Thursday, August 25, 2016

Polyamory and Professionals

I should have been a relationship therapist.

If I'd been thinking straight in high school, that's what I would have been angling for. Let's see: no math, a focus on making people's lives better, the opportunity to make an actual difference in the world each and every day, no math, no hard science but lots of nice mushy 'soft' science, I've been doing this stuff for longer than you'd believe as it is, math.

I'd like to think I'm a good listener. I try very hard not to judge what I'm hearing--at least until I have all the facts (and in recognition that I may never GET all the facts). I believe, and have for many years now, that "right" and "wrong" are descriptive terms which need not have any moral judgment attached to them....and often shouldn't. What are you trying to do? Are you in Toronto and trying to drive to New York City? Then it would be wrong to drive west, or north. South would be right, except you'll drown if you try going south right away, so nope...wrong. There are a bunch of different routes, though, and each one has its charms and distractions. I'm not the kind of person to tell you that there is only one way to get to NYC from Toronto.

Relationships, however, introduce ethics--morality by another name. To me, acting "ethically" means behaving with due consideration of the other person(s) in the relationship: their needs, desires, and aversions. Needless to say, people don't always behave ethically. Also needless to say, often different people have differing ideas on what 'ethically' even means.

There are relatively few therapists even qualified to properly assess ethical non-monogamy (ENM). This despite the numbers: Fully 1 in 5 Americans have been involved in some form of ENM. NOTE: these are not "cheaters". These are people who have agreed to some form of open relationship/swinging/poly arrangement at some point in their lives.

21%. Granted, it's not that 21% of people are practicing ENM at any given time, but still...that's a sizeable chunk of anybody's client base.

And yet the ignorance of ENM among mental health professionals can be astounding. There are comparatively few poly-friendly medical, psychosocial and legal professionals out there (though this list has grown since I looked at it last); those that aren't, from all reports, are subject to all the same well-intentioned but hideously misguided biases and "gut instincts" as anyone else who hasn't heard of, let alone investigated, ENM. "Polyamorous relationships", says one, "do tend to implode on themselves because of jealousy".

Bad ones do, yeah. The ones you see on Polyamory: Married and Dating or other such pseudo-reality trash...full to the brim with drama. Meanwhile, there are thousands upon thousands of people happily exploring ENM with a minimum of fuss, working out issues among themselves as they arise like the healthy adults they are.

Resources for professionals exist. And one mental health professional of my acquaintance just attended a seminar on ENM with a focus on polyamory, so I know awareness is spreading. Painfully slowly.

And as for jealousy -- for those who are prone to it (not everyone is, believe it or not) -- this workbook is widely considered to be the go-to resource. I can't speak for it myself, jealousy not being overmuch of an issue here, but it is very highly praised by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert, authors of More Than Two, people I highly respect whose book is an absolute relationship goldmine...for any sort of relationship.

I'd better repeat what I always say: ENM is not for everyone--looks like "only" a fifth of people consider it enough to try it out...and that's okay. Poly, in particular, does have downsides. That blog entry details a few of them. I can add to it: poly will force you to confront your insecurities. That's a good thing if you're ready to overcome them, and your loves and metamours are supportive enough to help you do it. (They aren't always, and it's not necessarily intentional). I'm in a sweet spot: I like and respect my metamour and the feeling is mutual. We have a support network that people outside of it frankly envy.

Not everyone is so lucky. And I wish I'd structured my life in such a way that I could help more of them.

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