Succesful Polyamory

with Martha Kauppi

Can a polyamorous relationship work? Is monogamy the only relationship that can succeed? According to Certified Sex Therapist Martha Kauppi, beautifully functioning open relationships can and do work!

Polyamory involves engaging in multiple romantic or sexual relationships with different people. These relationships will work, but couples must first put the right pieces in place to ensure a secure, successful, workable and healthy polyamorous relationship.

Here are a few factors to consider before deciding if a polyamorous relationship is right for you, Martha shares.

  • One partner may want an open relationship, but the other partner is dead set against it.
  • One partner tried a polyamorous relationship in the past and it didn’t work, so he/she is hesitant to try again.
  • One partner breaks the relationship agreement.
  • Couples don’t know they need to set up “ground rules” to make the relationship work.
  • One partner is worried the other partner may fall in love with his/her new partner.

These are just a few concerns couples need to resolve before considering a polyamorous relationship, Martha explains during a Smart Sex, Smart Love podcast.

First, begin building the polyamorous relationship structure – valuing your personal growth and always expressing your thoughts and feelings with transparency and honesty. Don’t shy away from the tough questions and challenges. Ask the hard questions, have the difficult conversations, talk about the uncomfortable feelings. Hammer it out. Ultimately, you will find the answers you are looking for.

Next, develop an agreement that both partners are comfortable with. Really be honest with yourself and your partner about what you want in this relationship. Can you make it work? Do you want to make it work? Are you agreeing to things because you want to be a partner pleaser or because you want to avoid conflict? In either case, the agreement – and the relationship – will not succeed because you are not being completely truthful. The agreement requires a lot of self-awareness. It won’t work magically. Ultimately, together you can create an incredibly beautiful and strong relationship.

Remember, to maintain a strong, open relationship, continue communicating, talk about issues as they surface so you can resolve them quickly, listen to what your partner wants and be receptive to making changes in the agreement.

The agreement can be fluid, Martha points out. She encourages couples to check-in with each other often to make sure both partners still are comfortable with the agreement. If you want to renegotiate your relationship “contract,” be open to changing it as you learn more about this new relationship and how it is working. For example, maybe you’ve decided you don’t want to know if your partner is seeing someone else, or you want a phone call if your partner decides to stay out all night. Add these to the agreement.

The goal is to adjust the agreement, not break it. If you find you cannot keep the agreement, maybe you are not ready for a polyamorous relationship. Talk about that, too. It is important to build a secure, trusting relationship.

Creating a polyamorous relationship agreement can be incredibly emotionally weighted, in fact, it can be scary as hell, but can do it if you are willing to work at it – just like any other relationship.

Unknown Speaker  0:05
Welcome to smart sex smart love. We’re talking about sex goes beyond the taboos. And talking about love goes beyond the honeymoon. I’m Dr. Joe Cort. Thanks for tuning in. Today the podcast title is how to make a polyamorous relationship work. My guest today is Martha copy, a marriage and family therapist, educator and certified sex therapist and supervisor. Her career began as a midwife helping families experiencing transitions around pregnancy and childbirth. This is where she began developing strong skills with family systems counseling. Martha next returned to her first love art. She combined various techniques for working with hot glass in order to explore light shadow refraction, and the magic that shifts us from darkness to hope. These talents led her to working at the intersection of sex and relational issues. In 2017, she founded the Institute for relational intimacy, which is rooted in the concept that relationships and sexuality are at the core of life. Today, we’ll be talking with Martha about how to make a polyamorous relationship work. Welcome, Martha.

Unknown Speaker  1:18
Hi, thank you, Joe. I’m so excited to be here and to see you.

Unknown Speaker  1:22
I’m so happy to have you here. Ever since I met you the day I met you it was I don’t even remember which day but so many times we’ve met and I’m like you say smart things. You talk about smart things. I have difficult questions about certain things. And you answer them smartly. And then you wrote this great book. And I’m just hoping we could talk about it all in 25 minutes. Awesome. Let’s do it. Absolutely. All right. Well, let’s talk about you, you know, your your main focus is polyamory. So can you How did you tell us? how can how did you get started in your work in polyamorous relationships?

