We're joined today by Kathy Labriola, author of The Polyamory Breakup Book! We're discussing how to healthily navigate breaking up when in a polyamorous relationship, and some of the unique challenges that polyamorous couples face when it's time to end things.
For more information about Kathy and her book, visit http://www.kathylabriola.com/.
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Jase: On this episode of the Multiamory podcast, we're joined by Kathy Labriola to talk about her upcoming book, The Polyamory Breakup Book. Kathy Labriola is a nurse, counselor and hypnotherapist, and she's been in practice in the Berkeley area for over 25 years. Kathy is the author of three books, Love and Abundance, The Jealousy Workbook and now, The Polyamory Breakup Book: Causes, Survival and Prevention. She has been a card-carrying bisexual and polyamorous for nearly 50 years and was first on the Multiamory podcast four years ago I think, and we're really excited to have her back. Kathy, thank you so much for being on the show.
Kathy: Thanks for having me. It's great to be back. I thought I had something wrong the last time, since I was never invited back. You know when you say something and you behave badly or get too drunk or something and they never invite you back.
You've had plenty of other fascinating guests to talk to in the meantime.
Dedeker: Right. Well, I think last time it was when The Jealousy Workbook came out. Did that timing work out, that was about four years ago?
Kathy: Yes, that's right.
Dedeker: It's just that cost of admission is writing a book, that's all it is.
Kathy: Okay, I won't take it personally.
Dedeker: Yes, so we've gotten to read this book and really, really fascinating. Lots of interesting parts, lots of stuff to think about. I guess I want to dive in just with the basics here, because pretty early on in the book, you cover the most common causes of breakups for all types of relationships across the board. Specifically, you list seven causes, you call them the usual suspects. I want to know, could we first briefly go over the usual suspects and then after that, could we talk about what you list as the specifically polyamory-related causes of breakups?
Kathy: Sure. Well, what I try to make sure people understand is that at least half of all breakups of polyamorous relationships have nothing, whatsoever, to do with the polyamory aspect. They're due to these seven usual suspects that plague all relationships. I think people that are polyamorous, often are so focused on the non-monogamous nature of the relationship and working out those aspects, they forget that they are just as likely to break up over incompatibilities around sex or money or domestic issues. Like there are things that come up when you just come living together that make you incompatible.
Those are first big three, sex, money, domestic issues. The fourth is what I call the-- Some incompatibilities, different needs around intimacy and autonomy. One person wants to be that joint at the hip 24/7 type couples, spend all your time together, integrate your lives together. The other person wants a little more privacy, a little more time alone to have more of a little bit of a life of their own. Those are the biggest causes that all couples break up, both monogamous and individuals that are in open relationships, but there are three other very common causes that destroy both polyamorous and monogamous relationships, and those are not really relationship issues.
What I mean is that somebody, one person in the relationship, has a problem and they bring that problem into the relationship. It's not something that's created within the relationship. Those three issues are drug or alcohol addiction or some kind of addictive behavior. It can be drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, anything else, any addictive problem. Untreated mental health conditions that affect the relationship.
The seventh is abuse, verbal abuse or physical abuse, psychological abuse. I do want to mention, because I mentioned the mental health conditions, I want to make sure that I'm clear that people who have mental health conditions can be great relationship partners for whether polyamorous or monogamous, if they are getting the support and help that they need to manage their mental health conditions. It's just when someone is not getting any kind of treatment or help, that can destroy a relationship regardless of whether it's poly or monogamous.
Those are the big seven causes, and people who are in polyamorous relationships are just as likely to break up over those issues as they are over things to do with polyamory. Usually in a poly relationship, those issues have a different spin, a distinctly polyamorous spin to it. For instance, with something like sex, if you're having incompatibilities around sex, polyamory can actually solve that problem in many cases, because each person can have as much or as little sex as they want or the right kind of sex they want, because they can go elsewhere if they're not able to have that with the person that they're already with.
It can destroy a relationship as well, because if you're not having a very satisfying sexual relationship or not having enough sex or not having the kind of sex you want and you go out and have another relationship, it's fairly likely that you're going to decide, "Well, this other relationship is much more sexually satisfying, so why am I in this relationship to start with?"
That often can lead to the demise of the relationship or conversely, it can be the opposite, a partner could be pretty satisfied or at least willing to accept that their partner doesn't have a big sex drive, doesn't want sex that much, but then if the partner goes out and starts having lots of great sex with some else, he'll say, "Well, wait a minute, you won't have sex with me but you're out there having sex with other people, what's going on?" That can be very distressing and can cause a breakup as well.
Dedeker: Definitely. I was going to say that I'm impressed that you rattled all that off from memory. I shouldn't be impressed because you wrote the book. I put the list in here, I was like, "Just in case. I'm going to have the list in there."
