Episode Summary

Many people judge and hate on bisexuality, claiming that bisexual people just can’t make up their mind or that maybe they’re just too scared to fully come out. Queer people often judge the bisexual person and their sexual orientation, disregarding the complexity of the spectrum that we laud and celebrate as LGBTQIA+ people. Learn more about faith counseling

 Today’s guest clearly articulates, with her many examples and questions, the plight many bisexual people encounter. 

She tells a story of being married to a man and after her former husband’s addictions and trauma settled in, she decided to move on only to find that she was challenged by queer women. 

Underneath her tales of marriage, dating, and trauma, you can hear a subtle yearning to trust herself and, oddly enough, a yearning to trust love, even if the data for what is trustworthy was with her the entire time.

TRIGGER WARNING: Trauma is talked about during this episode. At the end of the episode, Isaac give some helpful remarks when dealing with and/or recovering from trauma.

Navigating the Spectrum: Embracing Bisexuality and Queer Identity

In the LGBTQ+ community, embracing one’s identity and navigating relationships can be both liberating and challenging. For individuals who identify as bisexual or pansexual, the journey to self-discovery and acceptance can be particularly complex. In this blog, we delve into the experiences of a person who identifies as bi and explore the unique struggles and joys they encountered while coming to terms with their sexuality. We also discuss the importance of belonging to oneself and the broader queer community, as well as the need to break free from societal norms that stifle authentic self-expression.

Growing Up in a Conservative Household

Our guest’s story starts in a conservative household, where the messages about the body and sexuality were fraught with shame and judgment. Being raised with the idea that one’s body should conform to certain standards to be considered %22good%22 or %22pure%22 left deep scars and hindered their ability to explore and understand their own desires. The shame surrounding their body and desires masked their true identity for many years, making it difficult to embrace their bisexuality.

Discovering Bisexuality within a Heterosexual Marriage

It was only after being married to a man that our guest discovered their bisexuality. A simple conversation revealed that they had feelings for both men and women, a realization that surprised them both. This internal struggle to accept their own sexuality within the confines of a heterosexual marriage exemplifies the confusion and complexity many bisexual individuals face in a world that often insists on binary identities.

Challenging Bisexual Stereotypes

Society has long perpetuated stereotypes about bisexuality, often branding bisexual individuals as indecisive or afraid to fully come out. These harmful misconceptions have led to judgment and prejudice within the LGBTQ+ community itself. Our guest shares their experiences of encountering distrust and skepticism from queer women because of their bisexuality. They discuss the importance of understanding the full spectrum of LGBTQ+ identities and rejecting judgments based on rigid notions of sexuality.

Religion and Sexuality: The Internal Struggle

Religion can play a significant role in shaping an individual’s view of their sexuality, often causing confusion and internal conflict. Our guest opens up about growing up in a conservative religious environment that portrayed desires as sinful and shamed them for their own bodily experiences. The struggle to reconcile their faith with their bisexuality became a significant source of inner turmoil and delayed their journey of self-discovery.

Belonging to Oneself: The Journey to Self-Acceptance

Through self-reflection and inner work, our guest began to dismantle the harmful messages about their body and desires. They learned the importance of belonging to oneself first and foremost, embracing their true identity regardless of external expectations. The journey to self-acceptance has been a challenging one, but it allowed them to take the courageous step of coming out to their family.

Challenges of Dating and Belonging to the LGBTQ+ Community

Navigating relationships within the LGBTQ+ community can bring its own set of challenges, especially when one identifies as bi or pansexual. Our guest shares their experiences of feeling judged and pressured within the lesbian community, as they were seen as %22not gay enough%22 due to their past heterosexual relationships. They discuss the need to redefine cultural norms within the queer community, highlighting the importance of emotional bonding and acceptance rather than just sexual orientation.

Conclusion: Embracing the Spectrum of Queer Identity

The journey of embracing bisexuality and queer identity is filled with introspection, acceptance, and self-discovery. Breaking free from societal norms and stereotypes is essential for fostering a sense of belonging within oneself and the LGBTQ+ community. As we strive to create an inclusive and supportive environment, we must celebrate and honor the diverse identities and experiences that make up the vibrant tapestry of queer life.

In conclusion, let us remember that each person’s journey is unique and valid. By understanding and supporting one another, we can create a world where everyone feels seen, heard, and loved for who they truly are. As we continue to explore and celebrate the richness of queer identities, let us also pave the way for future generations to embrace their true selves without fear or judgment. Together, we can build a more compassionate and accepting world for all members of the LGBTQ+ community.

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Navigating the Spectrum: Embracing Bisexuality and Queer Identity

In the LGBTQ+ community, embracing one’s identity and navigating relationships can be both liberating and challenging. For individuals who identify as bisexual or pansexual, the journey to self-discovery and acceptance can be particularly complex. In this blog, we delve into the experiences of a person who identifies as bi and explore the unique struggles and joys they encountered while coming to terms with their sexuality. We also discuss the importance of belonging to oneself and the broader queer community, as well as the need to break free from societal norms that stifle authentic self-expression.

Growing Up in a Conservative Household

Our guest’s story starts in a conservative household, where the messages about the body and sexuality were fraught with shame and judgment. Being raised with the idea that one’s body should conform to certain standards to be considered %22good%22 or %22pure%22 left deep scars and hindered their ability to explore and understand their own desires. The shame surrounding their body and desires masked their true identity for many years, making it difficult to embrace their bisexuality.

Discovering Bisexuality within a Heterosexual Marriage

It was only after being married to a man that our guest discovered their bisexuality. A simple conversation revealed that they had feelings for both men and women, a realization that surprised them both. This internal struggle to accept their own sexuality within the confines of a heterosexual marriage exemplifies the confusion and complexity many bisexual individuals face in a world that often insists on binary identities.

Challenging Bisexual Stereotypes

Society has long perpetuated stereotypes about bisexuality, often branding bisexual individuals as indecisive or afraid to fully come out. These harmful misconceptions have led to judgment and prejudice within the LGBTQ+ community itself. Our guest shares their experiences of encountering distrust and skepticism from queer women because of their bisexuality. They discuss the importance of understanding the full spectrum of LGBTQ+ identities and rejecting judgments based on rigid notions of sexuality.

Religion and Sexuality: The Internal Struggle

Religion can play a significant role in shaping an individual’s view of their sexuality, often causing confusion and internal conflict. Our guest opens up about growing up in a conservative religious environment that portrayed desires as sinful and shamed them for their own bodily experiences. The struggle to reconcile their faith with their bisexuality became a significant source of inner turmoil and delayed their journey of self-discovery.

Belonging to Oneself: The Journey to Self-Acceptance

Through self-reflection and inner work, our guest began to dismantle the harmful messages about their body and desires. They learned the importance of belonging to oneself first and foremost, embracing their true identity regardless of external expectations. The journey to self-acceptance has been a challenging one, but it allowed them to take the courageous step of coming out to their family.

Challenges of Dating and Belonging to the LGBTQ+ Community

Navigating relationships within the LGBTQ+ community can bring its own set of challenges, especially when one identifies as bi or pansexual. Our guest shares their experiences of feeling judged and pressured within the lesbian community, as they were seen as %22not gay enough%22 due to their past heterosexual relationships. They discuss the need to redefine cultural norms within the queer community, highlighting the importance of emotional bonding and acceptance rather than just sexual orientation.

Conclusion: Embracing the Spectrum of Queer Identity

The journey of embracing bisexuality and queer identity is filled with introspection, acceptance, and self-discovery. Breaking free from societal norms and stereotypes is essential for fostering a sense of belonging within oneself and the LGBTQ+ community. As we strive to create an inclusive and supportive environment, we must celebrate and honor the diverse identities and experiences that make up the vibrant tapestry of queer life.

In conclusion, let us remember that each person’s journey is unique and valid. By understanding and supporting one another, we can create a world where everyone feels seen, heard, and loved for who they truly are. As we continue to explore and celebrate the richness of queer identities, let us also pave the way for future generations to embrace their true selves without fear or judgment. Together, we can build a more compassionate and accepting world for all members of the LGBTQ+ community.

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Navigating the Spectrum: Embracing Bisexuality and Queer Identity

In the LGBTQ+ community, embracing one’s identity and navigating relationships can be both liberating and challenging. For individuals who identify as bisexual or pansexual, the journey to self-discovery and acceptance can be particularly complex. In this blog, we delve into the experiences of a person who identifies as bi and explore the unique struggles and joys they encountered while coming to terms with their sexuality. We also discuss the importance of belonging to oneself and the broader queer community, as well as the need to break free from societal norms that stifle authentic self-expression.

Growing Up in a Conservative Household

Our guest’s story starts in a conservative household, where the messages about the body and sexuality were fraught with shame and judgment. Being raised with the idea that one’s body should conform to certain standards to be considered “good” or “pure” left deep scars and hindered their ability to explore and understand their own desires. The shame surrounding their body and desires masked their true identity for many years, making it difficult to embrace their bisexuality.

Discovering Bisexuality within a Heterosexual Marriage

It was only after being married to a man that our guest discovered their bisexuality. A simple conversation revealed that they had feelings for both men and women, a realization that surprised them both. This internal struggle to accept their own sexuality within the confines of a heterosexual marriage exemplifies the confusion and complexity many bisexual individuals face in a world that often insists on binary identities.

Challenging Bisexual Stereotypes

Society has long perpetuated stereotypes about bisexuality, often branding bisexual individuals as indecisive or afraid to fully come out. These harmful misconceptions have led to judgment and prejudice within the LGBTQ+ community itself. Our guest shares their experiences of encountering distrust and skepticism from queer women because of their bisexuality. They discuss the importance of understanding the full spectrum of LGBTQ+ identities and rejecting judgments based on rigid notions of sexuality.

Religion and Sexuality: The Internal Struggle

Religion can play a significant role in shaping an individual’s view of their sexuality, often causing confusion and internal conflict. Our guest opens up about growing up in a conservative religious environment that portrayed desires as sinful and shamed them for their own bodily experiences. The struggle to reconcile their faith with their bisexuality became a significant source of inner turmoil and delayed their journey of self-discovery.

Belonging to Oneself: The Journey to Self-Acceptance

Through self-reflection and inner work, our guest began to dismantle the harmful messages about their body and desires. They learned the importance of belonging to oneself first and foremost, embracing their true identity regardless of external expectations. The journey to self-acceptance has been a challenging one, but it allowed them to take the courageous step of coming out to their family.

Challenges of Dating and Belonging to the LGBTQ+ Community

Navigating relationships within the LGBTQ+ community can bring its own set of challenges, especially when one identifies as bi or pansexual. Our guest shares their experiences of feeling judged and pressured within the lesbian community, as they were seen as “not gay enough” due to their past heterosexual relationships. They discuss the need to redefine cultural norms within the queer community, highlighting the importance of emotional bonding and acceptance rather than just sexual orientation.

