Queer Relationships, Queer Joy; two relationship therapists exploring what's working in LGBTQ+ relationships.
In this episode we talk about autonomy, connection, and how it doesn't have to be an either/or situation in both polyamorous and monogamous relationships.
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Keely: Hello. Welcome everyone. This is Kelly and Melissa. Welcome back to our second episode about queer relationships. Melisa: And if you didn't get to check out the introductory episode, you are more than welcome to it. I think we give a little bit more backstory about each of us that could be helpful. However, we are also trying to create this so that you can, kind of pick the topics that you resonate with, and hoping that the one today will resonate with lots of people. Keely: Yeah. So we're going to talk about autonomy in relationships, autonomy versus the independence. Probably throw in that word codependency as well. And just talking about what that looks like to have autonomy. In connection with relationships. And so why don't we, you know, since there's only a second episode we'll do like a brief introduction again of ourselves. Do you want to start, Melissa? Melisa: Absolutely. So I am Melissa. I'm a licensed marriage and family therapist and professional clinical counselor at Connective Therapy Collective. I use she, her pronouns. I am a cis-gender white female able-bodied bisexual polyamorous person. I'm probably forgetting some of my identifiying things there. Keely: Nice. My name is Keeley Helmik. I am a queer sex therapist in Portland, Oregon. I am the co owner of Connective Therapy Collective where Melissa and I both work. I am a white non-binary my favorite saying right now is I identify as a non-binary femme. Femmes can be them. And I also am in a currently monogamous relationship. I do identify as kinky as well. I'm missing something. Let us know, write us in, like, let us know if there's something that we are missing because I am totally learning from people. We are all in this learning about gender and sexuality and relationships. Always always. So, Melissa, we both talked before this and we were talking a little bit about this whole autonomy and independence and, but being in relationships and how autonomy works in that. And I have to say, can I start with a story? Yeah. Yeah. Are you cool? Yeah, a little story. I just, when we were prepping for this episode, I think. Such perfect timing, because I just got back from this like super empowerment it's called Camp Yes. And it was Camp Yes for women. However, I brought the non-binary in, I brought the femme non binary. Yeah you did! And so I realized when I got back from camp, this isn't about the camp. My partner and I like had such a great night. And she was just like, oh my gosh, why are you being like, why is this such a great night? Why did we have such great sex? What is going on? And it's like, huh. Because I was gone for four days. Melisa: You had that time to yourself to resource and be away. Yeah. Keely: And I thought that was such a great clarity and example of like, oh, autonomy actually creates the opportunity for more connection. Melisa: See that? Yeah. It's a great example of finding the balance there, because I realize even as I surfaced the theme of autonomy. I said it, I believe is versus connection, which I think is authentic to maybe where I'm sitting in my own process right now. However, I don't believe that's the goal. You know, one of the things that. I had told you about Keeley's noticing even coming out of my marriage and, you know, 10 years of having lived with someone and really became emotionally codependent in a lot of ways. Coming back to myself for me was very positive in a lot of ways. And there's such a difference, a very marked difference between who I was in relationship versus who I was out of relationship. And that's where I think the versus or the competitive feeling between the two is coming into play for me. And that's something I want to dismantle. It doesn't have to be so different. I think that's also part of why Intel I am giving. Really comfortable in doing things like advocating for myself, understanding my need for boundaries, what those even look like hard to think about going into I guess I would say relationship, although I'll clarify that the last podcast we recorded, I did make the comment that I'm not sure if I want to be in relationship, but I have two partners. So clarifying that a little bit. I think what I am staying away from right now is any sort of primary partnership. Sometimes people use that terminology, a non-monogamy I would say that I am solo poly, I am my own primary partner and I have a few other people I get to see sometimes. But once that discrepancy between autonomy and what, you know, what it looks like to be autonomous and what it looks like to be in connection can be ironed out. Like Keely: that's the goal. Yeah. Yeah. So what do you, I mean, and listeners, I'm sure people