Celeste & Danielle Offer Sex and Relationship Coaching for a Passionate, Connected and Fulfilling Life

Elena is a Somatica practitioner with her own thriving practice in San Francisco and the South Bay. She is also a group leader in the Somatica Core Training as well as an amazing friend, colleague, partner, and mom. We are so excited to host her guest blog

Last year I watched the Showtime series “Masters of Sex,” the fictionalized story of the real life Virginia Johnson and William Masters. I knew of them, of course, but I didn’t know a lot about them so as I made my way through the series, I also researched who they were and what the wide world of the internet had to say. I came across a blog post that characterized the relationship of Masters and Johnson as “ultimately failed” because, after 20 years of marriage, they divorced. I found it appalling that a twenty year relationship, not to mention a culture-shifting collaboration, could be described as failed because at some point they decided to separate.

On the one hand, I wasn’t surprised at all. The prevailing wisdom about long term relationships equates longevity with success. Not just longevity but longevity of a particular form or arrangement of relationship, most often monogamous, cohabiting, and married. On the other hand, I was separating from my partner of 15 years and I was furious at the thought that our relationship could in any way be construed as a failure.

I met my… what to call him? Ex. Ugh. Former partner? No, we are still partners. Baby daddy? Seriously?

I met this person, one of my soul mates, when he and I were both 29. I had moved from the Bay Area to New Mexico a few years prior and he was from the South – an unlikely match. We began an affair after I had a bad breakup. He was in a non-monogamous relationship (as he pointedly informed me one night at a party). For a year we had hot, amazing, open, adventurous sex and pined after each other on the daily. I loved it (see my blog-post In Search of My Movie).

At the end of that year, and some all-too-human and messy life events, the multiple relationship configurations exploded and when the pieces reformed, he and I were living together. Monogamously.

Two years later, we started trying to have a baby. Two and a half years after that, we finally did have our son. Thus continued a decade of life and relationship challenges I could not have foreseen. To list them would get off topic but it was a heavy time. Eventually we sought out the help of a gifted therapist because we knew our relationship could be better and we wanted it to be. I also found Somatica. Between the gifted therapist and the life-altering experience of the Somatica training, we started to wake up. We healed and repaired some of our deepest wounds – some of which we had inflicted on each other and some of which pre-dated our presence in each other’s lives. We got legally married and we opened our relationship again. We worked our way to a state of awareness from which we were able to see one another, and what we each wanted, clearly. Without blame or recrimination we decided to stop living together, stop forcing ourselves to be lovers, and to embrace the profoundly deep knowing and love we have for each other as friends, as co-parents, and as soul mates. We made room for change so our relationship could shift instead of break.

I had friends say, “Oh, that open relationship thing isn’t working out so well.” I found it fascinating that opening our relationship was blamed (as though the shift was a failure) and that no one ever said, “Wow, living all those years with the confining, restrictive, unrealistic expectations of traditional marriage really took it’s toll, huh?”. The truth of our experience was that we opened our relationship out of a sense of safety with and love for each other. We weren’t meeting all of each other’s needs and wanted those needs met regardless of whether or not we were the one to fulfill them for the other. I don’t advocate for open relationships or monogamy, but I do believe they should both be on the menu as equally valid choices so that people can make a conscious decision to do what works for them. What I want to share in this post is that people change, and we can shift instead of break if we allow our relationships to change with us. Riding the roller coaster with awareness, flexibility, and resilience is the way to have successful relationships, not deciding on a shape and form and rigidly holding to that at the cost of passion, joy, fulfillment, and ultimately even connection.

If the author of the aforementioned blog, and most of society, were to look at the 15 years of relationship we’ve had so far, they would pronounce our relationship a failure because we are no longer married and living together. Far from a failure, this is the most successful relationship of my life to date. We didn’t break up, or in fact break anything – we shifted a connection that remains vibrant and vital to both of us.

To begin honest outsourcing takes an acknowledgment that no one person, or relationship, can ever fulfill all of our desires or needs, nor should we want it to. Most people already acknowledge this in one way or another, but when it comes to outsourcing sex or romance many folks feel threatened. We keep talking about the what honest outsourcing is, and The pros and cons, because we understand that operationalizing honest outsourcing in any given relationship is a unique task that can be very rewarding if approached with care and open communication. These 6 keys can guide that process.

