New Paradigm Relationships
by Vonn New
Even though most people see the possibility of having multiple lover relationships as the distinquishing characteristic of polyamory; for me, it is less important than the approach that one takes in doing relationships.
What is important to me is an approach called 'New Paradigm Relating'. It's possible to do poly, to have a relationship that looks like one of the styles described in the FAQ and not be New Paradigm. It's also possible to be new paradigm in a couple, or even by yourself. New paradigm relating is a way of loving, or a set of parameters for doing relationships. There is a very high correlation between new paradigm relating & poly, because when you do it; even if you aren't actively looking for new partners, you just seem to attract them.
What is new paradigm relating? The best way I can describe it is 'loving with an open hand'. Love is treated as a free gift rather than as a claim. Obligation and expectation are removed from the relationship so that it can be experienced 'in the moment'. We emphasize personal growth and creativity more that meeting each other's needs. Love is infinitely abundant - it can be shared without diminishing in quality or quantity.
The ethic of new paradigm relating is one of consent and consensus, not weilding power over others. Everyone must participate in a relationship willingly and that means having the power to make her own decisions. That leads us to an imperative need for radical honesty and exceptional communication. It also gives us the possility to experience extraordinary intimacy.
Relationships are primarily based on intimacy, and shared values. Intimacy is different from sex. Sex is an important form of intimacy and I consider myself to be sex positive. Being sex positive is a bit of a paradox because it leads to a deemphasis of sex in defining relationship. Sex becomes just one component of intimacy. Intimacy also includes emotional sharing.
Compatibility and attraction are important in a relationship, but the thing that we emphasize most is sharing values. For example, even though I personally do not have sex with all of the people within my intimate circle, we are bound together by our shared values: a willingness to experiment with new relationship paradigms, and an interest in building community and voluntary simplicity.
One of the best ways for me to communicate what new paradigm relating is, is to contrast it with what it is not.
Old Paradigm Relating is what everyone knows, it's what we all grew up with. In old paradigm relating, the partners fall in love and make promises to each other: a relationship is born. From that point on, the partners work together to maintain the relationship. Usually, a set of rules, explicit or implicit, is involved. The rules may be unconsiously assumed - just adopted from society. An example of this would be most (not all) heterosexual marriages. The rules of heterosexual marriage are codified and promulgated by an entire infrastructure of religious and secular law, counselors, family traditions and more. Power is often concentrated in the 'authority figure' of the relationship. In an equalitarian old paradigm relationship, power may be concentrated in the relationship itself.
Some married people find ways to break away from the assumed rules and negotiate their own. People in same-gender relationships are fortunate in that they don't usually have traditional gender roles and the rule of law interferring in their relationships, so they more often think about and negotiate their own rules. Some rules might be: talk about our problems; no cracker crumbs in the bed; don't have sex with anyone but me; love me forever.
When someone breaks a rule, consequences result. One partner may feel hurt, betrayed or angry. The other may feel guilt, anger, self-recrimination. The relationship suffers loss of trust or maybe it will even be dissolved.
Old paradigm relationships tend to emphasize meeting each other's needs. Commitment is made to 'each other'. Success is often measured in 'how long we stay together.'
In new paradigm relating we emphasize personal growth. By removing obligation and rules from the relationship, power is held by each person to give her love as she wishes. Joy comes from giving.
That's a pretty high ideal. Not many of us can just fall into that kind of selflessness and stay there 100% of the time. When I first started doing poly, I understood this concept from an intellectual level, but it took quite a while to actually 'get it'. My partner Ann & I went through many rough spots where I wanted more from our relationship than she did, and then for a while she perceived that I wanted more from our relationship than I actually did. We communicated our way through it. I get into new paradigm space pretty often now, and I spend a lot more time there now than I used to. Everytime we meet a challenge in relationship, I use it as an opportunity to take a real hard look at my reactions and motivations, and then to learn and grow from the experience.
As an intermediate evolutionary step, it's useful to have a hybrid old/new paradigm relationship. Committment gives us some structure and security to work with while we are evolving towards the new paradigm. We make commitment to a /process/ of loving rather than to a person.
CT Butler has defined the '4 pillars of polyamory'. I think of these as the process that I am committed to that will help me build intimacy, trust, and evolve towards being in new paradigm space more often. Here are his four pillars, with my own interpretation of how I put them into practice, and a fifth pillar which I added:
1. Compassionate, radical honesty. This means telling the truth as soon as possible. More than that, it means being honest with myself and really being present and aware of my feelings. Then, sharing those feelings with my intimates. It even means expressing my feelings BEFORE I have everything worked out. On a good day, I might be able to say: "I feel this way because of that." But more often it means: "I feel 'ill-at-ease' or uncomforatable and I'm not sure why." It means listening compassionately, letting my partners fully express their own truths and hearing them. It means recognizing that the truth changes from moment to moment and it's not safe to make assumptions about my partners. We need to check in periodically. It means not witholding anything from my partners because it might make them mad or it might hurt them. Sheltering a partner from a hurtful truth may be motivated by kindness but it is essentially patriarchal because I'm holding her power to exercise her own creativity and choices with the situation.
2. Non-violence. Violence is the use of power to dominate, coerce or control others. It is violent to use anything other than truth, creativity, logic, respect and love to influence anothers choices. So, emotional blackmail is violence, consensually playing rough is not. We commit to non-violence to ensure that we really care for and are careful with our relationship.
3. Personal Responsibility. This takes 2 forms. The first is taking responsibility for my own actions, especially when I do something that my partners are not happy with. This helps avoid the blame-shame game. The second, and this is more difficult, is taking responsibility for my own emotions and needs. It is my responsibility to see to my own care and feeding. I may choose to do it in cooperation with a partner or 2, but if there is anything lacking in my life, I must look to myself to fulfill it. That includes sex: it's a privilege not a duty.
4. Intentionality. This means making conscious choices rather than just letting things happen to me. Understanding that I do have the power to change my life. Often there are more choices than are presented -but it takes creativity and awareness to realize what they are. It takes courage to pick one that is not on the approved list. Chocolate or vanilla? Yes please, chocolate and vanilla swirled together with strawberry sauce and whipped cream and nuts and a cherry and a sugar cone. All this and more!
5. Art! That what this is all about. The art of relationship. Life as a work in progress. Creating beauty in loving collaboration. Love is about more than achieving my own happiness. It is something intrinsically worthwhile in its own right and is bigger than the personal egos involved.
All we read about in the news these days is 'cheating'. There is no cheating in a new paradigm relatinship. What makes cheating so devastating to relationships is not the sex, but the element of betrayal, the loss of trust, the idea that 'you took something that isn't yours'. My partners own their own sexuality. If they choose to share it with me, excellent. If they choose to share it with someone else, it does not diminish the love that we share. Love is infinitely adundant. There is no need to apply an economy of scarcity.