Conclusion: Embracing the Spectrum of Queer Identity

The journey of embracing bisexuality and queer identity is filled with introspection, acceptance, and self-discovery. Breaking free from societal norms and stereotypes is essential for fostering a sense of belonging within oneself and the LGBTQ+ community. As we strive to create an inclusive and supportive environment, we must celebrate and honor the diverse identities and experiences that make up the vibrant tapestry of queer life.

In conclusion, let us remember that each person’s journey is unique and valid. By understanding and supporting one another, we can create a world where everyone feels seen, heard, and loved for who they truly are. As we continue to explore and celebrate the richness of queer identities, let us also pave the way for future generations to embrace their true selves without fear or judgment. Together, we can build a more compassionate and accepting world for all members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Episode Debrief

Listen y’all. The unfolding of our sexual orientation is a blossoming. 

The fabulous research by Lisa Diamond, noted in her book Sexual Fluidity, lays out what many experience…sexual fluidity. My coming out and the trajectory of my sexual orientation will be dramatically different than yours and that’s wonderful! But sometimes those of us in the queer community start to project our fluidity and our limitations onto others, leaving many people sequestered from belonging. 

Rejection in any form is harmful and sometimes rejection is flat-out traumatic, especially if it is violent or violates our boundaries. Trauma often comes with some sneaky and very unfortunate side-effects including shame and self-blame. Carried feelings are the feelings we experience and take responsibility for when, in fact, they belong to a perpetrator. Let me throw out an example. Roll with me here:

Let’s say my partner explodes in anger after hearing that I spent too much money on clothes. His violent and immature demonstration of anger is thrust on me as though I deserve the inappropriate lashing. In my mind and heart, I might feel as though my actions “made him” do what he did. As a result, I might feel that my immaturity elicited such violence. 

Instead of holding an appropriate boundary between his behavior and mine, I carry his immaturity by assuming his anger was my fault. Even though he did something inappropriate and immature, I carry the feelings for him as though I am the immature and inappropriate one. In other words, our perpetrators do something shameful and something for which they should take the blame but, instead, trauma helps us carry those feelings for them. 

Carried feelings are prevalent when we come out and listen to the immature beliefs and prejudiced reactions of others. Something like, “my sister thinks my lifestyle is wrong, and maybe it is.” We take their inappropriate rejections and hold them towards ourselves. Furthermore, carried feelings will help us feel as though our body isn’t ours. As though we are safer following the guidelines and meeting others’ expectations. Carried feelings lead us to believe we are damaged, flooded with a sense of self-mistrust. Carried feelings are powerful yet sneaky! When we combine the powerful forces of shame we get a dynamic duo with carried feelings. 

After we participate in the behaviors that leave us feeling shame, we tell ourselves that we will never do it again: never drink that much, never eat that much, or never sleep with that person again. But because shaming behaviors often come with pleasure, and because shame is a medication for our misery, we find ourselves doing the behavior one more time. After a couple of cycles, we begin to realize that we can’t even trust ourselves, like a monster who is totally against us living at our core. 

When we have tried to love and loved with all of every fiber in our being, and it STILL fails, we will hear the message of self-mistrust playing its unstoppable tune. Can I trust myself to know love and can I even trust love. We will question with great uncertainty. 

There are so many facets to love and earning our own trust back. I could talk about this for days, but I will say, we know how to love. It is hardwired into our brain, but to find our way back to the sustainable and trustworthy versions of love, we first have to address our shame, call out our carried feelings, and find trustworthy people with whom we can practice trusting again. When we find them, we have to be open to letting their sincere love soak into our core. We have to be brave enough to let it be true, not just as cognitive thought, but as an emotional, felt-sense truth. 

To my bi people out there: we walk a thin line. Sometimes we’re too gay for straight partners and our dating history is confusing and scary for them, but we also face queer gatekeepers who are threatened by our straight dating history as well. To this I say, find your language. Get to know your attractions, your tale of sexual orientation as it unfolded throughout your life. Find the language that will clearly help you articulate how your emotional desires drive you towards emotional intimacy because that truly is the mortar of any relationship, way more than sexual intimacy! As you feel your true knowing stabilize your confidence in your truth––sexually and romantically––you’ll develop the language to assuage the fears of those who might also have been burned by love.

I say this a lot, but it bears repeating: the primary function of sexual orientation is not to tell you whose body you’ll enjoy. It is to guide you toward the life-changing love you most deeply crave. 

So, if when we came out, we came out as an emotional being rather than a sexual being, we might better understand and trust the nature of emotionality that leads to sexuality, even with all of its complexities and idiosyncrasies. We might be more primed to fall for and trust more readily the person who will create emotional intimacy WITH us, rather than PRIORITIZING someone who does something sexually FOR us. 

Thank you to this episode’s guest! I thoroughly enjoyed my time with her. Her energy was like sitting with a great friend! Vulnerability breeds vulnerability, and I want to thank the guest for creating a wonderful space, a sample of what emotional intimacy feels like.

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Episode Introduction

Y’all know that life can be rough. Grief and death. Marriage and divorce. Relationships, love, belonging, and breakups. Life throws us so many hurdles to jump over and challenges to crawl through. Jamie, one of iAmClinic’s Associates sits with our guest who approaches life with such humor, ease, and joy that it makes life seem a little bit easier, something not to be taken with such seriousness. They bring a lifespan of insight and challenges that I hope you enjoy listening to and learning from couples therapy

I’m so thankful that we have queer siblings who have gone before us to literally pave the way for our version of love, our version of sex, our social equality, and our civil rights. It is with deep gratitude that we sat with our guest because he is one who has fought so hard for what we so easily access.

Navigating Ambivalence in Relationships: A Personal Journey

Navigating relationships can be a complex and emotionally charged journey, especially when you find yourself in a state of ambivalence. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the intricate world of emotions, desires, and personal growth through the lens of one individual’s experience. Join us as we explore the challenges and insights of managing ambivalence in relationships.

Understanding Ambivalence:

Ambivalence is a state of mixed emotions and conflicting desires. It often arises when we have strong feelings for someone but are uncertain about the direction of the relationship. It’s like standing at a crossroads, torn between two paths—one leading to commitment and the other to individual freedom.

The Personal Journey:

Our story begins with a gentleman in his late 60s who has experienced a lifetime of relationships, each offering unique gifts and challenges. He has been married, had children, and even become a grandparent, but his current journey revolves around the complexities of a relationship with a much younger partner.

1. Craving Emotional Monogamy:

Our protagonist yearns for emotional monogamy, a deep and exclusive connection where he can be the sole focus of his partner’s affection. It’s a desire rooted in the need for security, emotional attachment, and the joy of settling into a committed partnership.

2. Fear of Being Alone:

Despite his desire for emotional monogamy, he grapples with a deep-seated fear of being alone. After two years of closeness with his current partner, the thought of separation is daunting. This fear drives him to question whether he’s enough and whether he’ll find someone else who truly values him.

3. The Push-Pull of Ambivalence:

The relationship he’s in has evolved into a constant push-pull dynamic. Both partners have clear desires and conflicting needs. While he yearns for emotional exclusivity, his partner seeks multiple emotional connections. This tug-of-war between their desires creates an addictive cycle that’s challenging to break.

4. Open Communication:

Despite the emotional rollercoaster, the couple engages in open and honest communication. They discuss their desires, insecurities, and fears regularly, creating a space for vulnerability. Sharing their thoughts and feelings is a cornerstone of their relationship.

5. The Path Ahead:

As they stand at this crossroads, uncertain of the future, they have embarked on a week of space to reflect on their needs and desires. This pivotal moment will determine the direction of their relationship.

Conclusion:

The journey through ambivalence in relationships is a profound exploration of one’s desires, fears, and values. It’s a testament to the complexities of human connection and personal growth. This story reminds us that relationships are ever-evolving, and it’s okay to seek the emotional monogamy or the individual freedom that aligns with our personal needs.

As we navigate the intricacies of our own relationships, we can draw inspiration from this narrative of vulnerability, open communication, and the pursuit of emotional fulfillment. After all, it’s our unique journeys that shape our understanding of love, commitment, and the human experience.

Episode Links

Tale of Two Tims: Big Ol’ Baptist, Big Ol’ Gay, by Tim Seelig

The New Rules of Marriage: What You Need to Know to Make Love Work, by Terrence Real (5 Domains of Intimacy)

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I built up an incredible amount of frustration stemming from my partner’s behavior. No matter what I said to him, I could not, for the life of me, get him to hear what I was trying to communicate. In those early years, I knew I wanted him to be “the one,” but I had never felt so lonely inside a relationship!

Criticism, desperation, and anxiety flooded my body when he would detach. No matter how articulate and well-intentioned my interventions, I consistently found myself feeling alone, even if we were sitting on the same couch.

To be honest, it took us a very long time to find a good couples therapist, someone who had heard of dilemmas and challenges like ours many times before. But when we did, it was gold!

At iAmClinic, we believe that there is hope for your relationship. Here are some ways that couples therapy can improve your relationship:

  • Practice Feeling Understood

Efficient communication in stressful times is an art form. In self-defense, we want to protect ourselves and defend our perspective, and we wonder why our significant others can’t bend and flex, especially when they are wrong. Couples counseling is a great place to learn how to communicate so that your partner can hear what you’re really needing them to understand. As a third-party, objective listener, a couples counselor can help you avoid the common booby traps and get to the heart of what you need your partner to understand. When you and your partner have a new rhythm and style of communicating, you’ll experience a healthy teamwork budding between the two of you. You’ll find a rhythmic and exciting new way of connecting.

  • Tackle Scary Problems in a Safe Way

Falling in love means trusting someone with the direction, plans, and ultimate dreams you have for your life. As a couple integrates their lives, the weight of major changes can be crippling and scary! Thinking about moving in with one another, approaching marriage, or opening up your relationships can be petrifying for many. Couples counseling provides the type of safety you need to approach major challenges without furthering the damage or losing your voice in the process. It allows you to highlight the important factors that need to be considered, as well as the fluff that is just getting in the way. When approaching serious matters, couples therapy creates the safety you need to find stabilizing peace of mind and constructive ways to create your dream life together.

  • Make Big Changes in a Small Amount of Time

Sometimes differences in opinions, perceptions, or priorities leave a couple hopeless. Feeling stuck in a worn path of tracks that lead to Boringville, many partners can’t see the forest for the trees. Negotiating and coming to an agreement or creating a much needed change might require a new approach, an increase in empathy, serious creativity, inspiring awareness, or a change in behavior. Couples counseling can help you and your partner find clarity by identifying what will help create the smooth-sailing, highly functional resolution for your ever-evolving lives. Many say that change is the only constant, and if that’s true, learning how to create change, live in its flow, and stay happy are very important skills to acquire. Couples counseling can give you the tools to make big changes and find your passion in the least amount of time.