Unknown Speaker  1:56
Yeah, it’s interesting, because I do other work, too. But my new book is about polyamory. And it was an interesting decision to kind of focus in that area, because it’s kind of a hot topic. It’s, I worried it would destroy my career. To be I trained therapists to work with sex issues. And I just thought, you know, if I become like that person who specializes in polyamory, I would lose my audience. But the reason that I did it, and I thought it was important is because I kept having clients who were in some sort of open relationship and who were telling me they were having trouble finding a therapist. And so that’s basically that’s how I make my decisions about what topics to train therapists in is what my clients are telling me they’re not able to find. And to me, you know, my brother has been polyamorous for his entire life. And so it wasn’t something for me, that was a great big leap into the unknown. It was like, Well, duh, obviously, this works. I’ve been seeing it like, it’s part of my family culture. And I’m also a queer identified lesbian. And there’s a huge amount of overlap between the LGBTQ community and the polyamorous community. So all around me, there are these beautifully functioning, open relationships of all different kinds. And then I was learning in graduate school that can never work. There’s always problems. It’s not a thing for the long haul. There’s, that’s not real security, or that’s not real emotional connection. And also, it can’t stand the test of time. And I was like, wait, what, like, what I was learning didn’t match what I was actually seeing. And so I did a research study as part of my master’s program to try to sort out exactly those questions like, is monogamy The only route to true intimacy? And what are the demographics of people who are in polyamorous relationships? How long do the relationships were coming to relationships? Are they in what happens to the first relationship when another relationship comes on board? Those kinds of things. And my research absolutely backed up what I had seen in real life, and absolutely debunked all the stuff that I was learning in school. And so I was like, Well, obviously, we need some teachers in this area. And so I just stepped into that spot, while still doing all the other stuff that I was doing training therapists to work with sex issues.

Unknown Speaker  4:23
Well, before we get too far away from the name of about your book, we didn’t say the name of it, what’s the name of your book called?

Unknown Speaker  4:30
It’s polyamory, a clinical toolkit for therapists and their clients,

Unknown Speaker  4:34
which I love. Right? So it’s a book that I can refer both clients and therapists to, which I love.

Unknown Speaker  4:40
Yeah, yeah, it has 25 worksheets, maybe more actually, over 25 worksheets. And there, the tools that I present in that book are really deep dive self help, how to change a belief system, how to engage with a change. process how to create the relationship that you want for yourself how to do difficult negotiations within yourself or with a partner about what you want, how to resolve differences of opinion about that stuff. And that’s not particular to polyamory. It just happens to be entirely relevant to polyamory. And so when therapists ask me questions, you know, how do I deal with this issue or that issue with a polyamorous client like, well, you have to be fairly skilled relationship therapist, and then you have to have cultural competence to work with these issues. But actually, the interesting thing about polyamory and that sort of that community is it tends to be people who have a lot of motivation to have transparency, honesty, and good communication in their relationships. That’s part of what they value. That’s part of how they chose their relationship structure. And they really value personal growth. These are people who really can pick up a robust book like this with 25, worksheets and do a self help project.

Unknown Speaker  6:07
So I’d like you said and want to go back to it is that people in monogamous relationships need to be doing the same thing I, I always say, Have you negotiated your monogamy and people look at me like, What do you mean, monogamy is monogamy and no, monogamy to one is very different than to the other. And it’s not and nothing, none of this should be an auto renewal. People in open relationships out understand auto renewal doesn’t work, you have to manually go in and and renegotiate and renew, it may all be the same. But it has to be a new agreement with each other on a fluid, ongoing basis. Would you agree with that?

Unknown Speaker  6:42
Totally, I would agree with it. I think pitfall that lots of people fall into is the idea that once you negotiate something once, if you even did negotiate, it was like once you’ve come to an agreement, that’s it. It’s written in stone. But we are changing organisms. And you know, I’m talking about long term relationships, if you’re going to be in something workable for decades and decades. We change people change what you want changes what you need changes, what you desire changes what you dream about changes your physiology. Like, if your whole body changes, why would you think other things wouldn’t change? Excellent. So clearly, it’s necessary to have some real communication chops so that you can say, you know what, I didn’t used to want this, but I’m starting to think I might want this thing, whatever it might be, and then feel free to bring that up to your partner.

