insecurity and open marriage

Conflict Styles & Open Relationships

conflict and polyamory

The Tomas Killman Instrument was created to measure common behavior in conflicts and difficult situations. In situations where two people appear to be incompatible it describes behavior along two dimensions:

  1. Assertiveness, or the extent to which the person tries to resolve their own concerns
  2. Cooperativeness, or the extent to which the person tries to resolve the other's concerns
conflict styles and open relationships

As you can see above, assertiveness and cooperativeness are combined to create five different models for responding to conflicts. I offer these as a tool for self-reflection as you review your decision-making process for your non-monogamous relationship. 

Each of us is capable of using all five conflict-handling modes. And most healthy couples use all five indifferent situations. None of us can be characterized as having a single style of dealing with conflict. But we often use some modes more often than others and, therefore, often default to these when tensions grow.

Your conflict behavior in your relationship is a result of your trauma and relationship history and the dynamics between you and your partner.  These dynamics are co-created in every relationship.  As you read the styles below try to identify situations where you might find each of them useful.  

Competition

Competing is both assertive and uncooperative, meaning one party pursues their concerns at the other person's expense. Often this speaks to a power differential in a relationship.  One of you might outrank the other in authority, expertise, history or some sort of resource and therefore hold more power.  Competing means "standing up for your rights," defending a position which you believe is correct, or simply trying to win.

Competing can work in situations where the power differential is clear and consensual.  However, for most negotiations in non-monogamy, competing does not allow enough room for empathy and care to maintain the connection between you long-term.

Accommodation

Accommodating is listed as both unassertive and cooperative (notice it's opposite of competing). When accommodating, the one person neglects their own concerns to satisfy the concerns of another.  There can often be an element of self-sacrifice in this mode.

In healthy dynamics accommodating can be a form of generosity or service or yielding when the issue feels unimportant.  Dan Savage often refers to these issues as the "price of admission" meaning something annoying you can put up with as part of being in a relationship with this specific person.

When considering non-monogamy accommodation frequently leads to resentment-building and martyrdom.  Too often we over-compromise and regret it later.

Avoidance

Avoiding is both unassertive and uncooperative- parties neither pursue their own desires nor their partners'.  Nobody has to deal with the conflict. Usually, in the case of open relationships either nothing happens, affairs occur, of couples try to enact an "don't ask don't tell" policy.

In the best cases, avoiding takes the form of diplomatically sidestepping an issue, postponing it until a better time, or withdrawing when safety is a concern.

However, in non-monogamy often avoidance creates and maintains a distance between partners.  Because we don't talk about things (DADT and affairs or unethical/non-consensual non-monogamy) we miss many opportunities to connect and start missing each other along the way.  

Compromising

Compromising is where most healthy open couples start out, it's mild in both assertive and cooperative measures. The objective in compromise is to find some expedient, mutually acceptable solution that partially satisfies both parties. Compromising requires both partners give up more than if they were competing but less than when accommodating.

It also addresses the issue more directly than avoiding but doesn't get as deep as collaborating. I see this in open relationships when folks split the difference between the two opposing positions, by mutually exchanging concessions, and seeking a middle-ground solution.

This can work for short-term agreements when nonmonogamy is really new and couples are regularly checking in for connection and to rethink their communication process as needed.  It works if both parties are willing to enter openness slowly and with care, knowing new compromises and changes are potentially on the horizon.

Collaboration

Collaborating is both assertive and cooperative—the complete opposite of avoiding. Collaborating means both parties work together to find some solution that fully satisfies their concerns. It usually requires digging deeper into the issue to identify underlying needs and wants of both partners.

The folks who most successful maintain connected relationships in non-monogamy typically practice a form of collaboration.  Collaborating requires an openness to take the other parties perspective, genuine empathy for the experience of the other person, and a real willingness to stay patient, curious and creative.

If you want help navigating conflict with connection and compassion as you open your relationship I'd love to talk with you.  Give me a call.  


conflict in polyamory

Hi!  I'm glad you're reading.  Let me know if I can help you:

  • reconnect with passion & desire in long-term partnerships
  • rebuild trust after infidelity or dishonesty
  • move beyond jealousy, fear, and insecurity 
  • manage intense emotions that arise in conflicts
  • resolve sexual dysfunction & disconnect
  • change communication & codependent patterns
  • open your relationship & practice polyamory with integrity

I lead couples retreats, host workshops, and see private clients online (and in Portland, OR).

Call me for a free consultation to rethink the way you do relationships.

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a communication consultant, sexuality counselor and certified relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, and infidelity.  

 

What to do When Your Spouse Goes on a Date

When Husband has a date

Just in case you're reading this blog for the first time, let me clarify I'm writing "what to do when your husband/wife has a date" about ethical or consensual nonmonogamy.  

I know there are a lot of you discovering your spouse is dating and dealing with the betrayal of trust there. That pain is real. Check out my info on affairs if that's you because this blog is talking about something else.  

That said, even if you're in a consensual open marriage surprising emotions and reactions can arise when your spouse actually starts dating. Here are a couple ideas to help you navigate those first most-challenging times.

Make Your Own Plans

There's almost nothing worse than sitting home in a pile of laundry and dirty dishes while someone you want to be hanging out with is out having the exact good time you wish you were having with someone else.