listening right now have so many questions and I'm thinking like, just from our own experience, listening to clients, like, what do you say to clients, Melissa, when you hear them ask like, oh, I need to be more autonomous or even bring up the word autonomous or that word? Codependency. What kind of things do you say to them? Or how do you refer to this with them? Melisa: I think where I start often, and this may sound like the infuriating thing that your therapist does is what does that mean to you? Because autonomy, even codependency, we have, these are in so much literature right now. They're in so much conversation. Those can look very different for different people. So starting with that, what does it look like to be autonomous? How do you know you need more autonomy? Where do you feel like you might be losing yourself? How do you feel when you're in connection with yourself? I think starting to just get awareness around that and how it manifests individually for each of us is a great starting point. Keely: Yeah. Also, I think about this coming into play with like folks talking about like jealousy or talking about this feeling left out. If, if someone's going, if someone's going to go do something by themselves or it's like, oh, you don't want to hang out with them. You don't want to, you don't want to hang out. You don't want to do something this weekend. You want to go off and be with your friend or your other partner instead of me. And it becomes about that. It's like, it becomes this like personal thing. Melisa: Yeah. And it can, depending, I guess. Well, I guess there's a lot of factors for me being in a long-term relationship. It was just assumed that everything was going to be together. Right. And so every, you know, every day we'd come home and I hear this from clients. It's like, well, what are we doing? What are we doing? And then if there's conflict on what we want to do individually that can, that can really ramp up a lot of arguments and difficulties. But again, getting rid of that assumption that everything does need to be together. What would it look like to both be individuals in relationship? Keely: Yeah. And I mean, Esther Perel talks about this in Mating In Captivity, but I don't think it goes far enough in that book. And I don't think he goes far enough in this idea. I mean, I'm hearing some of these trends that I'm hearing is this idea. Even like this weekend, talking to people, they were saying, I want a partner, but I don't want to live with them. Yes. I want to partner, we have separate homes or like this big grand, like commune where like there's a separateness, but together. Yeah. Melisa: Yeah. And working with a lot of clients who identify as either poly or non-monogamous. I have clients who've been legally married, even in long-term partnerships who live in the same house and have two separate bedrooms. Yeah. Keely: They're like, at least I'm going to have separate bedroom. I'm going to it's bare minimum. We can't afford to have our separate houses. We're going to have separate bedrooms. Right, Melisa: right. Which, you know, I named conflict earlier. And I think when I think about working with couples and conflict, often, we're talking about how do we break apart, take a break. And like reregulate our nervous system so we can come back together. What a great setup. You just go to our separate rooms, we do our things. We take our breaths, we play our music. We do what we gotta do, even then, you know, I have heard in, in partners talking about how they deal with conflict and even verbalizing this wish of, I wish we could just co-regulate and that like my eyebrow went up, I went, what does, what does that mean? What does that look like? Keely: So, okay. Yeah. Do you believe in co-regulation? Melisa: I don't think that I do I'm like, yeah, this, but I, you know, I will say as a therapist, I'm pretty transparent about my own. I guess views and agendas and whatnot, so I try and hold space for, okay. Tell me what that looks like for you. If I, if you know. Believe that that's right for me personally. Keely: So I love that you just said co-regulation. Cause it made me, I was already thinking about the other side of this. So we're talking about how people can be like more autonomous when there is this connection that doesn't, it's not giving me a sense of my own self. However, there's also this other side of the coin where. Folks are so autonomous that they don't, there's not the connection they want. Right. Right. So there's this other piece to it. This is there's this nuance thing of being atonomous while being connected, Melisa: I went to a spiritual workshop recently where we did this practice and meditation, and it was sort of like a traditional mindfulness meditation in the beginning of getting us internal and connected with our breath and all of our senses. And then the way that. We gradually came out of the meditation, was with the intention of holding that. Like, we can still be just as in tune