Kathy Labriola's new book is sure to raise questions...and eyebrows....
You know the drill. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy asks girl to marry him. Enter the white picket fence, one dog and 2.5 kids and what do you get? The perfect traditional marriage, of course. But, this is all assuming that the traditional marriage is a.) what you want and b.) the only viable option. What about those who long for something a little less conventional and a little more...open?
Well, Kathy Labriola, a nurse, counselor, and card-carrying bisexual from Berkeley, California, has been a polyamorist for nearly 40 years and has written a new book, Love in Abundance: A Counselor’s Guide to Open Relationships, that blows the lid off of this little-known and misunderstood lifestyle.
The question for some may be, why on earth would anyone want to be in an open relationship? But, the reasons are just as varied as the relationships, themselves.
“Many people try to live a monogamous lifestyle and find it just does not meet their needs. They come to believe that it is unrealistic to expect any one person to fulfill all their needs for intimacy, companionship, love and sex for the rest of their lives...Open relationships and polyamorous relationships are explicitly designed to be practiced honestly, with mutual consent of all parties---where no one is deceived and everyone chooses to enter this type of relationship,” she states in her new book.
Open relationships may seem intimidating or distasteful to many outside the community, but when done right, they can be just as (if not more so) loving, committed and romantic as your typical monogamous relationship. But, unlike the standard “one size fits all” monogamous relationship, polyamorous relationships come in many different styles.
Labriola’s book starts with a fascinating and often overlooked explanation of the different types of open relationships. Gay, straight, bisexual...anyone can engage in open relationships and they can be tailor-made to fit any relationship.
For example, Labriola goes into great depth about “primary” relationships (these being the relationships that were established first or have greater importance or significance than the “secondary” lovers one in an open relationship might take on.) “Group marriages”, although not as common, are characterized as several adults who all share spousal and sexual relationships. However, some open relationships are more of a casual nature, with no particular “primary” or interest in establishing long term relationships. Labriola details each type of relationship as well as the pros and cons that each relationship brings to the table.
Now, even if you have no intention of ever being in an open relationship, there is much to learn from Labriola’s book about how to communicate that can be applied to anyone’s relationship, open or not.
“Metacommunicating”, or communicating about communication, a term coined by Gregory Bateson in the 1970s, is a concept that can strengthen any type of relationship, not just polyamorous ones. Metacommunication allows you and your partner to define the goal of your communication before you start talking about it. This will allow your partner to get an idea as to what you are looking to achieve within the conversation. Being on the same page will save countless hours of confusion and frustration when trying to explain your needs and desires to one another.
My favorite section of this book, however, was Labriola’s chapter on jealousy. Admit it, we all get jealous from time to time. However, after reading this book, I have learned that jealousy can 1.) be controlled and 2.) can actually be beneficial.
Jealousy is a huge factor as to why so many polyamorous (and let’s face it) monogamous relationships fail. Labriola explains in great detail as to why we feel jealousy when our partner finds another person attractive:
-Fear of abandonment
-Losing face or status in the community
-Feelings of betrayal
-Competitiveness or fears of inadequacy
-Envy towards the new potential partner
After learning more about the roots of jealousy, it is easy to see why people get jealous from time to time. No one wants to feel replaced or suffer from a bruised ego. But, as with all things, once something is better understood, it can be better dealt with. Labriola explains how to cope with feelings of jealousy (which is beneficial to those in both open or monogamous relationships) as well as how to view jealousy in a positive light and use it to take your relationship to a better place through honest communication. This chapter is a must-read for us all.
The book continues by dissecting open relationships and how to handle the logistics of such relationships, whether it be dealing with blended families, property issues, division of domestic duties, and other important legal issues, like hospital visitation rights or having a will that protects all parties involved in the long-term polyamorous relationship. Easy to read and offering lots of examples, Labriola leaves no stone unturned. Learning about what goes into making a successful polyamorous relationship work was not only fascinating, but informative and eye-opening, as well.
There are so many preconceived notions out there about polyamorous people. Many believe that they are just afraid of commitment (not true) while others simply don’t understand the need for more than one partner simultaneously.
Labriola digs deep into this misunderstood topic and she a much needed light on why and how people choose to live a polyamorous lifestyle. If you have any interest in unconventional lifestyles, and want real information from someone who not only talks the talk but walks the walk, then this is a must read. If, however, you are perfectly comfortable in a monogamous lifestyle, pick this book up, anyway, and learn how to better communicate and tame those moments of jealousy that we all have. No matter what walk of life, everyone can benefit from reading this book.