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Polyamory: Some Thoughts on Rules

dragonpoly
I generally am not a fan of rules-based relationships, particularly in polyamory. I have found, throughout all of my relationships, that they tend to work best when not governed by a codex of regulations that would make a bureaucrat blush.

Often, when I say that, folks will look at me as though I've sprouted an extra head. "How can you have a relationship without rules?" I've been asked by poly folks. "I mean, sure, that's all well and good if you just want anarchy, with people running around doing whatever they want with no commitment, but you can't build real relationships that way!"

Which is a bit of a head-scratcher to me, because it sounds quite a lot like a monogamous person telling a poly person "How can you have a relationship without monogamy? I mean, sure, that's all well and good if you just want anarchy, with people running around shagging whoever they want with no commitment, but you can't build real relationships that way!"

It's a normal human thing, I suppose, to see the world in polar terms: if there is no monogamy, then that means promiscuity and indiscriminate shagging; if there are no rules, then that means anarchy and chaos. But that isn't really the case.

What do you mean, that isn't really the case? Rules are how we set out boundaries. Without rules, there's nothing to keep people from stomping all over us!

I tend to see a big difference between "rules" and "boundaries." To me, a rule is something that a person imposes on another. "I forbid you to have un-barriered sex with any other person" is a common example. It is a statement of intent to assert control over the actions of another.

Boundaries are things we put on ourselves. "In order to protect my sexual health, I reserve the right to discontinue having sexual intercourse with you if you have unbarriered sex with any other person" is an example.

They might have the same outcome, but theiy're very different in philosophy. To me, the key difference is the locus of control. With rules, I am assuming control over you. I am telling you what you must do or setting out what you are forbidden to do. With boundaries, I outline the way your choices affect me, without presuming to make those choices for you, and let you make your choice accordingly.


But without rules, how can I make sure that my partner will do what I need him to do in order to feel safe?

You can't.

With or without rules, you can't. People can always make their own choices. Rules, as anyone who's ever been cheated on knows, are only as good as a person's willingness to follow them, which means rules are only as good as the intent of the person on whom they're imposed.

If a person loves you and cherishes you, and wants to do right by you, then it's not necessary to say "I forbid you to do thus-and-such" or "I require you to do thus-and-such." All you really need to do is communicate what you need to feel taken care of, and your partner will choose to do things that take care of you, without being compelled to.

On the other hand, if your partner doesn't love and cherish you, and doesn't want to do right by you...well, no rule will save you. The rules might give you an illusion of safety, but they won't really protect you.


So what? Isn't it enough that a rule makes me feel better? What's wrong with that?

There is, I think, a hidden cost to rules, which doesn't often get discussed in the poly community: the effect those rules have on other people.

Often, people in polyamorous relationships--especially people just starting in polyamory--seem to embrace the idea that whatever happens, as long as the original couple survives, the relationship is being successful. Regardless of its effect on anyone else who may be romantically involved with one or both of the original couples. Because of that, the rules tend to be created only between the original couple, with little or no input from anyone else, and more imprtantly, little or no thought to the impact on those rules on others. The viewpoint of any third parties is rarely considered.

Because of that, there's seldom an acknowledgement that any rule which forbids person A from doing X is potentially a rule which deprives newcomer C from activity X. You see this most strongly in rules such as "I forbid you to have sex with any new partner in the Monkey with Lotus Blossom and Chainsaw position, because that's my favorite position" or "I forbid you to go to Clayton's House of Clams with any other date, because that's the restaurant where we had our first date" or "I forbid you to sleep over at a partner's house because I never want to have to give up sleeping beside you."

Each of these is made without any thought to what it costs a third person--what if a new person happens to be quite fond of the Monkey with Lotus Blossom and Chainsaw position, or Clayton's House of Clams? Why should the new person always be forced to give up sleeping with a partner simply because person A never will?


Because that's the way it is! Why should some new person be allowed to trump my needs and stomp all over me? Why shouldn't a new person respect my needs?

Ah. And there we get down to the heart of the matter.

People pass rules because they feel that those rules are necessary in order to meet their needs. Rules don't get passed at random; I have yet to meet a person who makes up rules by rolling dice or drawing words out of a hat.

