Can you think of any relationships that inspire you? Perplexed by this question, the Multiamory crew investigates what truly makes for healthy, stable, and inspiring relationships, inspired by the research and writings of Esther Perel, Simone de Beauvoir, and Mark Manson.
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Multiamory was created by Dedeker Winston, Jase Lindgren, and Emily Matlack.
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Dedeker: I'm going to hop in here. Is this a hashtag relationship goals kind of thing?
Jase: I thought, yes.
Emily: Maybe yes.
Dedeker: I know we've talked about the relationship goals thing on our podcast before. It seems really weird to me I get it when people they post their freaking wedding photos on Instagram and it's hashtag relationship goals. I get that.
Jase: Wait, hold on. Do people post pictures of their own weddings and say hashtag relationship goals?
Dedeker: Oh God, yes.
Emily: Do they? I don't know.
Jase: I thought that was just something you posted about other people's relationships or like you post a cool picture of a couple hiking a mountain and then you're like hashtag relationship goals.
Dedeker: It definitely seemed like every single picture of the Obamas' is just like hashtag relationship goals-
Jase: Obama and Joe Biden being like hashtag relationship goals. [laughs]
Dedeker: I've definitely seen people who will post a selfie of them kissing their significant other and be like hashtag relationship goals. Now, bear in mind I do not usually like these people for doing that.
Jase: Okay, so it's saying hashtag relationship goals like, "I did it, I reached this goal" of kissing.
Jase: We finally did this.
Dedeker: I finally kissed.
Jase: A big K as we call it here.
Emily: On the multiamory podcast?
Dedeker: I feel like it could go off on a whole tangent about how relationships shouldn't necessarily be goal oriented.
Jase: Sure, we've talked about that yes.
Dedeker: Motion and flux and fluctuations. Anyway, let's not.
Emily: Can I talk about why?
Jase: Yes, this is a little bit- [laughs]
Dedeker: Let's just keep cutting off Emily. Hashtag relationship goals.
Emily: Hashtag Jase was like, "Emily you better be ready to go" And then Dedeker's like, "No, I'll go bitch"
Dedeker: Please, Emily.
Jase: Yes, tell us.
Dedeker: Get us actually started in what we're supposed to be talking about today.
Emily: Thank you, thank you I will. No, about a week ago I was sitting at the kitchen table and we were- Josh and I were eating and we decided to put on an episode of This American Life and it was great it was with Esther Perel who we may have talked about before on this show. I know it comes up a lot in the multiamory Patreon group. She's a Belgian psychiatrist, I believe, and she also writes a bunch of articles for different publications and also has written a few books and is phenomenal, but she and Ira Glass were talking.
She actually did an excerpt from her new podcast that is out currently called Where should we begin and yes, that excerpt was in this American life and then afterwards she and I Ira Glass were talking and I'm just weighed a little bit of what said. Ira Glass asked her-
Dedeker: Hey, wait-
Emily: - what?
Dedeker: Emily, can you please do an Ira Glass impression.
Jase: Yes, please do.
Dedeker: The funny thing is Ira Glass' voice is so high and your voice is so stiff.
Emily: No, I know.
Dedeker: I don't even know how you would accomplish it.
Emily: I don't want to be mean or anything. Can I not? Jase, do you want to? Do you want to do an Ira Glass impression?
Dedeker: Jase could do a good Ira Glass impression.
Jase: No, I do a much better Roman Mars than I do Ira Glass.
Emily: I can try. Yes, sure he's very all over the place with his movement. It's like in your opinion.
Dedeker: In your line of work if it makes you feel hopeful for most couples and hopeful for the idea of -- wait, what? This line doesn't even makes sense, Emily.
Emily: This is what he said. He was asking in your line of work does your line of work meaning if it- So in your line of work if it makes you feel hopeful for most couples and hopeful for the idea of people finding what they want with their partners. He's asking does her line of work working with people on the show that she does and then also, obviously, just overtime does it make her hopeful that they're going find what they want. She had a very long pause and then she, "The thing that just popped into my head is I have days where I have faith in humanity and days when I don't"
Then she says, "I'll answer you from a different angle." I once wanted to write an article on couples that inspire and I asked about 60 to 70 people at that time if they knew of couples that inspired them. The vast majority could sometimes come up with one. I never wrote that piece, but it's the answer to your question. It's that we can see some couples who are very good at this and some couples who are very good at that, but we don't have many models where we just say, "Wow, this is who I want to be. This is how I want to be," I was like, "Shit."
How many actually inspiring couples come to mind when you say do I know anyone that inspires me that is a couple. What does make a couple a couple that inspires? I wanted to delve into that today because I really off the top of my head didn't know of any.