Kathy: Well, people come in here with lots of different kinds of sexual issues and problems, so it's not really hard to remember all that.
Dedeker: That makes sense.
Kathy: Sometimes it's issues with money. Usually when you're in a relationship, a monogamous relationship, that can break up because people have very different approaches to finances and money. There can be a poly spin on it if it's a polyamorous relationship, that usually a partner's already unhappy about the way their partner handles money, but then that person is going out and spending money on another relationship or they're not working that much and not making a lot of money, but yet they're spending a lot of time on this other relationship. It can create a big tension in the relationship and cause a breakup.
Emily: It's interesting you don't include in-laws in this one, because I've heard family of origin or people like that being a potential breakup thing in relationships in general, but that isn't here. I really agree with your seven, I just found it interesting that that's not one of them in addition.
Kathy: Well, the way that in-laws and families members have tended to cause problems is usually they don't approve of the polyamorous relationship in the first place. Often people are so estranged from their families and in-laws that those in-laws can't really cause them much problem, because they're not really having a close relationship anyway. The only times I've seen that destroy relationships are, I work with some people that are in my age group, which is quite a bit older than you are, but we're dealing with the elderly parents with Alzheimer's.
I've seen poly families and couples and triads breakup over-- the person believes that the family should take in their elderly relative who's disabled or has Alzheimer's and needs to be cared for, or that the whole family should provide financial support to support the elderly relative. That can create a big problem, because oftentimes when people get married or move in together as a poly triad or something, they are not really thinking about those things. They're not really talking about, "What if, what happens if?" The same thing happens in my age group. Some people have grown children who end up wanting to move back in and then--
Emily: Those millennials?
Kathy: What's that?
Emily: Those darn millennials, all moving back in with their parents these days.
Kathy: I've most often seen it when the grown children are married but they get divorced, and suddenly your daughter and her two kids think they can move back in with you and your partner, and your other partners potentially. It's that problem, but usually a divorce of the younger generation and there's a divorce and children involved.
Jase: Right. Yes, speaking of children in the book, you also talked about the money problems having to do with child-rearing and paying for childcare and things like that. In a similar way to caring for parents where it's like, "Well, I just assumed the whole family is going to chip in for this child care." Whereas someone else might go, "Wait, this isn't my kid, this is your financial responsibility."
Emily: Yes, that's not my money, exactly.
Jase: It seems very similar, whether it's parents or children.
Kathy: Yes, and the worst possible situation which I've seen unfortunately many times is an unplanned pregnancy in a poly configuration. Whether you're living together as a group or not, suddenly one or more people are being expected to support a child financially, help take care of a child, one which at least a few of them had no role whatsoever in creating.
Dedeker: Well, before we move on to speaking about the polyamory-specific breakup causes-- We've been talking about this a little bit, but I was wondering, of these big seven of the usual suspects, do you think that there are particular ones that are more or less likely to be exacerbated by polyamory or by being open?
Kathy: I think the ones that are the most likely to really be made worse and possibly end up being the last straw that destroys a relationship are sex, money and untreated mental health problems. Oftentimes it's in a stale monogamist relationship there, even if they are not taking a lot of action to care for themselves and their mental health condition, adding an outside relationship can create a huge amount of anxiety, depression, paranoia, irrational fears and sometimes some pretty bad behavior unfortunately. That can really create a huge problem in the relationship.
Sexual or financial isues also are big because usually, as I mentioned before, already someone in the relationship is very unhappy about the sexual situation or about their partner's financial behaviors. Then that having another relationship in the mix just adds an extra layer of it, where it becomes intolerable.
Emily: Yes. You have those big seven potential reasons why a person might break up in a relationship, but then you also have four polyamory-specific reasons. Can we quickly go into those as well?
Kathy: Yes, those are-- number one and number two both involve picking the wrong partners, no surprise there. The first one and by far the foremost polyamory-related reason that poly people break up is falling in love with a monogamist. The second one is getting involved with partners that want a different model of polyamory than you do. They're poly, but they want a different approach or a different style of relationship. The third one is poor time and energy management skills and behaviors. The fourth, which seems to surprise people that the fourth, the least common reason is jealousy.
Dedeker: I feel like I'm playing bingo right now.
Thinking about my own breakup history, both on the giving and receiving ends. I'm like, "Yes, that one, yes. Yes. Yes."
Kathy: Checking those boxes. Yet I do want to make it sound like there's no jealousy in the other three models of where you picked the wrong person or where you have bad time and energy management. In those, whether you pick a monogamist or whether you pick someone who wants a different model of polyamory or whether you have really piss-poor time and energy management skills, you're going to have a lot of out of control jealousy of those situations. The jealousy in those relationships is a symptom, not the cause of the breakup. Whereas the fourth situation, in that scenario, jealousy is the prime cause of the breakup.
