Cheers, Sexy People!
One of the more perplexing issues in relationships – whether we are living a monogamous life or a polyamorous / consensually non-monogamous life – is managing our often-complex emotions. Now couple that with learning when to communicate and how, and we have a recipe for potentially difficult situations indeed. Let’s face it, feeling challenging emotions and dealing with them in destructive ways can damage our relationships and connections with those that we love. Let’s take a closer look…
The Bad News
Your emotions can hijack your brain, make you feel incredibly uncomfortable, and leave you questioning yourself and your relationships. Emotions are a fundamental part of our basic humanity, so we must learn to swim through and navigate them, whether they are enjoyable emotions or not.
The Good News
You can learn to not only manage your emotions, but even to use them to your advantage to build emotional intimacy with your partners, enjoy personal growth, and have deeper understanding while rocking your relationships in the process! I’m going to give you some tips to do just that! Remember:
“The bigger your life challenges, the bigger your opportunity for growth.”
— Karen Salmansohn
Spoiler Alert: Our emotions and our own happiness are OUR responsibility – not someone else’s! It can be so easy to want to blame others for the way we feel, criticize our partners for our reactions to situations, or want to take the easy way out of “playing the victim” by not taking responsibility for our how our life, love, and relationships turn. It is paramount in relationships to have the know-how and courage to “own your shit.” What do I mean by that? Let’s clarify and define.
Own Your Shit (aka Emotional Intelligence) – Taking personal responsibility for understanding, diagnosing, analyzing and stating your emotions. Taking responsibility also entails admitting to yourself and your partner(s) your contribution (whether negative or not) to a given situation. In other words: Own Your Shit!
Like so many other things in life, we can learn new habits and ways of being if we put in the work. The unavoidable or inconvenient truth is that learning new skills takes practice (practice, practice!), and it may be awhile before you’re comfortable using them. Just as we have to break in a new pair of shoes, we have to break in a new behavior. You may not see immediate changes in your life the first day you commit to freeing yourself from destructive, knee-jerk reactions to challenging emotions — but you will see them soon if you do the work. Keep in mind that commitment is a promise to yourself, and it’s one well worth keeping. With that, here are some strategies that you can play with.
Strategies for Practicing Emotional Responsibility
When Monitoring Yourself:
1 ) Observe and Know Yourself – Take note of what you are feeling emotionally. Where in your body do you feel the emotion? Try to describe the feeling. Take note also of what you are feeling physically: Are you hungry? Are you tired? Is there other ways in which physically or mentally you are not at your peak self?
2) Name the Feeling – Remember that what you feel is OK. There is no “you should feel this or that.” Yet also remember our emotions come from within – No one else makes you feel anything. Know that you are already empowered to understand and affect your own emotions. So dig down and decipher what you are feeling. Here’s a clue on feelings: A “feeling” word (like angry, disappointed, frustrated) is different than expressing a thought – and is usually just one word.
3 ) STOP – Take a Timeout If Needed – Not ready to talk? Having some trouble deciphering your feelings? It is totally ok to take some time to yourself. Buying time gives you a chance to experience your own thoughts, your own priorities and your own feelings. When confronted with a challenging situation, your feelings may be so intense and full of frantic energy that you can’t think, reason, judge options or look at what your choices are. Give yourself permission to take a timeout when needed.
4 ) Consider Your Needs / Values / Boundaries – Our emotions are like warning signs telling us that we need to pay attention to something. That something could be an unmet need that is not being honored. What basic need or perhaps core value of yours is not being met? Perhaps a boundary has been violated. What boundary is it? Have you stated that boundary out loud to your partner? If not, then communicating that newly identified boundary, or that unmet need, or core value may be in order. Remember that your partners are not mind readers (and neither are you).
5 ) Be Liberal With Apologies – Part of owning our shit is taking ownership of when we hurt others – whether intentionally or not. Let’s face it: most of the time hurting loved ones is completely unintentional. But we still need to take responsibility for our words and actions, and apologize for the faux pas. Think of apologies as a social lubricant (and many of us love lube!) — we all want to hear “I’m sorry.” It is not a sign of weakness or assuming blame to apologize. Own it and move it. NOTE: saying “I’m sorry you feel that way” does not pack the same punch as “I’m sorry what I said hurt you.” Remember we are taking responsibility for our part in the situation, and letting our partner be the expert on themselves.