  • Learn About Your Invisible Patterns

Arguments carry a heap of data and insights, but you need objectivity to see them. A couples counselor listens not with the intention of playing referee, but to help you build life-changing, relationship-saving self-awareness that can be found tucked into the angry lines and desperate hopes of an argument. For a well-trained, seasoned couples therapist, it is easy to recognize a repeating behavioral and emotional pattern we call the Performer/Dreamer Cycle. While one tries to rescue and perform for their partner, the other demands and criticizes. The Performer may eventually tire and avoid any pain, leaving the Dreamer panicked, angry, or incredibly scared. One is checked out and the other is anxiously checked in. The couple may not recognize it, but the all-too-common Performer/Dreamer pattern is at play. Gone unchecked, it can plague the relationship for days, months, and even years. Learning to see the pattern that lives under an invisible cloak can change your life. It did mine.

Couples counseling saved my relationship. It taught me how to communicate in a way that allowed me to feel understood, but it also helped me understand my partner, his needs, and his personality. It gave me the safety to approach aspects of our life together that scared me and made me wonder if I was making the right decision to stay and if I would be safe enough with him; not just in a day-to-day kind of way, but in the existential, my-life-is-yours kind of way. But please believe me, I had to learn how to keep my sassy tongue in check, hop out of Dreamer mode, and be kind to my partner, even when I took his behavior as hurtful. All in all, couples counseling helped us improve our relationship, transforming it from the inside out. I can’t remember what it felt like to be that lonely guy, sharing the couch with an emotionally distant partner. And to be honest, I don’t want to. I love who we’ve become, thanks for couples counseling.

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As a graduate student studying healthy relationships, I felt ashamed at how badly my relationships looked on paper. My friendships and love life were disintegrating like the petals of a plucked rose. I was full of shame. . . and vodka.

To figure out how I could get my wayward boat back on track, I booked a European vacation. The beach, a big journal and lots of fresh air would get me there!

As I sat on the beach in southern Spain, I realized that I had no idea who I was, what I was passionate about or what made me happy. Investing all of my energy in criticizing my partner and festering over old familial wounds had really zapped my flourishing.

I decided that if I was going to be a clinician someday, I better get my life in order. So I put down the vodka, drank my own medicine and found a reputable therapist.

During my time in therapy, I began to experience major epiphanies and changes that set my life and relationships right-side up. Over time I realized that my therapist was helping me awakened my numb, hollow body. It felt incredible to say, “I remember who I am!”

Man standing on mountain

Counseling for us in the LGBTQ+ community can be scary, but there are several benefits to counseling. My favorites are the ways it helps us connect to others and ourselves. Here are my top 4 ways:

1. Communication

Many LGBTQ people experience anger that keeps them from connecting; counseling allows you to identify the source of anger and to talk about other primary emotions like sadness, embarrassment, failure that live beneath anger. Thus, rather than exploding in anger, you can communicate your primary emotions, leading to greater trust and cohesion.

Another major communication tool that marriage therapy can offer is finding the best terms to describe yourself. My therapeutic journey led me to come out as a queer, gender non-conforming person, and without my therapist, I would not have found the words to accurately described who I was and what I needed from my loved ones.

Couple arguing

2. Ending Repeating Arguments

Let’s face it, whether two people double down on opposing positions or a back-and-forth simply cycles repeatedly in our heads, some arguments keep repeating.

Counseling gave me new remedies for recurring arguments surrounding emotions or frustrations that popped up in my day-to-day life. I realized that the context of the argument mattered less than the desire behind it.

3. Changing Unwanted Patterns

As my relationships stabilized and the arguing died down, I could finally tackle my long-standing, shaming behavioral patterns. I realized that I kept soothing my shame with tactics, food and substances that, to be honest, reinforced my shame. I was stuck in a serious loop of hurting, medicating my pain, feeling shamed for meager attempts at relief, all which landed me back at hurting again.

Instead of drinking too much, never-ending, compulsive episodes on Grindr, or sleeping with temporary hunks for a flash of acceptance, I became conscious of my patterns and found a way to break them.

My counselor allowed me to talk about the details of the embarrassing things I had done. His non-judgmental stance and caring posture allowed me to talk about and resolve my biggest hurdles. I love therapy for this very reason, among many others!

Compass

4. Clarity & Self-acceptance

Before couple’s counseling I had determined that I was dirty for being a queer, gender non-conforming person. My default setting was fixed on the belief that I was inferior to other men and a burden to my religious family and friends. But as I walked out of that room, time after time, I slowly left all of those false messages on the couch where I had just sat.

As a result, my relationships began to feel more comfortable because I could understand their internal mechanisms. I felt like I had control of my ship, something I had never experienced before.

Walking with pride as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and embracing life with a partner has helped me reach levels of life-satisfaction that only existed in my dreams.

I encourage you—if you want to experience these four benefits—to give therapy a try. It could be a life-changing process. Take the plunge! You won’t regret it!

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Man is taking off the wedding ring

Jump To:

1. What language is mine?

2. My Internal Truth

3. Necessary Closets

4. Acknowledge Outdated Assumptions

She was so sincere in wanting to help her coming out husband. Wanting nothing more than for her husband to be happy and for their children to go through any transition smoothly, she was eager to learn and love. It took her husband quite some time to make it in to our sessions because he was terrified that was would cause his family pain.   

For a variety of legitimate reasons, coming out to your spouse can be a very scary and challenging process, to say the least. You’ve built a life with someone, and the idea of unraveling and abandoning that history can leave your central nervous system paralyzed. Perhaps you are considering if the benefits of coming out really outweigh the costs.

To help create peace of mind and find resolution, let me explain a couple of moving parts to help you determine if you want to come out.

Self-discovery

1. What language is mine?

Sexual orientation describes what happens in your central and autonomic nervous systems—the various involuntary ways your body respond to visual stimuli (like another person’s body or personality), emotional intimacy and sexual pleasure. Sexual identity, however, is the name with which you label your sexual orientation. Although your sexual orientation could be, let’s say gay, you could publically claim that you are bisexual. In this scenario, your private sexual identity would be gay (because it matches your sexual orientation), but your public sexual identity would be bisexual. Your sexual orientation does not have to match your sexual identity, at least until we come out fully.  

Some sexual orientations are lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, demisexual, gay, asexual, etc. 

Gender identity is the felt sense or internal knowing of one’s gender, regardless of the physical body with which they/she/he is born.

Some gender identities are transgender, gender nonconforming, gender non-binary, trans non-binary, and trans binary, to name a few. 

Sex symbol

2. My Internal Truth

I encourage my clients to ask a very simple, yet illuminating question: What is true about my gender identity, as well as my sexual orientation, both physically and emotionally?

Asking this question as you walk down the street, see an attractive person, interact with coworkers, fall asleep at night and pleasure yourself sexually will help you make peace with the physiological and involuntary mechanisms of your sexual orientation and/or gender identity. I also strongly encourage you to discover which personality types you are drawn to and what yearnings they provoke. We are emotionally aroused when we feel seen, special, sexy and wanted.

Taking a thorough inventory of what brings you comfort and pleasure––from the inside out––will contribute to a comprehensive picture of your sexual orientation and/or gender identity and all their components. Self-understanding is the best catalyst for deeply rooted confidence. 

3. Necessary Closets

As you make peace with your sexuality, coming out may be too emotionally or relationally threatening. And for this reason, you may reach clarity and identify exactly why your closet has been necessary. Acknowledging any imminent or assumed rejection, isolation, or derogation will help you prepare for the initial jolt of coming out. Laying a stable foundation––like a trustworthy support system, for example––will give you the emotional and physical stamina to withstand challenging relational storms. 

4. Acknowledge Outdated Assumptions

“My sexual orientation was socialized, and I can change it” 

Thankfully, we now have scientific data that proves we were born with both a pre-established sexual orientation and gender identity set in place by in utero bathings during weeks 6 and twelve. 

Although there are no genes fully responsible for homosexuality or gender identity, it is easy to understand our sexual orientations and gender identities were installed by hormone bathings that wire our brains for sexual preferences and a felt sense of gender. The software, if you will, that encodes our sexuality will remain somewhat unactivated until puberty, whereas that which encodes our gender will be activated as early as 2 years old. 

“I’ll be alone forever”

Many of my clients who contemplate coming out assume their lives will completely fall apart or that they’ll be seen as the world’s biggest jerk for causing so much pain in their loved ones’ lives. 

There is a major range of reactions in those who hear the news for the first time. A significant percentage of my coming out clients face a short-term season of relational discord where time and space help everyone involved establish a new normal. 

Another noteworthy percentage of clients face the transition as a team, creating a new normal side-by-side. Families and couples who do this have well-developed abilities to communicate, to be vulnerable and to practice unconditional love. 

It is rare, but worth mentioning, that for bisexual, pan, or demi clients––who are in some capacity attracted to their opposite gendered spouse and the same gender––remaining in their marriage is possible. Again, these mixed-orientation marriages are stabilized by mature communication and thorough understanding of both their sexual orientation, sexual desires and deep emotional intimacy.  

Coming out can change your life dramatically, possibly leading to utter rejection. But with more than ten year’s worth of clinical experience working with couples and families, complete rejection is very, very rare. If being ostracized from your loved ones is possible, take every step necessary to create a safety net of trustworthy friendships before coming out.

Wife supporting husband in therapy

Coming Out

As you plan your coming out, identify the triggers your spouse might experience and how you may be prone to feel responsible for their reactions. Remember, you cannot cause another’s reaction; they do! Amidst their triggers, for which you are not responsible, implement a sophisticated boundary so that you can stay in your truth, while your spouse or loved one experiences theirs. 

One major element to a successful coming out is your story—the tale of your lived experience as you felt your sexual orientation or gender identity blossom. I have my clients complete a timeline where they list experiences of their sexual orientation/gender identity (e.g., a crush in elementary school, a self-discovery in adolescents, an epiphany in young adulthood, etc.), as well as what they thought and how they felt during those experiences. Pack out your timeline will all the details that will help them understand you, your body, your desires, and your lived experience.

Share with your loved ones when you first discovered what your sexual orientation or gender identity are and how you knew. Tell them what it felt like as you held this secret and all the assumptions (and painful realities) that made your closet so necessary. All in all, this timeline, once completed, will be a robust repository of helpful language for you to articulate your story with confidence and peace of mind. It will also help you know the answers to deep, probing questions that might come your way.  

Your coming out will be the very beginning of a long process, but with the internal inventory you’ve completed and the confidence you’ve built, hold to your inner knowing, which is where freedom lives—for both you and your loved ones. 

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Contents

Jump To:

1. Intro

2. What is comprehensive sex ed?

3. The state of sex ed in America

1. Intro

Sex education can seem awkward and even intimidating as a subject to broach with your loved one, especially if they are exploring their identity within the LGBTQIA+ communities. However, comprehensive sex education can promote and facilitate safe and responsible sexual behavior in teens and adults via deconstruction of taboos and centering healthy communication habits. So, if comprehensive sex ed really is so helpful, why aren’t more American schools adopting it as a standard for their health classes?