Unknown Speaker  7:34
What do you say to this, I get people who say this all the time, to me, they’re older, right? They’ve lived through the 60s, they were adults in the 60s, and they and maybe even the 70s. And they say, we tried this before it didn’t work, you know. So now Here it comes again, it’s not gonna work again. What do you say to that?

Unknown Speaker  7:50
You know, one of the underlying principles of everything that I do in my personal life, and in my professional life, is if there’s something that you want, there is a process for you to get it. So I’m not the therapist who’s gonna say, Oh, yeah, that’ll never work for you. And the therapist is gonna say, what do you want for yourself? And then where do you feel blocked about that, and let’s work with that. Because you absolutely can do it. However, if you tried something in the past, and it didn’t work out, let’s say you’re in the same partnership, that you tried to open up the relationship at one point in the past, and some things went badly, I see that all the time. Probably there’s some repair work to be done. My guess would be mistakes were made, you know. And so to just think of what we can just draw a line in the sand and move forward and never make a repair for that, and then expect it to somehow magically go better. This time, I would say there’s not that much magic. But there is a process of taking responsibility for your choices and actions, making decisions about how you would like to do it differently. But you know, Joe, the thing about that prescription is, it has a real sticky catch, which is you have to be able to figure out what you think and feel and want and say it and really be honest with yourself. And then with your partner or partners. And it’s not that easy to do that to come to grips with. Actually, what I really do want. So like if you say to me, Martha and our relationship, I want to blah, blah, blah, I have to be able to figure out do I Adonai instead of just wanting to please you, you know, I can’t just say Oh, yeah, I’ll make that work. If I haven’t really thought about whether I for my own reasons want to make that work, because it’s gonna require some effort on my part. And if it wasn’t a real agreement, if it was a people pleaser agreement or conflict avoider, agreement or something like that. That’s not an agreement that’s going to work. So sometimes I see with repairing polyamory gone wrong is what I would call it And trying to make workable polyamory today, some of that usually comes down to developing a skill set that you one or the other or both partners are usually both didn’t have in the past, can develop and then use. And some of that might be about figuring out what you want and then being able to say it even if you think your partner might not agree with you,

Unknown Speaker  10:22
right. So what you’re saying is that demands a lot of self awareness and self reflection. And it’s not for the faint of heart, I guess, right here that somebody has to really be up for this. And I would say that’s true for any relationship.

Unknown Speaker  10:35
I would say that’s equally true for monogamy, right? monogamous, monogamous relationships where people are conflict, avoidant, have the same problem with agreements. It’s hard to make an agreement, right. It’s hard to come to an agreement. So people promise stuff, or don’t discuss stuff hoping that magically it’ll work out. Yes. And then, you know, when it’s a monogamous relationship, what could go wrong? Well, infidelity for one, yes. And so to me, it does take a certain amount of emotional grit, to be able and willing to say, my darling, I developed a crush on the person out work at the, you know, cubicle next to mine, and I don’t want to let go of it, I might want to talk to you about whether there’s a way that I could act on that at some point in the future. To me, I love a client who wants to have that conversation. And it’s easier for me to work with all of the complexity and messiness that might come after that than it is for me to work with. Yeah, and so I cheated. And I’ve been having an affair with my co worker that my partner doesn’t know about has been going on for three years. And now I don’t know what to do with it, or this whole thing blew up in our relationship. Now, Martha, help us fix it. I can do that. And I do do it as a relationship therapist and a sex therapist regularly. But I have to say my favorite clients are the ones who say, I value transparency. And I want to have the hard conversations help us learn how to do that. Well, that’s like, so much easier. Totally down for that, right? Because the other way is,

Unknown Speaker  12:11
yeah, exactly. Right. Right now you’re dealing with betrayal and trust and, you know, re earning trust, and in the other way, so I agree with you. My favorite client, I have to say was that I worked with, that opened my eyes, they said, We picked you to me as a therapist, because I’m poly friendly, kink friendly, informed and all that. They said, because we didn’t want to go to a therapist, who would say to us, our problems are from opening up our relationship, because we knew that that what happened was we already had these problems. But they were example, if they were exaggerated, they were amplified by opening up our relationship. And so the answer wouldn’t be too close. Because we still have this these problems. I love that. And they were right.

