Have fun kids, and stay safe!

I mention my open lifestyle here a fair amount, and hint at the actualities (last weekend: Bangkok, five star hotel, five naked people, far too much fun) but I’m not sure how much of it is, well, useful.

Yet I find myself answering questions and giving advice (as best I can) quite frequently in real life. So, at risk of sounding self-important, I’m gonna try and translate some of that to these hallowed pages, starting with three specific questions from a friend.

Warning: this is only the answer to question one, and it’s l-o-n-g! Perhaps it’s time to make the columns wider.

How do you and J avoid hurting each other?

I know the questioner didn’t intend this in the way I first interpreted it, but my initial response was simply “we can’t”. People hurt each other all the time, often without realising it, so we can’t avoid it happening.

Brave long-distance readers will remember that one of my wedding issues was the hypocrisy of making promises I couldn’t be certain I’d keep. “But what if I DON’T love you forever?” But I slowly realised (thank you psychotherapy) that there is nothing wrong with wanting or trying to love someone forever. Our intentions and how we act on them are pretty damned important.

Likewise, it’s normal to want to avoid emotional pain, and to make an effort not to hurt people around us. But it’s worth remembering that these things aren’t binary. Thinking in terms of no hurt=good, hurt=bad sets up failure and recrimination. So this question is two-pronged: how do we avoid hurting each other; and how do we deal with it when it happens?

1. Avoiding hurting each other

Honesty – this is probably the biggest deal for me and the Boy, and presumably most people.

Some early issues revealed that for us leaving stuff out felt the same as lying, so our default state is “if you have the tiniest suspicion that it’s something you should share, then share it”.

This isn’t as pervasive as it sounds, and sometimes we’ve found it preferable to overrule the full disclosure act. Eg, last year our relationship evolved somewhat when I spent a weekend alone with another guy. J’s take on this was “I don’t want to hear any specific details, but I want the option of asking questions should I change my mind.”

Communication – as the example above shows, communication is integral to honesty. It feels almost too obvious to say, but if you can’t talk about stuff, you don’t get a chance to be honest.

Emotional intelligence plays a big part here.
(EI – I’m not entirely comfortable with the concept, and I’m certainly not sure about measuring it, but the term serves my purpose.) How well we can assess our emotions, and those of others, dictates how well we can talk about them.

So in the above example, J spent time before the event thinking things over and figured out how he felt about them. He translated that into something practical that would address his feelings, and explained this to me beforehand. A perfect example of good communication (J taught me everything I know about this dark art.)

Trust – I haven’t said anything earth-shattering yet, so let’s continue in that vein as I point out that trust is important. Trusting you won’t get hurt isn’t enough to protect you (part 2 coming up!), but without trust honesty and communication don’t work.

You don’t benefit from being honest if your partner suspects you are lying. Equally, communication shouldn’t be about mind-reading or 20 questions; your partner has to believe that if you have something important to say, you’ll say it.

So trust underlies everything. Basically, in dispassionate terms, life is a series of negotiations and contracts. As with business, a contract is only good if both parties adhere to it.

2. Dealing with pain

People are gloriously imperfect creatures. We fuck up, make mistakes, tell white lies that we rue even as they leave our drunken mouths (just me, huh?). The upshot of this is that occasionally we hurt each other.

I should note that I’m talking here about two people in an ongoing relationship and pain that isn’t an instant deal-breaker, so not someone saying they are leaving or a loved one dying &tc.

I think there is a tendency to believe that an open relationship leaves its participants more vulnerable to hurting or getting hurt. I don’t think this is true.

People in monogamous relationships get hurt and people in open relationships get hurt. There’s no room for a pissing competition: “My husband put his hand on his secretary’s knee at the Christmas party” could be equally as devastating as “My husband came inside every woman at the orgy except me,” depending on the speaker.

Where we place our boundaries doesn’t matter, if they are pushed, they’re pushed. *clambers down from soap box*

So, what to do when they are?

The most important thing I’ve learned is this: we tend to assume everything everyone else does has something to do with us, while constantly belying the fact by acting for ourselves, not others.

Bit wordy – basically, it ain’t all about us. What this means for getting hurt in a relationship is that what can seem like a deliberate, malicious, Machiavelli act when we’re on the receiving end, is rarely intended as such.

How many times in your life have you purposefully set out to hurt another person? Especially one you were in love with? Not many, huh? How many times do you think your partner has doggedly decided to hurt you?

If we take premeditation out of the scene, we still have things we need to deal with – plus when we’re feeling threatened, scared, small, betrayed it’s hard to generously allow that our partner hadn’t meant to make us feel like that. If they really cared, they would have realised, right? (The super-ego has a loud voice.)

Don’t try to deny the shit things you’re feeling. They’re real. But you need to realise that they are your response to whatever’s happened. YOU conjured them from YOUR head. They are not something the other person picked up and stuffed into you. Accusing someone of such, while completely instinctive, just increases the number of issues you have to deal with.

Getting a handle on this hopefully leaves you in a place where you can talk about whatever happened, using grown-up words and hardly smashing any mugs (note, this getting-a-handle process takes J about 30 minutes but takes me two days – we haven’t found a sensible way of working round this).

You need to talk about what hurt you, why, and how the situation could be addressed. It comes down to renegotiating the contract – explain that most of it was fine but x made you feel bad, so it would be super-awesome if x didn’t happen anymore. Or that you can deal with this once but never again. Or that a phone call beforehand would’ve made all the difference. Whatever it is you need, you have a right to ask for it.

Flipside, of course, is that the other person has the right to give, or not give. At this point the hurter has a responsibility to the hurtee – if you don’t think you can give what’s needed, speak up. Don’t agree to things you’re not comfortable with because you feel guilty. Similarly, don’t reject things because you feel arraigned (hence the importance of the getting-a-handle time).

Obviously this process doesn’t always go smoothly or quietly in real life, but it’s an invaluable part of kinky life. We’re often trying stuff that’s new to us and outside the schema society prepped us for, so we’re likely to run into problems.

We can’t avoid every one of them, nor should we want to. Every moment of pain and difficulty that we successfully work through gives us a more stable base and an ever-larger comfort zone.


1 Comment»

  elle wrote @

A friend challenged me on this, about culpability. The fact that people do shit things without setting out deliberately to do ’em doesn’t mean they’re not responsible for their actions.

I totally agree. A good (bad) example is someone who is physically abusive. A guy gets drunk, smashes his girl around, and the first thing out of his mouth the next day is “I didn’t meant to.” Sure, maybe you didn’t, but it happened and you have to take responsibility for it.

The same is true when someone does something thoughtless or selfish in a relationship, open or otherwise. And we feel crappy and vengeful and want to lash out.

But even in cases where thoughtlessness is criminal (dangerous driving?) the main way the law responds is through an attempt at rehabilitation – while prison involves an aspect of vengeful punishment, not many people go away for life.

I think the goal is the same when most relationships hit a bump – especially as I’m thinking of the sort of bumps you might encounter exploring threesomes or such.

If you don’t want to end the relationship, then however angry you feel and however much you want to avenge yourself, at some point you have to chill the fuck out and deal with your feelings on a calm level.

You need to explain to the other person what you had a problem with, then hope they mend their ways. If they don’t, and they are consistently selfish and hurtful, maybe it’s time to ask yourself if this is someone you want to keep fucking.

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