Dedeker: Yes. It seems like a lot of these could really interlock and get entangled with all these different multiple reasons that would just layer on top of each other. I feel like sometimes it's hard to point to one singular cause in situations, that often these seem like these could all work together as-- I want to say some fucked-up synergy could really work with all these different causes to really make things spectacularly bad.
Kathy: Yes. It's never quite as simple as, "Oh, it's just one thing only that's the problem." There definitely are overlapping problems. Usually one thing is more primary than the others or one thing is, "I just can't tolerate this." I pretend that the other things are bothering me but they're not going to cause me to end the relationship, but there is one thing that just becomes, "Okay. This is a deal-breaker for me."
Jase: Yes, so in your book you mentioned this term that I really liked, that you called the high stakes poly dominoes. It sounds exciting, high stakes poly dominoes, but rather than this being the thing you get to do if you're at the high roller table, this is a bad thing that we want to avoid, right?
Kathy: Well-- I'm sorry, go ahead.
Jase: No. I just would love to-- I mean I could explain it or you can explain it, either way, but I'm curious for you to explain what it is and then maybe some tips on how we can avoid it.
Kathy: Okay, great. At some point you have to have Dr. Julie Fennell on your show, because she is the inventor of this term and has elaborated at great lengths about it on her blog. She has a blog called slutphd.com and her tag is-- and that's Dr. Slut to you. Her theory about high stakes poly dominoes is, she apparently has seen a number of these situations. I've certainly seen plenty of them, where one polyamorous breakup takes the whole poly constellation around it down with it. It's several relationships, it can be really epically disastrous.
Her opinion, and I definitely do agree with her, that the most likely thing to make this happen is being in a polyamorous triad where all three people are in a relationship together. Whatever the gender or sexual orientation or anything else, the people in it, that all three people have sexual and romantic relationships with the other two. That is where the relationships are most dependent on each other and most interlocked. One relationship falling apart is pretty likely to bring the other two down with it.
Jase: Can I ask some clarifying question about that? In your experience, working with lots of different triads and things like that, have you-- You mentioned, also during this high stakes poly dominoes section, about if a primary relationship breaks up, it's more likely to cause secondary relationships to break up. I wonder if you've noticed a difference with that with these-- We'll call them interlocked triads. If you've noticed a difference where if it's very clearly like these two were the original with the longer relationship, and then they've added this third.
Whether that's just as likely, if that third relationship breaks up, to break up the main couple or if it only works the other way around, or if this is more stable if they all met each other at the same time or a kind of-- Have you noticed any trends there?
Kathy: Yes, if you have a primary couple that's been together for a long time, like 10 years or more, and they have added a third person and both of the people in that couple have become sexually and romantically involved with that third person, and if one of the people breaks up with that third person, then it's likely that one of two things will happen. Either the primary couple is fairly likely to be able to stay together, or they're going to break up and one person is going to go off with the person that's being broken up with by the other person.
Sorry if it's not too clear, but person A, B and C, I know it's hard to keep it all straight. Usually in those situations, if the couple has been together a long time, either they'll manage to stay together and the other person will leave or go off or be broken up with, or one person from that couple will abandon ship and go off with the newer person. Usually at least one of those three relationships is going to end up surviving.
If it's three people that have gotten together in fairly short order, like maybe there's been a primary couple that's been together a year or two, and they add a third person, that is much more likely to take the whole triad down, and all three relationships are likely to end. There's just not enough stability there in any of the three relationships or enough longevity usually to make it work out.
Jase: If I'm thinking about it, visually, it's like you're saying, in one where one of the relationships has been longer, it's like one of the lines connecting the three points breaks, and it's very likely that one or the other of the other two lines is going to break, leaving just one line.
Dedeker: It's like some sort of peptide chain.
Kathy: Well, my experience is it's just as likely that one of the people in that long-term couple is going to abandon their long-term partner and go off with the new person.
Jase: Well, one way or the other.
Kathy: No, well, neither one is worse or better. It's just, it has surprised me that it's just as likely that that primary couple is going to break up. I think when a couple that's been together a while gets involved with a third person, they mistakenly think if anything goes wrong, this other person is, for lack of a better word, expendable. I think that's the attitude a lot of couples have, that if anything goes wrong, we're going to close ranks behind our relationship and we're going to have to say goodbye to this other person, but it's just as likely to happen the opposite way that someone is ready to leave that primary couple, the original couple.
Dedeker: I think that is the funny thing with triads and quads that form-- I guess it's not a really uncomfortable conversation to have, but it's like people seem to be okay to build these very interlocked, interdependent relationships, but very few people are having the conversation around, “What happens if one of us is unhappy with this particular relationship, or that particular relationship, or that particular relationship?” Again, not a comfortable conversation to have, but I'm wondering if talking about those logistics earlier on would help, or if it would just still turn into dominoes, because emotions come up and feelings and everything falls apart.
