What does it mean to have a relationship that feels "equal"? Is it a fair division of labor? Mutual trust and respect? Treating every partner exactly the same? This week we dive in to equal and inequal relationships, as well as how the concept of equity can help to bring balance to your love life.
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Jase: On this episode of the multiamory podcast, we're talking about equality in relationships. Is it really possible to be truly equal in a relationship? What does that even mean, to be equal?
Emily: I have no idea. That's why I wanted to do this episode.
Dedeker: We are just going to front load you with a bunch of questions as per usual. Maybe we will answer them, maybe we won't.
Jase: In the past, if you're thinking about good old traditional family values. The normal division of labor was all along gender lines, right? The man would work and make money and provide monetarily for the family, while the woman was in charge of cooking and cleaning and raising the children but, obviously, things are different now. When we were talking about this before, I mean, one of the biggest changes is the fact that it's not generally possible for most people to live on a one-person income. That's changed. That's not a thing.
Emily: Especially not in LA.
Jase: I think in most places too. I mean, there are rare exceptions where people make a ton of money and people will try to hold this up as like, "Oh no, look. We can still have these traditional gender roles and they can work out great and equal but that's a very small percentage of people who have a job that makes them enough money, that the other partner doesn't have to work. This is also assuming the other partner doesn't want to work, which is another big part of the equality movements that have been going on.
It's like sure maybe that would be fine and equal if that's what both parties wanted. Not ingredient was missing even back then, even when it was possible for one person to support an entire family. Things are very different now.
Emily: I also was just wondering because women are in the workforce now, what does that look like in terms of giving your fair share or equal division and the relationship. How do you know if you or your partner is like putting in the same amount of the work in the relationship or in the child-rearing or whatever it is, and also when you have multiple relationships like what does equality look like there? Is it even a thing that people should strive for? I also didn't know-- it just is a foreign concept to me. I mean, I get it and I get it's a nice thing to strive for, but there's so many what-ifs and there's so many potentials for that to not exactly be what's going to happen.
Dedeker: I feel like this opens up an even broader topic outside of just division of labor for if you're in a relationship where you're cohabiting or where you're raising your family together. I think it also goes into a much bigger question of like, do the general dynamics in your relationship feel equal? Do you both feel empowered as it were? Do you both feel like you have agency? I think it gets into this much bigger question beyond just like the day to day logistics of like, how do we split up the chores, for instance.
Jase: I think the other thing that we want to explore in this episode is just that question before of, is equality something that we want and what does that mean? What does equality mean? I think people can get caught up in certain aspects of that rather than sort of seeing the impact it's actually having on the people involved. Because like we've talked about before with the idea of non-hierarchical non monogamy, and polyamory where you don't have a very clear primary, secondary partner that some people take that to mean like, "That must mean in order to not do that, I have to spend exactly the same amount of time or do exactly the same things with all my partners.
We're always the first ones to be like no, no, no, no, no. That's not what that means. That's absurd. You don't spend exactly the same amount of time with all of your friends or your relatives. That's not what we mean. There's a difference there between giving individual agency to those. We're going to explore that a little bit too.
Dedeker: I don't know. I think that when we talk about-- specifically when we talk about like non-hierarchy that people tend to interpret that as two different forms of harsh equality, I guess. It's like either, that must mean that each relationship has to be equally important or equally unimportant. I think I get those interpretations a lot. Either that means, that means you have to like live with all your partners in the same house. Big old poly commune or it means that like, that must mean that no one's important to you and like you keep everyone arm's length, like that that's what nonhierarchical means if you don’t for primary, which some people do but--
Jase: Yes, but that's often the accusation made against people who are solo polyamorous. Of like, well, you just don't want any serious relationships and that's not necessarily the case just because someone identifies that way.
Emily: When we were talking about those and when I was looking up some stuff for those, it was interesting how often abuse came up when you google like equality in relationships. We're going to get into that a little bit but there are kind of some things to watch out for if you're looking at potential equality or not in your relationships.
Jase: Something that we wanted to start out with actually is to come up with some questions that you can ask yourself, about, do you have an imbalance in your relationship? Before we get into the specifics of, how to build a good relationship, here's some ideas about ways to identify if maybe things are very unequal in an unhealthy way in your relationship.
Emily: Often, I mean, hopefully not often but sometimes what can happen is that one partner may maintain power and control over the other partner. Again, to see if that's potentially happening, there are various questions that I found from bussel.com and loveisrespect.org and I'd sort of compiled them into this. The first question is does one of us have a monopoly on decision making? So, does one person's preferences continue to dominate the relationship? Even if it's just a symbol is like, we always go to the restaurant that this person wants to go to, or they are the ones who always make the plans in their relationship, is that happening?
Dedeker: It can also be really common for that in particular to be a little bit tricky because the fact that, I know I've definitely been in relationships in the past, where not only have I been with someone who's maybe just used to taking charge more but I'm also been used to giving that up to someone. I'm very quick to just be like, okay, well, whatever you want to do. Well, how about you pick the best plan. It's not necessarily like I'm being domineered it into this, but it's like I also enable this imbalance to happen. That's obviously not always the case with especially if it's a really an abusive relationship it's not always the case, but that does happen.
Emily: That's something to think about another end. Then the sex one is a little heavier. Do either of us often feel put down by the other person in an argument? Does one of us have to constantly explain themselves or like who they were with or where they were? I definitely, the very first really big relationship that I had in-- I was in high school. Now it was something that my partner always asked me, especially later on, was like, I saw you here or I heard some friends of mine said that you were out at the mall at ten o'clock. What were you doing there or whatever?
Jase: Like needing to give an accounting of every minute of your day, like what were you doing. Who are you with? Definitely. I think it is interesting because I feel like these are almost two totally separate things because there's that, but then the first part you talked about always feeling put down by the other person in arguments. I think that one also can definitely come up a lot.