Dedeker: I feel like most people when I think about people talking about that topic. People will maybe toss out like my grandparents who've been married for 70 years. I don't know, it seems like there's a part to romantic relationships. There's obviously so much that we don't get to see like icebergs.
Dedeker: You only see 10% of the surface and they can cause a shipwreck.
Emily: I don't think that longevity necessarily makes a couple inspiring.
Dedeker: Yes, but a lot of people do.
Emily: I know.
Jase: Yes, that is often used as a benchmark for whether a couple is successful or not it's just how long they've been together not actually how happy they are or anything else.
Emily: Yes, totally.
Dedeker: The way that we've broken down this episode for all of you listening today is again based on a lot of Esther Perel's work as well as some other writers and researchers and things like that. There are four broad categories we wanted to hit for -- I don't know just things to be mindful of in relationships and things that Perel herself as well as many other psychiatrists and couple therapists and also myself in my own line of work. Things that have come up in relationships that are healthy and solid that are I guess the -- I wanted to say the memes that you see and using memes not in the funny sense of the word, but in the serious sense of the word.
Jase: Like in a scientific sense?
Dedeker: The scientific sense of recurring things that come up again and again.
Jase: Right. Ideas essentially that get passed along.
Dedeker: Yes, definitely because I know definitely what I've loved so much about Esther Perel that she doesn't necessarily come from a standpoint of being super pro polyamory or pro non-monogamy or anything like that, but I think in her writing she's definitely very much pushed a message that still goes against the grain. I think of what we're traditionally taught about relationships and what we should do.
Emily: I think she's pragmatic about it and about understanding relationships are changing vastly. She says a lot that non-monogamy or that even cheating has pushed couples to change their relationships in this really fundamental ways because it makes them speak about things that they might have never spoken about before.
Dedeker: Right. If I can just give a quick rundown before we hop into it the four categories that we are going to cover today. We're going to cover particularly sex life and sexual intimacy. We're going to be talking about autonomy in relationships and we're going to be talking about respect. A little bit of a tricky one, but also really interesting to talk about. Then also talking about a sense of self. All those things are related to each other to a certain extent.
Jase: Yes, definitely. Do you want to get it started on the very first one talking about sex life?
Dedeker: Yes, the sex life one. We'll start off with a quote from Esther Perel. She says, "If love is an act of imagination then intimacy is an act of fruition. It waits for the high to subside so it can patiently insert itself into the relationship. The seeds of intimacy are time and repetition. We choose each other again and again and so create a community of two." I think the community of two thing is really interesting because at first, obviously from my standpoint I want to be able -- what about more than two? However, it does make sense because the thing is even at the end of the day you're still working often with a foundation of dyadic, as in two person relationship even if it is multiple two person relationships that are happening at the same time.
Anyway, a lot of what Esther Perel talks about is-- she talks about something that's called is paradox of intimacy and desire and so is the idea that as two people start to grow intimate-- and I don't mean like sexually intimate. But just like intimate, you know, grow close to each other. You know that builds more trust, it builds more security, but it also means that desire starts to diminish. And that's not news to anybody, you know, I think that culturally we've come to accept that in a way to understand that over time in a long term relationship obviously doesn't feel as passionate or exciting or as thrilling as it did at the beginning.
But I think culturally how we deal with that has been not so great like because I think we tend to really against it and kind of freaked out about it and worried. That means something is wrong and we're really trying to get it back, you know?
Jase: Yes. I feel like in a way we kind of ignore that balance, like that culturally we tend to ignore the idea that as you build this kind of intimacy, that sort of novelty and excitement and passion that maybe started the relationship goes away. And like yes we acknowledge it, but it-- I feel like the way I see it get acknowledged a lot is in this sort of negative joking way of like the fire's gone, or the-- you know-- that sort of this negative shitty thing. It's like, "Crap. I guess, you know, shouldn't have got married." or whatever. It's kind of in this more negative way or it's the movie where they first get together and they're so passionate and then the movie ends. And it's just like happily ever after.
You don't sort of see that, right? And I think that it's-- I would argue that this it's not something that we necessarily are taught the wrong things about, but we just don't talk about it much at all, or at least not in a realistic, like pragmatic way.
Emily: I think it's something that Perel speak about a lot and something I think obviously the three of us have asked ourselves is that is novelty kind of the key to a great sex life and then on the flip side how can those non-monogamous or those with like a even a long term partner even if you're polyamorist. How can they still cultivate a really terrific sex life. So from her writings and from other things we've spoken about, we wanted to come up with a couple of things of how to maintain really great sex. Some of these are coming from a Huffington Post article in titled Mating in Captivity Esther Perel Reconciles Sex and Marriage.