Kathy: No, it would definitely help to talk about it in advance, but probably what would be even more useful is that a lot of times in these triads and quads, one person is feeling coerced whether they say it or not. It would be even better if everyone would feel at choice to say, “Yes, I know my partner's madly in love with this person. I know that they both would like me to jump on this bandwagon with them, but I do not feel romantically, sexually, emotionally drawn to this third person.” There's a lot of pressure on that person because the two other people want this.
It's the same with quads when-- because it's often two couples getting together. Usually, if there're two couples getting together, there's at least one person and usually two, that do not want this, but they do not feel able to say it. They feel like, “I don't want to be a poor sport and be the one that ruins the party. Everybody else wants this but me,” or they think everyone else wants. Usually there's almost always one person and usually two, because there're usually a couple of people in that group, in that grouping of four, that are madly in love, or just madly in lust, or they've got NRE going like crazy, and they're trying just by a force of will to drag everyone else along with them.
It’s not like they're really saying, “I'm trying to force my partner into this.” They just think, “I'm so enamored with this person, you must be too,” or, “They're so great. If only you would try this out. I know you would love them just--” A lot of these situations that I see couples-- I see couples and quads who are in the process of breaking up or one person is trying to break off one of the relationships, almost always they say, “I never wanted this in the first place.” Sometimes the partner goes, “You didn't say that.” Sometimes they say, “Yes, I did. I definitely said many times, ‘I'm not sure about this. I don't think this is a good idea. I don't really want to do this.'”
Oftentimes, they have made numerous attempts. They just haven't set a firm boundary and said, “I am not going along with this. No. I am not part of this.” Dedeker, in response to your question, even if all three people are pretty enamored and want to do this, or even if two couples really want to do this, they should really talk about it beforehand, like, “What happens if one of us wants to drop out of one of these relationships or all of these relationships, how are we going to handle it?”
This is especially true when people-- sometimes one couple will sell their house and move in with the other couple. Then suddenly you're really stuck, or one person is moving from another city to move in with a couple or something like that.
Emily: Don’t sign anything in the first year.
Kathy: Definitely. Especially now, with so many more of these long distance relationships, people are moving, quitting their jobs, selling their homes, moving away to another city or another state, and then they're just doomed once they get there. They find, “This is not what I signed up for.” Jase, in answer to your question earlier about primary relationship, if there are secondary relationships, are they all going to fall in the high stakes poly dominoes or not, was that what you were asking?
Jase: Yes. Just what trends you've noticed there?
Kathy: The key is not trying to make the secondary become a primary just because you have broken up with your primary or they've broken up with you. There's a very strong temptation. Usually, there's the thought, at least on the part of someone in that relationship, one person or the other is thinking, “The only reason our relationship is “secondary” is because they're already married, or I'm already married, or their partner is already married to someone else. Now, that job’s open. That plot is open and I'm going to just slide right into it. I want to be the primary now.”
Or as a person who has split up with their primary is thinking, “This other person, they're great. Let's make a go of it here and us move in together, or let's have a primary relationship.” Almost always, that just never works. Almost always that is not going to work because the person was probably a secondary for a reason. I think it rarely works to try to make a secondary relationship into a primary. Sometimes it does. Never say never, but most of the time, you discover that it was really at the right level before.
That often ends up with the relationship breaking up because one person or the other is adamant that they want it to be primary, and they may have wanted that for a long time before this happened, and so they're just crushed that that's not going to happen.
Jase: Sounds like various types of imbalances. I just want to say it's ironic with the thing about triads and everyone having to be in that relationship together, and that that actually makes it more likely that if one piece breaks up, the rest will break up. I think it's ironic because I feel like the reason a lot of people do that is because it feels safer, because they think, “I'm afraid of my partner maybe being too into someone else, so if I'm in that relationship too, I’ll be more secure.” That maybe ironically, they're creating a situation where they're actually making all of those relationships less secure.
Kathy: I think you're right. It is too bad because I think people are not really thinking through the possible consequences. Again, I do think there's an awful lot of pressure on people, even when they have a pretty strong sixth sense or an instinct that, “We're making a terrible mistake here,” they often will leap and take that leap of faith, and then it just doesn't work out. It is also true that triads are really, I think, the hardest, so it's just so hard for them to succeed.
Three people trying to either live together or even if they don't live together, three people trying to have three relationships, what's the likelihood that three people are all going to be so compatible, not only with one other person in that relationship but with the other two and be able to make it work. My experience with quads is that almost always, the quad will eventually end up as a triad or just the two couples will switch partners. That happens a lot.
Two couples come together and they end up switching partners eventually and going off as two separate couples. It's not that there's anything wrong with these people or these relationships. It's more that it requires such an extremely high level of affinity on so many things. It's hard to find one person you can live with, let alone two or three.
