What does hierarchy in relationships mean? What does it look the ideal model look like? How do you know who’s more important than who? Hear it all on this episode of the Queer Joy Podcast; where two relationship therapists explore what it looks like to see joy in queer relationships. Put QRQJ into action with our free 5 question worksheet. Get it here: bit.ly/QRQJworksheet
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Keely: The hierarchy is that there is always the opportunities for coming back to recognizing how we all have this autonomy and honoring autonomy within the hierarchy Melisa: yeah. The hierarchy without ownership. Keely: Hey, welcome everyone. Melisa: Welcome back to Queer Relationships, Queer Joy. Keely: Just had some amazing weekends and so much Queer Joy and connection. It's been amazing. Should probably introduce ourselves. Melisa: Do our introduction. Keely: Well, I'm Keely C Helmick. I am the owner of Connective Therapy Collective. I am a white non-binary babe who is practicing solo poly, but I don't identify as solo poly. That was a very clear definition, made these past couple weeks. And then also a, you know, certified sex therapist on hiatus from seeing clients and really open myself up to more emotional space for all the things, including this podcast. Melisa: Wonderful. And I'm Melisa DeSegiurant. I am a licensed marriage and family therapist, also a licensed counselor at Connective Therapy. Collective. I am bisexual, polyamorous, white, able bodied, gender expansive. I like that term recently. Keely: Right. And what we were talking about today, among other things, but the focus topic is how do we navigate hierarchy? And I think that bodily, autonomy and joy and pleasure are so linked into that topic as all things that we talk about in non-monogamy. Multiamory was using the word ethical hierarchy so I thought that was interesting. This idea of ethical hierarchy, especially, you know, when we're talking about ethical non-monogamy. Melisa: Yeah. When I think about hierarchy, in non-monogamy, I think there can be an immediate response of like that's bad and there's a judgment about it and removing the stigma of hierarchy that it it's something that just is, and it can be done intentionally and in a way that is ethical. Keely: Yeah. I mean, the first thing, when I think about ethical is that there is transparency and open communication and informed consent. And so if we're talking about a hierarchy that exists or that a group of people are participating in the beginning, is that informed consent. Right. And so that, you know, and so stepping into a dating situation, that person, if you know, a couple is practicing more of what we think of as nesting partners, primary partners when they're dating other folks, meeting other folks. That's, that's very clear what that means to them, not just using the title. Oh, that's my nesting partner or that's my primary partner or that's my anchor partner. But defining what is that for you? Because even within those definitions, within those labels, there are many definitions within. Melisa: And a different set of potential expectations. Like what does that mean for you, but what does that look like for you? How does that play out in the relationship? How does that impact other relationships? What does that mean for me? these are all good questions. Communication, as we often say is the first piece, but then coming to the embodied piece, I think this was also from Multiamory. I don't know which episode I'm imagining this is for a concept that they talked about. But there is a difference between our embodied tolerance versus acceptance. Like, are we just tolerating the structure of the relationship and that you say, this is your person, and this is how you do it, or am I accepting that like, okay, this is a given, I accept that I'm going to energetically and from an embodied place orient to the system, the way that you're telling me it. is Because I think sometimes people hear the conversation and have the conversations, but are still in this kind of secretly embodied place of like, well, I don't know if I really respect their relationship. It might not last, like, there is some interesting caddy kind of power positioning that can happen, even if people are having conversations about their relationship structures and how they work. Keely: Well, and when you say acceptance, I think about the term radical acceptance. It's like, this is how it is. And so then we choose whether we want to engage in it or not. If we understand the full dynamics, then we, we get to decide. Right? Yeah. And then you also mentioned that power piece. And I think that's where it gets sticky or can get sticky is because people don't wanna talk about power. Melisa: Yeah. Yeah, and it's not always overt, you know, we, we do things. I talk about this with clients so often. We do things that are the, the hidden agenda is to control something or to flex power over something, even if we're not aware of it and consciously doing that. Keely: Yeah. And so when I think about ethical hierarchy and navigating hierarchies within polyamory, non-monogamy, the power dynamic is just like, when we talk about all types of power dynamics is naming it. So it's not about pretending it doesn't exist. It's okay. This is the structure of it. And this plays out differently, obviously depending on the demographics of the folks involved. And so when it involves money, race, ethnicity, genders... all of these