Whenever someone proposes a rule, I make it a habit to ask myself three questions:

1. What is the purpose of this rule?
2. Does the rule serve the purpose it is intended to serve?
3. Is this rule the only way to serve this purpose?


I can't overstate enough how valuable it is to think about this.

Often, in my experience, people use rules as indirect, passive ways to try to get their needs met. Instead of clearly articulating the need, such as "I have a need to feel special and valued by you," they will think of something that makes them feel special and valued, and then pass a rule to say "I require you to do this thing" or "I forbid you to do this thing with others." We in the poly community often talk about "communicate, communicate, communicate," but to me, communication requires the willing to discuss difficult issues, such as the direct needs that we have, rather than just second-order issues, like "Forbidding you to do this is important to me."

Let's take a non-hypothetical example of a rule that I've seen some poly folks do: "I forbid you to take any date to Clayton's House of Clams." And let's look at it within the context of these three questions.

1. What is the purpose of this rule?

If Alice tells Bob "I forbid you to go to Clayton's House of Clams with anyone else," what is she actually saying? It could be "I feel like my value to you depends on exclusivity." It might be "I am afraid that if you do the same things with someone else that you do with me, you won't need me any more and you will abandon me." Chances are pretty good, though, that Alice, in making this rule, is feeling so overwhelmed by her fear that her needs aren't being met, she hasn't spared any thought at all for Cindy, who she's now denying the Clayton's clam experience to.

2. Does the rule serve the purpose?

If Alice is right, if Bob doesn't truly value her and there's nothing special about her, then forbidding Bob to go to Clayton's House of Clams with his date won't actually ensure that Bob doesn't abandon her. If Cindy turns out to be "better" (whatever that means) than Alice, then Bob's gone, clams or no clams. If Bob genuinely DOESN'T see value in Alice, the relationship is doomed and no rule will save it. By saying "I forbid you to go to Clayton's House of Clams," Alice is--at best--buying herself a false sense of security that is masking her underlying fear of abandonment, preventing her from confronting it directly.

3. Is this rule the only way to serve this purpose?

If Alice is actually afraid that Bob doesn't value her and will abandon her if he does the same things with a new date that he does with her, then it seems to me that Alice is actually better served by confronting that fear directly, and asking directly for Bob's help in feeling valued. There might be a lot of ways that can happen...by spending more quality time with Alice for instance, or by letting Alice know how he values her, by setting aside "date nights" with Alice, all sorts of things. The underlying need actually has nothing to do with clams at all.


So what? I was here first. Why shouldn't a new person respect my rules, even if there are other ways to do things?

"Respect" is a slippery, tricky word. It's kind of like "freedom"--everyone thinks they know what it means, but when the rubber meets the road, few folks actually agree on a definition.

To me, respect has to be mutual. If Alice is demanding respect from Bob's new sweetie Cindy, that can only come if Alice in turn respects the notion that Cindy is a grown adult with her own needs and desires, and she, too, deserves a shot at having a voice in the relationship. Imposing rules by fiat on other people and then demanding respect from those people is all the rage (I hear) among leaders of North Korea, but can feel a bit yucky when we're talking romantic relationships.

But more pragmatically, because I try to be pragmatic, setting up a situation in which one person imposes rules which another person is expected to follow is often a setup for failure. At best, it leads to rules-lawyering; "Well, we didn't actually eat AT Clayton's House of Clams, we ordered our clams to go and then ate out on the lanai!"

At worst, it sets up a relationship with a certain amount of tension and conflict baked in. If you see your partner's other partner as a source of stress, if you set up rules to govern that other person's behavior, then already you've started out on a basis of conflict--because you've created an environment where if you want the newcomer never to eat at Clayton's with your sweetie and the newcomer's desire is to get down with those tasty, tasty clams on a date with your sweetie, there's an irreconcilable difference there. Someone's desire is going to get trumped, and you're playing the "respect" card to try to make sure it's not yours.

By talking directly to needs rather than rules--"I need to feel valued and special by you"--we create a framework where competition is less likely. If it's about feeling valued and unique, and it's not actually about the clams at all, leave the poor clams out of it!