2. What is comprehensive sex ed?

Sex education can be categorized into two schools of thought: the “comprehensive” model and the “abstinence” model. Let’s start by describing the “abstinence” model. There are actually two models of sex education that prioritize abstinence in modern sex ed: “abstinence-only” and “abstinence-plus.” These models are virtually the same in every aspect except for one: where “abstinence-only” prioritizes that abstinence is the only acceptable standard of sexual behavior for teens until they reach adulthood (sometimes even until marriage), “abstinence-plus” education also includes information on protection such as condoms and birth control. However, “abstinence-plus” education focuses on the flaws of these protection methods, yet still champions abstinence as the fool-proof way to not contract an STI or get pregnant.
On the flipside, “comprehensive” sex education provides medically accurate, appropriate information on sex to teens, as well as advice on safety beyond simply choosing not to have sex. Planned Parenthood describes several key topics discussed in comprehensive sex ed as: human development, relationships, personal skills, sexual behavior, sexual health, and society and culture. Compared to the abstinence model, comprehensive sex ed provides information on a wider variety of topics, allows for a broader dialogue on a range of issues, and even works to reduce the stigma surrounding sex by simply talking about it in an honest, mature way.

3. The state of sex ed in America

Currently, only 24 states, plus the District of Columbia, even mandate that sex education be taught in schools. 37 states require that abstinence is included in sex education, and 26 of those states require that abstinence must be prioritized above all other safety methods. Only 18 states require that information about birth control be shared with students. Only 10 states mandate discussions about LGBTQIA+ relationships and gender diversity, and 6 states outright ban the subject. Let’s move away from the dire-sounding numbers for a moment. The reality is, most sex education policies for public school systems are decided by state legislators, and vary widely depending on where you live. Often, they favor the abstinence model, and private schools favor the comprehensive model, but even then, there is no guarantee of the quality of sex education that children receive while they are in school. This is just the tip of the iceberg, given that the second most prevalent source of sex education for young people is most often found in churches, where shame and “purity” culture is enforced en masse. 

Check back in next week for part 2 of this blog, where I detail the state of queer representation in pop culture, adolescent sexuality and identity, and how this all ties together in favor of comprehensive sex education!

References: 

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Contents

This post is a continuation from a previous blog, read part 1 here!

Jump To:

1. Queer representation: the good, the bad, the ugly

2. Adolescent sexuality and empowerment

3. How can comprehensive sex ed protect and empower LGBTQIA+ youth?

1. Queer representation: the good, the bad, the ugly

So, how does queer representation factor into all of this? In recent years, television shows aimed at children, such as “Steven Universe,” “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power,” and “The Owl House,” have included more LGBTQIA+ representation. Shows and films aimed at adults, including the recent and acclaimed “Our Flag Means Death,” have followed the same trend. Though we are seeing an advent in LGBTQIA+ representation in our media, something that has proven to have positive mental health outcomes for those that identify within the population being represented, there is still a lot of space to grow.

There are several harmful stereotypes that pervade queer representation in media and pop culture. For instance, the “flamboyant gay best friend” trope was the primary form of LGBTQIA+ representation outside of cult queer films, in which the only gay character in a given piece of media would be portrayed in an exaggerated, comical fashion. Some common messaging in popular media takes a more sinister turn. Take the “bury your gays” trope- an astounding array of films featuring queer couples end with one or both of them dying. This issue has become so pervasive in media that many queer spaces have actively collected the names of films that stray away from this trend in order to promote media that centers queer joy, rather than queer trauma. Finally, there is the villanization of sexual and gender nonconformity in many popular pieces of media, from HIM of “The Powerpuff Girls” to King Xerxes of “300.”

What’s the problem with these stereotypes? Am I saying that you can’t have a cool gay villain or you can’t tell an evocative story that involves a gay couple where one of them dies? No, of course not. The issue with the trends listed above is that oftentimes they’re the only stories that get told. Often, the first words out of my mouth when someone recommends me a queer film are, “do they die in the end?” The line between tokenism and representation is defined by the sensitivity and the diversity of stories being told. For every gay villain, tell the story of two gay heroes. And when we do so, we must do the research necessary to tell the story faithfully, and to avoid falling into those harmful stereotypes. There’s more than one way to embody queerness, and representation lends depth to that reality.

2. Adolescent sexuality and empowerment

Let’s take a moment to talk about teen development. Other than the miasma of hormonal soup that most adults probably remember none-too-fondly, adolescence is often the period at which identity development really kicks off. Most teenagers acquire and explore their preferences in friends, activities, and romantic partners during this time. That exploration often includes sexuality- the average age for first sexual engagement in the US is 16.8 for male-identifying individuals and 17.2 for female-identifying individuals. Many teens even report that they first have sex before they feel ready to do so. It’s clear that teenagers are capable of making such serious decisions as choosing a sexual partner, yet they are often treated as if they’re still too young or immature. This results in important knowledge being kept from them, disempowering them to make informed decisions, which may lead to more risky behavior.

3. How can comprehensive sex ed protect and empower LGBTQIA+ youth?

At this point you may be wondering, “what does all this have to do with sex ed and queer youth?” Consider the data that states that abstinence-only sex education does extremely little to deter teenagers from actually having sex. In fact, the abstinence model has been linked to higher rates of sexual assault and risky sexual behavior in some studies. Contrast this with comprehensive sex education, which provides information not only on safe sex practices, good communication, and different relationship dynamics, but also on a wider variety of sexual and gender identities.

Given that seeing oneself represented in various facets of life, as with queer representation in media, can be tracked to better mental health outcomes, it can be assumed that acquiring information specific to queerness will not only benefit queer youth, but help reduce the stigma of their cisgender heterosexual peers by teaching that queerness is not only normal, but something to be actively integrated into social systems. Therefore, promoting comprehensive sex ed and acknowledgement of queerness in an informed and mindful way can empower LGBTQIA+ youth to seek out and acquire information that helps them stay safe.

So, if you have a loved one who identifies as LGBTQIA+ and is in that essential developmental phase, what can you do to support them? Remember that advocacy is your most powerful tool. Any individual can advocate for policy change by calling representatives, or even testifying in the state capitol. If large-scale reform seems intimidating, it’s never too late to start small. Check your own personal biases about relationships, and try diversifying your language when you talk with your loved one. Using “they” instead of “he or she” or describing someone’s marital partner as a “spouse” instead of assuming that they must have a husband or wife can go a long way. And finally, unpacking your fears about talking about sex can help you be there when your loved one needs your support and insight. Showing them that you’re not afraid to talk about it, might help them deconstruct all that stigma for themselves.

Resources

  • Planned Parenthood
  • KFF
  • Columbia University Public Health

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Open relationships are the new sandbox where many LGBTQIA+ persons test out their relational skills. Can we explore new relationships and not violate one another’s boundaries? Will our health,our sex and our emotional intimacy thrive because of open relationships, or will they become tattered by pain and rejection over time?

Many of us wonder if we can trust our lovers to the powers and pulls of an open relationship, while others crave for another outlet for their love and experiences that keep a sense of youthful joy alive. No matter the context from which you consider the idea of opening your relationship, I recommend you take time to read through this 3-part series.

What is an Open Relationship?

An open relationship is a committed partnership in which both individuals consent to engaging in romantic or sexual relationships with people outside of the primary couple.

The key factors that differentiate ethical non-monogamy from cheating or infidelity are honesty, communication, and the full approval of all involved partners. Boundaries and terms of the open relationship are negotiated transparently.

There are many varieties of open relationships, with flexibility to structure agreements around each couple’s comfort level. Some common examples include:

  • Only recreational threesomes together, but no independent external partners
  • Casual dating and sexual encounters are allowed, but not ongoing secondary relationships
  • Full permission for additional long-term romantic partnerships

The exact parameters are up to each couple to decide through respectful discussion and compromise. There is no single “right” way to practice consensual or ethical non-monogamy.

female couple walking

Do you need help learning about relational esteem and inherent value? We’re here to help.

The Prevalence of Open Relationships Among Gay Men

Research indicates that open relationships are fairly common among gay male couples. Studies show that around 40-50% of gay couples engage in some form of consensual non-monogamy. This contrasts with rates of just 4-5% for heterosexual and lesbian couples.

These statistics highlight that traditional monogamy is not universally considered the ideal relationship structure among gay men. Open relationships, sometimes called “monogamish” arrangements, can take many forms based on each couple’s wishes. Understanding the range of options can help couples determine if some type of open relationship could work for them.

Facing Social Stigma Around Non-Traditional Relationships

Despite their prevalence, open relationships still face stigma and judgment, even within the LGBTQ+ community. Many gay couples report feeling pressure from family and friends to conform to traditional monogamous expectations.

This can lead to feelings of shame or guilt, and cause couples to hide their open status from unaccepting loved ones. Having to “return to the closet” and hide an important aspect of their relationship can take a psychological toll.

It’s important for couples to anticipate these potential challenges. Finding community support among other ethically non-monogamous couples can help counteract negative societal messages.

Managing Difficult Emotions in Open Relationships

Opening up a relationship often brings up difficult emotions like jealousy, insecurity, anxiety and fear of abandonment. These feelings are completely normal, but failing to address them can sabotage the open arrangement.

Partners should listen without judgment when the other(s) expresses vulnerabilities. Sharing fears and insecurities openly can help diffuse their intensity. Establishing rules and boundaries around outside sexual contacts and emotional closeness can provide reassurance.

Seeking counseling from therapists experienced with open relationships can also help couples process challenging emotions and dynamics. The key is to acknowledge and compassionately discuss these feelings before they spiral out of control.

Establishing Clear Rules and Boundaries

To maintain stability and trust, open relationships require clear ground rules about what activities are permitted or prohibited. It’s crucial for partners to explicitly communicate and negotiate guidelines around:

  • Safer sex practices
  • Level of detail to disclose about external partners
  • Overnight stays vs. only sexual meetups
  • Emotional involvement with casual partners
  • Which friends or acquaintances are off limits
  • Scheduled quality time to nurture the primary partnership

Of course, these rules can evolve over time as partners adjust to the open dynamic. But starting with clearly defined expectations can minimize hurt feelings down the road.

Prioritizing Emotional Intimacy and Quality Time

Partners should intentionally nurture closeness and affection in their relationship, despite any outside sexual connections. This requires ongoing expressions of love, appreciation and commitment.

Regular one-on-one dates, without distractions, are important. Couples need quality time to check in emotionally, cuddle, maintain physical intimacy, discuss any issues, and reinforce their primary bond.

An open relationship can thrive only when anchored by a strong foundation of intimacy, friendship and trust between partners. Frequent emotional nourishment is essential.

Key Discussion Points for Opening Up Your Relationship

If you are considering transitioning to an open partnership, here are some important topics for couples to discuss:

  • Level of disclosure about external partners and encounters
  • Guidelines around safer sex and STI prevention
  • What specific sexual acts are permitted or prohibited
  • Expectations around emotional attachment and time spent with casual partners
  • Rules about interacting with friends, coworkers, exes
  • Scheduled quality time to focus on your primary relationship
  • Managing jealousy and insecurities as they arise
  • How often to review and revise agreements as needed
  • Contingency plan if trying non-monogamy doesn’t work for the couple

Having candid conversations about needs, fears, and boundaries before opening up is key. Addressing potential issues proactively can prevent hurt feelings.