Emily: To piggyback off of that, are there ways out there to avoid picking wrong partners in open relationship situations? Are there really surefire ways in which to screen a partner early on?
Kathy: As I said, the number one thing is just to try your best to avoid falling in love with someone who has a tendency towards monogamy. That's not because a number of people out there that are oriented toward monogamy or they think they are, or they may somehow think they could handle a poly relationship and then it turns out they can't. They will try to convert you and you're trying to convert them and that rarely really works.
Jase: Yes, on both sides definitely. If you really want monogamy, then don't date a polyamorous person. Even though you're like, "Oh, but I love them. It'll be fine." It's like, no, that's a bigger incompatibility than you think, on both sides.
Kathy: Yes, I hear people almost every day saying, "But he's so perfect for me," or, "She's so perfect for me," or, "She's my soul mate." I'm like, "Well, yes, he's your soul mate but you're poly and they are monogamous and that, whether you think they're your soul mate or not, you're going to be miserable together." Or when someone says, "They're perfect for me," I think, yes, except for this huge thing.
Dedeker: It's a huge incompatibility.
Kathy: Totally different kind of relationship than you want, so they're not perfect. I think it's like people say, "Oh, he's perfect for me except that he's an alcoholic," or something. Not that being poly or monogamous is like being an alcoholic, but you're just that incompatible.
Dedeker: Well, I think it's really a testament to the power of NRE that not only does it blind you to the little red flags or the little flaws or whatever, but it the gigantic ones as well. Trust me, I've been on the other side of that where I fell in love with someone who was monogamous and because I was so in NRE, I was like, "That's okay. I only need this person. That's all right." I'm like, all the NRE chemicals, they're scratching all my itches as it were. They're checking all the boxes, so like, "That's fine, I can break up with everyone else and just do this." Then literally a few months later, I was like, "Oh God, what a huge mistake."
Kathy: Yes, what was I thinking?
Dedeker: Exactly. What was I thinking? I think definitely the same thing can happen on the monogamous side of thinking, like, "Well, I don't know about this polyamory thing, but it feels so good to be with them now that sure I can handle whatever," and then it just doesn't turn out that way.
Kathy: Well, I do think too that the confusing thing is that some people are what I call the bisexuals of the poly-mono spectrum. Some people can be perfectly happy in a monogamous relationship and they can be perfectly happy in a polyamorous relationship, with the right person or persons, at the right time in their lives, in a particular situation. For some people it really is situational, but for some of us, like me, I am just polyamorous and there's not really anyone at any point at any time that is going to change that. There are some people that are truly monogamous and no one's going to change that, but I think it's hard to tell.
I think a lot of people who are monogamous have to try a poly relationship in order to discover that their relationship orientation is fixed at the monogamy end of the spectrum. They are not in the bisexual camp between the poly and the monogamy. A lot of people are, and how do you know really, unless you get to try it.
Jase: And may argue the same with sexuality in general.
Dedeker: Yes, definitely.
Dedeker: I want to clarify that a little bit because I want to ask about what I feel is maybe trickier to screen for and that's figuring out-- Screening for that incompatibility of like, "Yes, we're both non-monogamous but we want a different kind of polyamory or non-monogamy." What's the best way figure that out early on or is it possible to figure that out early on with a new partner?
Kathy: It is if you know what model works for you and if they know what model works for them, but oftentimes, either you are not sure or they're not sure. If you know that you're in some primary-secondary model where you have a primary partner and you really don't have the bandwidth to have a second primary partner or that's not part of your agreement, then you'll really be smart to try to get involved with people who are already partnered with someone else. They're not looking for that primary or someone who doesn't really want a primary relationship.
There are certainly people out there that don't. The place that I see the most people getting in the most trouble with the wanting different models of polyamory, is one person wants some kind of primary relationship and that is not available in this particular model that they're in. They've picked some-- Already partnered or they've picked someone who wants relationship anarchy and is not looking for any living together or primary or marriage type relationship. That's the problem I see the most. There's someone in the configuration that wants a primary relationship and that is not available in this situation.
Jase: Yes, been on all different sides of that.
Dedeker: Been there, done that, yes, old news.
Emily: All of the above.
Dedeker: Okay, let's shift gears a little bit. In your book you talk about managing the "public relations of a polyamorous break up." Can you tell us first of all, well, why are we talking about public relations when it comes to a breakup?
Kathy: Well, because so many people that I have seen have absolutely been blindsided by the extremely hostile reaction they get from everyone around them when they're going through poly breakup. Mainly because everyone, all the non-poly people around them, their family, their friends, their coworkers, et cetera, are assuming that the relationship broke up because it was polyamorous, which as I was saying, at least half the time, is not true at all. They also are usually gloating because they will say, "I knew this could never work and you deserved it. You got what you asked for," or something.