Emily: It was interesting because the articles that I read put these two together just saying like, does one person constantly have to explain themselves or do they feel like they're the bad guy in the relationship or whatever and then moves on to the next one. Does one of us gaslight the other about any abuse that might be occurring? Is that abuse minimized? Is it made light of? Is the blame pushed to the other partner? For example. I'm sure we've all been through this in some way, shape or form, but yes, that obviously can get really intense. Then, are each of our boundaries being observed or does one of us constantly push the personal boundaries despite clear communication.
The next one is. Is one of us constantly in charge of the emotional labor when it comes to the relationship. Then also, do either of us walk on pins and needles around the other person to prevent issues like rage and lashing out. I think this is a really specific big one to think about because that can be the case with certain types of partners like someone's way more of a peacemaker than they may try to alter their behavior so that they don't get into a situation where their partner is going to be upset for any reason. Even if it's like benign stuff, things that don't really-- that shouldn't warrant a response like they do. I think that's a really interesting one to take a look at.
Dedeker: Well I think the question of emotional labor is interesting because that question is like is there just one half of this relationship that's in charge of all emotional labor? Emotional labor can mean many different things. It could be, are you the one in charge of making sure we stay in touch with family or that everyone's communicating or am I the only one in charge of making sure that you're able to talk out your day at work when you're really stressed? That second question of is there one of us who always has to walk on pins and needles around the other person or walk on eggshells around the other person? It's like emotional labor also extends to am I the one also needing to take on the work of managing your emotions for you, like create an environment around you where nothing pisses you off essentially.
Emily: Absolutely. It makes sense through all of these questions that it can lead to these if answered in the affirmative, if like, yes, this does keep happening, clearly that is a sign of abuse. I understand why that lack of equality or when you google equality, the abuse comes up as well because it can go hand in hand if it's not working out in an equitable way.
Dedeker: An imbalanced relationship is like a really fertile ground for at least emotional abuse or actually probably any other kind of abuse.
Jase: We did want to mention also that for the stuff we're talking about in this episode,while it definitely applies to abuse and, like you said, that tends to come up a lot when you're searching it, we also want to talk about equality even in much more benign ways or rather, inequality and what we may be able to do about that. Even if it's just the fact that I'm feeling frustrated in this relationship like I feel like I'm the one doing most of either manual household work or I'm doing too much of the emotional labor or things are financially not fair or I'm sexually not satisfied", right?
There's so many different things that I definitely don't have to fall into abuse where it still be like, "Hey, we could do better than this. Let's find a way to create more equality". Just to put that in there too. We're not only talking about severe levels on this episode, that we're open to cover both.
Dedeker: Right. What even does equality look like in a relationship? That can be really difficult to define. Of course, it means so many different things to so many different people. For some people, the biggest issue that comes to mind is, for instance, sharing child-rearing responsibilities if they're with a partner that they're co-habiting or maybe co-parenting with. Some people think that it's all about making sure that you do an equal division of household labor or of emotional labor.
For others, again, like we said at the beginning of the episode, it's more of a bigger topic around equality is attached to feeling mutual respect or feeling mutual trust in each other and in their relationship as well. Again, like Jase was saying that, again, it doesn't have to go into these very extreme levels of abuse of territory to be something that you can strive for or to feel when things are out of whack or imbalanced.
Emily: I looked up definition of equality and relationships over and over again on Google and I finally found one definition that I liked. It was really difficult because even looking up definition it didn't give me a clear cut defined thing. This one is from realfamiliesrealanswers.org.
Jase: Wow. That's very real.
Emily: Yes. For real but I did like it and it was equal partners agree on goals together and work as a team to achieve those goals. I mean, it's not quite-- I don't even know but I liked it.
Dedeker: I like it when I think about it in a sense of really expanding, how we're defining the term goal, to be outside of just we have a goal of, "Let's buy a house in the next five years and let's work together as a team to save up that money and then buy a house". That's one thing. You could definitely do that but I also like having a broader definition.
Emily: They can be little goals throughout your relationship.
Dedeker: It could be a goal of like, "Let's just be happy in our relationship together. Let's have better communication. Let's have better sex. Let's have a better time during the time that we spend together". I think that can be goals as well. That it's not just about, I think, external measures of success.
Emily: Absolutely. Relationship escalator totally.
Jase: I think yes, that those are goals that are agreed on together. I think that's a key part of that too.
Emily: Yes. I mean they can work in multi-person relationships or in monogamous relationships so you can have goal-making things in either case.
Dedeker: Right. I want to take a quick interlude. [chuckles]
Jase: It's not going to be that quick. This is good stuff here.
Dedeker: Oh, stop it. Can I say brief?
Dedeker: Okay. I'll just say it. We're going to do an interlude here. An important interlude that needs to be a part of the conversation where we're talking about equality. When we talk about equal partnership or equal relationships, it doesn't necessarily mean it's all cut and dry, half and half, mathematical, we could put it on a spreadsheet and equally track it essentially. I think for us, the concept of equality in relationships or in equal partnership it also incorporates the concept of equity.
Equity and equality, they're related but they're a little bit different. Essentially, equity boils down to rather than things being cut and dry, half and half, it's about the people in the relationship feeling equally empowered, having the same amount of agency, feeling empowered to be able to make the choices and get what it is they need in order to feel happy, which at the end of the day, may not be 100%, 50/50, stuff like that.
Jase: I'd like to add to that definition that equity in a relationship also takes into account the fact that we're not the same person.
Jase: It takes into account that we may have mental, emotional or physical not only differences from each other but even just different preferences from each other, right? It's not something that's just once it's 50/50 exactly, then we'll both feel equally good, right?