To get you started, here are three highly important questions to consider as you contemplate what will leave you truly satisfied:

1. Is your Relational Esteem High or Low?

Relational esteem is the barometer that reveals how much each of you knows, believes and trusts that nothing can deconstruct the relationship––not another person, a sexual rendezvous or a major disagreement.

High relational esteem squashes insecurities and feelings of being replaceable. It roots itself in an unshakeable confidence in the relationship’s longevity for each member of a relationship to realize their highest selves and to trust that they truly belong. High relational esteem knows––relying on every experience of affirmation and belonging––nothing can tear the relationship apart.

When we have a high level of emotional intimacy, our relational esteem will be high. And from these heights a couple’s ability to open their relationship will emerge from a sense of excitement, not dread, fear or jealousy.

When our relational esteem is low we fear rejection and breakups. We panic easily because we are accustomed to thinking our partner might fall in love with someone else or become bored with us. Low relational esteem has a scary message: I am replaceable. Low relational esteem fears the ongoing effects of an argument and will often flutter with doom that the relationship might end, even when the end isn’t realistic. Recurring thoughts of inadequacy prevent us from having high relational esteem, just as watering soil with salt water won’t allow plants to grow.

Low relational esteem is directly tied to not believing in your own inherent value, either because you cannot acknowledge that you are loveable or because your partner (among other people in your life) has failed to provide convincing evidence that you are cherished and belong in loving arms. If you are like me in my late 20’s, you may feel a little bit of both—not believing in yourself and not having the data of your worth staring you in the face.

We improve our relational esteem by learning to trust our partner with the honest reality of who we are—our insecurities, our wounds, and our success and joy. Relational esteem arises as we let another see us for who we are, and they stick around for both the good and the ugly. Sometimes we might need to ask our partner to be more intentional to affirm our role and worth. Asking is ok! Many partners are way too unaccustomed to expressing their love. In these instances, we have to prime the affirmation pump by communicating our needs.

Do you need help learning about relational esteem and inherent value? We’re here to help.

open relatinshihip couple

2. Do you frequently communicate about sex, belonging, and security?

Although many couples who think about opening their relationship communicate about logistics well—who, what, when—, I want to encourage couples to communicate about their fears, their sexual desires, and the mechanisms that stabilize their relational esteem.

Communicating about what feels good and what doesn’t, whether it be emotionally, relationally, or sexually, will help any couple navigate open relationships with more awareness. Learning about what scares or calms, excites or exhausts and fulfills or depletes your partner will help you choose actions and identify a third that improves your relational esteem, rather than diminishes it.

One of the most important things about an open relationship is that you are honest with yourself so that you can be honest with your partner(s). Know what you like, what works for you and that which doesn’t. Help your partner(s) understand who you are what you need. From this place you can confidently co-direct your relationship to a place of confidence, comfort, and peace.

When we have a peaceful and honest relationship with our own desires we will have a peaceful relationship with our behaviors. And when our behaviors are in alignment with our desires we protect ourselves from pain and our relationships from our own resentment. Talking about what you like and what you don’t goes way below the sheets and into the fabric of who you. From this place, your desire can help you create the love life and relationship you most deeply brave.

While open relationships can take a variety of shapes and sizes, remember that you are not an island functioning in isolation. Your actions will still affect your partner(s). Communication will help keep your relationship(s) on track an in line with your co-determined relational trajectory. Opening a relationship does introduce a higher level of autonomy, but it also requires working as a team, possibly even more so than before.

3. Is your boundary system sophisticated and functional?

Good communication leads to a sophisticated boundary system that allows all people involved to feel safe, seen, secure and soothed.

By boundaries, I mean not only permitted or prohibited sexual experiences but also emotional experiences.

Couples who open their relationships should clearly understand what role another partner or a third will play. Is the open relationship about exciting sexual encounters or finding love? Does it involve one partner or many? How much do each of you talk about? What details are disclosed or kept private?

Questions like this will be important to leave on the table. Answers may not be present immediately, and many couples will have to find the answers as they navigate the open world. But boundaries will help protect the relationship and will bring a sense of safety so that all partners know their place and hold realistic expectations.

Open relationships are a major topic to consider. Living in an open relationship requires a type of unconditional love that can tolerate paradox, one that loves when a partner falls in love. Relational esteem can carry an open relationship through many challenges and to places where mature love knows no limits.

Remember, an open relationship doesn’t necessarily mean more joy and more satisfaction. Know yourself and take care of yourself as you plot your steps.

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Two strapping young men sat on my couch, wet boots soaking the office carpet. The heavy rain outside was nothing compared to the ways in which they felt drenched in hopelessness. Both toiled over the consideration that an open relationship might be right for them. In their differing approaches to opening the relationship, one experienced the lack vitality and sexual freedom like a wet blanket that smothered his youthful soul, while the other felt trapped in a wetsuit he couldn’t shake off. The tension in his chest was all too consuming. He was panicked that he’d be left behind, that his partner would love a third more than him.

Maybe you see yourself in one of the young men who ran out of the storm and into my office. You, too, may be considering opening your relationship with the perception that it will liberate a long-forgotten vitality or long-gone sense of sexual thrill. Perhaps you’re scared that opening a relationship could be the beginning of the end.

As an attachment-focused clinician who has worked with individuals of open relationships, I have seen two predominant motivators for open relationships.

First, it may be that one or both of you is approaching an open relationships from a place of security, feeling profoundly steadfast and confident in the longevity of your relationship. With the test of time on your side, you or your partner may be looking to augment experiences of love, sex, and thrill. I assume that couples who want to expand their abilities to love and be loved have an earned secure attachment and deep relational esteem that can withstand the weight of an expanded emotional world. Lovers with high relational esteem are stable in their relationship and feel deeply connected, so that the love for a third or someone outside the relationship is non-threatening. Couples who know this type of steadfast love can be one another’s cheerleaders, celebrating their loved one’s love from the sidelines, like a spectator who wants their home team to win.

In such a context––with an earned secure attachment and deeply rooted relational esteem––open relationships bring new tricks to the bedroom, perspectives that deepen relational intimacy and fresh air that enlivens the otherwise mundane routines of adulting. Certain agreements, sexual expressions and relational habits that were once fixed or off the table are now up for conversation again.

One alternative to such a stable love story is when one or both partners feel as though the wells of emotional and sexual intimacy have grown thin, dried up by hollow gestures, patterned resentments and petrified disappointments. Motivated by the fear that the relationship could be more of a trap of stale love, these partners often enter an open relationship seeking remedy for their pain.

Physiologically, we know the early passion in most relationships gradually fades The dopamine and serotonin cocktails our brains create give way to partnerships and everyday routines. (Little wonder that the Greeks separated Eros, the god of passion, from his mother Aphrodite, the goddess of committed love!)

Some people in committed relationships, wanting to keep their stability in place and feel alive again, began fantasizing about romance, thrill, and enticing sexual encounters that can tickle their fancies. Striking a deal within themselves––and possibly their relationship––these partners feel as though an open relationships is just the trick. They have found a way to preserve their cake and eat it too! Although such a deal may bring some relief, if the underlying patterns that allowed the boredom to settle in are not addressed, the dryness will persist and the once-medicated pain of loneliness will turn into resentment over time, no matter who the lover(s) are.

It is very common for people who opened their relationships out of fear, loneliness or pain find themselves in one of the following three categories.

The first is the insecure and scared partner who experiences jealousy and insecurity. They are certain that their partner might love someone else more, leaving them disposable and alone. These lovers may panic and self-medicate to reduce their anxiety. They often agree to an open relationship with fear and trembling.

Do you experience anxiety because of your open relationship? We’re here to help.

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Second, are the lovers who are too willing to detach from their primary relationship. The relational environment was too dry and empty; the compromises, too great. Opening the relationship is a fortuitous exit and they are quick to take a peaceful landing in an otherwise a turbulent relationship.

The third is the lover who cannot make up their mind because they have not acknowledged their fear, loneliness or pain. Confused by their own desires, these lovers will be present for a spell and then gone like a thief in the night. With one foot in, they may pepper you with seductive words to convince you to stay. And with the other foot out, they leave you wondering if you really ever mattered. The whiplash of their ambivalence is painfully exhausting. Ultimately, they will need to reckon with their emotions, before they can be fully present with anyone else.

Knowing the context from which you consider opening your relationship allows you to answer these deeply important questions:
Is opening my relationship about love or fear?That is, might you be making the decision to open their relationship out of the fear of emotional depletion rather than out of love for self and others?

As couples familiarize themselves with their context, one of the first things I recommend is to open up a conversation, not the relationship. Talk about emotional intimacy within the relationship. If the relational climate is dry, if vulnerability isn’t shared or passion is absent, the couple will benefit from reigniting emotional vulnerability. Feeling the relational thermometer reach warm temperatures once again may calm the lonely-forever fears and return the couple back to passion, thrill and romance. Before you enter a relational storm with torrential downpours, set your relational climate with honesty, vulnerability and the power to love yourself and others well. From such an open, honest and sturdy place, an open relationship will have the best chance for success.

Do you need help finding what’s right for you? We’re here to help.

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Open relationships require major consideration. As one member of a couple, or as a couple, there are many factors to think about when considering opening up your relationship and/or becoming polyamorous, such as attachments and emotional cravings. In part two of this blog series, we will consider life dynamics, long-term safety, and rules of engagement.

Attachment Styles & Emotional Cravings

Attachment styles are created within the first year of life, and the type we develop largely depends on the manner in which our primary care providers interact with us as infants. There are various types of attachment styles, such as secure (the one we are looking to create in adulthood), insecure, avoidant, anxious, and defensive detachment. These dynamics—or attachment styles—become our relational software. With little self-awareness, we will recreate our first attachment style over and over again.

Opening up a relationship will have the highest chance of being healthy if you have a secure attachment style. A secure attachment style is comprised of an internal knowing that does not, never-ever, waiver in security. People with a secure attachment style do not become anxious or fearful at the thought of breaking up, nor when relational challenges rock their boat. In fact, the thought of breaking up isn’t characteristic of secure attachment styles.

In the variety of attachment styles other than the secure attachment style, there is a lot of fear, doubt, mistrust, insecurity, and little faith in the stability of the relationship. These factors can plague any person who might wish to enter an open or poly relationship.

When we do not have a secure attachment style, we can feel lonely, exhausted, resentful, or relationally empty. Because we are hungry to deeply connect, we can search for someone who will make us feel seen, thrill, and passion. We can begin to imagine what it would feel like to have a refreshing, titillating sexual experience or a connection with someone new who can leave us feeling full. This can often be a motivator: opening the relationship to other emotionally satisfying resources, people who can fill our emotional reservoirs.