There's that attitude. This is especially true if someone ends up like leaving for another person and there's this, "Oh, it was the other woman that destroyed the marriage or the other-- The wife had a boyfriend or something and it was all because of this so-called infidelity and cheating." There's all this totally imaginary stuff that people come up with to explain why this relationship broke up and you're not likely to get much sympathy from anyone because they predicted it. They said, "Oh yes, this will never work." They think that it didn't because it was a more non-monogamous relationship.
I usually try to tell people to be prepared for that and be cautious about who they talk to about it and what you tell them. Certainly don't give them any ammunition to use against you and throw back in your face. I often also tell people, as you're getting involved in a new relationship with someone, don't tell your family and coworkers and everybody about it right away. Give it some time. If it lasts a year or more, then it's time to tell people and then it's time if you want to take your new partner home to meet your parents and all.
I see people bringing people home to their family after dating for two months and then they create all this big crisis in the family and then a month later they split up and then they're just embarrassed. They've put their families through all this chaos and crisis, and being rejected by their families only to find the relationships didn't really last. Why go through that, why not just wait till you see this is really actually going to last?
That's especially true for people who are new to polyamory, if they decide to come out to their coworkers and their families and then they decide a few months later, "This poly thing is really not for me, it's very embarrassing," you've exposed yourself to a lot of ridicule and abuse that was unnecessary.
Dedeker: Yes, I feel like because of that public relations effect, shall we call it, I know in my own life it's like-- compared to the years when I was monogamous and the benchmarks or the time frame that I would use for when you tell people about your new boyfriend or girlfriend or whatever, versus when you bring them home, it's like, now that I've been polyamorous for over a decade now, it's like that time frame has expanded by several years. It's like what you were saying, it's like, "I'm going to wait a year before I like tell someone."
Not that I'm keeping him a secret, but before it's public knowledge that it's like, "Yes, this is one of my partners. I'm going to wait three years before they meet my family." I think because of that, because it takes us extra time to have that sticking power and that social proof of, this is actually a thing. This isn't just some nutso polyamorous fling or whatever people perceive it as.
Kathy: Well, I think too, that if you're in a monogamous relationship and you bring the partner home after a few months, you're not likely to get that lack of approval and lack of acceptance from your family or your-- if you bring them to your company picnic or something. They're going to probably like the person and approve of him and say, "Oh, great, you've got a boyfriend or girlfriend or whatever." But if you're not really sure about the relationship-- and especially for people who are new to polyamory, they're not even sure this is really for them. They're very insecure.
Then to be like ridiculed or rejected by a family or your coworkers, or worry about possibly getting fired from your job over it, why put yourself through that. You have to feel strong enough that you can defend yourself and defend your decisions and your relationship. If you're not that sure about this person yet or not that sure if this relationship is going to last, it's really going to be hard for you to be really articulate about defending your choices. I'm certainly not saying you should be in the closet or keep it secret or not tell anyone, it's just certain people that you can predict are likely to be hostile, which is usually your family. Maybe I would avoid that right off the bat. Sorry, go ahead.
Emily: I just was going to move on to the next question, but if you had one last thing to say, go for it.
Kathy: Yes, some people have really taken the initiative to take a very proactive stance if they're going through a breakup, to even send out an email to their friends saying, "I think, this is what's happening. I'm trying to make it as neutral as possible." You and your partner, even if you're going through an ugly breakup, you can agree on, "We're going to send this out to people or we're going to tell people. This is the situation and we just want them to know we're splitting up and we're trying not to badmouth each other publicly and get it out. We both will agree not to go on social media and vilify each other." Find a proactive stance so that you don't do anything you're going to regret later.
Emily: That's a good segue into this next question, which is another thing that you talk about in the book, but is there a better way to do polyamorous breakups, that enables all parties involved to have less pain and suffering?
Kathy: Well, the biggest predictor is whether you treated each other really well during the relationship and whether you try as best as you can to treat each other with care and love while you're going through a breakup. That's easier said than done, but if someone has done something awful, it's going to be hard for the breakup to be positive whether it's monogamous or polyamorous. Trying to get the support of your any other partners while you're going through the breakup really helps a lot.
Being able to explain to them what's going on, tell them you're not really at your best and you're not going to be the greatest relationship partner right now because you're going through this traumatic breakup, but asking for their support and asking for them to make it easier for you. Sometimes, when you're going through a breakup, you can get some agreement with your partner about texting each other or letting each other know if you're going to be at a poly event or a party or something so that you can decide if you want to avoid running into each other.
Or sometimes people-- I'm sure you've seen people do this where one person will say, "Well, I'm going to go to this event, you can go to that event," while you're in the worst of the breakup. Some people are also able to just transition a little more painlessly because they can do it slowly and gradually. When you're in a monogamous relationship, usually, once you're starting to break up, you just want to get it over with and move out and whatever else you want to do, give them back their underwear that they left at your house, all that stuff. With a polyamorous breakup, in some ways it's like, what's the rush?