different pieces, resources, friends. I mean, the hierarchy works differently for different people depending on how many like relationships, not just romantic sexual relationships, but how many relationships there are and the hierarchy thing, let's not forget platonic or non-sexual relationships. The hierarchy piece isn't just, I mean, we tend to focus on that, and when we think about that, our brains are trained by our society to go there, but the hierarchy exists in all dynamics, even in monogamy. Melisa: I'm even thinking about when children are involved. That's not somebody, you know, flexing power in some damaging way. That's just inherent. That's understood. I hope. Keely: We talk about in monogamous marriages, that the fighting is always about sex, money and kids. Well, guess what? In other monogamous, like non-married or second parents, set parents, non-monogamy, polyamory gives one discussion is around kids too. Cause different people have different views and expectations of what it means for kids. I mean, so many of my relationships have come down to this piece where people will be like, "oh, well you always prioritize your kids over me. I don't wanna just be a part-time partner where the week that you have your kids, you pay attention to me less, than the week that you don't have your kids" and in my brain, I'm like, well, that makes complete sense. And I've had to restructure how I talk about when I'm dating people really informing them about my kids and just like any kind of relationship dynamic, it's very different as my kids age. They're now 10 and 14 versus when I was dating and they were like four and eight. Very, very different responsibilities and expectations. And it's interesting. And I'll say that, you know, for those folks out there who are listening, who do have kids, but it makes a huge difference when people have had kids or not. And their understanding of, or have a close relationship with other friends, kids, or with niblings. Melisa: The understanding of the expectations without you having to like, spell everything out. Keely: Yeah. Or like the difference between people who are wanting more attention from me when I'm with my kids and the people that are like, "oh yeah. Well of course you have kids." Yeah. That's the time. So "of course, you're going to go do that thing with your kid." Melisa: Yeah. Yeah. Excellent. And it may not even just be a conversation about expectations, but people identifying, like, what are their needs? Like, are you the kind of person who can date someone who is going to have to prioritize children at moments and you're not gonna get the full attention. And again, as you said before, we get to choose whether or not we're in that relationship structure. Keely: And I'm getting to this age where I'm really thinking more and it's more apparent. Not just kids. But you know, not everyone has kids, everyone has parents. Now some people may have parents that are already deceased or may not have relationship with their parents, but for those that do have relationship with their parents, then there's also this dynamic of how do we share time and relationship when the needs of biological family or parents starts tugging on us. Melisa: Right. Yeah. And like you said, this happens in monogamy and non-monogamy. Yeah. Keely: I mean, this is just a real thing that happens. Melisa: And I like thinking about what's working about hierarchy and kind of flipping it right to yes. Hierarchy and structure is very useful and helpful. That's why a lot of people are doing that in their relationship styles. It's funny, I'm on a different side of it right now. I don't have an anchor partnership. I have been in those that's primarily, I think my longer term relationships. It's been that way. But I'm more on the side of, I suppose, still solo poly And most of my partners and, or people I'm talking to have a primary partner. Yeah. And I'm laughing cuz I'm like calling, I'm catching myself in that pattern being like "interesting. What is this about?" And part of it is. It's for me. I'm not gonna say for everyone, for me in this moment of my life, it's relieving because there are a lot of things that are made clear because the hierarchy exists. I don't have to wonder into so many different things. I'm clear on what my schedule is, how much time. It's just very easy for me to then prioritize my own time with myself, because it's not this open ended, "should we just consume each other with NRE and like be together forever?" Like, no, and it's none of that. So, It it actually, for me, preserves space to be autonomous while in relationship with multiple people. Again, that's just my experience right now as a solo poly person, dating people who are, are partnered with an nesting partner. Not everyone's, but that's something I think that that's working about hierarchy for me. Keely: Yeah. That makes sense. It's so I feel like Melisa, you and I are in different, but similar situations, but I'm in like a solo poly situation where, I'm like, it would be really nice to eventually have a anchor partner or a nesting partner again. But I don't wanna force it. Sure. Yeah. Yeah. I kinda have that yearning and I'm watching them have their things and I'm like, oh, but it's summertime. And I wanna have that person that I wake up with and go on adventures with. Melisa: For sure. For sure. A lot of people feel that way. I know. I will feel that way again. again, we're this is summer two after divorce, like where? Yeah, let's