As a clinician, it is important to address the motivation when partners advocate for open or poly relationships solely because they are emotionally hungry. Before they open the gate to allow others in, I encourage the emotionally hungry to take a comprehensive assessment to ensure they are not seeking more people as a way of medicating a painful attachment style. Trying to achieve fulfillment by engaging new people can easily lead to jealousy, resentment, sexual challenges, and, dare I say, the end of an otherwise healthy relationship.

One client said, “If I could not make it work with one, what made me think I could make it work with multiple?” After doing some profound work on his attachments and attachment style, that client found a lot of happiness, stability, and success in his open relationship.

Attachment psychology has grown over the years, now offering an in-depth and research-based perspective that can help individuals ensure they are healthily connected, full of relational resilience, and capable of carrying the emotional weight of multiple relationships.

Can open or polyamorous relationships work? Of course. Maybe not for everyone, but for certain people, open or poly relationships are deeply satisfying. To make one work, you might need to prepare the emotional context with consideration, wisdom, and a ton of communication. Create the attachment structure you need to make your open or poly relationships work.

Talk to an open relationship therapist today.

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Life Dynamic & Long-Term Safety

As people invest in one another, they do so—in committed relationships—with the intention of building long-term relational security. Without healthy and consistent doses of thorough communication, it is easy to feel like you might be investing in a relationship that may eventually leave you high and dry. Festering on the fact that a partner may leave you, especially after investing years or a lifetime into the relationship, can be a very scary thought and bleak possibility.

Communication should be consistent enough for all people to feel included, not just with an update on the direction of the relationship, but in the codetermination of that direction. In this light, honest, transparent, and episodic discussion are vital. One should ensure that all people involved are leaders in the decision-making process. Failing to do so may leave some playing the leader and others the follower. The leader may craft a life dynamic that is comfortable for themselves, but no one else. The followers, in their fear to advocate for their needs and desires, may end up living a life they didn’t want or accumulating cancerous resentments.

Cocreating a relational home—where each individual gets to contribute to the design aesthetic, floorplan, and location—will be a stabilizing force.

Rules of Engagement

Like most busy homes, one cleans the floors and shakes the rugs, and the other empties the dishwasher and feeds the dog. We set a list of rules—who will do what and who will not do what—so that the home can function and remain comfortable.

Here are some rules to consider if you are working toward creating an open or poly relationship:

1. Talk About Talking About Sex

Often, people in open or poly relationships do not want the details of outside sexual rendezvous, but they do want to know when it happens. Desciding with your partners about how you will talk about sex is a very important rule to establish before outside sex happens.

2. Are Some People Off-Limits?

Many open and poly relationships do not permit one partner to sleep with a friend, an ex, or a previous sexual partner. Determining who you will not sleep with can protect the relationship and reinforce your earned secure attachment.

3. Is There Agreement to Cocreate a Relational Home?

Are all people in agreement that if any plans change, all involved (poly relationships) or all necessary people (open relationships) come back to the drawing board? Cocreating means pivoting as a team and allowing the relationships to evolve, bend, and flex as is comfortable for all involved.

4. Are the Relational Roles Clearly Defined?

Not all people in an open relationship (and sometimes poly relationships) will want to have sex with new people. Talking openly about who will have sex, in what seasons of life that might change, and who needs to be told about new sexual roles will keep trust in place. Another role to consider is if the people involved will serve more as friends with benefits or long-term lovers. It should be discussed if the open relationship is about having sex or about finding sex and love. Be clear about what roles you want to play and the roles others will play. Boundaries that will keep these moving pieces in their agreed-upon place should be known to everyone involved. Keeping one another consistently informed will protect everyone in the relationship(s).

5. Is There an Exit Route?

Sometimes couples realize that open or poly relationship aren’t working or are not quite the fit for which they were going. As a means of prioritizing safety and trust, predetermine what an exit route might look like, including having permission to call it quits, informing those invited in, and how that transition will be communicated.

6. Can You be Honest and Vulnerable About Insecurities?

Opening up a relationship or becoming poly can be a very complex situation. One partner might feel completely satisfied and content, while another might simply tolerate the arrangements or sexual encounters. The uncomfortable partner might not feel safe enough to be honest for fear of being erased from the new equation. To foster transparency, honesty, and safety, I would encourage that all partners involved create a safety that honors vulnerability and welcomes legitimate concerns.

Open and poly relationships take a lot of honesty. If you are facing problems inside your poly or open relationship, perhaps its time to revisit the structure, rules of engagement, and agreements you once made. Bring clarity to the relationship.

Take action to stabilize your relationship, get in touch with us today.

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re·sil·ience

/rəˈzilyəns/

noun

  1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
  2. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

When we think about resilience we are often put in the mindset of an individual. What challenging stories has that person made it through and how have they come out on the other side? What odds did they overcome?

Relationships are often left in the dust when it comes to the conversation around resiliency. While we may discuss how relationships can be healthy, fulfilling, and lasting – often- and unfortunately, the Western take on relationships is that they have an inevitable expiration date, that being in a relationship limits or diminishes the individual, and that love is an addiction. There are not many positive depictions of thriving relationships, let alone successful queer ones.

Why is resilience a different conversation? Resilience is not just about “making it through”. In its very definition, as stated above, it is about the speed of recovery from difficulty, the ability to bounce back, for something to reform its shape – to be tough.

That takes intention.

Making it through difficulties in life requires the practice of a fortified mind-state, emotional attunement, and the cultivation of a belief system that anchors oneself through the storm. Understanding the culture you are creating within a relationship is crucial, forming those belief systems, values, and rituals together to help build up the body of your relationship so that it can be resilient through the troubles and foibles of life. 

We spend our lives training for things – from learning how to walk, eat, dress yourself, going to school, be social, training for professional pursuits, hobbies, or life skills.  We are training for relationships as early as the time we spent in utero – and every day since. Our training begins in our earliest relationships. The ones within our family of origin, our initial caregivers, and our first friends or people in our communities. We learn about whether or not relationships are trustworthy, dependable, or beneficial. These experiences shape our expectations and behaviors for the worse or the better, and both the confidences and the wounds we gain create the bridges to connection – or the walls for self protection – we see replay throughout our lives.

This happens all the more when we are queer and closeted. We often learn so early on (whether it is overtly said or not), that relationship means some form of hiding oneself, masking, having some parts loved, but not all parts. The shame that if these truths are discovered it would result in rejection or condemnation. This shapes us. Anytime we had to learn to live this way, and expect to be “loved” in this way, created a massive shift in our ability to connect to others. In these ways, we need to relearn, and reclaim, our whole value. Turn the walls into fences with a gate, and form bridges that allow us to feel fully loved, and to love others fully as well.  

Here is the good news. You can train! You can learn and you can adapt. You can choose a different path for your relational life or your existing relationships. A path that allows for a bond that is strengthened to endure and yet flexible at the same time – allowing for the possibility to more easily bounce back throughout life.

You can co-create and design your relationship. 

And – like so many things in life – our chance for thriving increases in having support and community that nourishes our resiliency. Find your people. Be picky. Learn who in your life you can count on, be seen by, and share the pursuit of wisdom with, ultimately allowing you to experience the full spectrum of life. 

Additionally, seeking counseling or coaching for your relational life can help retrain, renew, and clearly establish the bond or bonds that allow you to invest in your future together. With help, your relationship can flourish and hold strong and within the overlapping concentric circles – the “us” space – can come a deep and overcoming strength that bears joy, abundance, health, and resilience. 

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Mixed Orientation or Queer Relationships have as much variety as the people on this planet, and every person, and every relationship will navigate this terrain differently. It’s another way in which you can design a life that is authentically representative of what you want. After being outed, our contributing writer, Kirk Barnett, chose to live his life out of the closet and reclaim the connection to himself and also expand what connection means within his family.

How old were you when you knew you were gay? 

I can remember feeling different in elementary school.  I didn’t know what I felt was called gay, but remember the first time I recognized the feeling.  I was watching the Disney animated version of Robin Hood and there was a scene when Robin Hood is flirting with Maid Marion.  When I saw that moment in the movie I remember thinking “I want a boy to talk to me that way.”  What I also remember is the shame flushing over me. 

What fears or “lessons” (from church, culture, parents) made staying in the closet feel like the best option? 

I come from a big family with lots of cousins.  I always played with the girls, barbies and playing house felt natural but it was the rebuff from the adults and older cousins that taught me that was wrong. I also never remember an explicit message of ‘don’t be gay’ but there was messages of dont be a sissy, stop standing that way, dont sound like that. [I received] LOTS of “be a man” messaging. 

What was it like to live in the closet while married? What parts of you had to die so that you could stay alive?  

Living in the closet was a constant internal battle. I wanted to marry because I desperately wanted children and to have a stable family life.  At that point, being out and having a family were not possible. While I was married and in the closet, the constant state of hypervigilance was exhausting.  Every action as a good dad or husband was internally questioned as “am I really a good person?”. The guilt and shame compounded over time to an unbearable weight and it was debilitating. It was this weight that ultimately led me to have thoughts of suicide. 

How did you find the courage to come out and what gave you confidence to step into that courage? 

I actually didn’t find the courage to come out. I was outed and it is absolutely the best thing that was ever done to me. After it happened, I started the journey to figure out who I am and try every day to Live Out Proud. 

If you feel okay sharing, what might be some of the things you would do again in terms of preserving your relationship with your ex-wife? 

Once my ex-wife found out, I made a commitment to start being honest and while that was hard, I definitely would do that again.  It makes you face things you might not like about yourself but you also grow so much from being honest. 

 My ex-wife and I were also adamant that this would not  impact our children, we would not have an ugly divorce. We wanted to maintain the life my kids had come to know as much as possible for our children, like their schedule, as well as making sure that I was a part of their daily routine.  Taking the kids to school and being with them on Saturdays never stopped.

If you feel okay sharing, what might be some things you’d do differently to make coming out easier and nurturing your relationship with your ex-wife more effectively? 

I would have worked harder to ensure that I wasn’t responding to everything out of guilt for what I had done.  I would have been more reassuring of myself that I had done everything I knew to do when I was in the closet. I was working within what I thought was best for my family therefore I didn’t need to carry guilt or shame for as long as I did. 

What have you gained, personally and relationally, now that you have come out? 

I have learned that I am enough, I am worthy to be loved and I am worthy to love a wonderful man.  I have come to understand that my gifts from being gay are God-given and that they need to be used to make the world better.

If you could speak to the version of you preparing to marry or the version of you who is married, what might you tell him? 

This is the hardest question…as I don’t regret getting married.  I have my children and my ex-wife who is one of my best friends. It sounds trite, but as I sit and think about what I would say to the version of me getting married is: “Your love for her is real, it is not quite the romantic love it should be, but it is real.  You will have a wonderful life, so know that you are worthy of the life that will unfold in front of you.” 

We can find and reshape what resiliency looks like throughout our life. Sometimes facing the most difficult choices and challenges that we will deal with in our lives can manifest a more intense security in the world. Thank you Kirk for showing us that in your story – the ability to integrate worthiness in your life after being outed and reclaiming the truth of the beautiful life that can continue to unfold is deeply inspiring. 