Dedeker: Something that I do love about this list is that I feel like every other list I've seen on the Internet that's about like trying to get the spark back, trying to get the passion back in your bedroom. They're all very specific in the sense of being like buy new lingerie, go to a sex club, buy a particular sex toy, have a threesome. You know that it all very much focuses on this like sex acts, I suppose. What I really love about this here this actually focuses on and kind of more general fundamental things to be looking at in your sexual connection with your partner that is going to help you, be able to kind of maintain a really good sex life for a long time with them.
Jase: Yes. So to start this out, and that's that to start with the understanding that intimacy doesn't guarantee good sex, and I think this is if we look back at that quote that Dedeker read at the beginning of this section here is that "If love is an active imagination then intimacy is an active fruition." Right? The fruition meaning, like we planted something, we've watered it, and it's taking a while for this to grow. That intimacy is something that can take some time to come there and she says after that it waits for the high to subside. So that it can patiently insert itself into the relationship.
I think that this is something that we tend to talk about- I think in culturally, we tend to talk about this in a fairly, what's word I'm looking for, sort of irresponsible way or kind of a juvenile way where we'll look at-- you know this idea that like "You know the best sex I've ever had was that, you know, one night in-- when I was travelling abroad in Switzerland and I met this person, right into it was all passion and fireworks and whatever." Basically the premise to-- before dawn?
Emily: Before sunrise.
Jase: Before sunrise.
Dedeker: Isn't before dawn a vampire movie?
Jese: Yes, probably.
Emily: Breaking dawn.
Dedeker: Not that one.
Jese: Not that one. But before sun rise, right? It's that-- this-- like this all this passion because everything is new or whatever. Then on the other hand we have this idea that we get really intimate and connected and maybe have really stable home life if we don't have that good sex that kind of apart. But I think what's important here is that what Esther Perel talking about in this article is that intimacy doesn't guarantee good sex. And what that means is that essentially there are two separate things that having good sex and being really intimately intertwined with each other don't necessarily go together.
They can, and that's what we're going to talk about in this episode, but they don't necessarily-- so it's not like "Oh, just by coming closer and knowing well each other that will cause us to have good sex." So the second thing, and this is the one I love to discuss with two of you a little bit here is that she says "Tension must be there. That friendship has no tension in desire there must be small-- some small amount of tension." So I thought this was really interesting wording of this.
Emily: Yes. She was any different-- it was a different interview with a different guy and he was like "My wife. Shouldn't she be my best friend?" And Esher Parel was like, "She better not be." Because friends, in friendship, there is no tension. I found that really interesting because again the narrative is here, in America we are just like your wife or your partner or whomever they are your best friend and they know you inside and out. But that is really interesting because it doesn't cultivate like the spark potentially that perhaps you would want, especially in a really sexual relationship.
I think what she's saying is that there should be something potentially hidden or not all of yourself, not everything you are should be known, like it would potentially to a friend.
Dedeker: I don't necessarily disagree with this, but I do kind of want to play devil's advocate with it if I can go on that journey really quick. Because there's a part in me that also begs the question of like "If she saying that friendship has no tension, that's because of this dichotomy that word traditionally used to setting up between our romantic partners and friends?" Because like-- my mind goes to the fact that like if you're actually giving like weight and an importance to your friendships like there can be plenty of tension.
You know, like there's plenty of times when a friend may feel possessive of you or maybe like really upset about you suddenly abandon them because you've got a new boyfriend. You know, like there's plenty of opportunities for tension. It's just we're not used to giving it the same weight that we do to the romantic tension. Again, I'm not saying that I definitely-- I think this is wrong necessarily, but I'm just, you know, kind of doing my thing of mismatching and--
Emily: I think it's just an interesting question to ask one solves to potentially not be as close as like a best friend would in terms of like absolutely everything being known I think. I don't know it's just an interesting thing to think about.
Jase: Yes, it's-- I feel like that the trick here is that on the one hand it is set up with this sort of false dichotomy, I think it's false between friendship and sexual relationships with those can't be the same thing or that those have to somehow inherently be a different type of relationship. I think her choice of the word tension is interesting, because I'm sort of like it makes me want to have a longer conversation with her being like what do you mean by tension? Right? What does that word mean in the way that you're using it here? But on the other hand there's something that I've talked about a lot on this show that I've gotten from, you know, other people talking about relationships is just the-- like how very important it is to not have your romantic partner be all these things to you.
Jase: You know, that if you-- at the-- the metaphor that I've heard was basically that you don't want to have sex with a person you take out the trash with, was kind of the cutie way of saying that of essentially like keeping some sort of romance and like courtship going and it's important, but that person that you want to maintain a sexual relationship with can't also be person who scolds you when you don't stick to your diet or like tries to keep you accountable for your goals or right-- these other things that just kind of work at odds with the idea of like having that sort of mystery and excitement and maybe creates a different kind of tension. That's not the kind of tension for this. Do you know what I mean?