You can gradually do what is sometimes called graceful distancing, just say you are moving away from having a romantic and sexual relationship. "We have other partners and we're both moving more in the direction of making more of a commitment in those relationships," or whatever is happening. Just deciding that, "We're just going to do this slowly and gradually so we cannot have any sudden trauma in our lives." For some people that works, other people, it's more like, "No, I just got to get this over with, it's too painful."
Dedeker: That does bring up a question that I think I encounter a lot with my own clients, but I'm wondering what your opinion is on this. I have a lot of clients, and I've done this myself many times in my life, feeling like it's necessary to have a very specific period of separation, whether that's, we need to not text each other for a month or six months, or whatever. I'm wondering, for you, which scenarios do you feel like that's a necessary thing, versus which are the scenarios where you feel like that's maybe not as appropriate to do?
Kathy: Well, usually, if you're in a primary relationship where you've been living together and maybe have children together, you've had this dream of having a life together and then you're splitting up, it can be so painful, that usually some period of no contact is needed in order to then shift to being friends. It varies from person to person, but for most people that have been in any serious or committed relationship, there's a grieving for losing that dream that you had of having a life together and of having to give that up and shift to something else. A lot of people are able to then shift to a friendship.
It's very hard to go from being spouses or partners in a big way to suddenly saying, "Okay, we're just going to be platonic friends and have coffee once in a while." It really doesn't happen so easily. Most people who are in what you'd call secondary relationships or lighter or less serious, particularly it's not living together, often are able to just say, "Let's just see each other a little less and then maybe we'll stop having sex and we'll just shift gradually over to platonic relations." A lot of people are able to do that without having that no contact period. What's your opinion?
Dedeker: I think I tend to encourage people more often to do the period of no contact rather than not. Again, both when I'm examining myself and if I'm working with someone, what I think is more interesting is to examine what are the sticky things there that are making the idea of no contact feel so scary or so awful, because I think that's the thing is that it's like-- especially in the situation like you described, where we were spouses, we were living together, we were together a long time, that there can be so much resistance to even trying out even like a week of no contact or 10 days of no contact.
I see so many people who are like, "Yes, I know. I probably should, but I can't do the no contact thing," and just suffer and suffer and suffer until it finally gets so bad that then in their frustration, they're like, "Okay, I have to cut this person off or--" whatever it is.
Kathy: It's just too painful.
Dedeker: Yes. That's what comes to mind for me is just looking at like, is there a way to help people hack that to be able to rip that band-aid off earlier rather than doing the whole, "We got to suffer through it until it gets so bad that I have to take this period of no contact." That's the stuff that comes to my mind.
Kathy: Well, I usually ask people, as the litmus test for whether you should be in contact with your ex right now or not, is, can you actually change your expectations of that person, of that relationship and of that interaction? If you're calling your ex-spouse or ex-partner, if you're calling them because you want them to tell you that they love you, and that you're the most beautiful woman in the world and all that, well, that expectation is not going to be met if they've broken up with you. They're not going to say that.
Or if you have the expectation that talking to them is somehow going to reassure you of your importance in their life, you're not going to get that, the expectation there, but if you're able to say, "Well, okay, I can change my expectation, I can just call and say, 'Gee, I just was thinking of you, just felt like talking to you. I'm calling just how's it going, what you've been up to?'" If you're able to say that, or even if you're able to call and say, "Wow, this breakup is rough and I've been sad, how are you doing?" Being honest about what's really going on.
Dedeker: The expectation thing is tricky.
Kathy: If you don't change your expectation, and you expect it to be the same, the interaction to be the same and the relationship to be the same, you're just setting yourself up for more pain and suffering. Then you are going to reach that point where it just hurts too much, "I can't call them up."
Dedeker: Sorry, I won't go down this path too far, but just that, that I've seen a lot of people, there's actually people in my personal life right now, like close friends of mine, there's some people in my life going through some breakups right now, but just witnessing that of even after the breakup, still holding that expectation of, "If there's something painful and there's a problem I have with you, you're still the person I'm going to take it to." Even after the breakup, and then getting disappointed when it's not that same level of collaboration or mutual care that we had in the relationship, it's more of this combative thing.
That seems to be really a sticking point for a long time, that figuring out how to switch over those expectations. Anyway, I just wanted to observe that. We can move on to the next question.
Kathy: Yes, you're still expecting them to be that person that you go to whenever you need support and you have to start going to other people for that. Which when you're in a poly relationship, often you do have other people that you also get support from and you can really spread that around a little bit and not have that expectation so much of the ex.