Unknown Speaker  12:54
Yeah, that’s beautiful. I agree. That’s a that is a favorite client. And, and that’s often the first step and a therapeutic process for a client who hasn’t quite realized that yet. But for sure, that’s where therapists go wrong is to say, well, this sticky mess that you’re in would not be if you didn’t open your relationship. That’s just overly simplistic. You know, that’s way overly simplistic. Because what if somebody wants an open relationship? Right? Well, and what it is to be the therapist that says, Don’t do it,

Unknown Speaker  13:27
right. This is how I understand it, the therapist has already decided that an open relationship isn’t good. So they are looking for that it reminds me of homosexuality in the old days, right? It was already decided that being LGBT was problematic and wrong. So they would be looking for reasons that it be that you are gay, or that you are LGBT, looking for reasons for why you want to open and a lot of therapists will say, Well, I hear this all the time. I’m sure you do, too. It always seems like one wants it and one really doesn’t. And is that really fair? And my answer to that is, that’s relationship one, one something one really doesn’t want it where you want to live, where the how many kids you want to have? Do you want kids? You know what religion, you’re going to raise them? How are you going to manage funds? How are you going to manage the inlaws one really wants at one way, that’s just normal, but they’ve, in my mind, they’ve decided an open marriage or polyamory is already bad. So they’re going to things that are normal in a relationship saying, that’s where it comes from. Is that did you see it that way?

Unknown Speaker  14:22
Totally. I see it that way. Absolutely. I use the example of I really want my elderly parents to move in with us in their last years so that we can take care of them and they can die at home in our home. That’s an example of a conversation that’s hard to have. couples have big disagreements about it and it’s incredibly emotionally weighted. Opening a relationship has all those same characteristics like somebody there, there’s probably a difference of opinion and to some degree, between partners about as scary as hell and It’s a great big undertaking, that would be really nice if everybody was on board with, it’s not a thing that you want to just impose on your household, you really can’t, and expect it to work. And it’s got a ton of emotional weight for everybody in the conversation. So that’s an example that I use. But you’re absolutely right. It’s this is just the business of a long term relationship. You know, I’ve been in a lesbian relationship for 26 years and you know, stuff comes up, we don’t always agree about everything. What do you know?

Unknown Speaker  15:28
Yep. Yeah, that’s exactly. So what about the other people said, What if one person wants to be open and one person doesn’t want to be open, then what does that mean?

Unknown Speaker  15:40
Well, it means you have a difference of opinion. And, and some interesting conversations to have about what even does open mean? I mean, there’s a vast array of levels of openness and kinds of openness. So one of the worksheets that I have is about really exploring many forms of open and starting to figure out separate from whether your relationship is open. What do you want in a relationship? Like, what do you value? Is it emotional security, financial security, connection, depth, intimacy, sex, like what is the stuff that describes the relationship that you want? And interestingly, any of that stuff can be achieved in a monogamous relationship, then any of that stuff can be achieved in a polyamorous relationship. So first, I separate out so that at least we’re talking about what we want, separate from the conversation of how we want to achieve that. So it doesn’t just become a hairball, right?

Unknown Speaker  16:47
Yes. And let’s be clear, you know, we didn’t do this in the beginning, polyamory means what we should probably define that.

Unknown Speaker  16:54
Technically, it means many loves. So it’s like it’s a form of open relationship structure that is expected to have a romantic component or a love component. So it’s like, at least one person in the relationship. Possibly all people in the relationship are free to have other emotionally intimate relationships, sexually intimate relationships, romantic relationships, and exactly the definitions and the rules around all of that are up to the people involved. And I keep it a really broad like that when I define it, because there are asexual people who have open relationships. They don’t care if you have sex or don’t have sex, but the thing that sort of makes polyamory distinct from other forms of consensually open relationships, is the assumption that there’s a romantic component to it.

Unknown Speaker  17:41
Got it? And how is it different than from swinging people will say, Well, how is that different from swingers? Right?