When Communicating with Others
1 ) Assume Goodwill – Don’t assume bad intent on the part of your partners. You and your partners fell in love for a reason, and are working on building love, trust and understanding, right? Well then do your best to give them the benefit of the doubt. When we make negative assumptions, or poor interpretations that are not empowering (e.g. thinking in terms of the “story I’m telling myself is…[you no longer love me, you ate my breakfast on purpose to tick me off, etc.]”, we are not only hurting ourselves, but we are hurting our partners as well. It is up to you to find out the truth while assuming goodwill first and foremost.
2) Don’t Blame, Criticize, or Practice Victim Mentality – When our energy level is low and we are feeling drained, exhausted, or un-empowered, sometimes we knee-jerk to practicing victim mentality (thinking “Woe is me” and that we have no ability to change our situation). Or perhaps we knee-jerk to escalating to conflict by taking responsibility off of ourselves, and looking outside of ourselves for the cause of our troubles. While it is human nature to thrash around in this type of place, staying there for too long can be detrimental to both yourself and your relationships. Do your level best to refrain from this type of thinking and behavior, and you will be much happier and rejuvenated to succeed as a result.
3 ) Make Requests for What You Need – If something is still bothering you, bring it up respectfully as soon after the incident or situation as you can (preferably not weeks or months after the fact). It is YOUR responsibility to bring up hurt feelings or a violation of your boundaries. Lastly remember we are making REQUESTS, not demands. Our partners have the ability to either accept or deny the request, and it is our responsibility to not be attached to the outcome. Our partners have the freedom to make the choice that suits them best.
4) Let Others Own Their Shit – Hopefully your partner has the courage and self-awareness to admit their contribution to a situation or wonky / challenging feelings which can further increase understanding and empathy between you. Let your partner be the expert on themselves – let them OWN their stuff. Whatever you do, don’t TELL them what they are thinking or feeling. That takes away their agency. You want to own your agency, and they theirs. Are they having difficulty owning their stuff? Try asking: “What do you think you could have done better?”
5) Express Gratitude – Remember that “owning your shit” can be embarrassing and hard! If your partner has the courage to admit their contribution, say THANK YOU for trusting you with that admission and sharing where they are. This rewards them for their positive behavior, for doing the work, and for sharing their insights candidly with you. (NOTE: If you have not done it already, reward them by sharing YOUR contribution to the concern / issue as well.)
That’s it! I know you can do this! As we said earlier, practice makes perfect. When you work towards mutual respect with your partners, and co-creation of an inspiring, respectful and loving relationship, you will create the opportunity for more and more connection and harmony in your life and with your loves. You can literally empower yourself to create positive momentum and beautiful change in your life.
To help inspire you on your journey, I will leave you with this quote:
“Love yourself for who you are now. Believe in yourself for who you have the power to become.” — Karen Salmanson
Let’s change the world together! We can start by remembering that we are in charge of how we react to situations, and build better relationships based on compassion, empathy and responsibility for our own happiness.
Wishing you peace, love and happiness,
(and thrilling, fun sex too!)
Kitty Chambliss, CPC, ELI-MP
Creator of the Loving Without Boundaries Mission
Kitty Chambliss is a polyamorous and sex-positive speaker, author, educator, relationship coach, activist and founder of Loving Without Boundaries (LWB). Since 2012 LWB has over 220 blog posts and 60 podcasts to date. Kitty’s work has been featured in Stories From the Polycule, PostModern Woman, the YoushareProject, the upcoming book Coming Out Poly, and other publications around the globe. She has also been a special guest panelist and speaker on radio shows, international and national conferences and more. She is also a dual-certified (CPC and ELI-MP) relationship coach having graduated from The Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (IPEC). Lastly Kitty is thrilled to be bringing her upcoming book: Jealousy Survival Guide out to the world this fall. Kitty has made it her life’s mission to make thriving relationships – even unconventional ones – attainable to everyone.