September 4, 2014 by aggiesez
Sometimes we know in advance what we hope to get from a relationship — like when actively pursuing career mentoring, or parenthood, or activity partners. More often, people bounce off of each other, see how they fit, and the purposes of those relationships emerge. Sometimes you only see what your relationship goals are by looking in the rear view mirror.
This is happening to me now. I’m reverse-engineering my relationship goals.
Rules support goals
Goals are “carrots;” rules are “sticks.” I think it’s particularly telling that carrots live closer to the roots, buried underground, and are nourishing when you dig them up. Meanwhile, sticks tend to be more obvious in an in-your-face (perhaps whacking your face) kind of way.
Often in discussions of poly relationships, the controversial subject of rules arises. In my experience, relationships rules always spring from needs. A need points toward a goal; something you hope to achieve or support.
Too often, people focus on relationships rules without even clearly discussing (or even considering) the goals that their rules are intended to support. That’s a problem.
For instance, take veto power — a common tool of hierarchical poly/open relationships. Ask primary-style hierarchical couples why they have a veto rule and they’ll probably say, “to protect our primary relationship.” Why? Is your primary relationship fragile or easily threatened? Hmmm… that’s a problem. Worse, it misidentifies the risk as coming from outside, which frames new or potential partners mostly as a threat — not the best basis for intimacy. Perhaps a more constructive, creative and effective (not to mention far less ethically whacked) approach might be to work to make your relationship, and yourselves as individuals, more resilient and adaptable. That way, you’ll be more able to accommodate new relationships in ways that benefit everyone involved — and which actively welcome all the good that new partners can offer (or that they might elicit from you).
See? Without clarity about the goals that relationship rules are supposed to support, it’s easy to set, get invested in, and attempt to enforce rules that can directly undermine existing, new and potential relationships — while ignoring other options to achieve your goals.
Rules generally aren’t very flexible. You either obey them or you break them. Sometimes you may skirt the edges, sticking to the letter of the rule while ignoring the spirit.
In contrast, usually there are myriad ways to achieve (or work toward) any goal.
This is why, when I hear poly people talking about relationship rules, I ask them what they hope their rules will achieve. Typically, focusing on goals yields more options and opportunities to get what they want or need. Even better, they find more ways to get what they want/need that don’t unduly harm, devalue or offload risk to others.
I have a slightly different take on relationship rules. I’ve developed a list of rules for myself, which apply only to me, and which have been helping to make solo polyamory serve me quite well.
Recently I’ve been exploring the goals behind my rules for myself; what I hope to achieve through them. This has been a pretty revealing process — in terms of what I’ve discovered, and what I’ve left out.
Looking through my existing list of rules, I enumerated five goals in which they are collectively rooted:
- Maintaining integrity and autonomy: Being the kind of person I want to be, on my own terms.
- Connecting with others in loving ways that are mutually meaningful, deep, and constructive.
- Managing risk: Keeping myself safe, and not letting partners or metamours offload too much risk or responsibility onto me.
- Experiencing joy, love, intimacy, happiness, pleasure, fun, satisfaction and fulfillment — physical and emotional.
- Maintaining balance and comfort, including minimizing stress, pain and chaos.
Not a bad list of goals… but wait a second — is that really all that I hope to achieve from my intimate relationships?
Not quite. Considering further, I realize I have at least three more goals for my intimate relationships:
- Being a force for good. Supporting, accepting, considering and respecting others — partners, metamours, friends, family, community and society.
- Growth, through continued learning, by embracing change, and by allowing myself to be influenced by my partners.
- Increasing my resilience through positive, constructive and conscious interdependence.
… I don’t yet have clear rules to support those goals. That’s probably because I started my rule-making process reactively, mostly in response to faceplants I’d made and harm I’d suffered in previous relationships.
It’s time to be proactive. I’m starting to think I should put my relationship goals front and center — and to focus on goals first, rules second. The rules I make should be easy, flexible ways to achieve my goals.
I’m not exactly sure how to do that. Do/don’t-style rules are easier to craft and remember.
I’m starting by just trying to keep my goals in mind when interacting with others — not only lovers, but also friends, colleagues, family and community.
Also, I want to use my goals consciously to tune my radar while keeping my heart open for new intimate connections, and for allowing relationships to evolve.
This will be interesting — a moving target and a work in progress. Stay tuned.
OBLIGATORY AND OBVIOUS CAVEAT: Your own relationship goals may vary, I’m not trying to tell anyone what their goals should be.