Friday, December 02, 2011

What is a 'normal' relationship?

My mind has been swimming in a sea of jumbled thoughts of late, and by late I mean the last 12 months or so. What actually constitutes a 'normal' relationship? I have friends from all walks of life, and to them, relationships are as varied as a multicultural day parade. There are people who staunchly believe that monogamy is the best way to fulfill a relationship while there are those that are interested in exploring an open relationship. There are even those people who can fall in love and be with more than one person, in a live in situation that is happily transparent and free from jealousy and guilt. This is known as polyamory. I wanted to know where and why we got our current societal view of relationships and how different they were in the past.

I have poured over psychology articles, medical journals, personal blogs and anything else I could get my hands on to grasp a more solid understanding of these lifestyles over the last year or so, and I am finally starting to form my own somewhat unorthodox views on the topic. My opinions and beliefs are mine and mine alone, and while they may seem controversial to some, and I am not saying at all that this particular view of the world is necessarily for everyone; I feel that these lifestyles are completely valid. I want to explain to you, my friends, family and readers who I don't know, why I believe open relationships and even polyamory can be healthy and fulfilling ways to live. I also want to educate those who might not fully grasp the idea of what these things actually mean. First, I guess for the purposes of this blog the definitions of these terms would be useful. These lifestyles are so subjective however there are many different ways people involved in these circumstances define what they have, and this may not encompass everyone.

Monogamous Relationship is used to describe a committed relationship that involves only two partners in sexual and intimate situation.

Open Relationship can be described as two people in a committed relationship who decide to sleep with people outside their primary commitment. There are usually rules associated with this situation and boundaries for the primary couple need to be established well in advance.

Polyamory (from Greek πολύ [poly, meaning many or several] and Latin amor [love]) is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. While this seems fairly open, there are also rules and boundaries in place with this living arrangement too.

Go here Types of Open Relationship for a more in depth breakdown of the many different types of open relationships.

For starters, I should explain my current situation. At the current stage of my life I can say I am in a monogamous relationship. I have never and would never cheat on my partner, its just not something I would do. Cheating however, should not be confused with an open relationship - this is another kettle of fish entirely. My partner and I are both mature intelligent people who to date, have never had any relations outside of our commitment. We both tend to think about things quite a lot, sometimes way too much, mainly on my part. We have had the discussions about open relationships and we have spoken about it on numerous occasions. Its the type of couple we are, we share our views, opinions and secrets. I never feel nervous to bring up my most strange or confusing thoughts, fears or worries with him and the best part is, we only ever want what makes the other person happy. Now that that is out of the way. Moving on.

I have come to realise that people enter alternate situations together, for many reasons. Sometimes one partner cannot completely fulfill the needs or wants of a partner, sometimes the social construct that is monogamy just doesn't fit the couple but more often than not, from the things I have read and the stories I have heard, it is about a mutual desire. A mutual desire that while you are completely in love with your partner, something just doesn't feel complete. In a monogamous relationship this is where cheating could become a real possibility for people.

Picture this – You and your partner are in a loving, honest, caring relationship, you talk about everything and are happy discussing controversial topics. Your partner brings up the subject of sex outside of the relationship. What do you say? Are you completely against it, or are you curious about the logistics of such an endeavour? For arguments sake, lets say you decide to embrace the idea. First thing that you would do is to sit down and work out a set of rules and boundaries that apply to you and your partner in the event of another person or persons entering such an arrangement. You would tailor these to the exact wishes of each partner, and if you cant agree on something, there is no point in moving forward with anything. Everyone needs to be on the same page otherwise the primary relationship is destined for failure.

The following excerpt is taken from a blog post of a woman who interviewed people who are currently engaged in an open relationship.  Rachel Kramer Bussel

Sex with another person is allowed, but it's not flaunted or discussed outside the household. Their openness isn't a license to bed everything in sight—respect and discretion rule. Those who've tried it say it isn't always easy.

I want to make a point here, that while I support this idea of opening up a relationship and even the possibility of loving more than one person there are criteria that need to be met for this to work and it includes mature, open minded, trusting, non jealous people. I have to say though that this situation is not right for everyone. Some would argue that an atheist such as myself would be completely suited to this way of thinking. Logic and reason tells us, that if you think rationally about a situation, you are more likely to understand it completely. For me, that has been the case. The more I have started to open up to science, logic and reason, the more I have noticed a change in my thinking regarding sex, relationships and of course monogamy. I want to tell you though, this is not always the case. The idea of a closed relationship has been so engrained in our society, that even the most hardened atheist can have aversion to any type of poly situation.

Another point to make clear here, is that nothing is set in stone in these types of relationships. If something isn't working, the primary relationship takes precedent over any others. Another major piece of information I have been coming across in my research is this – couples who take part in open relationships can and usually do phase in and out of monogamy when the need calls for it.

I am fully aware of the draw of monogamy, two people in it together, two people against the world. I have been in this situation for the last 3 years. Its admirable and commendable that people have been able to make it work, and if it suits them in all areas of their lives, then I see no issue at all. They should enjoy the connection that they have with each other and not look to others to decide what works for them. I look at it like this; the divorce rate of married couples is growing everyday, the number of partners that cheat on their spouses is phenomenal, and I somewhat feel like its because naturally, humans are not monogamous creatures. I cant help but wonder that there is a very good argument for non monogamous relationships in certain circumstances.

From my understanding, peoples current view of monogamy and relationships are based solely on claims that religions have made over the last few thousand years in order to maintain social control. It is a social construct that has been cultivated over centuries, and one size does not fit all in this regard as people are so different. Human beings are animals, we are designed like all others to survive. That means procreation. In generations past, men would procreate with many women in order to make as many offspring as possible. While the women would not be jealous about it at all. In current times, this is obviously an outdated viewpoint, however the premise is the same.

I see some friends who are involved in some of the most wonderful intensely happy relationships, and they are not of the 'traditional' sense at all. I also have friends who are with one person, and have never even considered the possibility of being with anyone else. In my opinion, I don't see an issue with either of these circumstances. If you are in a relationship with the person you love, nothing should be off limits for discussion. Even if you differ in opinion to your spouse you should never feel like you have to keep secrets from them. What this whole issue comes down to is honesty. This is a fatal error that many people make, even in monogamous partnerships that leads to trust issues, and without trust, a relationship is dead in the water. I mean, if the two primary people involved are happy, content and not jealous then why should it be a problem for anyone else. To me, there is no such thing as a normal relationship. Every single relationship in the entire world is different, and what works for some, does not always work for others. It is based on the willingness and trust of the parties involved to define what they have with each other.

I am fully aware, that by posting this to a public forum, I may receive some backlash, but as friends, I would say take some time to think about the reasoning for your disdain. Is it purely because you're view of the world is different? I think about it in terms of personal lives. If you choose to live your life a certain way, it shouldn't matter to anyone else, as long as you are happy. People should no judge you, unless they walk in your shoes, and it is no one else's business what you, an adult, does anyway.