Emily: We're going to give some examples here. The first one is if you have financial disparity between the two of you. Say, someone does make an absurd amount of money and they can pay for everything. They can pay for living expenses, et cetera, but that the other partner still gets a say in how that money is spent potentially. If they're living together, if they're married, obviously, if this is a multi-person relationship where you're not living together, maybe things would be different there.
But just that, if you are having a shared household that nobody gets to lord the fact that they have a bunch of money over you. You're not like this kept person because you're getting paid for essentially but that there is some equality given those financial disparities.
Jase: Then on the other side of that, though, say, I have a job that makes me a ton of money or I sold my company when I was in my 20s and now I'm a millionaire, right or whatever it is. Say, I own this huge house and we get into a relationship, you move in with me and I expect you to pay half the mortgage. When you don't make that much money, you'd think that's equal, right? That's equality.
Dedeker: Right. We're paying the same amount of money.
Jase: I think that's a good example of that. That on either side, it can either be a power tool like you were talking about a power-- I think you can use that power over someone else or it can be this way, another way to get power over someone by, "Now, I'm financially burdening you much more relative to what you have than what I have". Now, that's also not equitable even though I could say, "Oh, it's equal", right?
Dedeker: There can also be disparities around disability or illness. For instance, if one of you in the partnership is chronically ill or has some kind of disability that the other one doesn't. That when it comes down to things like how you split up household chores even if you get out your chore wheel and make it all very, very equal like, "Okay, well on Mondays and Tuesdays, you do the dishes and then on Wednesdays and Thursdays, I do the dishes and we switch off." Even though it's equal, because of the fact that you have different physical abilities going into that, means that it's actually not very equitable.
Again, it's the kind of thing where it's like we need to take stock of what everyone's bringing to the table here in order to make something feel equitable and equal even if it's not-- Again like I said, there's a very clear, black and white division of things.
Jase: While those examples are good ones because they're very obvious and they're very easy to understand, the truth is that there are millions of different subtle things that could keep something that looks objectively equal from actually feeling equal to the people involved or at least to one of the people involved. Like I said, this could even just be a preference, right? Even just to be super simple about it.
One person might really enjoy one task that the other person hates, for example, and in the interest of equality, we split that up so we both do it equally. Whereas for one person that's enjoyable to do and the other person, it's very much not. That's even just a super simple like no--
Emily: No brainer. Like cleaning the dishwasher. You get to do that.
Jase: [laughs] I guess, what I'm getting at is it's something that's not so obvious from the outside, where it's the money or a disability or an illness seems very obvious. I guess when you look at it from the outside but something like that might not. It still factors in, especially when you have lots of those that are all compounding on top of each other, right?
In order to have these conversations, both partners need to feel enabled to speak honestly and to speak clearly and to express how the fairness or the equity of this feels to them. Unfortunately, doing that is much more difficult than it seems.
Emily: Yes. I think some things that can happen, occur just probably because of our insecurities that we have surrounding our partners. I mean--
Dedeker: I think, surrounding being honest with our partners-
Emily: Well, sure.
Dedeker: -with what we want and don't want.
Emily: We have a lot of fears surrounding that honesty. For example, I tend to be a people pleaser and a peacemaker. I'm less likely to like speak up when I'm frustrated about something. I will, for later just because finally, I can't take it anymore. Initially, I might just be, Oh, it's okay. It's okay, we'll do what you want. We'll make the house look a certain way so that you are happy or whatever, whatever it might be.
Dedeker: Right, right. That gets in the way of being able to actually, honestly take stock with your partner about what both of you actually need or actually want.
Emily: There might be resentment that builds because you can't be honest in that way you need to be. Finally, when it does come up, it's well, I'm really pissed off about this. I should have said something about it way before it got to that.
Jase: Right. You can end up in that catch 22.
Jase: You feel you're not getting what you need and the other person doesn't know they're not giving it to you.
Dedeker: I know another thing that can get in the way, that I definitely relate to. If one of you in the partnership or the relationship is the problem solver. That's definitely me. I mean, not as in, I'm the one who solves all the problems, but I think that I am.
It's more of what it is. For instance, sometimes how that can manifest is that it's if a partner comes to me feeling there's some kind of imbalance or feeling something's not right, I'm very much, instantly try force number three. Okay, what do we do to fix it? Okay, I'll do this to fix it. Okay, let's create this kind of system. I'm much more into the, we will create this. I think I'm much more into let's create the system that proves that we're able to equally have this very clear division of things when that doesn't really give space for a partner to actually share just how they feel about things being unequal.
I tend to be the one who just wants to steamroll with problem-solving, when maybe that's not actually going to solve the problems at all.
Emily: Use the Tri-force system here.
Dedeker: Yes, exactly.
Jase: Yes. Another one is if one partner is just more stubborn than the other. Maybe doesn't even realize the impact that, that has on the other person. Especially, when you combine someone who is either more of the problem solver or more of the one who's throwing out more of the ideas. Then the other person might be more like Emily was describing of the like, Oh, well, I just want to be sure you're happy. I'm going to be more likely to go along with what you're saying, instead of pointing out potential problems with it or maybe not even realizing those problems up front.
I found that this can also come from just your either family or friend background, in terms of how you make decisions together as a group and how you discuss things. As an example of this, when I'm discussing stuff with my friend Eric, about something that we're going to do or something that we want to change in the house. If we, during the times, when we're living together or things like that, it's all fine, I have to fight tooth and nail. We're going to have to really argue it out, to eventually get to an agreement that works for both of us.
For me, that's [sic] involves more of that, than I'm normally accustomed to. I've learned that, though, from years of being friends with him. That I'm gonna step up that because I know that in order to be heard, I have to really fight.
Dedeker: It's like really make your chase.