Unknown Speaker  17:47
Well, swinging I think often does not have a romantic component to it. I think of swinging as an activity that couples engage in together for the enrichment of their couple relationship. It’s a way to have casual connections with a few people or a lot of people for the entertainment of the couple. And there are couples who are in polyamorous relationships where both partners in the couple are in love with the same third or third and fourth person. But that’s not the most common form of polyamory, because it’s hard to get everybody to agree on love, right? Like, not everybody falls in love with the same person all the time, just by accident. And what’s much more common is one partner has another partner here and the other partner has another partner over there because they fall in love with two separate people. Or a relationship where one identifies as monogamous and the other identifies as polyamorous. And so one has another partner or partners and the other one doesn’t. You know, it can look just a vast array of different ways. And they all work for some people.

Unknown Speaker  18:57
Yep. And that would be the agreement. Let’s be clear, because people are like, Oh, my God, one’s monogamous, and one isn’t. That’s cheating. That’s what people do. They go right to that.

Unknown Speaker  19:04
Yeah, right. Well, it’s only cheating if you didn’t talk about it and agree to it, right? So we’re, we are talking about consensually open meaning we’re having a conversation and we’re coming to an agreement that you’re at least, okay enough for us to run the experiment and see how it goes. And so there’s, there’s consent, there’s like, yep, I’m in. I don’t know if I’m gonna like it. I don’t know if I’m gonna hate it. I don’t know how it’s gonna go like that. Nobody knows any of that. Anytime you try something new. Yep. But we’re gonna move forward with it and we’re gonna see what happens and we’re gonna do our damnedest to make this work.

Unknown Speaker  19:39
In your book polyamory a clinical toolkit for therapists and their clients. You talk about arrangement, you know how everyone has different arrangements and how they open relationships. And you talk about don’t ask, don’t tell arrangements. Can you say what you mean about that?

Unknown Speaker  19:54
Yeah, don’t ask don’t tell is a situation where one partner prefers not To know, often sort of anything about the other person’s relationship. So you know if Margo has a couple of partners, but Margot’s partner can prefers Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, maybe Ken doesn’t want to hear about any of that. And it can. There’s obviously a spectrum of what this looks like for people. But it’s one of the kinds of kind of blog information sharing negotiations, I would put it under the information flow discussions, how much do you want to know about what I do outside of our relationship? And the thing is, don’t ask don’t tell. Often, if you read a book about polyamory, it’ll say don’t ask don’t tell doesn’t work. And it’s just overly simplified. That’s an oversimplification, because most people, and any form of open relationship have some form of an agreement around information sharing and information flow. And it exists on a continuum. Some people want lots of information shared, other people want no information shared and anything in between. and all that can work for. So for people who really want like, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I don’t want to know, don’t want to know where you’re going. I don’t want to know who you’re seeing. I don’t want to know, if you get a new partner, then my questions as a therapist and a facilitator for this process is, what kind of agreements Do you want around safety? Like what kind of you do have a locked filing cabinet that says where this person is probably going to be? Are you going to use your cell phone for that? Or like what safety arrangements do you have? Like if your partner doesn’t come home, and it’s three in the morning and you expected them at 10? Don’t ask, don’t tell sunlight doesn’t seem like such a good idea. If you have absolutely no freaking idea where your partner might be, or what might have happened, like, it’s good to be able to find the body. So they’re just that kind of, like, what where is the information flow? There is most people don’t choose, there is no information. Most people choose something that has an emergency escape hatch, you know, like, and then I go look in the filing cabinet and find out what address to go to, you know, or whatever.

Unknown Speaker  22:15
One time, and this is, before I knew about polyamory and open relationships before I was informed. I used to say, and I would think I was taught this as a clinician if there’s an open really open agreement, and one of them breaks that agreement and cheats. Right? So that’s what that’s called, you broke the agreement, then I would ask the clients to close the relationship back up. So they can recommit to one another, then reopen it. And a person in my audience, a therapist, she said, Well, that’s not fair to the person that didn’t break the agreement. Why would you do that? And I was stumped. And she because I thought she was right. And it’s probably not right, is it?