Now, some cases are more clear-cut than others. Rules around safe sex practices are extremely common in poly relationships; in fact, I'll warrant that exceptions are pretty thin on the ground.

But even there, it pays to be careful. Open communication is important, because sometimes, even seemingly clear-cut rules with reasonable, necessary purposes can mask deeper things.

For example, let's look at a rule "No unprotected sex with other partners."

1. What is the purpose of this rule?

If Alice tells Bob "I don't want you to have unprotected sex with anyone else," most likely there's a pretty good reason for it. The purpose of this rule is plain on the face of it: to protect Alice's sexual health, as well as the health of everyone Alice is involved with.

2. Does the rule serve the purpose?

Yes. The data on disease transmission and barriers is unambiguous.

3. Is this rule the only way to serve this purpose?

Oh, boy. Now we get into a pickle.

There are other ways that this goal can be achieved. STD testing is an effective one. Sexual health is not an issue if the people involved have no STDs to begin with; they don't spontaneously appear out of thin air.

But sometimes, folks may insist on barriers not entirely because of STD concerns, but also out of a feeling that it's a mark of exclusivity, or because they feel more special if they are the only fluid-bonded partner. And sometimes, concerns about STDs can be a cover that masks those feelings. (This isn't a hypothetical example, by the way. It's actually happened in my romantic network.)

It takes a lot of courage to admit things like this. Talking openly about what's really going on below the surface is scary, and hard, and involves making ourselves vulnerable.

But we poly folks talk all the time about how important communication is. It's even more important that we actually do it. Even when it's hard. Especially when it's hard.

And sometimes, letting go of the notion that rules are important is a way to do that, as scary as that sounds.

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Comments

( 76 comments — Leave a comment )
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petemosq
Jan. 25th, 2012 01:58 am (UTC)
Thanks again dude.
terryo
Jan. 25th, 2012 02:09 am (UTC)
Bravo!!! I might add that all this applies to ANY relationship.
mama_hogswatch
Jan. 25th, 2012 02:16 am (UTC)
Good one.

My reason for preferring fewer rules is simple. I seem to get treated better without them. Selfish of me, but there you are.
slavetopurple
Jan. 25th, 2012 02:16 am (UTC)
Thank you! How fabulous to have somewhere to point people who wonder how in the hell a poly relationship without millions of rules can work out. Much more eloquent than the hand flailing and "it just works for me" I've been using as explanation all these years.
nounsandverbs
Jan. 25th, 2012 02:27 am (UTC)
Beautifully said, as usual.
edwardmartiniii
Jan. 25th, 2012 02:29 am (UTC)
Rules do serve a special purpose that you didn't mention (perhaps out of kindness to your gentle readers).

Rules codify the conditions under which and methods whereby we agree to hurt our parters, or be hurt by our partners.

That's some bad shit, right there.
kindredsgirl
Jan. 25th, 2012 05:06 pm (UTC)
oh my gosh, Edward. Very succinctly and nicely put.
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sweh
Jan. 25th, 2012 02:39 am (UTC)
Tori and I have a rule. "Be open and honest with each other". That means not lying, even by omission. Pretty much everything else is discussed and negotiated. It works for us because we're not "rules lawyers", we're not politicians, we're in a partnership and want to do the best for each other.
kimboosan
Jan. 25th, 2012 02:47 am (UTC)
Very nicely put. I really think it all really boils down to the point you made about how we can't control others, they will do what they do. I find that is the hardest belief for most people to put aside; letting go of rules requires people to understand that the only person they can control is themselves. It's scary to think that you can't stop someone from hurting you, no matter how much you love them.

There is definitely a difference between the boundaries you set for yourself and the rules you impose upon others, you are so very right about that.

Great post! Thank you!
dawnd
Jan. 25th, 2012 03:03 am (UTC)
Thanks, Franklin. Your thoughts are interesting and valuable. As we discussed on the PLN list, I'll be linking to your post in my own blog, wherein I'm serializing my efforts at writing a book on the topic of Agreements. (If any of you here are interested in seeing what I've written so far, go to my blog and look in the Agreements tab http://blog.unchartedlove.com/?tag=agreements . It's been a
while since I made a post to that book,but I'm hoping to change that
Very Soon Now.)