This article features an interview with a guest contributor, Kirk Barnett. Check out The Lighthouse to learn more about Kirk and his work. 

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For whatever reason, it is always one; one member of a couple will spend time observing the relationship and see a great need for therapy. Out of hope, they identify areas where significant changes can occur, but the idea of approaching their partner with the proposition of finding a therapist feels more like dread than hope. Often, their partners make excuses, procrastinate, or simply shut down the entire conversation. Seeking help feels like a burden to the unwilling or uninterested partner. And if this resistance is happening, I would say that therapy is more important now than it has ever been!

If you are the one thinking about therapy, I have listed some of the top reasons couples come to therapy to help you make your case.

1. Repeating Arguments

One of the most common cases we see at iAmClinic is a couple who argues over the same dilemma or pain-point repeatedly. Like a lost boat floating on the waves of emotions, the couple will feel a lull in the argument in one moment and an upsurge in another. The core issue for these partners is not feeling heard, respected, understood, or validated. In fighting to have their needs met, they often forget the original point they were trying to make because they start arguing instead about context within which their pain occurs, not the pain itself. But don’t forget, the argument has less to do with the actual circumstances (who said what and how they said it, for example) and more to do with trying to feel seen, safe, soothed, or secure.

If you find yourselves in this repeating predicament, therapy can help you identify the primary feeling you are craving from your partner (e.g., seen, safe, soothed, or secure) and give you the tools to talk about your craving in a workable way and approach resolution as a team.

Drop the repeating argument. Trust me, you’ll feel new life and passion flooding your relationship. It’s a real game changer.

2. Communication Issues

Communication is always one of the hardest mechanisms of a relationship. We can speak perfectly articulate English, and our partners will hear something entirely different than what we intended. As a result, our heads spin in frustration as we wonder how two people can interpret the same thing dramatically differently.

Efficient communication requires a mature ability to listen without taking it personally. Listening in this way allows us to use a boundary that allows us to hear what our partner is saying as though they are describing an internal experience, rather than launching a personal attack on our character. When you master your internal boundary, you possess the ability to listen with objectivity and give your partner the ability to be a human with functioning emotions.

Here’s another little tip: Never use the “When you _____ I feel _____” template. That will lead to devastating explosions of anger. A new, refreshing way to articulate your pain is to say, “I am telling myself that _____ (e.g., you don’t care about what’s important to me), and when I tell myself that I feel _____ (e.g., like you don’t love me). I don’t know if this is true or not, but I need you to know what is happening inside my mind and heart.” This allows you to own your interpretation of your partner’s behavior, rather than telling them what they are “doing to you.”

3. The Needy vs. the Overwhelmed

We want our partners to prove that they see our point of view, understand our pain, or listen intently enough to see who we truly are. In the battle to get your partner to do what you want, we can fight endlessly. Our legitimate claims become distorted by our desperate tactics. An innocent and valid request transforms into divisive demands and instead of being perceived as strong-willed, we may come across as needy. In this place, our partners will not be able to hear our innocent pleas, but may begin to feel overwhelmed and controlled.

When a partner feels overwhelmed, they will instinctually pull away from the relationship, block you with walls of anger and/or frustration, and even take time away from you. This response feels protective to them, but can leave you feeling even more isolated, emotionally hungry, and unrelenting in your battle to win.

Getting your relationship back into a healthy flow requires that you learn to talk about what you need, rather than explaining how the other person is leaving you feeling empty-handed. Doing this will help your partner put up that internal boundary so they can really hear about how it feels to be in your position.

4. Broken Sex

Sex is an incredibly important facet of bonding, and going without sex can be incredibly worrisome. Couples who can’t find the mojo see their lack of sex as a major sign that something isn’t going right emotionally. And in some ways, I might agree with them.

Two of the most important facets to examine when sex feels broken are: 1) accumulating resentments and 2) lack of emotional vulnerability.

Some couples reach for medication that might help them experience a sexual rebound, thinking it might be a medical issue, but below the sheets of our sexual lives lurks the yearning that drives our sexual machine and the resentments that can shut it down. When resentments fill our bodies, the sexual machine has no room to function because it is too bogged down with anger, frustrations, and feelings of loneliness.

Healthy emotional intimacy, however, is a highly necessary component of a healthy sex life. When the body knows it is safe and cherished—to the core—the body is not only willing, but eager to bond, especially sexually. So if healthy emotional vulnerability is missing from your relationship, it might be causing your sex life to suffer.

Fighting for couples counseling might just be the best thing you could do for your relationship. In Part II of this blog series, we give you tips to communicate with your partner so that therapy might just be able to keep your relationship alive.

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Many of us are comfortable talking about sex with friends. We divulge details, share tips and tricks, and even get advice on aspects of our strained sex lives. Talking openly and honestly with our sexual partners, however, comes with a higher level of discomfort. Talking with transparency comes with the risk of hurting our partners’ feelings, embarrassing ourselves, and asking for things that feel selfish, and it forces us to be vulnerable about the parts of ourselves many of us try to hide: our naked, sexual bodies.

Psychological research shows that couples who talk openly about sex report higher levels of relational satisfaction. How, though, do couples talk about sex so easily?

Tip #1: Spend Time Destigmatizing Sex, Sexual Activity, and Sexual Body Parts.

One of the best ways to work through the discomfort of sexuality is to pick up a sex guidebook that can help you learn more about your body, sex, and sexuality in general. Some of my personal favorite books on this topic are Esther Perel’s Mating in Captivity and Janet Hardy’s The Ethical Slut. Books like these will help you feel versed in sexual language, destigmatize sex language, and experience confidence talking about sex with your partner(s).

I once taught a master’s-level course called Sexuality and Counseling. It astonished me how many graduate students felt either scared to talk about sex or ashamed that they had never masturbated. What surprised me more than anything was that these students had a very hard time identifying parts of their sexual organs on a fill-in-the-blank chart.

Learning about our bodies from an academic perspective will help you become comfortable talking about your sex and sexual cravings, allowing them to become a natural part of who you are and how your autonomic nervous system (neurology in charge of sex) functions.

Tip #2: Embrace Self-Exploration

Learning about how your body functions, what you like, what turns you on, what is uncomfortable, and what fantasies you might have can help you make peace with your sexual cravings, and it can also give you the confidence to speak your truth to your sexual lover(s).

Even if they needs to be your personal secret at first, sex toys can help you discover the innocence of what feels good. Masturbating with sex toys and/or the insights of books can help you fully understand your body and inspire confidence to ask for the things you like and stop the things you don’t. This will also help you ask your partner what they like and don’t like, making your self-exploration quite the guide for an under-the-sheets exploration with your partner(s).

Tip #3: Talk About Your Sexual Ethic and Cravings

Sexual activity exists on a massive spectrum. Some mate for life, and some are polyamorous; some enjoy little exploration, while others dive head-first into kink or puppy play. To better assist you and your sexual partner(s) as you approach sex or resolve sexual issues, understanding what is off limits and how you agree to keep one another safe is going to be a great way to set the stage to talk about and have great sex.

The autonomic nervous system, where sex and orgasm live in the neurological body, heavily rely on a felt sense of safety. With safety, the body can sexually function rather well. Without safety, however, the autonomic nervous system will easily and quickly shutdown.

In this light, talking about your sexual ethics and finding agreement will help the nervous system find ease and comfort, which will inspire great passion and sustained satisfaction. You can read more about sex, the body, resentment, and safety here.

Tip #4: Practice Vulnerability & Emotional Intimacy

If you are having a hard time talking about sex with your lover(s), you might want to start with non-sexual emotional vulnerability and intimacy. Talk about your fears, your dreams, your insecurities, and your passions that have nothing to do with sex. Doing so will help you realize that vulnerability is a very rewarding and safety-building process. Log some time experiencing just how safe vulnerability can be and how much emotional intimacy it can create. In this context, you will create an exciting climate and will learn to trust the process of healthy vulnerability, which will lead to meaningful talks about sex. Pave the way to talking about sex by being vulnerable in other areas.

Talking about sex is very different than slipping right into it. However, having these conversations will not only boost your sex life, but also fortify your connections.

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For the first 15 years of my dating life, playing the role of a committed partner always led me to feel obligated and controlled. Frustrated, I couldn’t understand why I was losing myself, my dreams and my individuality. Dating was a vacuum that seemed to suck out everything that made me, me.

I always felt like my partners were nagging at me to do things another way or to become someone else. In this context, I would never be enough to keep the man-of-the-moment happy.

Back in 2005 when I started dating, I thought couples therapy was for married folks. It wasn’t for boyfriends who were dating with serious intentions.

As I pushed toward my 30th birthday, however, I realized that I was also pushing men away from me—really good men! Fear of growing old was rattling my internal cage, but not nearly as much as the fear of being a crappy partner who might die alone.

I finally realized that I needed professional help.

When I took my first steps into a couples and relationship’s counseling office, I was a wreck. My relational home was a mess!

Over time, I began simplifying my habits, organizing my identity, and reassembling my gifts. Right away, I implemented boundary setting and healthy expectations. I grew in confidence that I was a healthy person. Although I had done major work to know who I was, I hadn’t yet plunged into the depths of who I was in relationships.

After ensuring I could take care of myself, it was time for me to take care of my relationship.

Before couple’s therapy I assumed that to be in a relationship meant keeping my partner pleased. I would compromise my desires, stuff my dreams and shut down my opinion. And when I wasn’t busy camouflaging my personality, I was trying to be spectacular. I figured a fancy car, a shiny career and expensive clothes would keep my man proud of me. I wanted to be the mysterious arm candy that everyone wanted to taste.

Needless to say, couples counseling helped me see just how much I had turned relational intimacy into a performance.

In our therapist’s office, my boyfriend and I sat eager and nervous. There, I learned to acknowledge that the behaviors I had called controlling were actually my partner’s requests—that I grow in maturity, communicate effectively and offer my uninhibited opinion. I began to shed the layers that kept me protected from changing and those that kept me from seeing the liberating truth of relational intimacy.

I noticed something for the first time on my therapist’s couch; now as a couple’s counselor, I see it in many of my clients: many of us in the LGBTQIA+ community fear that the perfect person could be just around the corner, even while we’re madly in love with someone else. We have trained ourselves to imagine that another person—with a better smile, a more tender heart, a vibrant personality or a perfect body—is out there waiting for us. Ultimately, we fear commitment because we might lose an opportunity to find this imaginary ideal, someone better who never quite materializes.

Bottom Line

All relationships are messy, hard and challenging. We will never find a partner(s) with a perfect personality or a spotless track record. We are all perfectly imperfect.

In spite of our imperfections, I believe we grow most in a relationship, especially intimate ones, because our full selves are on display. Relationships provoke our deepest yearnings, our biggest insecurities, our long-standing resentments and our biggest dreams. Relationships are the arenas where we sharpen our skills sets, build our stamina, and eventually become masterful gladiators. Our relational prowess may be on display to an entire arena of friends and family spectators, but our partners occupy the front row seats. You didn’t think you were fighting your partner, did you? In the relationship arena, we face ourselves.