Dedeker: Yes. Yes, that makes sense. Well, speaking of mystery and excitement thing, something else you must hear is having a deep interest in the other person, and it's not seems it's like obvious, right? You know, that you should be interested, but I think it goes this other level of really having an interest to-- I don't know it's like really continue to get to know someone over a long period of time as they shift and as they change. It's interesting that reminds me when an article that I've read a little while ago that was, it was about relationship experts, who were also dating other relationship experts and what their advice was for a good relationships and something that wasn't an article, was actually went fighting, having a deep interest in your partner.
As in having this curiosity of been willing to talk about like, you know, I think obviously not necessarily like not pick up a fight, but being able to talk about. Like, these are the things that I grew up with, like these are the models of communication that I grew up with. Like, this is what I saw my dad do to my mom or, you know, like, how did your mom talk to you about these things, having an interest in each other or as to like a, how your communication patterns, and your argument patterns came about. I think, it seems like it applies, you know, in this or more way to sex as well.
Jase: Yes. That makes a lot of sense.
Emily: Yes. I think, again, you're not necessarily got to know absolutely everything there's to know about a person, even if you're best friends with them, or even if you have been with them for years and years. So continuing that interest in not thinking that, like, "Oh well, I know how this person is going to react," but, instead having a bit of wonder to the situation.
Jase: I think this segment is a little bit into the next point, that Emily is going to talk about. But is the idea that you're interested in the other person, like exploring them, finding new things about them, maybe even finding new things with them about themselves, rather then just well I know what's going to get this result, that's going to get me the thing, that I want. Or, that I know that I want, and I'm not even going to explore myself, right? I think, that interest can really go both ways and extend things for both of you, especially when we are talking sexually, where a cancer of the cultural narrative is just a sort of like a thing you do to get it done, right? You know what you want, and that's it. You're not like exploring new things after collage.
Emily: Yes. Well, and again, yes. The next one is going to be for better sex you should have sex, that's not results oriented, and also sex when you don't know from the beginning how it's going to end. Again, not just doing the same positions, at the same time, every week in the same order. But instead having,- you know, she said, "Have sex with someone at midnight, in the hotel room" or whatever, make it- and also, yes, she spoke of spontaneity not being a real thing, like there's always cues between two people regarding sex, so like sex wasn't just a core, it's like a dance that we do, that spoken about in ways even if it's non-verbal cues.
Jase: I would even take this as a step further that I don't think spontaneity necessarily has to be any part of this, because I know that a debate that's often been had amongst us and amongst our friends and our partners is this idea of like, "Can you schedule sex, does it ruin it, if you schedule time for it?" Because for some people, and especially if you're polyamorous and have multiple relationships, you might kind of need to, right, to just logistically work that out with someone. I think that- I just want to clarify that I think that scheduling time for sexualness [sic] is very different from being unpredictable, oh sorry, being predictable, right?
Jase: Well, it's like, okay, this is our time it's five passed, so better get to heavy petting and then in 15 minutes we're going to move on to missionary, right, like, it's not that, it's not like we're going to do this kind of foreplay, then we're going to have this sex, we usually do these positions and then we're going to cum and that's it. But instead, that it's like, "Hey, this is some time we have together. Let's see where that goes," right?
Jase: I think, that's important to see that. Even if you are someone, who does need to schedule sex, which I've been that person sometimes, right? That sometime not even just because that I'm so busy, but just sometimes it just good to know when to, like, get into right headspace for that.- Like, we should be little extra flirty, because now we have some tome leading up to this.
Dedeker: So the next thing as far as maintaining a good sex life or a great sex life, shall we say. And this should be pretty evident to anyone's been listening to our show for any amount of time. Which is that, monogamy specifically, may not be for everyone, or it may not be for you all the time, necessarily. I think, you know, that is what I definitely appreciate about Esther Perel's is that she's not talking about all these things within this one particular framework of long term monogamy, but yes, I think definitely encouraging people to start thinking outside of the box a little bit.
You know that if you open up your relationship or if you decide to be non-monogamous, it doesn't have to be full polyamory, if it means, you know, going to a play party one in a while. Or if it means, you know, hundred mile rule, or whatever, as long as you able to do and healthy and ethical way, then that's fine too, and that can definitely jazz up your sex life for sure.
Jase: Yes, I mean there's been studies done specifically about a swingers or people, who practice ethical non-monogamy, in the way that just having sexual partners. They've been studies done, showing that on average day tend to report much higher levels of satisfaction in their relationships, just in general, but also especially with their sex lives. So there's even science to back this up to it isn't just being like, "fucking try this," I don't know.
Jase: Actually there's some research to back that up.