move slowly. for me. Yeah, definitely. It's valid. It's valid. Keely: Well, like you said, like you understand what the dynamic is, and I think that the piece around the ethical hierarchy is that as the person, that's not the nesting partner or not the anchor partner, still having some kind of say in certain things. Like it doesn't feel like, like how making it so that everyone has some kind of say, and even if it's not kitchen table poly, but that there's a sense of our own autonomy. Like we get to have a piece in it. And I think what I've noticed structurally sometimes when I struggle as a person that is not the anchor partner is when I feel like I don't have any say. And then it just feels like, oh, I don't have control what's going on. I'm just at the whim of this other person or these other people. And, and I'll be very real. That's not always on them. That's about how I'm setting my mindset into it. Melisa: Sure. Yeah, it's a really good point you bring up though. And, and I've heard this in, in sessions and sometimes, really somebody doesn't have a say, for example, if somebody gets they're married and they get moved for business and they're as a unit going to move together, other partners' feelings about that might not weigh into the decision. I think what I would be promoting with, with the ethical hierarchy, is that even if they, they don't get influence over the decision, they get considered as a human being with feelings and those are taken into consideration. And that may look like the way that that news is delivered, that may look like a negotiation of a timeline, or what would be meaningful to you to help with this transition. There's a, the slew of different things that could look like. It may not mean that like, oh, that means I'm not moving with my partner. Like. It. So within the hierarchy, maybe there is a structure where it's like, no, actually I do get to say, I don't want you to move across the country, you know, perhaps. But even if that's not the case, we can still consider people as human beings who are equally involved in the relationship. Keely: Yeah. And that's where the pressure of that person who is in the dynamic managing the multiple relationships and how I think it's worth repeating what you said, Melisa, is it's paying attention and honoring everyone's emotions around it even if everyone doesn't have a say in the decision, but their space and the feelings get to have to be talked about and recognized. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I have a situation right now where I don't know, I might have mentioned in a previous podcast, but that a person I've been hanging out with casually dating for eight months now, seven or eight months, like off and on, you know, it was set up very casually but they are, they got this awesome opportunity. And I won't say what the awesome opportunity is. Cause I don't want to disclose who they are, but it's a really awesome opportunity and they're gonna be moving to the Midwest and oh, heck yeah, it's brought up a lot, even, even as I say, like, oh yeah, we're casual. It, it still brings up things for me. And I'm not the anchor partner and I'm not the primary partner and their anchor partner is also staying in Portland. And it's interesting being on slightly on the outside, noticing this, watching how all this is going and really sitting in it. And going back to what you said very early on, which is "are you tolerating it or accepting it?" And for me, like full acceptance of this person is gonna go off and do this thing for themselves. And something that was really interesting that they said, cuz they've been practicing monogamy for about three and a half, four years. So they were mentioning how in a previous relationships, when they were monogamous, the way they phrase it, "I wouldn't have been allowed." And what have been allowed to have this opportunity for this six month contract to go do this really, really amazing potentially career changing opportunity. Yeah. Melisa: That's the toxic monogamy. That's the monogamy version I wouldn't promote . Keely: And so I think when we're talking about hierarchy and I kind of veered off a little bit, but wanna go back to, again, this, the hierarchy is that there is so always the opportunities for coming back to recognizing how we all have this autonomy and honoring autonomy within the hierarchy, and then having compersion or having just, oh, I I'm watching my partner grow or I'm watching this person who I'm in relationship with grow. And this is where they're at at this time. Melisa: Yeah. The hierarchy without ownership. Keely: Yeah. I know there's this really good book out there and I haven't read it yet, so I, I don't wanna talk about too much, but I do know that the, the title is called Homecoming and the concept of coming back to ourselves. And so even when we're talking about all these multiple relationships and talking about hierarchy, in these moments, coming back to ourselves and honoring what whatever's going on for the other people in our lives. So on that note as always, which one of us wants to start, who, who has the most like rear end to go Queer Joy. Melisa: So like, I've been in a joyful place. I didn't have anything planned. Do you have anything already, like ready to go? Keely: Yeah, I was, I will say that I just got back from a trip and so, I mean the whole trip itself is just like Queer Joy. I really, really enjoyed hanging out with my kids. I don't wanna downplay that. The