with all of our senses, even with our eyes open. And what is it like to re-engage with the world from that? And it was kind of jarring how different that was from how I just go about day-to-day life. Keely: So have you ever used that with a client? Melisa: Yes. Yeah, I did just pick it up, but I, yeah, I know since it's been, it's been, like I said, this has been a theme on my mind for a while. So transformative and in a lot of sessions, actually. Keely: Yeah. I mean, when I think about this idea of co-regulation or having this. Middle ground of being autonomous while being connected. Is that, yeah, I also think about more of a meditative space or a way to like breathe together. So some of the tantric practices really start with this idea of connection by breathing in and, breathing out together like a circular breath together. And the difference is when you're, co-regulating it's, it's this consent piece of like, you both are agreeing to co-regulate and versus being like my partner comforts me or my partner, it's my partner's responsibility to calm me down. Melisa: Right. I think that you're, you're hitting the nail on the head with where I actually really liked what you said. You're making me a believer in co-regulation. The issue that I have seen is especially when you bring in the pursuer distancer kind of dynamics and how if it's two people in a connection, you can often take one or other role. And so the kind of when co-regulation is used to control somebody need to move away for their own nervous system safety. That's where I draw the line. Like it's strong a lie I have had, you know, and I've seen clients go through this too, a feeling expected to stay in an argument and see it through otherwise they are reinforcing their partners, abandonment wounds. Right. And like that's to me, that's codependent. Not co-regulation, Keely: that's a, yeah, that's a really helpful clarification. I'm thinking like people are listening and they're being like, okay. And I noticed this, or I want this, so what do I do then? What do I do now? How do I, how do I practice this thing that Melissa and Kelly are talking about? Melisa: Well, I like what you said about agreements and that's something I'm talking to clients a lot about like, first of all, let's name. I mean, I do this when I work with couples, like conflict is going to happen. It will, we're not going to avoid that. So that being true, what do we want to agree to when we get into conflict? And that conversation has a lot of room for both the individual. Here's what I need. Here's what comes up for me. Here's what happens when I get triggered. Here's how I can support myself through that on both sides. And then also, what do we want to all do together then? Hmm. Keely: So, yeah, you're talking about arguments and, and yeah, that is part of the connection, disconnection, autonomy versus codependency or in, in this dance around those, you know, I just thought about the idea of, of also when people are looking to not just build connection, but are also looking to just have other relationships and autonomy too. And I talked to people about this, this spans, whether you're monogamous or poly or non-monogamous, or however you define your relationship status in that not one person can meet all of our desires and all of our needs. Right. And so how do we have these conversations where we. I think it happens more like how do we have these conversations where we talk about this with our partner? And I think these conversations definitely happen more, obviously in a dynamic that's poly or non-monogamous. And so how do we draw from Polly and non-monogamy discussions to center that in monogamous relationships? Melisa: Absolutely. And I've heard so many clients who even currently identify as monogamous, but have had their, you know, experimentation with non-monogamy and glean so much information about how to have these conversations and have benefited so much from being able to be that open and honest. And even just in the acknowledgement, like you said, that not every, not one person is going to fill every single need, Keely: And you don't have to go to an extreme of being like, I'm going to be super independent now, and it's not about not caring about the other person or people in your, kind about the other people in your life. It's about. Navigating. Like, I am my own being within this dynamic of the world and I have all these connections and I just, even just this weekend, I was talking to someone and they were telling me about, they had a partner but not a sexual, like a, like a best friend, but this was like, like their dynamic of wanting to live together, living together, currently this dynamic. And I was like, well, you're in a poly dynamic. . Right. And she's like, what do you mean I'm not sexual with this person? I just live with them and I want to have a house always with them. And I want to have another partner as well. And I'm like, That's polly- dynamic and in her brain, it was just