FWIW, my own take on Agreements, as drawn from the discussion on the PLN list [I'm planning to take this to my own blog as well, but it'll probably happen tomorrow. You heard it here first! ;)]:

I'll agree that my perspective on "rules" has been changing over time. As a general rule, I prefer a style more in alignment with what Franklin appears to espouse (curious word, that, no?). with one partner, my entire "agreements" now consist of "don't be a dick!" (if we have more "rules," he "lawyers" them!) However, I still advocate the use of Agreements--which are not exactly the same as rules*--especially when beginning something new, or repairing something damaged. (Time-limited Agreements, or as another person called them, Time-Bound Experiments, are particularly useful here.) They're also great for clarifying safer sex practices, so long as people don't confuse emotional safety and physical safety. Some people need more structure than others, and for those who need a lot of structure, it's way better to talk about those structures and AGREE to them, than for one partner to unwillingly or perhaps even unconsciously impose them on another.

In short, I consider Agreements to be a TOOL to help partners increase trust in each other, and increase feelings of comfort over the long-term. Although I recommend writing them down (especially for those of us who are memory-impaired!), just having the DISCUSSION about what all of these things MEAN to each partner can be a very helpful exercise, and provide almost as much (or in some cases more) benefit as having a codified set of Agreements.

As Barry [Smiler in Baltimore] mentioned, it's very much about creating the win-win-win. And if, during the discussions about the Agreements, you find that you're having a hard time *agreeing* with one another? I'd consider that to be something of concern indeed. Perhaps the relationship isn't a good one to get your needs met, and your partners' needs met, at the same time.

*I make a strong distinction between Agreements and "demands" (closer to Franklin's use of the word "rules", I think). Agreements require all parties to AGREE to them and can be renegotiated. Demands are inherently non-negotiable, and are generally issued by one party without the other/s' input.
kindredsgirl
Jan. 25th, 2012 05:17 pm (UTC)
not sure if this is precisely related, but it seems relevant and Hi Dawn!
I think communication is really important and understanding what people you're in relationship are *expecting* from you, even if the goal is not to set up "rules" or make "demands." It is possible that the person you want to be with has needs you can't meet, or fears you can't soothe.

I had a partner whose model of polyamory required that I would take on no other sexual partner until he had spent enough time with the new person to get to know him and feel friendly with him. Not only do I have a different poly model than that, I couldn't even come up with a way to be flexible enough to make things work with this partner. And, the worst thing is that we had never discussed this issue (can you tell I was a poly newbie at the time?) so I ended up violating his trust without intending to, and then being told I was doing poly wrong. :(

So, be sure you talk about visions of how things will go and what each others' needs are, and do it before you get so deep in that you're risking mutual heartbreak.
sxyvixen
Jan. 25th, 2012 03:11 am (UTC)
A little Devil's Advocate
One argument I hear often though is that newcomer C is informed of the already put in place rules by the original couple, and if they don't like them, or come to not like them, well that's for them to then decide if they wish to stay and abide or go...'they knew the rules from the get-go'

How do you see the above fitting in with the idea that the third party is not taken into consideration of the rules decided upon?

(As a side: Way back when I started poly it was rules for *everything*! I'd say it took about 2-3 years of different relationships to learn that the less rules and the more expressed boundaries and knowledge of my partners and how they act/react has led to a virtually rule free life of relationships for me. The only "rule" is to communicate communicate communicate - especially of ones boundaries)
tacit
Jan. 25th, 2012 03:28 am (UTC)
Re: A little Devil's Advocate
I've always found the "Well, Cindy knew the rules going in, so she could either agree to them or leave" argument to be particularly and especially cruel.

At the start of a relationship, it's almost impossible to predict in advance how far it will go or what it will look like. It's easy to agree to rules before your heart is on the line and then find, later, after you've fallen in love, that you're hooked--the rules become burdensome but you're committed to the relationship and can't leave without a great deal of heartache.

