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.

Whenever we talk to anyone about non-monogamy, the first question we always get is “Yes, in theory, but do non-monogamous relationships really work?” The simple answer is yes. Both monogamous and open relationships have their places of ease and their challenges which are quite different. For example, those who desire consistency and feel very threatened by the thought of their partner being with someone else may do better with monogamy while those who are less prone to jealousy and crave more variety may do better with non-monogamy. We believe the more important question is, “What really makes a relationship work?” Whether a relationship is monogamous or non-monogamous, what makes it work is mutual trust, respect, attachment, good communication, empathy, the ability to self-reflect and grow, consideration, and the desire to support each other in being true to who you are.

Pros of Honest Outsourcing

Negotiating non-monogamy can actually enhance your relationship because it requires high level communication skills that many monogamous relationships don’t develop. From our years of seeing clients, we can say that most relationships are under-communicated. Without a conscious choice to communicate, people get lazy about expressing their feelings, needs, and fears. Instead they use shortcuts and rely on what they already know, or think they know, about their partner. Imagining or practicing non-monogamy will likely uncover fears and insecurities that you may have buried and give you the opportunity to move through these feelings with the loving support of your partner. You can work through your fear of being left and insecurity about not being enough for your partner as you see them connecting with another person but still loving and staying with you.

Cons of Honest Outsourcing

Most of us think we know the con’s of non-monogamy, because we are taught that monogamy is inherently safer, easier, and more fulfilling. There certainly are challenges associated with opening up a relationship. You may feel jealous or fear being abandoned, and you may feel hurt at times. If you decide to practice some kind of honest outsourcing, you will likely experience misunderstandings, imperfect communication, and crossed boundaries. Even if the two of you are very good at communicating your needs and boundaries around being with other people, miscommunication is still possible. For some people, it will simply be against their grain – those folks feel more relaxed and fulfilled in monogamy and opening up is undesirable or beyond their capacity. The biggest challenges we have seen in relationships are when one person wants monogamy and the other wants to be open, it can work but it’s tougher.

It’s All Part of The Deal

Many people think they can avoid hurt or ever crossing boundaries in relationships, so they try to avoid any conversation or action that might bring up hurt or fear. However, any two people have differences, misunderstandings, and wounds that get triggered, and hurts and challenges are a normal part of relationships, both monogamous and non-monogamous. Learning how to take responsibility for your feelings, fears and actions and giving each other attentive, empathetic and listening will give you an opportunity to get through the hurt and back into your peaceful, loving connection with your partner.

If you are interested in beginning to open your relationship, keep your eye out for our next blog, 6 Keys to Success in Honest Outsourcing.

“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.”