So make your own plans.  Plan something you can get excited about.  Call a good friend, make a self-care date, see a movie you wouldn't normally see with your spouse, hit the gym for that one class you never seem to make it to.  

But get out instead of stewing in potential resentment and martyrdom.

Practice Bookending

Often things feel just great until you're alone and tired.  That's when insecurity and jealousy like to take hold.  While these emotions are totally natural, you can create bookend rituals with your partner to bolster your connection through date nights. 

Think ahead and plan something to help you connect sometime not far before their date night.  Maybe you two need a brunch date, or sending sweet texts, or writing a love letter that waits at home with you while they're out.

Consider an option that feels reassuring in your relationship without interrupting your spouse's individual plans.  It's likely a little forethought will go a long way.

On the other end of the date think about how you'd like to reconnect. What kind of reconnection ritual will feel meaningful to both you and your spouse after either of you goes out with someone else?

Sometimes it can be difficult to anticipate exactly what you might want when you reconnect.  I recommend coming up with three alternative connection plans at varying levels of interaction so you have some ideas to draw from when you share space again.  

For example, Donna and LeShawn created three options including:

  1. Return home and go directly to the shower. I will meet you in the shower in a few minutes.
  2. Return home, shower on your own, and then sit next to me watching Netflix for two episodes of Parks and Rec. Then we can check in or go to bed.
  3. Return home and shower. Wave to me with a smile as you go to the guest room. We'll have breakfast in the morning.  

In all three they choose to reconnect when they return to the same space- but each allows for more space to adjust and manage emotions if needed. Even if one of you is returning after the other is in bed, you can create options and ways to communicate them if you think ahead.

Intentionality and proactive care is the goal here.

Be Careful With Curiosity

It's really easy to get curious when your spouse starts having more individual adventures specially if you're used to doing most things together.  I've seen folks manage this in a couple ineffective ways:

Interrogation

When your honey is out it's natural to be curious about what they're experiencing, but sharing information about dates with others can prove tenuous in the early stages of openness.  I recommend using extra caution at the start- you can always add more information later.

Before you start grilling your partner, or really, before you ask anything about their dating experience with other people I urge you to ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Is this something I would want someone asking me?
  • How will this information bring me closer to my partner?
  • How will this information help me?
  • Why do I want to know?

If you aren't certain the questions you want to ask will help you or will move you closer, wait.  You can always get clearer and ask later- there's no reason to rush.  If you sit with your curiousity it might start telling you something.  For example:

"Is she prettier than me?" Might mean I want more reassurance about my own appearance/attractiveness.  Or it might tell me I want to invest more energy in feeling attractive on my own.

"Sneaky Detective"

Sometimes when curiosity and insecurity take over I've seen clients become what I call the Sneaky Detective.  This means they bypass sharing curiosity with their partner and try to get answers on their own.  Here are some things the sneaky detective might do:

  • facebook stalk 
  • read their partners' emails
  • open mail
  • listen in on conversations
  • read through texts or messages

Unfortunately in addition to breaking trust right when it's needed most the sneaky detective avoids really important conversations that need to happen directly with a partner and therefore misses critical opportunities to connect.  AND creates more possibility for misunderstanding and hurt feelings usually when things need care instead.  

Dealing With Jealousy

Obviously, jealousy is one of the top issues folks worry about when starting out in consensual non-monogamy and it's most likely to rear it's head when your spouse is out with someone else.  When there's a blank space with little information our insecurities like to try to fill it in.  

I have a whole curriculum's worth of tools we can throw at jealousy so I'm going to give just one of my favorites today (call me if you want more help with this- I love dealing with jealousy). I like it because it's a beautiful way to process jealousy independently with self-compassion. 

Byron Katie developed a four-question critical thinking exercise called "The Work" meant to help people change thinking patterns that were causing suffering (and what is jealousy but a suffering-filled thinking pattern, AmIright?).  

Her process starts with self-compassion, or allowing the thought and collecting them. I like using blank paper and giving myself space to free write all the thoughts that flow through my head until I feel complete (yes, this can take a while and no, you're not going to share it with anyone else).  

Doing this with self compassion means not beating yourself up with judgment (why am I thinking this- what's wrong with me?).  Just notice what thoughts are going through your mind.  

Once you feel complete read through and notice any patterns. Then follow her four questions for each thought (or for the themes).

  1. Is this thought true?
  2. Can I know with certainty this thought is true?
  3. How do I feel when I choose to think this thought?
  4. Who would I be without this thought?

Notice what shifts when you allow your thoughts space, and you hold them lightly with criticism instead of believing they are all completely true.  Most my clients experience real freedom when we walk through The Work together (if you want to deepen this work she has many worksheets and videos for free on her site to help you walk through the process).


BW Gina Senaeighi Headshot.jpg

Hi!  I'm glad you're reading.  Let me know if I can help you:

  • reconnect with passion & desire in long-term partnerships
  • rebuild trust after infidelity or dishonesty
  • move beyond jealousy, fear, and insecurity 
  • manage intense emotions that arise in conflicts
  • resolve sexual dysfunction & disconnect
  • change communication & codependent patterns
  • open your relationship & practice polyamory with integrity

I lead couples retreats, host workshops, and see private clients online (and in Portland, OR).

Call me for a free consultation to rethink the way you do relationships.

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a communication consultant, sexuality counselor and certified relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, and infidelity.