Jase: Yes. Really make my case and it's not a personal thing. That's just his style, that's either how his family was or how his friends were growing up, whatever it is. Then with Dedeker, for example, what to me feels a little more natural is a little bit of a back and forth. You're going to defend your idea. You're going to point out problems in the other person's idea, to just try to come up with the best possible solution. You eventually work your way toward that. You're also going to listen at the same time.
Then, when I'm talking with Emily, because I've again, learned from years and making mistakes that she's less likely to fight for her idea because, with her, the way she was raised or whatever her background is, to fights is going to get a bad reaction.
Emily: You're wrong. You're just wrong.
Jase: Right. That if you try to fight, that's just going to get you hurt. Right? I've had to learn with Emily to turn off that thing of, oh, well but what about this. Oh, let me argue my case a little bit more. Instead, try to be a little bit softer and listen more. Okay, coaxing like, "Tell me more about what you think about that idea". Even if I might still disagree with it, I know that I have to coax more of the other side out, right?
That's just like a simple example of how each of us have grown up with different ways of doing this. That someone like Eric isn't trying to be a jerk. He's not being malicious. Similarly, I'm not when I'm talking with Emily. When I'm not aware of that, but it can have that effect on the other person. Just because you had different communication styles growing up. Just because you had different ways of relating to people. That can end up causing a problem if you're not aware of it.
Emily: Yes. On that same note, I definitely, I have very, very anxious attachment style. Where I get scared of a partner losing or me losing a partner or they're leaving me or something. I'll just compromise say, "Okay, you win, whatever," because I don't want to lose that person, for example. That thing may become unbearable later on but in the moment, I may just be, okay never mind. You win because that's easier. It's easier to take on the blame or whatever in the moment than to fight for what I really think is real. Just because I don't want to lose the person.
Dedeker: Right. Yes. I mean, gosh, that's something that I think really drives a lot of people to stay in relationships, that are really unequals, because of that same thing, of that it's we'd rather be in an unequal relationship or an imbalanced relationship than be alone or to risk feeling hurt in that way. Then, the other thing that can get in the way of talking about these things is that the two of you may have come to a decision about something in the past that felt good, that felt right, that felt equal, that felt equitable. As the relationship shifts, as people change, as people grow, as situations change, it may not be equal or equitable anymore.
What felt equal at the beginning of your relationship may not now. Of course, that can apply to all the examples that we gave. That if your financial situation changes, if you get chronically sick, if you're dealing with chronic pain or something like that, I think I see this with a lot of people when they're opening up. That a lot of people who are coming from a monogamous relationship, it's really common to see.
Well, at the beginning, we started out and it felt equal. If it's Okay, well, I'll go on a date on a nice-- then you go out on a date. I'll only go out on a date when you also go on a date and we'll keep it equal that way. Then as time progressed, as their other relationships develop and form and continue to grow organically, then they realize, actually, this doesn't feel equal anymore. If I can't make plans, my girlfriend unless you have plans with your partner, or whatever. Now we need to change our agreements so that they actually do feel equal again.
Jase: Yes. I've just heard that one come up so many times.
Dedeker: Yes, I know.
Jase: People think that's going to make it feel more equal.
Dedeker: Okay, to be positive about it. To bring some optimism into it, which is not normally my role in this show.
Jase: It's really, not what's happened to you?
Dedeker: To be fair, I think I do get a lot of clients who they recognize that themselves. That's why they started out being, okay, we thought that this was going to be equal, this is going to work. Then a month later, we realized, actually, this isn't really working. Let's dump this and try something better. A lot of people-
Emily: Understand that.
Dedeker: Yes, yes. I think they figure that out pretty quickly. Not everyone, but at least my wonderful clients do.
Jase: Now we want to ask the question, how do you make your relationships equal? Right? Relationships, ideally, won't be about constant self-sacrifice. One should ask themselves, how can I fulfill my own needs? How can I get those fulfilled while still also being able to fulfill my partner's needs?
Dedeker: That's the ideal, right?
Jase: That's what we should all strive for, yes? We came up with some questions to ask for that. The first one is, just to ask yourself, what do I need right now? Is this a physical or is it an emotional need, right? I think that there's also other categories. Is it a need about time? Is it more about feeling a burden from something that feels too heavy for me. Like it's kind of trying to really get to, what is it that feels off for me?
Dedeker: Am I feeling a lack were like, I think my partner is getting something and I'm not getting it back from my partner.
Jase: Right and I think the challenge with this one--
Emily: Yes, this one kind of touches on sex which I think is a challenging one for a lot of people. That's one that I was hesitant to include because I was like keeping sex equal, nobody should have sex if they don't want to but then also people do have needs and you want those needs to be fulfilled and met so where can the compromise happen?
Jase: Yes, and I think that's where we get to that question of how can I fulfill my own needs while also fulfilling my partner's needs and respecting their needs. Sure, use sex as an example. If I feel like I'm not getting enough sex, I could feel like, "This is unfair." There's not equality here because I'm not getting as much sex in this relationship as I want. On the flip side of that, if you're with someone where you feel like sex now is no longer fun but it's like an obligation, it's a thing that I have to do because my other partner needs it, that's not good either.
It's also going to make the sex the person gets not as good. It's just all around this is not a solution that's helping anybody. What I was going to get to you though is, I think part of asking this question of, "What do I need right now?" Is trying to actually get away from comparing it to your partner. Rather than, "They get this and I don't get this." I fall into that trap a lot, of being like, "My partner has this. I wish I had that." That's not equal. That's not fair. Instead of asking the question of, "What is it that I really want? Is there something that I want to have in my life that I'm lacking?" I think I've given this example before.
Say my partner's going on more dates than I am or has more serious partners than I have, I can start to feel jealous or envious of that like, "Gosh. I wish I had those things but then sometimes when I stop and think about it I'm like, "I don't actually want that right now." "I don't have the time for that." "I don't even really feel like it." I'm getting caught up in comparing myself.