My partner has heard me voice my internal narratives of shame, inadequacy and self-doubt. As I grew to repair these voices, he grew so that he could affirm me, not just with his words, but his actions. To know that my partner has watched me wage the most deeply rooted internal battles AND then has intentionally grown in his own right—so that I might feel utterly safe, completely accepted, and unconditionally loved by him—that makes him irreplaceable!

I hope I have done the same for him.

For us, couples counseling wasn’t just about working through arguments and learning to communicate. It was about growing in emotional and relational stability so that together we could create the relational home that allows us to live in full authenticity and belonging side-by-side. Now, several years later, our time in couple’s therapy has proven to be worth every ounce of energy.

If you need help with your relationships or being a healthy partner, it’s never too late to get help, and it’s never too early to start building a relational home. Trust me!

Are you ready to create a healthy relational home? We’re here to help.

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Contents

Jump To:

1. Boundaries and limits

2. Substitution Behaviors

3. Mindfulness Skills

4. Planning for Challenges

Even after years of healing from compulsive social media use, I have found myself checking my notifications nonstop the past few days. When I come up for air after a work meeting or errand, I reflexively reach for anything that will help me feel some element of control with the state of the world and current events. Doomscrolling gives me the illusion that if I only know enough about the world I might have some power.

From past experiences with these behaviors, I knew they were an indicator of an underlying stressor or feeling. Instead of judging myself for regressing or losing progress, I took it as additional information and became curious about what might be happening for me internally and how I could help myself cope. 

In part one of this blog series, we tackled misnomers about “addictive” behavior, explored its connection to the LGBTQIA+ community, and explored questions to help us better understand the function and limitations of our behavioral habits. 

In part two, we will explore some tangible strategies that may help to curb behaviors that feel out of control. Please note that these strategies are not intended as medical guidance or therapeutic advice; if you have any issues requiring additional support, please reach out to appropriate resources. 

Harm reduction strategies are intended to limit the harms associated with specific behaviors. It is important when starting with harm reduction strategies to have knowledge of the potential harms and benefits associated with our behaviors, as covered in part one. Once you have some awareness of the harms and benefits, then it is possible to explore alternatives.

1. Boundaries and limits

There are many types of boundaries and limits that we can set that may proactively help us to curtail problematic behaviors. I like to set limits on the time spent with any specific behavior with a timer and immediately switch to something that requires my full attention when the timer goes off. Additionally, I may decide which settings may actually limit my ability to engage in the behavior. For example, with my example of compulsive internet use, I try to turn off my wifi by unplugging the router or go to a coffee shop that intentionally doesn’t offer that service.

2. Substitution Behaviors

When it comes to substitution behaviors, I like to consider what would be an effective distraction that helps to satisfy the same urge. It may take some creativity, but focusing on what needs are being met by the behavior can help inform which substitution behavior would work best for you specifically. If engaging in the behavior gives you a feeling of freedom, consider what might stimulate that same feeling with less harm. I had a friend once who described feeling free when riding her bike and chose to substitute that for online shopping whenever possible. 

3. Mindfulness Skills

There are so many incredible resources available for mindfulness, including a strategy called ‘urge surfing’, which allows us to intentionally ride the “wave” of an urge to complete a behavior. I love using insighttimer.com, which is a free inventory of thousands of guided meditations and other related content. To learn more about urge surfing, consider reading the following steps:
– Recognize what urge(s) might be present.
– Become aware of what is happening in your body. Ask yourself what sensations are happening internally.
– Develop a mantra. For example, one helpful reminder is to think that you are allowed to have urges and that they are not dangerous. Another set of mantras might be “I can have this thought without acting on it” or “This will pass.”
– Distract yourself until the urge passes.

4. Planning for Challenges

Lastly, I have come to understand that nothing helps me with harm reduction more than advanced planning. If I can anticipate scenarios where I might be tempted to engage in doomscrolling, I can ask for support from others or plan to use the strategies above well in advance. I like to create a weekly calendar that highlights times of the day I might be most inclined to doomscroll with an alternative planned activity like reading a magazine or book. I also recommend working with a therapist to identify triggers and create comprehensive plans that involve customized coping strategies for each challenge.

There are so many ways that we can explore and manage process addictions. For further reading, consider reading the works of Dr. Gabor Mate, a world-renowned specialist in addictive behavior and processes. If you are searching for a space to process your specific needs or troubleshoot any concerns, the iAmClinic provides therapeutic services with a nonjudgmental, queer-affirming lens. 

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Men in Bed Texting

Jump To:

Create a safe environment

Practice Trusting

Practice Vulnerability

I’ll admit it—I was a novice at dating, but I tried my hardest to love the man who showered me with gifts. He provided me with European vacations, cars and an offer of lifetime commitment, but I couldn’t fully settle into our relationship. I was too wide-eyed and curious. I wanted to know what it would feel like to sleep with other people and date other personality types. I was desperately searching for the dream man I had made up in my head.

Without being fully conscious of it, I lived under the assumption that the perfect man was out there waiting for me. Even though my boyfriend of the time was enamored with me and my personality, his love was no match for my wild and unrestrained curiosity. 

I was caught in perpetual ambivalence: I wanted him so desperately, but I couldn’t commit. I loved him, but I didn’t know with certainty if I would be happy. I was ready to set down roots but leary that I might regret a permanent decision. I’m sad to say I was too uncertain in my value and my lovability. 

The poor chap. He made every attempt to convince me of his love, and yet, he could feel the energy of my rowdy desires and unsettled determination. It was in this emotionally chaotic and uncertain spell that he was deployed for 18 months as an Army reservist. He left feeling lonely, unimportant, valueless, and invisible. 

One and one-half years later, he walked in our apartment, returned from Iraq. I knew we had hit an all-time low. He was cold, seemingly irritated by my presence. Within 24 hours, he asked me to move out. He needed the room so that his new boyfriend could move in. 

Needless to say, I spent months reeling with the facts. He had cheated on me. I spent several months walking in a haze of confusion, pangs of floor-dropping anxiety and gut wrenching grief.

sad man on edge of bed

In the aftermath, I felt as though I was sitting in a crater where our home once stood. It was one of the darkest seasons of my life. The debilitating sorrow, however, forced me to reckon with the truth.

I realized that we had lived in a relationally dry climate for too long, and we alone were responsible for letting it get there. Our vulnerability was too low, our passion had diminished, and we had begun living separate lives. His healthy emotional desires had gone unseen, unacknowledged and unmet for too long. He had been emotionally starving with no sustenance in sight. I was a major contributor to our relational dynamic, often neglecting it, but he chose to respond to our bad situation in a very bad way. 

Sadly, this type of emotional hunger is all-too common for and often catalyzes those who cheat. 

The alarms of emotional hunger may not come all at once. But when important desires—belonging, love, thrill, satisfaction, joy, and romance—go unmet for long, partners find emotional resources elsewhere. Some reach for healthy options like close relatives, best friends or co-workers. 

Other partners may begin to scan for another lover who might be able to meet their emotional needs ‘perfectly.’ In the starvation phase, they often fantasize about the ideal partner and project that fantasy outside of their relationship. At the end of the day, they’re simply looking for someone who can fill up their emotional buckets.

Feeling silenced by the repeated rejection that leads to shame of their emotional or sexual yearnings, partners like my ex may be afraid to voice their true desires and needs. As a result of this lacking safety, they often meet their needs in secret—thus, cheating. In other words, discussing unmet needs with a neglectful or shaming partner is often much more difficult than seeking to meet their needs outside the relationship.

A new sexual partner—for a person in a dry emotional environment—is like an IV drip for a drastically dehydrated person. Sex is a major source of emotional connectedness and exciting vulnerability. Because emotional connectedness and sex oftne go hand in hand, it is no wonder an emtionally starved partner might reach for deeply sattisfying and thrilling sexual encounters. Playing out our emotional fantasies with a new sexual partner will reap short-term benefits because we feel immediately worthy, desired, and special, especially when someone is excited to sleep with us. If, for an emotionally hungry person, fantasizing is a medication, having sex is the buffet table. Again, cheating is a bad way to respond to a bad situation. 

Obviously, cheating as a type of emotional replenishing causes major damage to relational stability and trust. 

Men Holding Hands black and white

If you are currently seeking to repair damage caused from cheating, here are things to consider:

1. Create a safe environment for one hell of an apology.

Your partner will need to understand that your apology is sincere and not just an empty gesture to return things to normal. To set the mood and create a healthy repair, emotional responsibility and empathy should always be part of the formula. Here are the thought prompts to my 5-Step Apology:

  1. This what I did that hurt you. (Describe the boundary violations so that they know you mean what you say and that your grief and regret have merit.)
  2. This is how it affected you. (Describe how your actions affected your partner and what they might be feeling, emotions like unsafe, stupid, angry, hurt, untrusting, etc.)
  3. This is how I got to the point of hurting you. (Don’t make excuses! Own your shit, take responsibility, and tell your partner(s) about how you ended up making your decisions. Be honest and authentic.)
  4. This is what I am willing to do to protect you, myself and us from this happening again. (Tell your partner about the precautions and boundaries you will put in place, as well as the work you will do to repair your own emotional environment. You may need to be vulnerable. Ask your partner to work on their fair share to repair any stale emotional environment, but save requests for a later time.)
  5. Apologize with sincerity. 

Although an apology is only a beginning step, it is a major way to bring resolution. You may have to run through the 5-Step Apology over and over again because your partner may need to hear it several times as they process your betrayal and learn to trust you again. 

2. Practice Trusting

Trusting a partner who has cheated can be scary and utterly challenging. The practice of trusting your partner involves  setting proper and stable boundaries, accepting the 5-Step Apology and allowing time to pass so that you can heal. Trust must be earned, but if your partner has earned it, practice recognizing it and leaning into it. This is possibly the most challenging step in the recovery process because we must grieve  and work through very big anger before we are ready to trust again. I always recommend allowing the grief and anger to surface so that the emotionally environment is primed for trusting again.

3. Practice Vulnerability and Create Safety

Like my ex, I often hear cheaters, in couples’ sessions, defend their long-standing history of being vulnerable, asking for their needs to be met, and eventually feeling shamed by all the judgment they encountered.

Without vulnerability and safety relationships will be dry. They will not be able to reach the satisfaction and passion they once had. Although one person may have cheated, all involved are responsible for creating a safe and trustworthy space where any partner can share what they need and be comfortable doing so. Contrastingly, judgment and criticism will shut down vulnerability over time. Vulnerability is a practice of showing up with even the most disdained parts of yourself and trusting your partner to see and care for them. When romantic partners grow for one another, they reestablish their safety, connection and passion. In such a relational context, emotional satisfaction can abound.

Even if you wonder, “How can I move on after cheating?” you can reestablish a healthy, thriving relationship. Counseling professionals have walked through this process with other couples and can support you on your journey toward healing. Don’t hesitate to get the help you need. It will take work, but oftentimes our closest relationships are worth the fight. 

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