Request For Input: How Do Poly Folks Manage Attachment In Your Relationships?

I’m thrilled to announce that my workshop “Sex, Shame, & Love” has been accepted for the OpenSF, taking place June 8-10 in San Francisco. The event will bring together like minded people ready to share, explore and dialogue on creating acceptance of the non-monogamy community. This is a topic near and dear to my heart, since I’ve been non-monogamous for my entire adult life.

In my relationship with my partner of almost 20 years, I’ve noticed that one of the skills for successful polyamory is the ability to manage attachment (in the bonding sense of the word, rather than the Buddhist sense of the word). Of course, that’s a useful ability in any relationship- maintaining a relationship without veering either into enmeshment or disconnection is an ongoing practice. And when there are multiple relationships, that generally becomes more complex.

In my view, love is the emotion that both fosters and results from closer connection, while shame both creates and comes from disconnection. If we’re going to build our skills at seeking the ever-shifting balances in our relationships, we need to be able to encompass both sides. So in this workshop, we’re going to explore how people juggle that. How do we make room for connection and room for creating distance? How do we maintain a relationship with the resilience needed to allow for other romantic/sexual/loving partners? What do we do to manage different relationships with different levels of closeness and connection? What can we do to make room for the feelings that arise (and often challenge us) around both connection and disconnection? What tools do people use for these processes?

So here’s where I’d like to hear from you. If you’d like to share some of your experiences with me, I’m curious to know how you make it work. What do you do to make room for those different dynamics? What do you do to manage them? For example, some people don’t do sleepovers with secondary partners, or reserve certain sexual activities for a primary, because they find that that helps them maintain a different bond with their primary partner. Since this can vary a lot, based on a given relationship structure and the individual needs of the folks involved, I’d like to include as wide a range as possible in my workshop.

You’re welcome to comment below, if you like. Or you can send me a message through my contact form, which will be held confidentially. I’m looking forward to creating this workshop and I would appreciate any input you care to offer.

5 Responses so far.

  1. Lily says:

    This sounds like a fantastic session!  I’m not sure I’ll be able to be there but I’ll look forward to any recordings and/or blog entries that result.  

    I think if I were in the session, I’d want a clearer definition of enmeshment — what it is, what it looks like, how to recognize it, and probably just as importantly, why it’s less than ideal.  (I kinda think many of our romantic ideals in our culture actually confuse love with enmeshment).  

    As far as the connection stuff goes, I’d love to hear how people nurture connections to partners they don’t live with, or who might live far away. I have a girlfriend who lives in a nearby city, and we manage to see each other about three times a month.  Our relationship is a BDSM relationship, and in some ways, I find that our dynamic helps us reconnect when we’ve been apart, because it helps us gauge each other’s emotional temperature and energy level.  It’s not perfect, but I suppose if it was we might be in enmeshment territory 🙂

  2. Brad says:

         Though it is now a couple of decades ago, when were were actively polyamorous, we often shared partners  —  usually together in a threesome.  We were both actively bisexual, and would often meet a mutually aatractive person at a Mensa SexSIG meeting or sumch occasion, and invite them hpme with us for the night.
         So farr as I remember, we mostly shared partners, though I sometimes wen to the gay bath houses.

  3. Bobpixel says:

    Perhaps making any sort of agreement is a request to not do the hard work of overcoming jealousy or other enmeshment.  I’m thinking of a time when my lover and I finally consummated and my housemate’s dog got jealous (“I can smell her on you! Is she part of the pack now!?”).  The dog’s jealousy became our “thing.” 

    Not long after, my lover was with another man and his dog reacted the same, robbing me of my unique “thing.” I could have asked for security “Please don’t have sex with someone else and make their dog jealous,” but doesn’t that seem ridiculous?

    Instead, I had a chance to examine my own attachments and relationship dynamics. 

  4. Avory says:

    Hey, Charlie!

    My experience is a little different from what you describe, since I haven’t found primary/secondary labels or rules about time/activities/etc to be particularly useful in my poly life.  But I have found it very useful, when it comes to building attachments/connections, to be intentional in forming bonds and meeting needs. 

    Because I live alone and am the kind of person who runs a risk of having too much attachment to myself/my work/my personal activities and as a consequence being drained from lack of interpersonal connection without really recognizing it, I’ve found that it’s really important to make an effort to create intentional attachments rather than just letting things “run their course.”  So this means, for example, if I had a really great time playing with someone in a kinky place and say “hey, I’d like to see you again,” I have to remember later to contact that person and express my interest in developing an attachment of some kind.  Being very easygoing and literally never jealous, my problem with poly isn’t that disconnection might spring from a partner’s other relationships, but rather that I’ll forget to build those attachments as I let things develop organically.

  5. Charlie says:

    Avory, even though it’s not something you experience yourself, I’m wondering how it plays out for your partners. What happens on their side if, for example, you don’t have as much time for them as they’d like?

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