I mostly afraid of commitment?”
“My partner wants us to open our relationship, it’s not really my desire, but I’m afraid of losing them. What should I do?”
We know that these kinds of questions can provoke all sorts of emotions and discomforts.
So in this article, we’d like to offer you some reflections to clarify and deepen your questions.
What is important to me in one or more relationships?
Just like when making an important purchase or career choice the question arises. What exactly do I need?
What is your choice of romantic model responding to?
Needs and desires
Needs are essential to our psychic survival, in the same way as physical needs.
According to Jacques Salomé, needs are always present and the nature of needs is that they demand satisfaction. Desires, on the other hand, do not require to be satisfied, they need to be heard.
A desire is only one of many ways to respond to a need.
For example, I need love just like the rest of us.
Several people can fulfill this need and in different ways.
However, to feel loved, I may desire that my partner gives me compliments. Noting that compliments are not fundamental.
It is possible that my partner express their love in another way, and through communication, we can meet and satisfy our need for love in another way.
The main fundamental psychological needs according to Colette Portelance are the needs to:
- Be loved
- Be secure
- Be recognized
- Be listened to and accepted
- Be free
- Be creative
- Assert oneself
Here, we propose that you make a list of your needs and desires, and how they present themselves in everyday life.
To meet my need for security and intimacy with my partner, I desire that we are in contact on a daily basis.
To meet my need for exploration, I desire to have different encounters, without necessarily involving sexuality.
To meet my need for love and security, I have the desire to have at least one main relationship in which we are both committed.
You can also divide a sheet of paper into two columns. One for needs, the other for desires. There will probably be several desires to a single need.
A value is what is important and what makes sense to us. It constitutes a set of beliefs that help guide our choices and actions.
Values develop from our childhood and continue to build, solidify, and transform over time. Sometimes some of our values remain anchored in us, but are no longer adjusted in relation to our new environment or current life situation.
It can be interesting when questioning or making an important choice like a romantic model, to see what lies behind some of our values, and to validate if they still make sense and actually serve us today.
As values involve beliefs, we suggest you list your values related to your emotional life and the beliefs associated with them.
I value fidelity;
What beliefs underlie this value?
- I believe that an authentic romantic relationship involves only 2 partners.
- I believe that when we really love someone, we do not have attraction for other people.
- I believe that it is better to keep my partner ignorant than to tell them a truth that would hurt them.
Then you can take the time to assess if your beliefs still make sense for you today, and if there are contradictions between them.
As in the example above, I carry the value of fidelity and authenticity, but I prefer to hide certain truths in order to not hurt my partner.
It is interesting to observe the contradictions because when our actions go against a deep value it can be very painful. Without comparing one belief to another, we risk missing the contradictions and in a moment of intensity, act in accordance to one belief while going against a more fundamental value.
The objective here is certainly not to judge or devalue yourself, on the contrary. We suggest you do this exercise with kindness towards yourself, and with the curiosity to know yourself better. If trust and openness are already present in your relationship, it may also be relevant to do the exercise with a romantic partner and share your reflections.
What are my fears, what do I avoid or flee from in my romantic relationships?
Our needs are essential but not always easy to satisfy at all times. More often than not, fears act as obstacles to meeting our needs.
Here is a list of some fears (Portelance, 2014):
- Fear of rejection
- Fear of disappointing
- Fear of losing the other
- Fear of losing one’s freedom
- Fear of commitment
- Fear of being overwhelmed
- Fear of ridicule
- Fear of judgment
- Fear of displeasing
- Fear of disturbing
- Fear of hurting
- Fear of conflict
- Fear of solitude
- Fear of being abandoned
- Fear of criticism
- Fear of being mean
- Fear of suffering
Here is an example of the impact that fear can have on communication:
I don’t want to talk about my desire for other people to my partner, because I’m afraid that he or she will find me ridiculous and I’m afraid of losing them.
So, I remain stuck with this desire, which only becomes stronger as I deny myself of it. I judge myself for having this desire because I believe it’s selfish. Alone with my desires and fantasies, I escape into my imagination and become isolated from my partner.
My partner feels a distance, without understanding what’s happening. Their own fears are triggered, whether or not they are related to my desires, and conflicts arise. Without the actual desire being discussed, reaching an understanding, compromise, or even a joy in meeting the desire, becomes impossible.
- What are my main fears in my current relationship or in a possible relationship?
- What scenarios do I imagine in connection with these fears?
- In reality, what are the probabilities of this happening?
- What needs, desires, or limits are hidden behind these fears?
- What are my desires, my wildest fantasies?
After this exercise, why not open the discussion with your partner!
What importance do I give to communication in my relationship or relationships?
It can never be said enough, communication is a cornerstone in romantic relationships.
It is essential to share our needs, desires, dreams, fears, limits, irritants, concerns, etc. It promotes intimacy, pleasure, and the resolution or prevention of conflicts.
Each person communicates through the filter of their beliefs, life history, perceptions and receives information through the same ideas.
Considering that we have so few references on the informal “norms” underlying polyamory, it is all the more important to communicate. Our “code of conduct” or “rules” will have to be determined together. While the same goes for monogamy, there already exists a broad set of societal “rules” that you can choose from. Polyamory, naturally being more complex, requires a deeper need of transparency and honesty with the involved partners. It’s obvious that sometimes there will be sensitive information or experiences to transmit. Communicating also means identifying within oneself the message one really wants to transmit, beyond criticisms, judgments, comparisons, or others. This step can be an enormous challenge in itself. What do I feel? What is the limit that I want to convey to the other, without wanting to control or impinge on their freedom?
The question we propose you ask yourself here is: is communication an aspect on which you wish to invest in and consider important? Regardless of your communication skills, the essential thing above all is your openness to wanting to invest in this sphere. Whether through workshops, therapy, books, setting aside time with your partners to communicate authentically, or mix of all of it.
Polyamory is still very recent in our culture and language. Perhaps you are the first in your circle to consider this model, or perhaps many people around you are already navigating or adopting it.
In any case, we still have few references and social codes as a guide. The “rules” are to be established between partners. It is normal that this approach can be destabilizing or anxiety-provoking. Do not remain alone with your questions. Talk about it with people you trust, look for role models who inspire you, read up!
Couples therapy or individual therapy can also be a highly relevant tool to go further into self-knowledge or for communication between two partners.
Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy
Compersion: Polyamory Beyond Jealousy
Hypatia from space
The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity