Polyamory and COVID-19: Staying Connected

Today, I want to discuss polyamory and COVID-19 and staying connected. A lot of this advice can be applied to anyone who’s trying to stay connected with people they’re socially isolated from, including friends, although some of it does, of course, deal with staying connected in a sexual sense. 

I’m focusing specifically on polyamorous relationships, because people in non-traditional relationships often have a harder time than those in more traditional relationships. Usually, they have a smaller support network; they can’t talk to just anyone about their relationship and their relationship struggles. My heart has a special place for people who are struggling in polyamorous relationships, socially-distanced from one or more partners, and trying to figure out ways to stay connected. 

Today, I’m going to be sharing some practical tips for how you might stay connected with a partner that you’ve decided to be socially distanced from in order to protect them, yourself, or someone in either of your circles. 

There are plenty of technological options for staying in touch. Videochatting may feel like a lesser substitute for in-person interaction, but if you remember that, right now, in-person interaction would probably mean staying six feet apart and/or facing away from one another, and you certainly wouldn’t be able to snuggle, you can see that videochatting actually provides a real opportunity for face-to-face, eye-to-eye connection. Zoom, FaceTime, and Skype are all options, as are apps like Marco Polo which you can use to send little videos back and forth, which is nice if you might want to watch it over and over again. There’s also some interesting technology for distance-connected sex–for instance, there’s phone app you can use to control a sex toy that your partner has (for one, google wevibe), and multiple other sex technology you might be interseted in investigating. 

I think texting or sexting is a really great way to stay in touch. One thing I recommend is developing a way of doing an activity simultaneously, without actually being online together while you do it. For instance, maybe you work out simultaneously in your separate spaces. You can text between activities, send each other pictures, and then after the fact you can sit down together on Zoom and drink your smoothie (or whatever) and chat. That kind of arrangement can help you feel really emotionally connected, in a pretty intimate way, without having to be in the same space together. 

If you want to have a sexual interaction, you can use the same concept: you could have a self-pleasure interaction separately and not online, but where you’re relating to each other about it, and you know that your partner is doing the same thing at the same time. It’s possible to create a very intimate experience in this way.

If you have a crowded house, and are having trouble getting a little privacy to talk, there are a few ways to get around that. You might want to go for a walk, and have your private phone conversation while one or both of you are walking. You can have a more intimate conversation that way than you could if you were worried about someone overhearing from the other side of the door. Obviously, if there are other people around you outdoors you can’t have a sexual conversation, but you can have emotional intimacy and privacy from household members. 

Alternatively, you can also use white noise on the outside of a closed door, or play some music outside the door, to create a sense of privacy and help you feel a little more relaxed and comfortable chatting with your socially-distanced partner.

When it comes to connecting over technology, a lot of people are concerned about privacy, especially if they’re considering connecting sexually over technology. One way to protect your privacy is to come up with euphemisms to use when sexting with your partners. 

But, of course, any form of technological communication comes with security risks, so that’s just a factor you have to take into account. As you’re weighing the risk of some kind of breach of privacy, be sure to also consider the mental health benefits of that connection. For many people, it comes out clearly that the mental health benefit is worth the tech risk. However, if you have a lot to lose if there is a breach, use euphemisms, don’t send intimate pictures, and use secure platforms.

I hope that you’re getting creative about ways that you can connect and feel connected, and I’m sure you can come up with some great ideas that I haven’t thought of. Stay tuned for my next installment, in which I’m going to be talking about staying sane when you may be getting a little too much connection with the people in your home.

Building A Practice That Embraces Sexual Diversity

It’s just a fact that there aren’t enough LGBTQ therapists to work with all the LGBTQ clients out there. Nor are there nearly enough polyam therapists to work with all the polyam clients, or enough kinky therapists to work with all the kinky clients. The same goes for every other marginalized population. 

The good news is that you don’t need to be a member of a marginalized population in order to work effectively with members of that population. You just need to be warm and compassionate, willing to listen and learn, and open to challenging some of your ingrained assumptions. 

