7 Steps to Building Balanced Intimate Relationships
Thanks for stopping by, and I hope your day is going well. This is Part 3 in a several-part series about the relationship between and among personal power and consensual authority structures in intimate relationships. In Part 1, I defined personal power and consensual authority, so please go take a gander there if you missed it. This article is a continuation of Part 2: Relationship Landmines: Conflicts Between Power & Authority, so catch up there if you haven’t already. OK, let’s get into the seven things you can do to build balance in your consensually-non-monogamous relationships.
1. If you can’t take a person as they are, then do not engage.
Accepting that, over time, your needs might shift — as might those of your person — ask yourself this, “can I be with this person as they are right now, today?” If the answer is anything other than a resounding YES, then consider not taking them on in a relationship.
2. Own your emotions.
Briefly: “Earn the distinction between stimulus and emotional response. Spend time cultivating maturity and skillfulness in managing your emotional response. Repeat as needed.”
This idea is a way for you (and me) to stand fully in your power and own your shit. You (and I) get to feel fully the anger, and the love, and the happy, and the sad, and the grief, and the guilt. This tool — the tool of understanding the distinction between stimulus and response — can help you end codependent behavior patterns. This tool can help you unpack and recognize where your triggers lie, and you can use it to gain clarity and perspective.
This is sometimes not available, particularly in contexts where someone is resolving trauma. In those moments, my best suggestion is to shift gears into resolving the trauma and to take the relating into more shallow waters. It can still be amazing and meaningful — and emotional regulation is an important skill.
3. Ask for behaviors rather than feelings.
This was a big one or me — embracing the idea that asking for behaviors is healthier than asking for feelings. It was so big, that all of my relationships transformed in an instant. Every. Single. One.
Here are the main steps in this process:
- Figure out what behaviors help you have the emotional responses you need or want.
- Ask for the behavior with the knowledge that your request might be declined, and that’s OK.
- If you can’t live without the behavior, then consider re-framing the relationship.
Repeat as necessary.
Notice here, please, that the first step is for you to do the work of identifying both your NEED and the BEHAVIOR you are requesting.
4. Be vulnerable
I can’t say it better than Brené Brown, so I’ll share some of her words here: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
Do it. Get on that path and walk it.
5. Clarify if you’re solving a problem or needing to vent before you have the conversation.
Have you ever had the experience of sharing/processing something that’s up for you and the person with whom you are speaking replies with solutions to your problem, rather than simply showing up for you so you can process it?
This is how I phrase the clarification with the people in my life, “Can I ask you something real quick, so I know best how to listen to you?” Wait for the yes.
“Are you trying to solve a problem here, or are you more needing to vent/process?” Wait for the answer. Listen in alignment with the need of your person.
If you are on the giving end of the conversation — meaning, you’ve initiated it — get consent from your person before you have the conversation. It’s the kind thing to do.
6. Stop reading motives
Reading motives has to do with assigning internal reasoning to someone else’s behaviors based on what you know/assume about them. You’ll know you are reading motives when your inner dialogue sounds like, ‘She did that because she’s __________.’
Reading motives is a way to judge, assign blame, cultivate expectations, and stop listening/learning a person. None of those things do much to increase connection and create safe space for vulnerability.
Your mantra for this, should you choose to accept the challenge, is: “only don’t know.”
7. Embrace the possibility that your values might be opposed to those of someone else, and that both of you can still be ‘right’ and ‘good’ people.
It is entirely possible for two virtuous values to contradict each other in practice; take loyalty and integrity, as an example. If you are a person for whom loyalty is paramount, you might be more OK with lying/manipulation than someone for whom integrity is paramount.
Imagine learning that someone you both care about is having an affair. From a loyalty perspective, this could be sticky inside the context of your relationship with your partner — with ‘how could you do that?’ being met with, ‘how could you not?’
In those moments, you have an opportunity to discover and uncover deep, core values that your person has. Maybe the incongruity is a deal-breaker. Maybe not. You will never know unless and until you listen to understand.