  1. Go slow. Start by doing something that feels within your comfort zone, then slowly move on to experiences that are only a little outside your comfort zone. We see the biggest problems arise when people approach opening up from a place of scarcity and urgency, feeling like they have to get everything from the first experience. Non-monogamy works much better when you take the time to test out new experiences and communicate afterwards to see what feelings arise and share what worked and what didn’t.
  2. Always prioritize your partner’s needs and boundaries over the needs of other partners, and make sure your other partners know that you are going to do this. This may mean you have to disappoint other partners in order to keep your primary relationship strong.
  3. Do not expect your partner to have the same desires you do. When negotiating what you want, don’t try to be “fair.” Figure out what each of you wants to get out of the arrangement and whether you want to do it at all. For example, we worked with one couple where only one of the partners had other lovers and another couple where she wanted romantic dating with lots of kissing and occasional sex and he wanted anonymous sexual experiences with new people.
  4. You won’t know what it will feel like until you actually have the experience. Look at each new experience as a trial run where you see what you felt, whether it worked for you, and what, if anything, would need to change in order for you to want to do it again. Some experiences will feel good, and you may want to do them again; others will not, and you might not want to do them again. If you stretched too far, you might need to try experiences closer to your comfort zone before you try to stretch that far again.
  5. You and your partner will have different triggers around opening up your relationship, so it is essential to share your feelings. Don’t ignore them or try to get over them without your partner’s help. Don’t compare your ability to handle an open relationship with your partner’s ability. You each have your own feelings, needs, and boundaries. If you try to talk yourself out of any of these, you will build resentment and distance. To stay intimately connected, you will need to be as honest as possible about what is going on inside you.
  6. Learn what your partner needs in terms of reassurance that you are still there and committed to the relationship. When you are connecting with other people, your partner will likely need to have much more reassurance than they needed when you were being monogamous. For some people, there are specific words, for others they need touch or sexual connection to feel reassured. Let your partner know what you need and be specific. Give them information on the kinds of words, gestures and sentences are most reassuring for you.

Again, these are just a few helpful tools to begin discussing. If you want to explore opening your relationship with your partner, we strongly recommend you read some books on the topic. We recommend The Ethical Slut, by Dossie Easton, and Opening Up, by Tristan Taormino. Learning as much as you can and practicing with good communication tools is essential before you give honest outsourcing a try!

“He is totally there for me, is an amazing father, and also supports me in getting my sexual and emotional needs met. Why would I go anywhere else?!” – says one of our female clients about her husband.

“I feel like I’m getting to have the college years I always dreamed of, but was too shy to enjoy.” Her husband’s comment in response.

We love these quotes because they challenge many of the assumptions people have about non-monogamous relationships and highlight the importance of honest outsourcing. Although our clients are experiencing sex outside of their marriage, it is not cheating or an affair. They are completely committed to each other and ultimately are not going anywhere that would threaten their bond. They might be outsourcing sex, but they are fully invested in love, and they are in awe of their primary partner. Part of their strength comes from supporting each other in all of their desires, whether they can meet each others needs or not.

This example of honest outsourcing may sound appealing, intriguing, or insane. What we want to emphasize that there is no one-size-fits-all relationship model that works for everyone or every couple. The more you consciously co-create your relationship, the more likely it is to last. We’ve all heard about high divorce rates, and seen (or been a member of ) unhappy couples that stay together. Playing by the rules does not always lead to happiness or longevity.

Many unhappily coupled or married folks outsource dishonestly by having affairs or seeing sex workers. Despite these high rates of failure, people rarely ask, “Yes, but do monogamous relationships really work?” Monogamy is rarely scrutinized as a relationship model because, as a culture, we think of monogamy as “normal,” “natural,” or “right” and believe that staying monogamous with one person forever is the only truly successful relationship model. The belief that a lifetime of monogamy is the only way sets people up for a lot of pain and failure, as even most monogamous folks (a few unicorns aside) will generally have more than one partner in their lifetime.

We are not here to argue about whether or not monogamy is the way humans were meant to be. (For interesting discussions on monogamy and non-monogamy, check out Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, as well as Strange Bedfellows: The Surprising Connection Between Sex, Evolution and Monogamy, by David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton.) Different relationship structures work for different people. Some people will actually be more likely to sustain relationships if they are non-monogamous, while for others monogamy is an essential component to relationship longevity.