I'm getting caught up in that sort of objective spreadsheet equality of, "I must be not getting what I want because it's not equal." It can be easy to get caught up in that so instead to ask, "What is it?" If I'm upset is there something I'm lacking? It might not be what I think it is at first if I'm comparing. The next question is can you sacrifice your own needs to meet the needs of your relationship without feeling resentment? I think this would be a good question like Emily in your example.
Emily: For sure.
Jase: if we're all going to make certain compromises, certain sacrifices at different times is this one I can actually make and feel good about?
Emily: Yes, and stick to it.
Jase: [laughs] That's a good question.
Emily: To be honest with yourself and this moment too even if it's right now, "Yes." Ask yourself a year down the road or two years down the road or even six months will you still not feel resentment or if this keeps compounding and coming up is that something that's going to finally straw breaks the camel's back kind of thing?
Dedeker: Yes. That's why I think with my clients whenever there are trying to hash out some kind of compromise or negotiation around something that's why I always encourage a lot of check-ins and also sunset clauses on things.
Emily: How interesting. Sunset clause.
Dedeker: Sunset clauses. For instance, let's say, couples having a really hard time and maybe they've been open for a while but maybe there are like, "It's all chaotic and I think that it'd be great if we could just not see other people for a little while." I think this is assuming a context where there's not ongoing relationships. Maybe they're going on dates or whatever like that.
They're just first exploring. That's why I always encourage people to be like, "Let's agree. Let's do this for a month and see how this feels." As long as this is a decision that's not going to break someone else's heart or have some huge impact on someone outside the relationship. Let's just try this for a month and see how that goes. Again, if it's something that we agree to just interminably, there's a lot of opportunities for resentment to come up.
I think also along the same lines that question of, can you sacrifice this particular need without feeling resentment? That's really hard for people to ask that question when they're in NRE when they're in the first year of a relationship all the time.
Emily: Probably a lot of self-sacrifices might happen.
Dedeker: Yes, because you're thinking this person's the best person ever and I'm so in love and it all feels good. It doesn't matter what I sacrifice that just feels good.
Emily: Yes. I'll do whatever they want for them. Yes. Whatever they want.
Dedeker: Yes, but I find myself asking clients all the time, I have a lot of clients who maybe have been polyamorous their entire life and then they fall in love with a monogamous person and they are like, "Whatever. I'll give this a try. I'll be fine." It's really getting yourself to ask that question, "Really though, could I give up this part of myself forever in theory? Could I?
Again, it's that same thing where it's so hard to have a barometer on that when you're in that particular stage of a relationship, I think.
Jase: Yeah. I just also wanted to throw in with this one. Especially during that NRE time, you might not know that this is something that you're not going to be able to live with later. That can cause problems if both partners aren't aware of the fact that situations can change and that that's going on.
You can end up in a situation where shoot now, I'm feeling really bad. I'm feeling like there's this big disparity here. I'm very much not getting what I want in this relationship. I'm unhappy with this. When I try to say something about it, the response I get is, "That's the decision we made. You agreed to this or maybe even you suggested this thing back then." Whatever it is used kind of as an attack to keep things this way.
I think that that's definitely a conversation that I think needs to be had where both people can come to it with this understanding that things can change and that just because someone agreed to something at one point doesn't mean that now they're somehow betraying you or lying to you by saying that this doesn't feel good.
Emily: Totally, yes. Another question to ask yourself is, what do I want to ask for?
Emily: Which I think is difficult. It's a difficult question to pose to yourself just simply because so often you have really intense feelings, but you don't know why necessarily or you're just sitting there like, I'm angry and I want something for my partner but really like compiling or putting together a very succinct good question saying, "This is the thing that will ultimately help me and I'm going to ask you for it." I think that's a very difficult thing to do for a lot of people.
Dedeker: Yes. I think the disparity between feeling the need versus what you're actually going to ask for because I feel like we're so used to it being something along the line, "I feel like I need more sex from my partner so I'm just going to ask for more sex for my partner."
Emily: It's like, or do you just want intimacy?
Dedeker: Exactly, or is it more, "Actually I don't need more sex." Maybe it's actually, "I just want more physical touch from you more times." Or "I just want to be able to talk to you about sex more often." I think that's the thing. It's like one after you feel the need, it requires a little more of the diving in process to figure out. I think this is a combination of both diving in by yourself, figuring this out and also discussing with a partner of like, "What actually could be the solution here?" Often the thing that I always end up saying to people is the thing that you think is the thing is probably not the thing.
Dedeker: There are like the thing is thinking, "I need more sex for my partner." It may not stay at that surface level. It may be something a little bit more duance [sic] or a little bit deeper.
Emily: Totally. Like, I actually just feel bad about my body sometimes or I'm wondering like what? Does my partner find me sexually attractive? Maybe what I need is affirmation not just like more sex because maybe that won't actually fulfill that part of what I need.
Dedeker: It could be just, I just need to be able to have an orgasm more often and to have it, to be okay to masturbate sometimes.
Emily: Yes, stuff like that. The next one is, how does my need impact my partner? Again along those lines because I think so many people with sex this is an easy one, but sure, they'll really ask a lot or get upset when somebody says, no. That is that does affect your partner in the moment and that's really something to look at and think about. My need for sex and my continually hounding my partner for it, how does that make them feel?
That's something that I need to look at.
Jase: I do want to a little bit of an aside here to talk about some research I was reading about recently. Asking yourself the question of, how does my need impact my partner, I think really touches on this, and this is based on actually a whole collection of studies. This wasn't just one study, but it was an analysis of a number of studies done showing that the idea of putting yourself in someone else's shoes and trying to imagine how they feel about something has actually been scientifically shown to not make you any more likely to accurately predict how that person feels. However, it will make you more confident that you think you know how they feel without actually making you any more accurate, you'll just think you're more accurate.