like, you could see the lights where it's like, oh my gosh. Cause she was having so many challenges talking to potential partners, potential sexual partners, potential relationship partners, because she has this relationship with this person who also happens to be a dude and she identifies she's lesbian. And so she, she may want me to say queer, I don't, I'm not identifying who it is. But that there was this such this close. Such a closeness and yet when she would talk to people and be like, yeah, I have this plan and the people she started dating, it'd be like, oh, heck no, no. Like they, they were so uncomfortable by that. And so the suggestion was like to start treating it as a relationship. Not the start treating it as a non-monogamous relationship. And we start talking about intimacy and what intimacy is and how you can be intimate with someone. And that doesn't mean sex. That doesn't mean it's a sexual relationship. Such disservice when we tie in or when people who feel weird saying the S word, oh, sex S word that they say being intimate and I'm like, Hmm, you don't, how many people talk about being sexual with someone and they are not intimate with that person at all. Yeah. Melisa: Yeah. Well, and to your point, too, even in the example you gave, I know that even when I was operating in a monogamous way, I, I, you know, rarely dated people who wanted to go and do the same things I wanted to go do. I am a big musical theater nut and like, maybe when I was dating after us, that was a thing. But certainly in my, you know, my, my marriage to a sports person, we, there are differences in how we wanted to enjoy our free time and what we wanted to do. And. Similarly, I had my group of people that I would go to drag shows with and I would go to the musicals with and that, that has a different, it's fulfilling again, Keely: describing every gays weekend. Melisa: It's queer joy all the time for me! Glitter Keely: and the drag shows just bring in some brunch yeah. Melisa: This is like the autonomous life I am wanting to live. Yes. Like I said, we'll still figure out how to be in connection, but I think that's a great example, but it's not always about sex. And that's often the question that comes up for people. When we talk about non-monogamy too is, oh, what is that like? And it's, that's not the only part. Keely: Well, yeah. You can be having lots of sex and be single. You can be having lots of sex and be super autonomous, and I think we're going back to this idea of like, it's not about being single or Polly or monogamous or, you know, in a long-term relationship or married. It's about how do you play? How do you dance? And have autonomy, while maintaining connection. That's the takeaway? How do we do that? And you said, you know, coming back to self and having these conversations and identifying, Hey, I have all these different relationships in my life. I'm navigating all of these relationships and I want to continue to do so. So I talked to my romantic partner or partners about agreements and how I interact. Melisa: It's that awareness of where if we're not having that time to come back to self, how do we recognize that for ourselves and recognize what it looks like when we're out of connection with self? Like what patterns start happening? Also then how do we communicate that to the people that we do want to be in connection with? Keely: So being autonomous and connected is actually bringing ourselves in as one of the people we're navigating time with. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Like D. We I do. Do you tell people that to like put in their scheduled literally like self time and that's what you're doing? Yeah. Melisa: I had a friend recently asked me, like, do you take yourself on dates? Yes. Hell yes I do. I think I stole that originally from Julia Cameron in the artist's way, the whole artist, date concept. I will say with non-monogamy that became even more of an enforced thing. That's how I dealt with some of my original emotions and whatnot. When opening up my marriage is any time my partner would have something scheduled. I had, I planned a whole day at night for myself and making sure that we, we do that time. Even if it's at home doing our own thing, what do we do to connect with ourselves? Keely: Yeah. So really it's almost as if, when we're talking about autonomy, it's like, how do we stay connected with ourself while staying connected with others? So we're actually the, the goal is to be consistently connected, but that we're maintaining ourselves in relationship. Melisa: Right. That's where that meditation I talked about earlier. How to embody, that felt sense of being in connection with people, whether that's physically, you know, in the moment or not. And also knowing how to, like you said, simultaneously drop in and still, we don't have to leave ourselves to be connected with other people. Keely: No. And in actuality, when we stay connected to ourselves and have that space, we provide the