The left side of your brain is an analyst. It focuses on facts, figures, words. It seeks logic, rationality, and a sense of order. The right side of your brain is a feeler. It focuses on emotions, imagination, intuition. It seeks creative expression and non-verbal communication. I love applying left-brained thinking to right-brained processes.
Take, for instance, one of my favorite authors, Stephen Batchelor. Batchelor is a former Buddhist monk, who left his order after 25 years of living in monasteries and dedicating his life to Buddhism. After leaving his monastic life, Batchelor proclaimed himself a “Buddhist atheist” and wrote Buddhism Without Beliefs, a simple guide to Buddhist principles and their practical application to life. No discussion of the Buddha’s mystical powers, or lists of mantras that are necessary to repeat in order to attain enlightenment. Applying logic and pragmatism to something that is traditionally intuitive may seem dry, but I find it to be a perfect blend. Maximizing the brain’s power by bringing the best of both sides to the table.
Like spirituality, relationships are traditionally dominated by intuition and emotion. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s mutually shared feelings that connect people in the first place. But where we fall short is that we often rely on feelings alone to carry the rest of the relationship. This is why we fall apart when our lover is annoyed with us, or when that initial butterflies-on-crack feeling starts to fade.
But I’m not a fan of falling apart. When it comes to relationships, I want both halves of my brain to work together, rather than one dominating the other. I like it when I can utilize my left brain to take my feelings-inebriated right brain and dunk it in the cold ice water bucket of logic. Not long enough to kill my right brain, but just long enough to sober it up and get it with the program. Many people choose to outsource this, turning to a counselor, therapist, coach, or level-headed friend to give sage advice when emotions are running high.
To that end, I’ve compiled my 10 favorite diagnostic tools and tests to apply left-brained thinking to your self and your relationships. Some of these you can use on yourself, some you can try out with a partner, or with multiple partners. These tools will help you refine your communication, get to know yourself and your partners better, and give you all kinds of life hacks to make your relationships as awesome as possible.
1. Find your relationship orientation
Many clients come to me in utter confusion. Often these clients have experienced the end of a challenging relationship, and they are in a period of major transition. If the relationship they left was monogamous, they’ll say, “My breakup taught me that monogamy may not be for me, but I’m not sure if polyamory is what I want either!” If the relationship they left was non-monogamous, they’ll say, “My breakup taught me that non-monogamy may not be for me, but I’m not sure monogamy is what I want either!”
You may be standing at a similar crossroads, either from lessons learned in a breakup, or when evaluating your relationship history. If you’ve experienced the same amount of satisfaction and dissatisfaction in both monogamous and polyamorous relationships, how do you know which format is right for you?
I refer my clients to a specific exercise created by my fellow poly counselor, Kathy Labriola. In her book, The Jealousy Workbook: Insights and Techniques for Managing Open Relationships (Greenery Press), she lays out a comprehensive quiz full of self-inquiry questions to help determine your “relationship orientation”.
- Have you found it difficult to remain sexually exclusive with a partner for two years or more?
- Have you practiced what is sometimes called “serial monogamy”: being exclusive with one person for a period of time but ending each relationship in order to pursue someone new?
- Do you enjoy the security and stability of a monogamous relationship but also long for more romance and passion?
- Have you often found yourself in a relationship where one partner has a much greater desire for sex than the other?
The entire quiz is 30 questions. At the end, you tally up your score to discover where on the relationship spectrum you may be: more comfortable with monogamy, more comfortable with polyamory, or quite happy as a relationship chameleon who can adapt and thrive in either.
You can also listen to our podcast episode where Kathy Labriola taught us all about relationship orientation!
2. Learn your love language.
God-doctor Gary Chapman created the now world-renowned Love Languages system. The theory has been covered extensively in many different mediums, but for those of you who don’t know, here’s a quick recap.
Each individual speaks a particular “language” when expressing love and affection to a romantic partner and will respond more favorably to expressions of love and affection that are delivered in that same language. The Love Languages theory breaks this down into five categories: quality time, physical touch, acts of service, words of affirmation, and receiving gifts.
It’s likely that you want to give and receive all of these things in your important romantic relationships, but it’s probable that one or two of these just “land” more effectively than the others. And conflict can arise if you aren’t aware of the most effective love language to use with your partner.
To discover your primary love language, you can take the official Love Languages Quiz. Share and compare your results with your partners for a whole new point of view on your communication. For more in-depth information, listen to our podcast Episode 80 - Multiple Love Languages, Multiple Lovers.
3. Discover your attachment style.
Attachment theory has been around for few years now, but it’s particularly useful to examine, especially if you are in a non-monogamous relationship. When you are feeling insecure, jealous, unstable, or otherwise threatened in a close relationship, your reaction to those feelings may be an indicator of your unique attachment style.
Though attachment styles run a broad range, they can fall into four very broad categories: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. Each category is complex within itself, so I won’t paint them with too broad of a brush. But as an example, a person who is anxious-preoccupied in a particular relationship may feel stress every time their partner is off on a date with someone else, fearing that their partner secretly doesn’t want to be with them anyway and is just looking for a replacement. In the same scenario, a dismissive-avoidant attached person may respond by pushing their partner away, or by making plans to go on a date of their own.
Attachment styles are fluid, which means they can change over the course of your life, and they can also change from relationship to relationship. This Attachment Styles Quiz is the best I’ve found for uncovering your particular attachment style in different close relationships. The only downside is that it may be hard for some non-monogamous folk to answer some of the questions, which have a mononormative bent.
4. Uncover your kinky side.
Chances are, you have been aware of your kinks and particular sexual interests since an early age. But human sexuality is complex and fluid. Over the course of your life, your sexual preferences may expand and change in surprising ways.
The comprehensive test over at BDSMTest.org presents numerous kinky situations and asks the user to rate their interest or excitement. At the end, you’re presented with a detailed PDF that shows a spider graph of your unique mix of 24 different types of kink, plus how you stack up in comparison to other people similar to you in age and gender.
The test only covers BDSM and related kinks. Maybe someday someone will create a similar test that covers a wider range of possible fetishes (though that would be quite a daunting project in itself).
And for the curious, the test rated these as my top 5 flavors of sexy, sexy deviance:
- 87% Non-monogamist
- 87% Submissive
- 86% Rope bunny
- 85% Voyeur
- 85% Exhibitionist
5. Peek at your partner’s kinky side.
Sharing your secret sexual fantasies is one of the most vulnerable things you can do with a romantic partner. Best case scenario, your partner hears your fantasy and says, “That’s my fantasy too! Let’s do it right now!” Worst case scenario, your partner hears your fantasy as is completely turned off and disgusted by you. For some, the gamble is too risky, and many people choose to keep their fantasies to themselves.
The creators of MojoUpgrade sought to change that. They created a questionnaire that you and a partner take separately. The questionnaire presents multiple sexual fantasies, ranging from the relatively tame (e.g. using a mirror while having sex) to the more intense (e.g. group sex, golden showers, foot jobs, etc). Each person rates their interest in each activity, then the results are shared.
The genius part is that a fantasy will only be shared in the results if both partners indicated positive interest in the activity. While it’s not ideal to judge or criticize an intimate partner for their sexual preferences, this does eliminate the awkward conversation of, “Seriously… You’re into something like that? Are you expecting me to do that?”
Check back next week for the next 5 tools!