The one good thing they have found with that is that it does help you get out of an egocentric way of thinking, which can be helpful and can be a good first step. That's not to say never try to put yourself in someone else's shoes, however, with a question like this, how does my need impact my partner? Well, what the study's found is that the most effective way to know how another person is feeling is to ask them.
Dedeker: They had to study that, did they?
Jase: Is to ask them, and then also, more importantly, to believe them, to trust them even if it doesn't make sense to you-
Jase: -because like we were talking about with the different debate styles that you were raised with, there's all sorts of other little values and priorities and certain things have more meaning to you than others, that we're all calibrated a little bit different with that. You might think, "Well, if I were you, I would feel this way," and the person feels a completely different way. It's not like, "Well, no, you don't." That's not actually how you feel or you must not understand how you feel, but instead to actually trust the person will more likely-- it's been scientifically shown to be more likely to get you an accurate result of how that person feels.
This one's an important one to not just think about yourself, but also to include your partner in that conversation. It's not like I'm coming to you now with all the solutions because I've already figured out how this is going to impact you, which the whole problem-solving steam rolling thing can fall into that, but instead, "Here's what I'm thinking, how would this impact you? How will this feel to you? How can we work together toward this and maybe adjust what I was thinking?"
Emily: Yes. Then finally, the last one is how does my need impact my relationships? The relationship as a whole, not just to the other person but both of us together. Before we continue on, we wanted to take a quick break to talk about all the ways that you can support us on our show. The first way is to become a member of our amazing community on Patreon. We love our Patreon community, they are a part of, not only like our Facebook group, but we're actually-- we went to Lake Tahoe with some of them, which was so awesome. It was an amazing just get away from everything with a bunch of our awesome Patreons. That was lovely. In addition, yes, if you become a $5 a month Patreon, then you get a chance to become a part of our private Facebook community--
Jase: And our private discourse server-
Emily: That's true.
Jase: -even if you're not on Facebook.
Emily: If you don't want Facebook, yes, discourse. And then also at the $7 a month level, you get access to episodes a day early and they are ad-free, which is super awesome and also you get bonus content. Then at the $9 a month and above level-
-then you also get access to our video discussion group, which is lovely. It's great to see people face-to-face, talk out things that are going on in your relationships and get some great advice from some great like-minded people. If you want to be a part of all of that, then join patreon.com/multiamory and become a Patreon of ours today.
Dedeker: Another thing that you can do that would really help to support our show is to take just a couple minutes out of your day to leave us a review. So if you go to iTunes, Apple Podcast, Stitcher, you can either just take literally 10 seconds to leave a rating, you don't even have to write anything, or you can write a quick little review just to let people know what you liked about the show, maybe if there's particular episodes that really impacted you that you thought were helpful, what people can expect if they listened to the show. It helps us to show up higher in search results, and it just helps other people to know exactly what to expect. Again, go to iTunes, Apple Podcast, Stitcher, and just take a couple minutes to leave us a review.
Jase: Our sponsor for this episode is adamandeve.com. We have talked about them for a long time, and luckily, our promo code that we have now with them is way better than it was when we first started with them years ago. That's that if you use the promo code multi, M-U-L-T-I, at checkout, you get 50% off of almost any item in the store. Plus, you get free shipping and a free gift along with your order. The best part is you can use it multiple times. So you think, "Hey, actually I forgot, I wanted to get this thing." Go get it with 50% off, and part of your purchase will go to support this show and to help us to keep expanding this and doing this.
Dedeker: The other part of your purchase is going to go to your own awesome sex life.
Jase: Exactly. This is a win-win, win-win for everyone.
Emily: Get all the sexy things with M-U-L-T-I.
Jase: It's like you're spending negative money because you're saving 50%, but then also contributing to the show, that's [laughs]--
Dedeker: It checks out.
Jase: The math works.
Dedeker: It checks out.
Jase: If you want to try that, you can go to adamandeve.com and use promo code multi at checkout to get all of your condom, sex toys, costumes, erotic DVDs; if anyone still has a DVD player.
Emily: I don't know if anyone does.
Jase: I don’t know either, but anyway, go check those out at adamandeve.com and use promo code multi.
Emily: It should to be like 10 free DVDs.
Dedeker: Right. They used to send you so many free DVDs.
Emily: They were like we need to get rid of these DVDs.
They don't do that anymore.
Dedeker: Literally, like it's going out of style. Quite literally.
Jase: I am glad we got ourselves to this 50% off deal here.
Emily: It is no longer 2014.
Jase: All right.
Dedeker: Okay. I'm going to--
Jase: Now let's get to the real question.
Dedeker: I'm going to bring us back in with a question that we get all the time. We talked about this a bit at the top of the show about specifically when you're talking about non-hierarchical polyamory or non-hierarchical non-monogamy that a lot of people are like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, hang on, hang on, hang on, so does that mean everyone's equal? Does that mean that you don't care about anybody? Or does that mean that you spend the same amount of time with everybody? Or does that mean that you spend the same amount of money on everybody? Or does it mean that you're all going to join a weird commune or live in the same house together? stuff like that.
A lot of people struggle with this. I think people who do want to practice some form of non-hierarchical polyamory, they do struggle with like, "How do I make this all feel good for everyone?" It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that "equal relationships" means that you do have to spend the same amount of time, or the same amount of money, or has to be the same frequency of sex, or even that you have to feel exactly the same about all your partners, or that you have to use the same label for all of them, which is not necessarily the case.
