Hints for Adding Partners to a Relationship
by Peggy, aka O
Multiple relationships are very common in the BDSM community. We look around us and see a lot of leather families that seem not only to be functioning, but, in fact, thriving. Many of us enjoy variety and would like to create our own version of the leather family.
In talking to people who are trying to develop healthy multiple relationships, I’ve found that a common thread is the number of false starts. A lot of this comes from pre-conceived notions about how relationships work and how additional relationships will fit in with an established BDSM relationship. This is particularly true in BDSM relationships with clearly defined Dominant and submissive roles where the partners do not switch with each other.
Polyamory isn’t easy. It involves a lot of hard work. It involves hard work and commitment from ALL parties in the relationship. If everyone isn’t behind the process, it’s doomed to fail in the long run. People get angry, sad, hurt and emotional. If you’re not willing to deal with emotions, polyamory isn’t a structure that is likely to work for you. And, bear in mind that the first year is the hardest……..
As with anything, it’s not without its rewards. Many poly people are hooked on the increased levels of intimacy they find in their relationships and, having done the hard work, are now reaping the benefits of multiple exciting and fulfilling relationships.
If you’ve decided that poly is your need, you should know a few things that might make the path easier initially. By examining how the process has worked (and not worked) in my own and other polyamorous families, I’ve come up with a few suggestions for helping the process along.
Define what you want
No, this isn’t about whether you want tall, short, blonde, brunette or whatever. This is about what you and the existing people in the relationship want the group dynamic to look like — about structure and hierarchy. Will you be a group marriage? Will you be a couple adding a third partner as a secondary-type of relationship? What will be the hierarchy within the group – will all members be peers or will some be subordinate to others? How will living/sleeping/ private time arrangements be addressed?
Be honest with your existing group
Adding members to an existing couple or group tends to work best if it’s a group decision. Although the primary Dominant in the group may be tempted to order the submissive(s) to accept the decision, from a practical standpoint this is a good way for the new partner to be poorly received. The end result is frequently infighting and destructive jealousy.
Be honest with your potential addition to the group
Anyone joining your group has the right to know what the current structure is and where he/she would fit in. If you do not intend that this ever be more than a secondary relationship, the potential partner deserves to know that – equally so if you hope that eventually he/she will move in and you will all live communally. Obviously, things often change over time, but you have a responsibility at the beginning to share the vision of the group with anyone who may consider joining you.
Allow all members of the group to have input in adding new relationships
People can feel threatened by change. Many people feel less threatened if they feel they have some level of control in the whole process. People in relationships do this in a variety of ways – some people have “veto power”, if they don’t like a potential new member. Some people have negotiated levels of involvement where they can feel involved enough to feel safe, but aren’t necessarily planning on forming a close bond with the new member. Some may use a tactic of a less overt blocking of new relationships that make them nervous or where they simply don’t care for the new person. In Dominant/submissive relationships, sometimes the dynamic is such that additions can be decided unilaterally – but when the rest of the members of the group have no input, passive resistance on the part of those out of the loop can result. Getting input and participation around adding new members helps make the existing members feel less threatened.
Encourage group members to pursue independent friendships and relationships
Frequently, a secondary relationship initiated by a member of the group as an independent relationship will evolve into inclusion in the greater group. Although it may go against the grain of what Dominant/submissive relationships are “supposed to be about,” a situation where the Dominant can have as many submissives as he/she likes, but where the submissives are totally reliant on the Dominant for their emotional and sexual needs, often results in the submissives not getting their needs met. In the long run, this can lead to resentment and jealousy. It is more practical to create a situation where everyone gets what they need. Additionally, sometimes a member of the group will bring fun ideas explored in an outside relationship home for the rest of the group to enjoy.
Talk about problems
Jealousy in particular is an emotion that does not occur in a void. Jealousy is a manifestation of other underlying feelings. Most of the time when a partner is jealous, what’s behind it is a fear of abandonment or of no longer being loved. Personality conflicts are also an issue – dealing with annoyance at how someone brushes his or her teeth up front is a good way to prevent that annoyance from growing into annoyance at how they brush their teeth and how they wash their hair and how they flush the toilet and and and…
Make sure that existing partners feel included
New relationships are exciting. The temptation of the person with the new relationship is to focus heavily on that relationship. The result can be a temporary short changing of the relationships he/she already has. Existing partners should be kept informed if a member of the group is starting to explore a new relationship. The person doing the exploring needs to be conscious of the feelings of the people already in the relationship. The temptation to take the existing members “for granted” can be strong in light of the heady emotions that frequently accompany new relationships. Making sure to emphasize to existing members of the group that they are still cared for, loved and wanted will reduce a lot of the conflicts that can occur with a new relationship.
Communicate your needs
One of the common fears of people in the existing relationship is that their needs won’t get met by the other members of the group. However, in many cases, the other members of the group, not being omniscient, aren’t really aware of what those needs are. Stating and acknowledging needs clearly and honestly is crucial. Sometimes the submissive’s desire to please the Dominant can conflict with expressing the need for emotional support from the Dominant. Eventually the submissive will react to their needs not being met, with the reaction being in the form of an emotional crisis, instead of a meaningful and well thought out discussion beforehand.
Take your time
Be patient and allow the relationship to evolve on its own. Don’t push members of your group to be sexual with new members if they don’t feel so inclined. Allow components of the relationship to progress naturally. Don’t try to force intimacy – let it grow on its own.
Keep in mind that the structure and ideals that the group may have envisioned may not work in real life. Someone that was originally brought in as partner to one member of the group may fall in love with another. Someone who appeared initially to be a suitable addition may turn out not to be. Someone who was an active member of the relationship may decide that the structure is not what they need at this point in their lives. Allow the group relationship to take the course that is natural for it, even if it’s not the course that was envisioned initially. However, make sure that all members are active partners in sustaining and moving the relationship.
If you get to a point where you spend a large amount of time managing emotional issues within the relationship, you aren’t leaving any time for fun. Although relationships aren’t always easy, they’re not meant to be a mindless lurching from drama to drama. If you’re working too hard at it, there’s something wrong and it’s time to sit back and figure out why the relationship isn’t fun anymore.
Multiple relationships aren’t for everyone. However, many people in long term multiple relationships will tell you that even though they’re a lot more work than traditional monogamy, they find the relationships they have now more fulfilling, and, in fact, cannot envision going back to a traditional monogamous relationship. Adding new members is half the challenge – but if undertaken thoughtfully and carefully, the basic math can work out to everyone’s benefit.
Copyright ©1997. All Rights Reserved, Peggy, aka O