Unknown Speaker  22:46
I would say it’s complicated. And probably unique to the individual circumstance. Yeah. And and what they are going to actually need. So one of them total misconceptions about polyamory is that it can’t be emotionally stable and create a secure bond, it absolutely can. But the secure bond is really important. And so one thing I would say slightly tangentially to your question is, if you can’t make a good agreement, and keep it, like until you can do that, it’s not really reasonable to expect your open relationship to be fabulously successful, there’s gonna be some problems if you can’t make and keep an agreement. And it’s a developmental process to become able to make and keep an agreement. It’s not just a behavioral task, like just do it. It’s easy. It’s not easy. It requires developing some capacity. But that capacity is really important. And I think that what to do when something goes wrong, whatever it is infidelity, a broken agreement, a broken promise secrecy, what have you, whatever, set that situation up. That’s a situation that is not part of building a secure bond. And something’s going to have to happen to go from a breach of trust back to security. But the two partners may have different opinions about what would create that for them. And much more importantly, they may have different ideas that I have about what may create like, I might think, Hell no, I don’t think you can do this and the way you’ve been doing it open relationship, but they might say that wasn’t the problem at all, Martha, something else was the problem. And if I’m not willing to hear them, say what would create safety for them, then I’m just not the right therapist, like, Is there a relationship is there therapy, and they know each other so that’s the part where I like the I wrote the book for the client audience. Because I like the idea of client empowerment and client driven therapy like I who do I want to have be in charge of the therapy where I’m the therapy As I want the client to be in charge of that they’re like, I’m an expert that consults for them, essentially, and a very skilled one. But you know, and don’t take my recommendation and stuff. But I need to be very, very careful about what biases I’m perpetuating, because it’s not my life. It’s not my relationship. It’s not my choices. We may have different values, we may have entirely different belief systems, we certainly have different histories. Everybody is as unique as a fingerprint. So I want the client to be in charge, I want the client holding that book. Yes. And then and then I want the client to hand the book to the therapist and say, catch up with me here.

Unknown Speaker  25:36
I love it. Anything else? Before we go? That you wanted people to hear that you didn’t say?

Unknown Speaker  25:44
Oh, you know, I could talk about this, you know, for hours or possibly days, which is why I wrote a 500 page book about it was a long book, but it was so thorough. I have a question for you, Joe, did you find it to be readable? Was it easy to read?

Unknown Speaker  25:59
Oh, 100%. It really really was, you know, it might look intimidating to somebody that’s a lot of pages, and a lot of things said, but when you start reading it, it’s not a dense book. I mean, it’s dense and pages and information, but it’s he flows and the worksheets help and the language helps. And I hope that from this podcast, people can hear your language is just so good information, sharing information flow. That’s how you talk in the book. It’s no different.

Unknown Speaker  26:24
That’s right. That’s true. Well, good. I’m glad that that’s my one fear about the book is you know, it’s kind of a great big volume. But I wrote it in my actual authentic voice. And I talk to my clients exactly like I wrote that book. Yeah. And so hopefully, it’s very readable. It is, I’m glad to hear

Unknown Speaker  26:46
very, so tell my listeners where they can find you and find your book. Awesome.

Unknown Speaker  26:51
I am at Institute for relational intimacy, COMM And my book is on Amazon. It’s published by Roman Littlefield, you can get it directly from the publisher from Amazon from my local bookseller, which is Roma, one zone. And all of those links are on my website. So if you can’t find it anywhere else, you can come to institute for relational intimacy and go to the my book page and see how to do it.

Unknown Speaker  27:19
Thank you, Martha, so much for joining me today on smart sex smart love. It’s a pleasure, always want to have you back. There’s so much more to say. And then if you enjoyed this podcast, please rate and review. I’d love that and keep listening. And if you’re new listener, it’s great to have you here. I hope you’re listening to more. And you can follow me on Twitter, tick tock, Instagram and Facebook. Just go to Dr. Jo CT, j e k o r t. Thanks for listening. And until next time. Thanks for listening to this episode of smart sex smart love. I’m Dr. Joe Cort. You can find me on Joe court comm that’s Jo e. k o r See you next time.

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