In reality, again, I think it's easier to incorporate this idea of equity, that we also talked about at the top of the show, which is empowering all of your relationships and all of your partners with what they need in order for the people who are in that relationship to feel successful or to feel happy. That may look like you spend-- I don't know, like maybe that does look like you spend four days out of your week with one partner and then two days out of your week with another partner, but if partner B feels good about two days of the week or maybe that's the only amount of time that they have and they feel happy about that, then that, to me, looks like equitable relationships because it's like you're putting in the time and effort needed to make everyone feel happy and successful in their relationships.
Emily: It's a compromise. Maybe they or it's both of you deciding, at the same time, this is what we want. Maybe partner B doesn't want to give you any more than two days a week and you don't want that either, so that is equal.
Dedeker: Bearing in mind that that can change. It can be open to change because I think that I see a lot of people, especially people in more hierarchical relationships, being like, "Well, six days of the week goes to my primary partner, I have one day a week." When they start dating someone, they're like, "Well, you know from the beginning I have one day a week. I have one day a week."
Maybe at the beginning of the relationship, the person's like, "Yes, great, awesome, one day a week. Honestly, I don't even know you that well, so one day a week sounds great." Then over time that can change. It's that same thing that we were talking about earlier that it can fall into this, "Well, you knew from the beginning, only one day a wee,k" but maybe that changes, maybe that's not what that partner needs anymore and they need something else.
I feel like it's about being able to shift and change and have that fluidity in order to be able to make all of your relationships, I guess, make everyone who's in a relationship with you at least feel like they have equitable access to what they need in order to be happy in the relationship.
Jase: Well, and I do want to add onto that though, because I'm hearing the screams of all the people listening.
Dedeker: Which people specifically?
Jase: Well, the people who are hearing this and they're thinking, "No, because in my life I have all these people who want all these things for me and I can't give that to all of them." Something that's worth mentioning and being very aware of is if you can try to focus first on understanding what needs you have and also what availability you have, and then approaching it as, "This is my time that I have that I'm making available to some of my partners." That means making time for yourself, however much you need, for your professional stuff as well as your social life, for your family engagements or even just your alone time.
Taking that into account, but then of saying, "Here's what I have that's available, and this is my time I'm giving to you." Rather than, "Well, this is all this partner's time, but I'll try to take some of their time to give to you." I know that that might look, from the outside, those two situations might look the same actually, but I think there is a very fundamental difference in approaching it that way and thinking about it and communicating about it that way.
Both for the sake of the person who, "I don't want to feel like in order for me to get time, that means I have to take it from this other person." At the same time, it helps the other person to not feel like, "Well, you're taking my time and giving it to so and so." Instead, keeping in mind that it's your time, that the whole time this is your time. I think the other thing to add is just that it might be that you're not going to be able to give everybody everything they want, just like in our other examples-
Emily: But you compromise, you figure out--
Jase: -that just because your partner wants more sex than you doesn't mean you have to give that to them. It means maybe there's another way we can try to get your needs met, but don't involve me doing something that's outside of my comfort zone.
Dedeker: If I can quote from a couple episodes ago, this wonderful quote that so many people tweeted it and then attributed to us for some reason, but I have to give proper credit, that you don't have to be everything to be enough.
Jase: That's a good one.
Dedeker: Good one for you.
Jase: I guess what I'm getting at here is just that I think people can, I've definitely done this, can really stress themselves out in non-monogamy over feeling like, "I need to meet all of the needs of all of my partners." The whole thing of like, "I'm going to take what I remember trying to do in my monogamous relationships, and now just multiply that." That sounds incredibly overwhelming [laughs]. Instead, approaching all of that as these negotiations of how does this feel like? What are other ways that we can meet the needs of everyone involved that doesn't involve anyone overextending themselves or crossing a boundary, but not even that, but even just going outside of a comfort zone more than they want to.
Dedeker: Let's say you've gotten to the end of this episode, and you're realizing, "I feel like there actually is some kind of clicker imbalance in my relationship or in one of my relationships or all my relationships or whatever," what are you supposed to do about that?
Emily: Well, our tried and true and tested radar, it does work, it does help. Maybe not for everyone all the time, but it is a great place to start to, again, have that really safe space once a month, or as many times a month as you need, to just sit there and air your grievances; to talk about things, to go over that long list that we created and provided for you, go back to your radar episode if you need to. That list of all the things which include household chores or family or-
Jase: Sex and travel.
Emily: -sex, travel, fights, arguments, other partners, all of those things, and go down and really honestly talk about what needs to change or what needs to be discussed and what compromises need to be made. Also that you've found, "Hey, I see that we're both doing these patterns that are clearly making this relationship not equal, what can we do that will mutually benefit both of us?"
Dedeker: I think it's good to bring up because coming to your partner and talking about, like, "Hey, things feel unequal or things feel imbalanced." That's a pretty big thing to bring up, even if it's about a small topic like chores or whatever. I think it's especially good to be able to bring that up in a space when it's not like, "I just saw that there's a sink full of dirty dishes and I'm really angry, and I'm sitting here doing the dishes thinking about how I always end up doing this, and I'm so resentful and now I'm going to snap at my partner as soon as he walks in the door and start the conversation then."
Jase: That's why radar is the safe space.
Dedeker: It's not the best foundation for having that kind of conversation in that moment. Again, being able to have the relatively neutral space established to bring up such a big topic like that.
Jase: I think the other key component of using radar is the fact that it happens every month or however often you do it; every week, every two weeks, is like Dedeker talked about with putting a sunset clause on things, something that we've often done in our radars is it gives you more of the ability to try stuff and say, "Okay, let's do this for the next month, we'll make a note so that our next radar we can be like, "How did this work? Did this solve the problem? Did it get us closer? So can tweak it, we can decide to keep doing it or look for a different solution."" As opposed to that thing of like, "Well, how are we going to solve this?"
We end up getting to some solution. That's being optimistic even, but say unless we get to some solution and then you're stuck in that forever. If you want to-- if it changes for you later, it's like, "Well, you said this would be okay and now you're not. You lied to me. You weren't on it." It can get that bad. Whereas having a monthly check-in gives you a built-in way to say, "Okay, let's try this and then check in and see."
