On My 14th Wedding Anniversary

Fourteen years ago today, I got married.

7 years and 7 days later, I told my husband I wanted a divorce.

This is why I’m celebrating my anniversary today.

Yes, that’s really a photo from my wedding. Yes, that’s really a “DANGER” sign above my head. Our photographer had a healthy sense of humor.

I was married for seven years and seven days. Can you say ‘seven year itch’? But, I don’t regret it. Yes, there are things I would have done differently if I had known back then, at the tender age of 22, that I know now at 36. My marriage brought me to Canada, my husband introduced me to a whole other world in communities of artists and hippies, and I would not trade this journey in for any other because I really love where it has led me today.

My ex husband, he is a good human. Today, he’s in a loving, long term relationship, and is flourishing while he builds his dreams into reality. I’m fortunate that our seperation and divorce was amicable and relitavely easy.

We were a couple that seemed to have so much going for us: a common spirituality, shared goals and dreams, similar values about family and raising children in community. And, we both loved cats. But, that wasn’t enough to make our marriage work. Both young— in our 20s when we got married— we struggled financially, and we struggled with making some tough decisions together. We both carried trauma that neither of us really recognised or understood, and would inevitably trip over eachother’s wounds, and then lash out in blame and anger. We would shout. We would cry. We would throw things around and slam doors and stop talking to one another. We minimized and dismissed eachother’s feelings. We both became depressed. We went through grief and loss with my miscarriages, and eventually, we came to realise that we were compromising so much of our core selves to try to stay together.

At the time, it didn’t seem so bad. Our relationship was not an obviously toxic one. There was no malice or physical violence. But, it seems obvious now to look back and see the toxic emotional and mental patterns we were both contributing to in the relationship: the codependancy, the conflict cycles, the unconsciously abusive ways we treated one another. I go through waves of being completely at peace with it, and then there are days, sometimes weeks or months, where the smell of someone smoking, or a door slamming, or a couple yelling at one another, triggers something inside me and I crumble, my psyche time-travels back to a handful of specific moments, and I freeze up.

I’m a big believer in the power of ritual as a means of letting go. Four years ago I took my wedding dress to Burning Man, and wrote on it all the things I had left unsaid in our marriage.

It was cathartic, powerful. I left my wedding dress in the temple, and later as I watched the temple burn down, I cried out what I thought would be the last tears I would cry about my marriage.

Of course, pain and trauma don’t work that way, and sometimes the ouchy memories cycle back because there’s still something you need to learn from them.

 

Today, as a relationship coach, I often see people coming to me in familiar situations in their relationships, where they are compromising pieces of themselves in an effort to maintain a relationship that is no longer nourishing them. I have so much love and compassion for folks going through this. I know first hand how it starts off feeling like a loving thing to do— sacrifice something you want and make the other person happier. Our social code around relationships encourages this kind of martyrdom. But, what’s the pay-off for that? If martyrdom becomes our primary love language, how do our own needs ever get met?

In the past seven years I have learned a lot about this. Stepping out of my own patterns for self-sacrifice for a partner and into a stronger relationship with myself is an ongoing journey — and I’m still a work in progress. I’ve had so many diverse and nourishing relationships since my separation and divorce, and I’ve come to realise that relationships can be the greatest teachers: not only does the other person hold up a mirror for you to see yourself, but you can be challenged to hold true to your Self and not fall into the patterns of partner-pleasing (and other toxic monogamy scripts).

When I was 22, I didn’t have a framework for how to have healthy relationships, and thought self-sacrifice was the key. By my late 20s, I knew what an unhealthy relationship felt like, ad that I was unwilling to be a martyr for the sake of a partner. Today, I’ve got a framework for healthy relationships, one that is inclusive of polyamory, monogamy, and everything in between. It nourishes all my own relationships (including non romantic and non sexual ones) and has helped me in my own journey of healing. And that’s part of why I choose to do what I do as a coach. I don’t want others to feel held back by patterns in their relationships where they keep misunderstanding or misinterpreting one another, nor do I want people to feel disempowered and trapped by toxic dynamics.

Last night I had a dream where my now ex-husband came up to me and handed me a card. He began to speak and started to appologise for a long list of things that had happened in our relationship. I looked at him with love and said, “I’m sorry too. And thank you.”

In many ways my marriage— and the subsequent healing journey from my marriage— has been one of the biggest teachers. I ask myself, would I have found polyamory, if not for my marriage? Would I have catapulted into soloness, if not for my marriage? Would I have ever come to live in Canada, if not for my marriage? And, looking at the trajectory my life had been on before he came into my life (becoming an all grades school theatre teacher in the Middle East), would I have been any semblance of who I am today if my now ex-husband had not come into my life? Probably not. And so I know I’ve reached that profound place in healing where you can embrace the painful parts of your own journey, recognizing the wisdom you have gained through it all. And for all this, I am incredibly grateful.

 

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Whose Ethics Are They Anyway?

I have a confession to make. I’ve been quiet about this for some time. I’ve a problem with “Ethical Non Monogamy”.

Specifically, my problem is the terminology.

Ethical. What’s ethical? I ask myself.

Ethics are defined as morals, as the right/wrong, good/bad code of conduct adopted by a group of people, often determined by their cultural or religious teachings. That means that ethics are variable across the world. Ethics are subjective guidelines, whose application can vary situationally and contextually. And, they can often come into conflict.