Here’s my advice for building a practice that embraces sexual diversity:

  1. Invest in continuing education about diverse sexualities (LGBTQ people, asexuality, gender diversity, polyamory and other consensual non-monogamies, kink, etc.) Very likely you have a license with continuing education requirements; why not focus some of your continuing ed on expanding the range of populations you’re prepared to work with? 
  2. Use inclusive language on your website and your online profiles. Your potential clients pay attention to the language you use. They’re on the lookout for signs that you may or may not be prepared to work with them, and this is a great and easy way to signal that you are. For instance, it might benefit you to avoid using language that assumes your potential clients are heterosexual and in monogamous relationships. 
  3. Use inclusive language on your intake forms. For instance, on my forms, I have a write-in line for gender, and another for pronouns, so my clients don’t have to select from limited options or take on a label they don’t choose for themselves. 
  4. Be open about the fact that you’re still learning. Your clients don’t need you to be perfect, they just need you to be warm, compassionate, and open to learning and feedback. If you make a mistake, make a good repair. Let your clients know you welcome an honest conversation about their experience of working with you. If you use incorrect pronouns, and they correct you, respond warmly, with kindness and gratitude. If they give you any kind of feedback at all, take it seriously and honor it as a demonstration of differentiation of self. It is not easy to speak up in this type of situation. Your client is awesome for pushing back, and you should do all you can to make it easy for them to give you honest feedback. 

 

The world needs more therapists who are competent and confident working with marginalized groups of all kinds. This advice focuses on people who are marginalized on the basis of sexuality, but it holds true for any marginalized group. There are clients out there who need you, and you have an opportunity to make a big difference. Go for it!

Spotlight on Hinges: A Polyam Relationship Role

One of the most common polyam relationship structures is a V. That describes one person (the center point of the V) with two partners (each end point of the V). Those two partners may have other relationships, or they may not. But for our purposes, we’re just considering the V shape. In particular, I want to talk about the person at the center of the V, also known as the hinge. 

The hinge role comes with particular challenges. It requires a very sophisticated ability to consider and balance the needs and desires of two different individuals, who may or may not know each other, and may or mat not like each other, while still maintaining one’s sense of self. It is very easy for hinges with weak emotional boundaries to end up in a situation in which they’re just running back and forth, trying to please everyone and meet everyone’s needs. In addition to completely exhausting themselves, this strategy tends to create a sense of instability and insecurity in both of their partners. The saying “you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time” is very relevant here. This is a situation that can really benefit from strength and leadership.

Rather than trying fruitlessly to please everyone, hinges will need to proceed with the expectation that at times they will have to disappoint one or both of their partners. They will need to be able to get clear about what they believe, separate from their partner’s expectations for them, and take responsibility for their own preferences and choices rather than pass the buck. Think of the uncomfortable tension between partners that can arise from a statement like this: “Susie needs me to be home this Friday, so I have to cancel our date.” Compare that to this: “Susie and I had a good talk the other night, and I realized I have not been present enough in that relationship lately. I decided I want to spend Friday with her this week. I’ll miss you, but I think this is the right thing to do.” This is a challenging balancing act, and it requires tons of differentiation of self.

If you are working with a hinge, assess the aspects of differentiation of self. Identify which skills they are struggling with, and help them grow in those areas. Signs of insufficient differentiation in hinges include:

  • People-pleasing behavior or avoiding the hard conversation
  • Deception or lies of omission 
  • A “my way or the highway” stance
  • Excessive anxiety about situations in which partners’ interests conflict 
  • Lack of willingness to recognize personal choice, and take responsibility for decisions

If you are working with a hinge who is struggling, you have an opportunity to make a big difference in the relationship system. Depending on how the hinge handles things, they can bring a lot of stability to the system, or they can end up sowing tons of chaos. Provide your clients with psychoeducation about why differentiation is essential to successful polyamory. For more on building differentiation of self, check out these past posts: 

Three Aspects of Differentiation of Self: Part One

Three Aspects of Differentiation of Self: Part Two

Three Aspects of Differentiation of Self: Part Three