opportunity for a deeper, more meaningful, fulfilling connection. That leads us to being able to thrive and absolutely have pleasure. Yes, yes. What is your queer joy that you are going to celebrate? Melisa: Yeah. I was super excited because I was feeling like, gosh, I have nothing. I'm still, I'm still watching RuPaul's drag race. We're going to get so bored of me. But I did have a queer joy moment. I was not, I guess this goes along with our theme. I was not physically there to partake, but I, I received a joy anyway. So one of my partners lives in California where I used to live. Totally randomly. She and my metamore one of her other girlfriends were at a wedding over the weekend that my best friend, this past weekend, they were at a wedding. And I think one of them might've been involved. I don't know who was in the wedding party. My best friend was there too. And my best friend is also experienced a non-monogamy. It was kind of one of my like leaders when I was first approaching non-monogamy and knew, you know, who all these people were. And it was so amazing to get multiple text messages from like my girlfriend and like metamore and best friend. And, and of course I was not to enjoy the queer joy, but I did anyway. It was such a wonderful moment. Positive relationships. And like, this is compersion. Compersion to the max. For me, it was so amazing. And I felt so grateful that I could share and part of my life and my connections with these other fantastic humans that they could all be together. So it was really also just such, it feels like such a small world, you know, for context, I know in poly non-monogamy it's like, okay, everyone, you meet everyone in the town. You know, everybody. And for context, I've dated all of five people, including my ex-husband for the past four years. So this is like, it happens, you know, such an amazing queer joy moment for me. Keely: Well, and for the listeners who don't know the word, compersion. Compersion, there's lots of different definitions. However, the, the most succinct as compersion is that joy for someone else. And compersion is the opposite or the resolution of not being jealous. It's like, you're, you're happy for, and you actually not just happy for someone else's joy or for their experience, but actually feeling joyful because they are experiencing this thing and you are so happy for them. Yeah. So it's a great word. I love that word. Look it up and ask us, we can, you know, text us or send us a message. We can tell you more about all about compersion. Well, my queer joy this week, I mean, I was just at a camp for four days. And let me tell you many queers there that I didn't even know until like the second day where all of a sudden. I had these people coming up to me and being like, Hey, Hey to a group, we have like these people, these, these women that are talking about how they're not sure about their sexuality and really want to talk about it because they feel kind of uncomfortable to then we found out that you're a queer sex therapist. So can you like do this little group thing? And I was like, sure. Yeah. And it was this moment of like exactly what the point of the camp was is this idea of like being not magnitude it's like being a magnetic and, and the, all of those pieces about law of attraction. And I was like, oh wow. These people have no idea who I am. They just met me, but they were drawn to ask me to. Do this group and the joy of being able to sit with a bunch of folks that are like talking about sexuality, having all these different experiences about what they want to think about, and then trying to figure it out and getting to hear their stories. It was so awesome. And the other pieces that we spent in our groups, I got to hear for three minutes. All the nice qualities about me and, oh, that's amazing. It was lovely. It was so awesome. So many things that I won't bore everyone with all of the details, but it was really cool. Melisa: It was for all of you though, it sounds like really reciprocal in that joy. Keely: Yeah. Reciprocal, joy, all the, all the goodness's, all the things. All the wonder. So that's about it for our show today. I hope that everyone had some fun, gained a little bit of knowledge somewhere, or just heard something interesting. Melissa, let's tell people where they can find us again, remind them where can they find us? You can Melisa: find us on the connective therapy, collective website, www dot connected therapy, collective.com. Also on Instagram. We're on Facebook. Where else are we? You're on Twitter. I'm not on Twitter. We are on Twitter. Remember the social media is cause I don't use them. Keely: You can also find me queer therapist, queer underscore therapist and his group PDX on Instagram and Kelly C Helmick LPC on Facebook. And you can email either of us, ask us questions, tell us what's going on. What you think, give us feedback. I hope all of you have just the most joyous queer week to come. Take care, everyone. Thank you. Bye.