5920131438198Consider the differing moral codes of Islam and Modern Western Society, for example, and all the many conflicts that arise from that. Someone raised Muslim, of Muslim faith, may have no qualms with a man having multiple wives, something that many in Western Christian culture would find abhorrent. The modern western embrace of gay marriage as a human right is, similarly, seen as abhorrent to many of the Islamic Faith.

So, I’ve got a moral dilemma over defining my non-monogamy as “ethical”.

There’s a plethora of articles on the internet examining the ethics of non-monogamy. In fact, it seems like the vast majority of discussion and rhetoric available online- and in print- on the subject of polyamory is devoted to debate of the ethics and morals.

That’s understandable, I think. When life long monogamous matrimony has for so long been held up as The Moral Standard in the globally dominant white-settler-centric culture, the number one fear that many hold around challenging that structure is that it might mean losing one’s sense of morals and ethics. The implication, especially from more conservative elements, is that being non monogamous is synonymous with being an immoral and unethical person. And so, when there can be fear of judgement and internalised shame around being non-monogamous, it is no wonder that so much bandwidth is given over to the discussion of the polyamorous ethical code.

However, the dominant voices in that discussion have begun to take on a ‘poly-er than thou’ tone, attempting to police the definitions of non monogamous relationships with projections of their own personal ethics onto others. When we as a community find ourselves in the position where individuals are taking on the job of drafting the moral code which we are all expected to follow- or be shunned for not following- we begin to tread dangerously into the territory of dogma and religion.

High_sparrow_blood_of_my_bloodI’m a firm believer that it’s the people involved in the relationship that get to mutually decide between them how that relationship is explored, defined, and evolves. Maybe this is diving into a rabbit hole of philsophical and political thought here: I see dictating ethics and imposing one’s own morality is what the White Christian settlers did when they arrived in the Americas. That led to genocide and cultural erasure, leading in turn to generations of oppression and trauma. I am a non-Christian settler to North America, of ancestry (Irish, Greek, Roma) that knows too well of the trauma involved in having another’s cultural values and ethics superimposed with an iron fist. And so, I’m averse to someone else dictating their own ethics and projecting them as ethics for all of us to follow. Each of us has our own values, our own personal moral code, formed from the cultures we grew up in, the life experiences we have had, and the life choices we make now. Assuming that our individual ethics need to apply to everyone is oppressive. And that doesn’t sit well with me.

Rather than get into a debate over whether hierarchies and such can be ethical, I’d like to propose that many of these discussions are missing the point:

In ANY kind of relationship structure- be it monogamous or not, hierarchical, egalitarian, anarchic or otherwise- you can behave like a jerk, or you can behave like a decent human being.

I’m an anarchist, a celebrator of individuality and personal autonomy. I don’t want to do the thing that I’m critiquing others of, and tell you now what you should be doing, or not doing. I think everyone has the right to choose, define, and articulate what works for them, without imposing it (by force or by implication) on others. What I’d like to do is invite you to consider what might be cool, or uncool, actions in healthy relationships, whatever your relationship styles are.

goose

Canadian geese are jerks.

Some Things that are Uncool To Do In Relationships:

  • Abuse others- verbally, physically, emotionally.
  • Manipulate (Coerce others to doing what you want them to do).
  • Gaslight (Make others feel responsible for something you did, ignoring your own responsibility.)
  • Ignore your partners’ wants, desires, and nos.
  • Ignore the needs, desires and nos of others involved in your relational landscape.
  • Stone wall/ghost (ie give the silent treatment).
  • Ignoring one’s own privileges and/or levels of positional power within the relationship.
  • Blame others for how you are feeling without giving space for dialogue and resolution.
  • Expecting other people to “just know” you (telepathy).

Some Things that are Cool To Do In Relationships:

  • Listen to what your partner’s needs, wants, desires, and nos are.
  • Express your own needs, wants, desires and nos.
  • Be compassionate and considerate of the needs, desires, and nos of all people involved in your relational landscape.
  • Respect each individual’s personal autonomy and individual right to make informed choices.
  • Communicate expectations clearly.
  • Have courageous conversations, even if the outcome might not be what you want.
  • Acknowledge your privileges and/or levels of positional power within each relationship.
  • Take responsibility for the effects of your actions.
  • Work on knowing your own self.

What I’m getting at here isn’t so much about subjective ethics, as it is about honesty, and full transparency in relationships. It’s about having personal integrity first and foremost as the foundation of your relationships: knowing one’s self, and engaging in such a way as to know others. Curiosity to understand the motivations of others, and how their own values and ethics might differ from yours, can be a valuable quality to nurture.

My invitation to you is this: as you continue to sift through the many volumes of literature (in print or on screen) devoted to non-monogamy, whenever you notice the debate begin to dive into Ethics, consider: whose Ethics are these? Very often, they are the ones of the writers, ones that are invariably coming from the cultural context and personal experience of the writers. This doesn’t make them wrong or invalid. It’s just good to keep in mind that, as one friend of mine might say, your own mileage might vary. You may have values, ethics, and personal morals that differ from others- and that is okay. I encourage you to read the writings of non-white people on polyamory- writers like The Critical Polyamorist– read the writings of asexual, non-coupled, and queer polyamorists. Take the time to imbibe contrasting ideas and thoughts! Let’s get outside the box of projecting one cultural subset of ethics onto the whole spectrum of non-monogamy, and let’s start defining things in a way that one doesn’t need a course in ethics to understand them.

I prefer the term Honest Non Monogamy, and I invite you to use that term too.