Relationship Models (And the Lack Thereof)

J and I have had a few conversations about this topic lately: what does it mean for a relationship’s sustainability and longer-term presence when there isn’t a model for it? What I mean specifically about this, is how secondary and other romantic relationships look and whether or not they last because of the lack of models for what these relationships can look like.

We are bombarded with messages from family, friends, religious institutions, and the media about what a healthy, loving, and long-term primary partnership should look like. It is monogamous, for sure. Cohabitation is encouraged, marriage is encouraged, children are encouraged. 

But we already know that having an ethically nonmonogamous or open relationship means that you are stepping out of the bounds of mainstream culture and looking elsewhere for relationship models. Ultimately, you have to look inward toward your needs, desires, and wants to know what you want your relationship to look like. And then you need to communicate this to your partner, while also hearing what they are after. It is beautiful when these things complement one another. And yet, even that is difficult, because there is not a widespread model for what a healthy, loving, and long-term open relationship looks like. Even within the open community, there is a rich diversity of models and frameworks. (Which makes sense, because if everyone is looking inward and communicating with other individuals about what they want, then of course relationships are going to be as diverse and unique as the people in them.)

So that seems challenging enough. But then what happens for secondary or other romantic relationships? We don’t even have models (in mainstream culture) to look at for our primary partnerships; how on earth can we figure out how we want our secondary or other relationships to look like? (I realize this post is very hierarchical-oriented; this may not apply so much to folks practicing non-hierarchical forms of open relationships.)

I was running into this myself the past few days. I had been feeling anxious about what I wanted out of a particular relationship and explaining to J that I  only really desired it to look the way that it has been and yet feeling like it was boxed in. I was also expressing some sentiments of maybe that the relationship wouldn’t last very long, or that I didn’t know if the structure of it would allow for sustainability. When J reflected back to me that it seemed like I was simply experiencing dissonance with what I wanted and with feeling like it “should” look a different way, I was able to relax. I realized I was feeling like it didn’t look like a long-term primary partnership (which of course it doesn’t, because right now I am not looking for another one), and so it should be changed. But I am happy with the structure of that relationship, so really, I should just enjoy it! (And I am now back in a place of enjoying what it is. Yay!)

Again, I think the lesson for this is to remember that you are your own compass, your own guide. It is about reclaiming your power, strength, knowledge, and intuition about what you want and what works for you, and not relying on cultural messaging and frames for what your relationships should look like. If after reflection, you decide that a mainstream model does work for you, awesome! But if not, know that you have the internal strength to choose and to be happy.

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