Emily: It is interesting and these interviews, that I read how taking aback people or by that and how she does say, like "Look, I'm not advocating, cheating, I'm not saying, like, that that is an okay thing, but if two people can come to an agreement, within there's specific relationship about, potential non-monogamy then more power to them," because again I think, she's a realist and threw out her work and probably throughout saying how often- she didn't comes up, quite frankly, I think, that she's like well, it can work for some people, and be- great for some people. That's awesome. As we well know.
Jase: Yes. The next turn here is actually related to one of the earlier ones that we've talked about. This is, “Sex should be unknown and unpredictable.” When you mean that, it's not in the same place every night and not at the same time every night. So this we talked a little bit of like, oh, you know, got to stick to the schedule, whatever. What I fond of, I can share some of my personal experience, generally in newer relationships or relationships, where I don't see a partner very often, this doesn't come up as much, but in more established relationships or longer term relationships, or once where I'm living with the partner, whatever that actually making time, whether that schedule time or saying, once a week or it's either can be on Wednesdays or Saturdays, like those sexy days, that's kind of keep there, it sort of mental emotional space, there for that.
What's interesting about it, is that by doing that I found it actually also makes these kind of unpredictable, unexpected sexual things happen more often as well. Where it's like, “Oh, this is our day," Until we assume, like, once we can done with our work for the day, then we're going to do that, but somehow in the morning we just, like, hey, and things just go somewhere in the morning.
Jase: -During lunch or something like that, where it's like, "Ah, I didn't expect that, I assume we are going to do that later after we'd finished our chores," And whatever else. But I found that- just scheduling time for it, kind of having it on your mind- can also help that to occur in the times and places you do not expect. It's like, "Oh, wow, we do it right here in the kitchen, instead of in the bed, like we normally do" or whatever it is. So that's just an example. I guess, I'm really fighting hard for this whole, it's okay to schedule sex thing.[laughs]
Dedeker: I think that, because my clients, often I encourage them, to do thing like that too. If they are finding that they are falling into a rut or frequency of sex, this is just like not satisfying to either, have the couple, but I think it's that like the keys. It's okay to use a tool to create a container for unpredictable things to happen. Then it's kind of, like finding that balance where obviously I think, like Jase was saying earlier, doesn't have to be down to the minute. Planning necessarily. Although if you're parent that maybe what it takes.
Jase: Yes. That's possible. Yes.
Dedeker: You know again, even just adding a little bit of structure can help to make sure that it still happens while still being allowed to be organic and unpredictable.
Emily: At the same time if you, I think do more sex in your life, if you make time for sex and have more sex, you're going be thinking about it more and potentially wanting it more.
Jase: So do more sex.
Dedeker: Do more sex. Do the sex.
Jase: [laughs] Do the sex.
Jase: Do it more.
Dedeker: That's technically what the Japanese say, just do sex.
Emily: Just do the sex.
Dedeker: Well think of it, it makes more sense than having sex.
Jase: That's true. That is weird. Yes.
Emily: It is a verb. I guess it's also a noun.
Jase: It's funny because in--
Emily: We only use it as a noun because we don't say- I mean we only say ironically to sex someone.
Emily: We say having.
Jase: - or sexing.
Jase: Yes. We're having it.
Emily: -because that's a verb.
Jase: Having sex.
Emily: You are possessing it. Yes. It's weird.
Dedeker: Having a seance.
Jase: -or like having a good time? Yes. I mean it's kind of- It falls into a weird gray area I think.
Emily: Fucking English. No wonder. It's difficult to learn.
Jase: In Russian it's like you're occupying yourself with sex.
Dedeker: What? Really?
Jase: It's kind of like how I would translate the way you'd say it. Spending your time on sex.
Dedeker: I think that makes much more sense than having sex.
Jase: It's essentially like-
Dedeker: I love that.
Emily: I mean you are spending some time.
Dedeker: It's true. Wow.
Emily: On sex.
Emily: On that note, yes.
Jase: What was that? There was something I wanted to bring up about that thought. I had one particular partner, there was something that she did that I actually really appreciated. It was that when we were together, there was a time neither of us were feeling super sex driven a lot of the time. Even though we like having sex but, it wasn't a big focus of our day to day lives individually. But when we were together, it'd kind of be that time of, "Well, it's a little late we could just go to bed. I don't know if we want to have sex. We're tired. It has been a busy day." That sort of thing. Her suggestion she would make is she's like, "Woah, why don't we just get naked and let's get into bed together and we'll see what happens."
If we just go to sleep that's fine and if we have sex that's good too. It was actually really nice and I'd say more often than not the sex, but didn't always. Sometimes it would just be make out a little bit and "I'm tired hun. Okay, yes me too. We would just go to bed. Just kind of making a space for it to happen is also really nice. The last point from this article, here about maintaining great sex. Esther Perel says, "On some level, we trade passion for security, and that's trading one illusion for another. It's a matter of degree. We can't live in constant fear, but we can't live without any. The fear of loss is essential to love." Discuss.