Dedeker: Another thing to bear in mind, if you've become aware of some imbalance in your relationship, whether that's you've realized it, your partner's brought it up or something like that, when you're talking about it, I think it's really important to allow space for multiple narratives. I know we've talked about this on the show before, I just don't remember which episode, but as in-- let's say your partner comes to you and says, "I feel like we're not having sex often. I want to have sex more often." This is a big surprise to you, because you're like, "Actually I felt great about our sex life, I thought we were having a lot of sex quite frequently, I thought it was fine." It can be really easy in that moment to really fall into, "Well, surely, one of us is wrong and one of us is right."
Jase: Let's argue.
Dedeker: "Now we need to argue." I need to be like, "No, we had sex on this day and in this day, and then this day," and then your partner needs to argue back like, "No, you said no to me this time and I was rejected this time, and I tried to do this and yadda, yadda, yadda." You both sit there trying to argue who actually has a grip on what's actually happening-
Dedeker: -in your own reality exactly. When the truth is that sometimes there could be multiple realities, not necessarily in a sci-fi way, but who knows, that there can be multiple realities in this relationship; that like what your partner feels is not enough sex, feels like a perfect amount of sex to you and maybe you didn't realize it until then. I think that's just something to bear in mind coming into these conversations of realizing you feel this way, your partner feels this way. It's not necessarily the case that one of you is wrong and one of you is right. To both of you, that feels true.
There's no way of objectively knowing what actually is true and using that as a basis for then talking about things moving forward. I can't even tell you the number of times that Jase and I have had the conversation of like, "I felt like I've been doing all the chores lately." Like, "Well, I felt like I've been doing all the chores lately." That should be your cue instead of it being like, "Okay, well, we better figure out who's actually been doing all the chores lately."
That should be a cue of like, "Let's talk about why we both feel that way. There must be something going on here. Let's try to pick this puzzle apart of why does that we both feel that way and how we can both feel better," as opposed to trying to impose my reality on the other person.
Jase: That's actually led us to some really cool realizations of, "Actually, this wasn't about who's doing the chores, but it's about who's keeping track of whether the chores are getting done." That that's actually where the stress was coming from, more than the actual mechanical washing of dishes or cleaning of a bathroom or whatever it was. Once you can stop worrying so much about the-- like I love the spreadsheet equality, the objective equality argument, and instead about like, "Well, what's going on, what's feeling bad? That's what led us to that which is really cool."
Dedeker: I think with the sex thing, it can-- allowing space for multiple narratives can open up a lot of different possibilities. Because it could just be you may realize, "Actually, it's not about the frequency of sex, it's about the way that I feel rejected," or, "it's about the way that you say no to me," or, "maybe for me it's not about the frequency of sex, but it's about the quality of sex that we have when we are together."
I think that in allowing for there to be multiple realities and not getting into that nitty gritty of like, "We've got to try to prove each other wrong or right," that it allows you to be much more expansive in that conversation about what's actually at the foundation of this perceived inequality here.
Jase: I think it also goes back to that idea of just actually believing the person when they tell you how they feel too, or that say it is that you want more sex and it's not any of those other things about quality of sex or whatever, it's just literally you want more sex and the other person says, literally, "I don't." That that's true, that both of those things are true and it's not that one person's wrong or trying to hurt the other person, but starting from that place of, "Okay, I believe you that your reality is different from mine, now where do we go?" Again, like Dedeker was saying, it opens up other possibilities. It opens you up to being a little more creative in trying to come up with solutions instead of just, "We have the same argument over and over again."
Jase: Then that actually goes into what we talked about before, is not trying to just rely on putting yourself into other person's shoes. What I mean by that is don't project your sense of equality and fairness onto your partner. Because what might feel fair for you might not feel fair for them. To understand that physical and monetary differences aside, there's a whole host of other things that could be different between the two of you in terms of your values and your preferences that you can't just total them all up and make a spreadsheet formula out of it.
Emily: Or think that what you think is what everyone thinks. I think that a lot of people get into that trap-
Emily: -of this must be how everyone is and therefore, what my partner is doing is wrong because objectively, what I think to be right is right, and that's not necessarily the case.
Jase: I think this comes up in more arenas than this. We could do a whole episode about that assumption, right? That everyone else experiences the world the same way I do.
Emily: As much as we may wish, but that is the case, it's just not at all. Finally, we always have to do this, I feel like this is our final note a lot but it is something to think about, especially in those potentially abusive types of relationships, that if you cannot get through to your partner, if the two of you cannot reach a mutual, beneficial, understanding for the relationship that you're in, then it may be time to think about leaving that relationship.
Dedeker: Well, Emily, what I wrote down on the document was leaving that shit is what I said.
Emily: Yes, that shitty relationship, leave it. I mean, really-- this is easier said than done, but try to really understand like, "Hey, maybe the two of us just are not on the same page here." Again, it doesn't need to be those abusive relationships obviously, if they are, then, yes, seek help, seek away in which you end that relationship, but if it's just that the two of you are not seeing eye to eye over and over and over again, then maybe this relationship isn't for the two of you.
Jase: Something, just to go on to that, about the fear of being alone, we've talked about, keeps people in relationships, is just to think about the fact that your life is most likely going to go on quite a while longer than just right now.
Emily: Let's hope so.
Jase: If you think about-- maybe you really do hate being alone and not being with someone, but if you think about, "I might spend a few months or even a few years not with a partner," is that really worse than your entire life of being unhappy in a relationship? I think zooming out to see that as like, "Yes, actually, you're right, I don't like being alone, but my entire life never changing of this, that's worse."
Emily: Yes. Totally. If you want to get in touch with us--