It's unintended cruelty on Alice and Bob's part, perhaps, but it's still cruel. And Alice and Bob making themselves feel better about hurting Cindy by saying "Well, she knew up front what she was getting into" only rubs salt on the wounds.
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addiejd
Jan. 25th, 2012 04:03 am (UTC)
STD testing as a safe sex method?
1. I take a VERY BIG issue with the following:

There are other ways that this goal can be achieved. STD testing is an effective one. Sexual health is not an issue if the people involved have no STDs to begin with; they don't spontaneously appear out of thin air.

STD testing is a wonderful thing, but it does nothing whatsoever to prevent sexual transmission, it only lets you know that it has occurred. I used to volunteer giving free rapid HIV tests, and one of the things that was drilled into our heads is that testing is NOT a valid substitute for barrier protection. STD testing won't keep you from getting HIV or herpes or hep c, it will just let you know afterward that you are screwed. People you fuck don't always know what they have because of incubation periods, and if you're sleeping with more than one person who are sleeping with more than one person who are sleeping with more than one person... then someone ten degrees away from you who is an asshole who doesn't disclose his/her status fucks someone who fucks someone who fucks someone on and on and on until they get to you; HIV can be passed on to hundreds of people within the 3 month window it takes to detect antibodies. There have been clusters of hundreds infected where each was formed because of one asshole with HIV lied about it so he didn't have to wear a condom. Yes, you should get tested, that way you can get treated if you catch something and it protects your partners, but it does jack shit for protecting yourself.

2. I have 2 rules, one for physical health and one for emotional health. The first is that all my partners have to tell me if they are currently or become sexually active with someone else, whether or not they use protection with that person, and if any barriers they use break. The second one is that unless there is an emergency or a unique opportunity no one in my relationships cancel plans that have been made in order to do something with a different partner. If a partner is in the hospital, or their favorite band is playing in their city and they only tour once every few years, plans can be broken. Otherwise if you want to spend more time with one partner you don't do it at the expense of another; that just leads to resentment and jealousy. If you want to spend time with someone then don't tell someone else that they have that time with you.

3. Was Clayton's House of Clams intentionally made to sound so euphemistic?
tacit
Jan. 25th, 2012 04:12 am (UTC)
Re: STD testing as a safe sex method?
It sounds like you might be thinking of STD testing as "testing after the fact." When I refer to STD testing, I'm referring to before-the-fact testing...eg, knowing what someone's status is before sex occurs.

Testing after the fact doesn't seem like it would affect transmission at all.

Clayton's House of Clams was chosen for the alliteration, not the potential sexual overtones, I swear. :)

Edited at 2012-01-25 04:14 am (UTC)
Re: STD testing as a safe sex method? - addiejd - Jan. 25th, 2012 04:17 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: STD testing as a safe sex method? - tacit - Jan. 25th, 2012 04:37 am (UTC) - Expand
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Re: STD testing as a safe sex method? - red_girl_42 - Jan. 25th, 2012 04:23 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: STD testing as a safe sex method? - tacit - Jan. 25th, 2012 04:37 am (UTC) - Expand
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Re: STD testing as a safe sex method? - edwardmartiniii - Jan. 25th, 2012 05:49 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: STD testing as a safe sex method? - addiejd - Jan. 25th, 2012 05:53 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: STD testing as a safe sex method? - edwardmartiniii - Jan. 25th, 2012 05:56 am (UTC) - Expand
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Re: STD testing as a safe sex method? - addiejd - Jan. 25th, 2012 06:31 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: STD testing as a safe sex method? - edwardmartiniii - Jan. 25th, 2012 06:52 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: STD testing as a safe sex method? - addiejd - Jan. 25th, 2012 07:27 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: STD testing as a safe sex method? - edwardmartiniii - Jan. 25th, 2012 07:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: STD testing as a safe sex method? - addiejd - Jan. 25th, 2012 07:53 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: STD testing as a safe sex method? - edwardmartiniii - Jan. 26th, 2012 03:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: STD testing as a safe sex method? - red_girl_42 - Jan. 26th, 2012 04:03 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: STD testing as a safe sex method? - edwardmartiniii - Jan. 26th, 2012 02:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
aztecknight
Jan. 25th, 2012 06:04 am (UTC)
Wow. So well written and so very sensible. Can I share this with my poly partners? If so, what kind of credit do you want?