Emily: No. It's just so good because again, yes, there is the narrative that," Okay, we're married. We're good now."
Dedeker: We're done.
Emily: We're done. Nothing's going to happen in this relationship like I got it on lock. She talks about like you got it on lease at most.
Emily: You still have to want it like rehappen and renew every time that potentially something goes wrong, something happens, or there are questions or whatever. You also have to look at the relationship and you can't take it for granted in that way. I think that's super important because so many of us do especially in long term relationships.
Jase: I think a really good example of the opposite extreme of that is the relationship that I feel like many of us have had at some point in our life. Which is where you're really into the person who's kind of there and then they're not. They're kind of not always available and they're a little inconsistent and can't always trust that they're actually into you. That you're always chasing after a right where it's maybe that's where it fuels your desire for them. Your passion for them. But, it's not a healthy, sustainable way to have a relationship. It usually ends up just you feeling exhausted and you're always pretty occupied with it. Right? She's saying, it's about this balance. Right.
Jase: Then we can't live in constant fear which is what the bad is. Which makes us so desperate running after this person who's never giving us quite what we want. Also, in feeling too safe, "Whatever, I got it on lock."
Emily: You're never going to have to worry about that person.
Jase: Never have to worry about them leaving or anything who cares.
Dedeker: Not to say that being securely attached in a relationship is a bad thing. It's just that when you're so securely attached, it does get to the point of taking them for granted a little bit. Chances are the sex is not super inspiring. [laughs]
Jase: Yes. That's been my experience at least.
Emily: Yes. We're going to go on to autonomy which is another very important thing to have in your relationships, also to make your relationships more inspiring. I'm going to read from Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. She says, “Yet in our efforts to establish intimacy, we often seek to eliminate other nests, thereby precluding the space necessary for a desire to flourish. We seek intimacy to protect ourselves from feeling alone, and yet creating the distance essential to eroticism. Means stepping back from the comfort of our partner and feeling more alone.
Our ability to tolerate our separateness and the fundamental insecurity it engenders is a precondition for maintaining interest and desire in a relationship. Instead of always striving for closeness, couples may be better off cultivating their separate selves.” That was a mellow song.
Dedeker: It’s interesting that she calls out the idea that separateness just fundamentally causes us to feel insecure a little bit in a relationship. That's just so fascinating to me because it really speaks to how much we have been indoctrinated with this old Judeo-Christian belief that the two flesh shall become one, essentially that-
Jase: Or when to become one as the Spice Girls also said.
Dedeker: Yes, that other ancient religion I had forgotten about.
Emily: The religion of the Spice.
Dedeker: It’s interesting because, in her writings, Esther Perel does talk about the fact that the desire for having autonomy sometimes can be the catalyst for infidelity in a relationship. There's more and more research coming out about the fact that even if people are happy in their relationship and happy with their partner, they may still cheat. That definitely turns on the head the narrative that we normally have of, “Well, they're out seeking something that they're not getting in the relationship or they must not be in love with their partner anymore. That's why they're trying to be with someone else.”
That may not necessarily be the case. Perel, she talks about this idea of the quest for the unexplored self, which I think is really interesting. This idea that people go out and they find someone new. Like we've said on this show many times, when you have multiple partners, each partner brings out something new in you to a certain extent. It's the same even if you're in a monogamous relationship and you happen to be cheating. It's that desire to be able to have an established separate self or a newer self that gets brought to the surface by this other person.
Perel talks about people having an affair and it makes them feel young again, or they remember who it was that they were before they were in their marriage or in this particular long-term relationship, or it brings them back to remembering these opportunities that they missed with other people that brings them back to remembering who they might have been if they decided to be with some other person other than the person that they're with right now. It's really interesting because it's like if you have built your identity around this particular other person in your life, I feel like, by default, that means that anytime you do get to explore how that may be different it just makes it seem even more tantalizing. I think for some people if that's wrapped up in another person or in an affair, it just makes it even more juicy and tempting.
Jase: Well, yes if you feel like that's the only time you can be yourself because all of the rest of the time is spent having this one person be everything to you. They're your one confidante, they're your one best friend, they're your one person that you have your hobbies with, that you do things with, that that can feel very limiting, even if we might love the crap out of that person and think they're amazing. Really honestly, you're not deluding yourself into thinking that. You really think they're amazing and you want to spend all your time with them that even then, they're still-- You start to lose your sense of identity.
Which leads us to our first point here, which is don't forget about your other friends. Make time to hang out with your own friends. Not your couple friends, but your own friends. Give time to them just as you give time to your partner or your partners.