Jase: It's similar actually to-- Dedeker talking about after the breakup, continuing to stay connected and going through this suffering until finally it's like, "Okay, we do need to cut off contact for a little while to get that reset or whatever." I think in a similar way, when it comes to deciding to break up or not, people can similarly get caught in this thing of just like, "Well, I don't know if it's bad enough to break up. I'm not very happy a lot of the time and maybe I recognize that and I see people--" Be fairly clear about like, "I get that there's some incompatibilities here." Maybe they listen to this episode and they're like, "Boy, some fundamental incompatibility is here."
Kathy: It's all your fault, now they're going to break up.
Emily: That's not necessarily a bad thing.
Jase: We do like to always say on this show, it's not necessarily a bad thing to break up. For people who are caught in that deciding, "Should I stay or should I go?" do you have any most important questions they can ask themselves, or ways that you found effective for getting through that in one way or another?
Kathy: Well, one of the first things I suggest people ask themselves is, if I was forced to be in a monogamous relationship with this person, would I even feel they were meeting some of my most basic needs? Not that you're planning on being monogamous, but I think one of the dangers of being poly is that you can have relationships with people and be pretty unhappy, but because you have other relationships that are happier, you can just tolerate that. Sometimes it's hard to tell, like, "Is it time to break up or not?" If you were in a monogamous relationship with that person, you probably would have left a long time ago.
Jase: I feel like I've actually seen this in family members of mine or friends of mine in monogamous relationships, where it's like if they have a really close relationship with their family or they have some really close best friends, that almost in a similar way can tolerate being in an unsatisfying, unhappy romantic relationship for longer because it's like, "Oh well--"
Emily: Monogamous romantic relationship?
Jase: Yes. It seems similar, where it's like they're getting enough of those needs met by these friends or family members that they can tolerate a not good relationship.
Emily: Well, people can talk themselves into staying in a relationship for any number of reasons I think on either side, whether you're monogamous or not, or polyamorous.
Kathy: That is true. I do think though, for a lot of those monogamous couples or people that you're describing, they are also benefiting from this huge amount of family and societal support, that their relationship is really strengthened quite a bit by that. Whereas polyamorous people in that situation, if they already don't have the support of the family or friends or coworkers and all that, they are more likely to be so miserable, they will break up.
They're certainly not going to disappoint anyone. A lot of these monogamous people, they're so afraid of disappointing their families or friends by splitting up, "Oh, my in-laws love me, or I love my in-laws, or my family loves my partner, I shouldn't break up." I don't think we have that problem in feeling like we're going to let people down.
Jase: That's interesting because on the monogamous side, maybe people stay in relationships longer than that they should because of that pressure. Maybe on the polyamorous side, sometimes it's harder to make it last when it could because of that. Polyamorous relationships are getting that pressure to break up, like, "You're never going to work." Monogamous ones are getting this pressure of like, "No, you have to make this work."
Kathy: Well, actually we've seen a few polyamorous people think, "Well, I'm going to stay in this relationship because I don't want my family to have the satisfaction." Certainly, when I was quite a bit younger, I saw gay and lesbian relationships where the families hated them being gay and hated the partner because they were gay. They would stay together longer than they should just because the partner was really the only support they had. They also didn't want the families to be right or had to lay in from the start, "Yes, so you were all wrong." I don't think that happens so much anymore just because gay people have so much more acceptance in society now than in the past.
I do ask whether they would have stayed with this person if they were in a monogamous relationship. That's one way of just looking at, "Well, what am I getting out of the relationship and what are the problems?" You can also just take what I call the relationship inventory, just say, "What are the good things I'm getting from this relationship?" Worse being in this relationship, and is this relationship more romantic or is it actually more platonic now? Or is this a primary relationship now or do I want to shift it to being less primary? Some relationships you might be a lot happier if you just didn't spend that much time with the person.
Jase: That sounds funny, but that's totally true.
Kathy: Polyamorous, you can change the agreement with your partner. They may not be happy about being demoted to being more secondary or they might be like, "Well, yes, that'd probably be fine." Both people have to agree that less is much better or less is at least as okay as more in terms of time and that.
Dedeker: Definitely. This has been a fascinating discussion. We could definitely talk about it for several more hours. Before we wrap things up, can you let our listeners know where can they find more of you and where can they find your book?
Kathy: You can find more of me and more of my book on my website KathyLabriola.com. I have a web page as part of my website, that has a one-page teaser for each of the chapters in the book, along with each chapter-- Each of the teasers has cartoon. A really great cartoon from artist Lacey Johnson who illustrated my book. Unfortunately, even though she made 16 great cartoons, one for each chapter, only three of them ended up in the book due to a situation with the publisher, so I've put them all on the website. You can buy the books from my website. You can buy it from Thorntree Press, which is the publisher.
Dedeker: Excellent. Kathy is going to be sticking around for our bonus content episode available for our Patreon supporters. I think in this bonus episode, we're going to be talking about the most important lessons we've personally learned from our own breakups. We are going to be getting a tiny bit more personal there.