Thank you for writing this. It made me understand my own dislike of rules better.
tacit
Jan. 25th, 2012 06:23 am (UTC)
By all means! Feel free to send them over here. I'm also eventually planning to do some tweaks on this and post it over on More Than Two.
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evan15342
Jan. 25th, 2012 07:51 am (UTC)
This is a really great post. My partner and I have led discussions at a couple of kinky un-conferences on "Poly-Anarchy" covering a lot of similar ground, but I think this is much more clearly articulated.

One thing that we've talked about and found useful is focusing on intentions, usually mutual satisfaction and growth, instead of rules or boundaries. I find that as long as there is clear communication on all parts, it's much better to have a direction or point that all parties are working towards instead of lines that they can't cross.
(Anonymous)
Mar. 2nd, 2012 11:52 pm (UTC)
hi Evan!
I was actually thinking of you guys when I read this article! how fun to find you here! good thoughts :)
cheers, Naomi
blazingrowan
Jan. 25th, 2012 11:11 am (UTC)
Yes. And this is why I'm not fluid-bonded with anyone - it feels like a very easy way to get unreasonable, manipulative rules in by the, er, back door.
joreth
Jan. 25th, 2012 01:08 pm (UTC)
I always find it interesting, in discussions about rules that get sidetracked to safer sex agreements, some people who are opposed to the testing method of safer sex (please make note, I did not say everyone who are opposed to the testing methods), some of those people stick by condom usage as the better method, citing things like not being able to trust that their partner really hasn't slept with anyone else within that window where the testing is effective.

I find that interesting, because the whole point of the original topic was that rules won't stop someone who wants to break the rules.

If my partner and I have an agreement that we will both use condoms with other people, for the purpose of preventing the spread of STDs, there is nothing stopping him from *not* using condoms with someone else except his willingness to use condoms, just as there is nothing stopping him from having unprotected sex during that testing window except his willingness to adhere to the protected sex agreement. Making a rule that he should wear a condom, or that he should get tested, or that he should tell me everything I need to know to make informed decisions, will only be followed if he is a trustworthy sort with similar values as I on safer sex. If he is not, that rule won't stop him, as untrustworthy people typically do untrustworthy things.

Then there's the whole issue that several STDs are not preventable by condoms (i.e. oral herpes) and are spread through non-sexual contact, which is a whole other debate.

So it always strikes me when people take this particular position after having come at it from the topic of anti-rules.
kindredsgirl
Jan. 25th, 2012 05:27 pm (UTC)
Yes! I love how clearly you write, Joreth!
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pingback_bot
Jan. 25th, 2012 01:21 pm (UTC)
No title
User cortejo referenced to your post from No title saying: [...] Poly rules or not rules advice http://tacit.livejournal.com/370648.html [...]
paquerette
Jan. 25th, 2012 02:31 pm (UTC)
Can I just say a "hell yeah"? We've always been pretty rules-free and talk about things as they come up, and how they are relevant to current situations. Just sort of asking for what we need without an expectation that we can control each other. I guess that's how we live life in general, though. :) It's always surprised me how many poly folks have rules lists and how they look at us askance for not having that.
laid
Jan. 25th, 2012 02:54 pm (UTC)
Looked at askance, mostly by de facto mono couples or future divorced couples.
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(Anonymous)
Jan. 25th, 2012 03:35 pm (UTC)
Very interesting. Sharing this with my husband and others. You've articulated this much better than I've tried to in the past. :-)

I'm curious what your opinion is on pro-creation when it comes to rules, boundaries, and the differences?

For example, for the foreseeable future, my husband and I only want to pro-create with each other (we have one child and are considering a second in the near future). I have two reasons for this. One, a reason for having rules/boundaries on this topic is that making and caring for a child requires resources that I currently cannot provide on my own (money, food, shelter, time) for more than one child, not to mention the love, affection and attention that is required.

Two, this is a shared experience that I only want to do with this one person.

We're working it out in our own way but I'm curious of you opinion and others. :-)
the_failed_poet
Jan. 25th, 2012 09:00 pm (UTC)
Well said.
whitefox77
Jan. 26th, 2012 06:00 am (UTC)
I'm with you in that I found that no amount of rules can force a person to treat you with love and respect, or force them to take your needs into accounts. Without love, respect and turst there is no relationship, even if all the rules are followed.