Dedeker: We definitely come back to that a lot. It relates to the stuff that we talked about with relationship anarchy. It just seems like whatever your relationship model is, don't forget that there's this whole other network around you that is just as important as the people that maybe you're choosing to have a child with or to live with or to have sex with or things like that.
Jase: I think that can be really-
Emily: Even if-
Jase: Sorry. Go ahead, Emily.
Emily: Just I was going to say and even if you are monogamous, you are going to be a different person around your friends than you are potentially around your significant other. That will at least give you a sense of that by being around them, a sense of otherness, a sense of autonomy, rather than just being the same person, day in and day out with your significant other.
Jase: Yes. I think this one and the next point we're going to make can be very hard to transition to if you've found yourself in a more, I'm going to say normal kind of a relationship.
Dedeker: No, don't say normal. Don't say normal.
Jase: A more-
Dedeker: Say traditional.
Jase: A more commonplace kind of a relationship where-
Dedeker: Well, that sounds patronizing. I'm just going to shoot down every suggestion.
Jase: I'm used to it.
Jase: This is, “I need time with my other friends who don't shoot down my ideas.”
Dedeker: It’s okay. No, it's good I feel very separate from you right now. That's good for our relationship.
Jase: Yes, thank God.
Emily: Because you are.
Jase: Yes, aside from being across the world from each other right now.
Emily: Yes, exactly.
Jase: However you want to describe it-- Hold on. I wasn't finished with my thought.
Emily: All right, what?
Jase: That if you are in this kind of a traditional relationship where you are very intertwined with each other and you only ever hang out with your friends together that you can't just do stuff separately from each other or just that you don't, this can be a very difficult thing to do. It can be a difficult transition. You might say, “Yes, I'd like to do that,” But the opportunity never comes up or it never quite seems appropriate to leave your partner to do that. This is an instance where something like having a monthly check-in like a radar that-- You can go back and check out our episode about that, a few episodes ago. Having a monthly meeting can really help in your relationship to set specific tangible goals for doing this.
Because I understand it, I've been there and it's an easy place for me to go, of just spending all my time with someone and not going out and doing things separately. Having a very intentional meeting with each other can be a really good way, both for you and your partner, to make time for that, to make sure you are prioritizing that and understanding it’s not a way to escape your relationship, but a way to help promote its growth, and it’s intimacy and everything.
Emily: The next way to promote autonomy is to take time for yourself. Not your friends, not anyone else, but just yourself, which can mean a night away from your partner doing an activity on your own. Something Dedeker has done is take a retreat by yourself or travel without your partner on a solo vacation, something that you have done a lot of times, Dedeker.
Dedeker: I’ve done a lot of that. I don't feel like I tend to have a lot of problems with autonomy. I've certainly had some bad patches in the past but--
Emily: I think also it's probably because you regularly do these things. It’s not just because--
Dedeker: Well, part of that may feel part of my avoiding attachment behavior. We'll not dive into that.
Emily: I'm trying to just give you a compliment.
Dedeker: Okay, I'll take the compliment.
Jase: I think the good point though is that it's about balance. That if it's just because you can't handle being around someone all the time, then maybe address that from the other side. Having spent most of the past year with you, Dedeker, I don't think that's quite what's going on at the moment.
Emily: No, exactly.
Dedeker: You caught me.
Emily: Yes, you do spend a lot of time with people, but then you also-
Dedeker: I do. That’s fair.
Emily: - take months for yourself, which is awesome. I think in the same way. It's great for me to get to go on trips with you guys away from my nesting partner and do things like that as well, have opportunity for time away is incredibly important.
Dedeker: Yes, definitely. The next one is just to remember that autonomy is related to having a mutual respect for each other. We are going to dive into respect a little bit later in the second part of this episode, but just remembering to honor the things that are different about your partner, different from you, and also allowing them to honor the differences in you. That one can be a real tricky one because, for some people, it's what's the line between what's the difference that I can live with and what's the difference that's a deal breaker to a certain extent.
Jase: Going along with all of this is that autonomy can reduce that feeling of need for an affair or infidelity within your relationship. It's important to remember here that infidelity can also happen in non-monogamous relationships or in polyamorous relationships. Infidelity means some kind of other relationship that's kept secret or is outside the parameters of what you've agreed to or is somehow dishonest or other, not just that it's with somebody else. Having this autonomy, ironically, you might think being apart from each other more might encourage more of that.
That actually, ironically, it alleviates some of the need for that because as we were talking about earlier, a lot of times that comes from just a desire to be on your own and to do own thing and to not feel like it's always having to be worked into this one other person's life. I think that that can be a surprising thing, but is incredibly powerful to realize.
