Last week, I covered 5 unique diagnostic tests and tools for evaluating your relationships and understanding yourself and your partners better. Here’s 5 more tools to help take your personal growth, your communication, and your relationships to the next level.
6. Deconstruct your jealousy.
People who are first hearing about non-monogamy usually ask the same question right out the gate: How do you deal with jealousy? Everyone experiences jealousy in some form at some point in their lives, at work, at school, toward siblings and best friends, even in monogamous relationships. In some scenarios we are taught to buck up, get over it, and use it as motivation (usually in the workplace or at school). In other scenarios, we are taught that being made to feel jealous is wholly unacceptable, and it’s paramount to remove whatever it is that is causing the jealousy (usually, this is the advice given in your love life or sex life). But in order for a poly relationship to function and thrive, it is important to learn how to manage, process, and deconstruct your jealousy.
For this, I’m taking yet another page from Kathy Labriola’s book (literally). In The Jealousy Workbook (Greenery Press), she lays out an illuminating exercise for creating what she refers to as your “jealousy pie-chart”.
First, the reader examines a list of the ways in which jealousy can manifest physically, mentally, and emotionally, and then rates each of them on a scale of 1 to 10 to signify how intensely they experience them during a jealous episode. These include things like:
- Obsessive thoughts
- Feeling left out or excluded
- Revenge fantasies
- Embarrassment or humiliation
- Plus many more
The full list includes 34 different manifestations of jealousy. After each symptom is rated, the reader is encouraged to pay particular attention to those that are rated at a 5 or above, and see which broad emotional category they fall into: fear, anger, or sadness. From there, you can draw a pie chart that shows which emotions make up your jealousy. For example, you may realize that your jealousy is 60% anger, 30% fear, and 10% sadness.
Okay great, so now you have a pie that no one wants to eat. What do you do with that information? Since you know that the primary emotion that comes up when you’re jealous is anger, that can clue you in to the most effective strategies for self-care and healing when the next jealous episode comes along. You may choose to focus specifically on anger management techniques, such as meditation, exercise, journaling, or whatever technique best soothes your anger response. If your jealousy pie chart is primarily sadness over anger or fear, you may focus on ways to increase your positivity when your jealousy gets triggered, such as watching your favorite comedian, connecting with your best friend, or intentionally focusing on the things you are grateful for.
The full exercise, plus specific techniques for managing the individual emotions of anger, fear, and sadness, can be found in The Jealousy Workbook (Greenery Press).
7. Become a software developer.
If you’re already in the software development world, you may already have a basic understanding of a development process known as “scrum”. If not, I’ll fill you in on the basics. Bear with me on this one; I promise it will be relevant to your relationships.
It starts with the Japanese word kaizen. The simplest English translation for it would be “improvement,” but the broader concept of kaizen is continual, incremental improvement. This is a concept that I fell in love with early in my formative years, and it’s stuck with me since. The most successful and fulfilled people I know are constantly employing kaizen -- always seeking to grow, to improve, to get better, to expand. And these aren’t people with crippling self-esteem issues or who inwardly think that they suck. Rather, kaizen is used as fuel; something to keep up morale and motivation when life is challenging, something to aspire to and look forward to.
Kaizen is a fundamental principle of the scrum process, which was originally first coined in the late 1980s by Japanese professors Ikuhiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi. In that time it has been expanded and refined by other theorists, thinkers, and product developers. It’s difficult to describe the scrum process without whipping out a lot of intimidating jargon, but it essentially helps a team break down a project into smaller, distributable tasks that must be completed over the course of short deadlines, incorporating frequent status updates and check-ins in order to maintain a feedback cycle for improvement.
So how does this tie in? Alanna Krause wrote a fantastic article on Medium.com on how she applies the scrum framework to her relationship. Krause and her partner set aside a 90-minute chunk of time once a month, and they have a conversation that is structured like so:
- Review past actions. (Actions that were supposed to be taken since the last meeting.)
- Review the past month. (Discussing the highs, the lows, the disagreements, the moments of intimacy.)