That said, I've come to understand the difference between rules and bounderies as being a matter of communicaiton style. I don't see either one as being inharently "right" or "wrong". However, depending on your partner and how they prefer to comminicate one is likely to be received and understood much better than the other.

The difference between a "rule" and a "boundry" is very small. Either way what you end up with is a situation of "Doing X action will have a negative impact on the relationship". Whether you discuss rules or bounderies your goal is to limit certain behaviors in order to prevent others or yourself from getting hurt.

Rules are expressing limits based on actions. Boundries are expressing limits based on consiquences. However, no matter how you slice it they are both an attempt to impose limits.

"I forbid you to have un-barriered sex with any other person"
This just bothers me so I'm going to change it to:
"I am asking you to agree not to have un-barriered sex with any other person"
This is a straight forward specific attempt to limit the actions of the person your talking to.

"In order to protect my sexual health, I reserve the right to discontinue having sexual intercourse with you if you have unbarriered sex with any other person"
By expressing a personal boundry you aren't asking the person out right to limit their actions, but you are clearly expressing that if they don't limit their actions there will be consiqences that effects them.

I personally prefer rules, my wife prefers boundries. If she were to say:
"In order to protect my sexual health, I reserve the right to discontinue having sexual intercourse with you if you have unbarriered sex with any other person"

To me that's not setting a personal boundry, it's making a threat. My response would be something like:
"Was threatening me reallly nessasary? Can't you just ask me not to have sex without a condom without threatening not to have sex with me?"


For years when my wife and I would have discussions related to how each of us behaved in the relationship I would get upset because I saw how she expressed herself as being very passive agressive. It was obvious she was trying limit or control my actions, but I couldn't understand what she wanted because she expressed herself in terms of the effects my actions had on her. I can't begin to count the number of times I said "PLEASE! Just tell me what you want me to do!"

At the same time she would get upset because she saw my attempts to set rules as me being very controlling.

Over the years we've grown to understand each other, and each other's communications styles, better. And in the end communication is what it's all about. Whether you set rules or express boundries, if you and your partner(s) understand each other's needs, desires and limits, then you are on the right path. If you don't understand each other's needs, desires and limits, then you have a problem regardless of what communication style your currently using.

The one and only problem I see with rules is that it's easy to ask someone to restrict their behavior without actually talking about the reasons, thoughts and emotions behind the request.
wildwoosi
Jan. 26th, 2012 08:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks for saying this so clearly. My partners and I don't have rules either, and I've had people give me that look :)
geothermal
Jan. 26th, 2012 10:48 pm (UTC)
I like what you wrote. But I have a bit of forgetfulness about many things and I need rules, goals, and boundaries written down so I can refer to them later. Many people are like this. When drama comes around, and no rules or goals were written down, then everyone seems to have a different memory of what was said and when. I wish I had a photographic memory or a better memory, but I don't. (^:=

Jonathan
mantic_angel
Jan. 27th, 2012 04:05 am (UTC)
I would think "Tell me if you have unprotected sex" is a requisite rule for the viability of a boundary like "In order to protect my sexual health, I reserve the right to discontinue having sexual intercourse with you if you have unbarriered sex with any other person".

(As to STD testing vs condoms, I find it odd that no one arguing "testing isn't 100%" has noticed that neither are condoms...)
(Anonymous)
Jan. 27th, 2012 08:50 pm (UTC)
For my partners and I, preventing unwanted pregnancy is just as much of a reason to have protected sex as is preventing unwanted STI's. I do agree, though, that making a rule about it is not the best way. I like the way you broke down the reasoning process. Well written.
irenes
Jan. 31st, 2012 02:32 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this. I had only one rule for my partner and it concerned a specific sexual activity. After reading this and thinking on it for a while and discussing with him I've rescinded it as a "rule" and just asked that when if or when it comes up with another partner that he please remember that it will be hard for me and that I will probably feel the need for some extra reassurance. It feels a little terrifying, having the rule there provided me with no small amount of reassurance ... but hey ... direction of greatest courage, right?
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