The most challenging relationships seem to be those in which one person desires monogamy while the other desires some form of an open relationship. For these relationships, especially, it is essential to make a distinction between monogamy and commitment, since people often confuse these terms. You can be highly committed to your partner and not monogamous, and you can be completely monogamous without being committed. Commitment means being dedicated to working through the challenges that show up in every relationship. It means being aware of your own feelings, needs, and capacities and communicating instead of building resentment.

There are many reasons you might consider honest outsourcing as opposed to dishonesty or divorce. It can allow you to enjoy the depth of understanding and support that a long-term loving connection offers while also experiencing the excitement of new partners. Bringing in new people can often reignite passion between you and your partner. It can also make you feel accepted in all of your desires, which helps you feel more loving towards your partner. It can increase the stability of the relationship because no one needs to leave or lie in order to get their needs met. As our clients experience demonstrated, by going outside the marriage they were actually giving themselves less reason to ever truly “go anywhere else.”

Whether you acknowledge it or not, some desires get met in your primary relationship, and some desires you outsource. We are not talking about the kind of economic outsourcing that Donald Trump promises to end if president (even though his own line of suits is manufactured overseas), we are talking about how desires can be fulfilled across different relationships. If this is negotiated openly and honestly it can be wonderful, and non-exploitative, for everyone involved.

Outsourcing can allow you to get what you need without putting all of the pressure on one relationship to give it to you. Many times you outsource desires without even thinking about it; the outsourcing doesn’t even show up on anyone’s radar because you are both fine with it. For example, perhaps you love salsa dancing but your partner hates it, so you have a group of friends who you go dancing with. Maybe your partner is relieved to never have to go again. Or maybe you like to talk a lot about your feelings, but your partner has a lower tolerance for feelings-based conversations, so you have a best friend you call when you are emotional and need some support. Problems arise when you have a desire that is not being met in the relationship but that you or your partner are not okay with you outsourcing. There is a big cultural taboo about outsourcing sex, but sex isn’t the only thing that people feel uncomfortable outsourcing.

The same examples as above can play out very differently, causing friction and long term issues. Let’s say you still love salsa dancing, and your partner still doesn’t want to do it with you but also doesn’t like the idea of you doing it with someone else. Or you may not feel very supported by your partner emotionally, but they don’t want you to share feelings with your friends, especially if you are talking about your relationship. You might be very extroverted and want to go out a few nights a week, and your partner only wants to go out once a month but gets very sad and frustrated when you go out without them. These are all examples of places where you could outsource, but doing so feels threatening or hurtful to your partner.

In all relationships, we are in an ongoing negotiation of desires, boundaries, and capacities. Each of us needs to honor the other’s desires and be as honest as possible about our own, knowing that we will sometimes feel disappointment in the face of differences.

In the following series we will talk about how people handle sexual outsourcing in their relationships in a variety of ways (polyamory, non-monogamy, open-relationships, infidelity, affairs, cheating). Some people choose to outsource dishonestly which can have many negative ramifications even if this outsourcing is never discovered. We encourage everyone to try and negotiate outsourcing honestly. While this might bring up fears, in the end, being open and honest about your needs brings the highest likelihood of long-term connection and personal fulfillment.

Not everyone is attracted to people other than their partner, but it is normal and common when people are. The idea of being attracted to others or that your partner is attracted to others might scare you, or might feel like something you don’t want. The fact is that many people are attracted to different people other than their partner, emotionally and sexually. If you look at it as a fact of life, talking to your partner about your attractions to others can actually enhance intimacy. You can share what you feel about these attractions and any insecurities or fears that hearing about each other’s attractions might bring up. It is also okay to set boundaries around what you do and don’t want to hear about your partner’s attractions to others. When you make room in your relationship to honor the possibility of outside attractions and the feelings they create, it can help you stay connected and engaged with each other instead of developing separate lives where you keep your attractions hidden. This may help prevent affairs from happening.

Some people are comfortable with monogamy while others feel much more themselves in non-monogamous situations. They may feel fully satisfied with their partner and still want to have sexual or emotional connections with other people. But because there is limited social acceptance of non-monogamy, these people usually feel that they have no choice but to agree to monogamy if they want a long-term relationship. Some people don’t realize that they want to be with more than one person until later in life, when they have already entered into a monogamous marriage. Eventually, their desire to be with someone else may win out and they may end up having an affair.