- Agree the agenda. (If anything came up during the review that needs discussion or resolution, add it to the list of talking points.)
- Discuss. (This is the time to hash it all out, using active listening, reflecting, asking questions, and many other good communication techniques in order to creatively solve problems.)
- Action Points (Agreeing on tangible steps that will be taken until the next meeting.)
- Appreciation Round (Give each other compliments, expressions of love and affection, or just a heartfelt thank you.)
Multiamory is in the process of putting together a podcast episode to fill you in on our personal experiences running scrum on relationships. After about two months of trying it out in my own life, I can already attest that it’s a great way to address problems before they become much bigger.
8. Get intimate.
In early 2015, The New York Times published an article entitled “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love”. It detailed a study that originally took place in the mid-'90s wherein paired up strangers were given a series of 36 probing and personal questions to ask each other in order to generate more personal closeness and intimacy. The thinking behind the process was that mutual vulnerability is the driving force behind the generation of intimacy.
The questions were broken up into three “tiers” of vulnerability, with each tier getting more “intense.” For example, tier 1 questions include:
- What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?
- For what in your life do you feel the most grateful?
Questions all the way up at tier 3 include:
- When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?
- If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
Other outlets have claimed that these questions are a sure-fire way to get anybody to fall in love, which is a stretch, to say the least. It may be ambitious to whip out these questions on a first date (unless your date is totally down; I’m not judging). However, running through these questions with a long-term partner is likely to bring up at least one or two things that you didn’t already know about each other. I’ve found it’s also a useful process for taking the temperature of how comfortable you are getting vulnerable in front of a particular partner.
9. Who gets treated better: your friends or your partners?
The answer to this question may be obvious to you right off the bat. Or it may give you pause. Traditionally, we get conflicting advice about who should be treated better. When you finally find “the One”, it’s expected that you’ll prioritize your time, money, energy, and most intense feelings to that person. But then again, we are also taught the priceless value of having close friends (of the same sex). Few will disparage the importance of having a “girls'/boys' night out”, and we can’t forget the reductive classic, “Bros before hos.” Between the two, which one is correct?
Relationship anarchists call into question the practice of putting people into different relationship “categories” in the first place. The “anarchy” part of relationship anarchy involves stripping relationships of specific labels, and letting each one be governed and constructed by the individual agreements made between the people involved in the relationship.
In our podcast episode, Fromance-ships: Hacking Relationship Anarchy, we examined how to use relationship anarchist principles to make all relationships in your life better, not just your romantic or sexual ones. We came up with the chart below, where you list the positive behaviors or benefits you give to your friends, but not your romantic partners, and vice versa. You also list the negative behaviors or disadvantages reserved only for one group or the other.
My chart looks like this:
This exercise has been highly illuminating for me, and it inspired me to take steps in order to close the gap between how I treated my friends versus how I treated my lovers. As an example, I have chosen to be more proactive in maintaining communication and connection with friends, and I have made a conscious effort to be more flexible, patient, and forgiving with my partners.
Give it a try, and see if you can find ways to make your friendships and your romantic relationships flourish.
10. The Break-Up Razor
Last, but certainly not least, I have to bring us to the topic that no one likes thinking about: break-ups. If a relationship has taken on unhealthy dynamics, it’s likely that your friends and family members will know things are bad earlier than you will. At the end of the day, you are the only person who can know when it’s time to leave a relationship, and only you can take action on that decision. If you are struggling to know whether it’s time to stay or go, I recommend applying “the break-up razor”:
If nothing changed about my partner from here on out, would I still want to be in the relationship?
This question highlights your true feelings about the relationship, and will springboard you to other important questions: Are you counting on your partner changing some fundamental aspect of herself? Do you see a future of having the same argument five, ten, or twenty years from now? Do you see the current rough patch as a solvable problem or as a recurring pattern? What part of your behavior and your partner’s behavior would have to adjust in order to sustain the relationship? Finding the answers to these questions will help clarify the right course of action regarding the future of the relationship in question.
If you're specifically wondering how break-ups play out in non-monogamous relationships, check out our podcast episode 70: Polyamorous Breakups.