Dedeker: Well it's kind of related to what we talked about in our cognitive biases episode about reactance, about if you've set up some rules or agreements in your relationship where one of you or both of you feels like your freedom of choice is being threatened or you feel like your autonomy is being threatened, you're going to be more likely to try to push back against that particular agreement or try to find a loophole or just straight-up break a rule. It is that weird ironic thing that the more you could try to keep your partner on a short leash, the more they're going to try to pull against that leash.
Emily: They resist.
Dedeker: Not because they're a dick or anything, but just because that's part of psychology that autonomy is important for all human beings at a certain point in time. I think just to give a more practical example of this, that when people are making agreements, things like-- Gosh, I don't know. What are some ridiculous ones that I've heard lately? Things like, “Well, before you can sleep with someone, you need to bring them home to meet me,” And that you need to have gotten tested within the last three weeks and they need to have not slept with anybody in the last six months.
Creating essentially an agreement that's very difficult for your partner to feel autonomous, to be able to make their own decisions about who they do sleep with or who they do choose to go on a date with. That those are the kind of things that rather than protecting your relationship, are going to make it more likely that your partner's going to try to find a way around that or try to do something about telling you-
Emily: Choose to jump through.
Jase: I would even take that a step further and say any type of an agreement where I have to sign off on anyone that you want to date or that you want to have sex with, that even that, I would even go that far to say that even that, that I have to meet them and tell you it's okay first, that right there you've eliminated that autonomy in that other relationship.
Emily: The idea that you have the ability to make a decision for yourself without somebody else validating that decision. I think that's bullshit. Again, keeping autonomy from one another, not okay. On that note, obviously, we do a podcast that touches on polyamory often. I think polyamory can really foster a sense of autonomy for a couple who was previously in a close relationship. Obviously, relationships change and grow and morph over time.
I know for me and Jase, I think it did create a different sense of who we are and that was such a problem for me and my monogamous relationships was that I really got lost in them. Polyamory opened up that world of me not feeling so incredibly only with one person, and like that’s the only box that I could fit in. Instead, it opened my horizons in so many ways. I think that it can absolutely be a way to maintain autonomy in a relationship.
Dedeker: I will say though, I don't think it's necessarily a magic bullet because people that I've worked with, like the couples who have the most success opening up their relationships, are couples who already in their relationships there was some autonomy. It doesn't mean they're at an extreme level, but the idea of them both having autonomy and independence wasn't threatening from the beginning, and that definitely helped the transition a lot. Because sometimes if you don't have that in your relationship already, sometimes just the main problem that people have trying to have a non-monogamous relationship is just the idea that their partner is going to be out making decisions without them. It’s just too threatening to people. I definitely encourage you, whether you want to open up your relationship someday or not, it's still a really important thing to have.
Emily: I think I was speaking from personal knowledge that I was the person who tended to create the codependency in my relationships and that that wasn't the fault of my partners, but that in a way, polyamory allowed me to have the tendency to be codependent less, just simply because I was like, “There's other things out here and I'm allowed to enjoy and be interested in them. It doesn't just mean I have to box myself into what I think my relationship needs and wants.”
Dedeker: That makes sense.
Dedeker: The last point here that we want to hit on is just the fact that there is research that shows that people who have more social resources, like more of a social network, more of a support network, if they have more people around them to talk to, whether that's just talking to shooting the shit or talking and processing something that's going on, that those people do a lot better when it comes to a marriage. I'm assuming that in this context that Esther Perel means specifically probably a long-term monogamous marriage. I think that applies to any kind of long-term relationship in general, whatever the relationship format is.
The thing is that it's really important to know, what's the balance between what am I investing in my partner or in my partners and where can I be investing elsewhere. As in what are my friendship relationships that I can be investing in as well? What are the people outside of my romantic relationships that I can continue to invest in? I found in my own life that when I started thinking about things in this way, it did really change a lot. When I started treating a lot of my what I would call ‘friendships,’ non romantic, non-sexual relationships, once I started putting a lot more importance on them of trying to maintain communication, trying to do nice things for them, or give them gifts, or essentially using my love languages towards my friends as well, that really made me just generally a lot happier.
Not that it's all about me. Of course, it made those relationships better as well. That was what I found is that generally it just made me generally a happier person, which meant that I was a better partner in my romantic and sexual relationships.
Jase: Great. Well, I'm really excited to continue talking about this. Clearly, we could talk about all this stuff forever, but we're going to have to wait until next week to finish up this discussion where we talk about our two last topics about inspiring relationships.
Dedeker: On our quest for finding inspiring relationships.
Emily: It’s a long arduous quest.
Jase: Yes. Thank you for joining on this. I'm really enjoying this kind of discussion about what it is that makes relationships good. I feel like that, it's so much at the heart of what this show is about a lot of the time. We deal with specific things, but this is the heart of it of how do we have the best possible relationships regardless of the specifics of those like, “What are the more general themes on how to have successful relationships?” I'm excited to pick this up next week.