really awesome piece though, was meeting up with someone that I had met when I was at a conference in DC and they just happened. She happened to be in San Diego, cuz she goes from, she flies from DC to San Diego and she does like surrogate work as far as like sex surrogacy and as part of like cuddling, there's a whole dynamic, which we should definitely have a episode about that. So fascinating in it and definitely a, a piece of sex therapy, but in a different way that, that we don't do at CTC, but totally, totally cool. And we got to meet up and have drinks next to the beach and talk about all the queer things and all the sex stuff and all the ways that her business that she's part of is expanding what sex therapy is and expanding connection and expanding healing, therapeutic processes. So yeah. Sitting at the beach, talking to a queer person about all the things, sex therapy in San Diego. Heck yeah. Queer Joy. with queer joy. Melisa: I shoulda gone first. How do I follow that? I was like alone all weekend. That's but that's your joy it's sometimes it's very joy. It's a lot of the time. It's my joy. Yeah, that sounds so fun. awesome. It was awesome. Well, yeah, I, I really did. I was alone all weekend, intentionally I nestled in because it was a heat wave. Obviously, we're releasing this after this happened in Portland, but I was not sure how my AC situation was gonna work in my apartment and wanted to know it. It would've been a really great time to go to the beach. I recognized that. And. I didn't wanna leave my cats in a potentially like burning hot department. So it was really reflective. I had a lot of work done. My licenses are renewing. So part of being a Therapist is like taking a lot of courses. And so my brain is exploding with really good information, but that's changing the way I look at healing in a great way. But again, that's like, that's my nerdy Queer Joy but energetically, because It was so hot and again, last week. It was, it was kind of, it wasn't cold, but it was dark and rainy. So this was a big, like wha slam into summer kind of like couple days for me. Yeah. And I did a whole, I realized this was a tradition growing up. I did a whole resetting of my apartment to summer mode. And I, I didn't think about that. My mother used to decorate our apartment for every season, not just for holidays, but it was a seasonal. And so even though I have a tiny little 420 square foot apartment, I reset it for summer, with all my summer stuff and got all the winter stuff hidden away. And that also involved a lot of clearing of things I haven't gone through since like my move to Oregon from California. So like, oh wow. Yeah. Releasing of clothing items that I realized had a lot Of meaning to me that I didn't need to be carrying anymore cause I don't actually wear them. yeah. I'm like that. Yeah. It was that kind of a clearing, a lot of past trauma clearing too with that. And then a lot of shifting that's happening on a collective level. And so with all of the magnitude of everything that's happening right now, I'm grateful for some of the fanfare to focus in on the work that needs to be done. So that's my joy is that like, it's been really cleared and I feel like the timing is right and that summer's gonna be a lot lighter and a lot more introspective for me. Keely: Yeah. My thing is always thinking about how to incorporate the joy and all of the energy while doing the work and can there be joy within the dynamic? And I think I was talking to someone today when you were saying that, yeah, there's always work to be done. And I love the saying of our joy is our resistance. And really coming to this point of thinking about what are we doing as sex therapists? What are we doing at CTC? What are we doing as therapists and social justice? And we have all these big academic words and really it's about claiming joy and being in our bodies and these experiences. and that's part of the work and that's in fact, what keeps us going in this work? How do we be sustainable in this work? Just the overall, when we're talking about autonomy and thinking about bodily autonomy, thinking about joy, thinking about pleasure, and then how does that translate into relationship dynamics? Cool. Well, a couple just brief things I wanna bring up before we wrap fully wrap up today is just we're preparing for next fall. We're gonna have some workshops. Melisa and I are gonna do a Non-Monogamy Polyamory workshop again in September for therapists and for folks specifically for therapists and people that are already in the field of either sex therapy or sex coach relationship coaches. And then we're also going to start planning something in October. So we'll keep talking about that, but definitely something for some community event, that'll have like fun party themes involved. Celebratory event, celebratory event. So thanks everyone again for listening. And I hope you all have a Queer and Joyful week. Cardinal: Thanks for listening to Queer relationships, Queer joy, a podcast by the Connective Therapy Collective hosted by Kelly C Helmick and Melisa DeSegiurant. I'm your producer Cardinal marking audio is edited by Mars Gaspar. Intro music is by bad snacks. If this episode made you smile or think, tell us about it, if you hated it, tell us about that. Review us on iTunes or Spotify, or send us an email at info at Connective Therapy, Collective dot com for more queer joy. Visit our website at www dot Connective Therapy. Collective dot com. Love ya. Bye.