What are we?” “What does this mean?” “Is this something my partner will be ok with?” “How do I tell my partner I need something I am not getting?” All of these are valid questions when getting involved with someone, especially sexually. Too often when we start relationships, partners are on different pages when it comes to defining their relationship. This can cause emotional turmoil, miscommunication, among many other challenges that can easily be avoided. It’s hard enough sometimes to maintain a relationship, so why add to it by not being direct about your intentions? Relationships look different to everyone. Sexual needs and wants are different for everyone as well. Being on the same page can provide the foundation for a satisfying sexual relationship.
So, let’s get into the fun stuff! Most people know about Monogamous relationships, meaning having one partner at a time. This can look like a marriage, long term relationship, or being sexual with one person. Many people find this type of relationship rewarding and satisfying, in that you are getting your needs met by one partner (hopefully!). A sexual relationship without the emotional connection is commonly referred to as “Friends with Benefits”. This works best with effective communication and agreement on the boundaries of the friendship and the type and extent of the benefits. Ahhhh communication…..I will revisit that aspect later.
Non-Monogamous relationships mean more than one partner, and there are many types of Non-Monogamous relationships. Some people feel that they cannot get what they need or want from one partner. One common term that I see couples use is an “open” relationship. Open relationships are non monogamous relationships in which both partners agree, or are “open”, to have sexual relationships with other partners. Depending on your history and background with relationships, sometimes this can be unnerving to some, and could even seem like “cheating”. One thing to consider, you can have an Ethical Non-Monogamous relationship. This means that a couple is in a loving and committed relationship but have other relationships outside of the marriage, of which every partner involved understands the relationship dynamic. I will reiterate the importance of communication here!!
Communication…it seems so simple. Tell your partner what you need and want. In theory this is simple, but talking about feelings is hard. Talking about something very vulnerable, such as sex, is even more challenging. Many people do not want to hurt their partner’s feelings or are embarrassed by their sexual needs and wants and worried about what their partner will think. Sex is about pleasure. Pleasure comes from knowing what your needs and wants are, what feels good, and making sure that these needs and wants are being met. When I say this, I do not necessarily mean that this is all sexual. Getting what you want and need may mean being able to talk through things more effectively. While good communication is important, not every relationship conflict has a compromise. If one partner wants an “open” relationship and the other is not comfortable with this, it can be challenging to try to develop a compromise that works for the couple as a whole.
This is where a therapist can help. Part of my job is finding out what sex means to each person, what pleasure means to each person, and how to integrate these ideas into the relationship in a way that works best for all partners involved. One of our primary goals through our therapeutic relationship is to build trust and help each partner feel more comfortable communicating their needs and wants to each other. I love to assist couples and individuals to gain insight to improve their sexual experiences and increase their level of pleasure. This can come in the form of a monogamous relationship, or a non monogamous relationship. The beauty is that there is no wrong answer! The right answer is different for each couple, and sometimes each person. I find that there can be various feelings involved in exploring what the “right” dynamics of a relationship look like. I can help a couple better understand what works for them, and any feelings that may come up, which can impact the satisfaction of the relationship. I love to implement a sex history in sessions. This can help explore where ideas and feelings about sex came from, and how they have evolved. I find that it can help gain a better understanding of each person’s views on sex and relationships.
There are many different kinds of relationships, and different couples define their relationships differently. There are many different terms and boundaries for how people describe their relationship, and what that means for them. I am always interested in finding out what a relationship looks like to each person, and I always go into therapy sessions curious. I tell clients that I assume nothing, and I want to know what life and situation looks like. Diversity and differences are what makes this world such an interesting and beautiful place!
–Meagan Thomas, MS, LCMHCA
Meagan Thomas, MS, LCMHCA is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate in North Carolina, and is currently accruing hours toward full licensure. To schedule an appointment with Meagan or any of the therapists at Carolina Sexual Wellness Center, call 919-297-8322.