2009 Focus – Intimate Relationships

December 31st, 2008 by Steve Pavlina

In this post I’m going to share some things I’ve never shared publicly before, some of which you might find a bit surprising.

At the start of each new year, I like to pick a primary focus for the upcoming year. I prefer doing this instead of making a New Year’s resolution because it’s more effective for me. By primary focus I’m referring to a single area of my life where I want to make a major advance in my personal growth efforts.

I find that by picking just one area and by applying strategies like immersion and overwhelming force, I can take a quantum leap forward in that area and then lock in the gains. This has been much more effective for me than trying to make modest gains in multiple areas. Usually when I aim for several small changes, I only perpetuate the status quo. It’s like if someone throws you a ball, you can catch it, but if you’re thrown three balls at once, you get confused and fumble all of them.

In 2008 my primary focus was to improve my diet and health, which was probably obvious if you read my blog during the past year. In retrospect that turned out to be an awesome decision. I successfully converted to a raw vegan diet, after eating a cooked vegan diet since 1997. Although weight loss wasn’t my primary goal, I dropped 15 pounds from where I was at this time last year. I feel wonderful physically and emotionally, I have more energy and mental clarity than ever, and I love the food I’m eating. (As I write this, I’m enjoying a tasty shake made from bananas, brazil nuts, and water.) I’ve also made many great new friends in the raw food community.

It certainly took a lot of time and effort — and help from others — to make this transition. But I’m very happy with the results thus far.

After leveling-up my character in this area, it’s time to pick a different area of focus for 2009. I’ve decided that my core focus for 2009 will be intimate relationships.

This will take a bit of explaining…

Some Relationship Background

You may have noticed that I haven’t written a great deal about intimacy and relationships since I started blogging. There have been a handful of articles like Soulful Relationships, and I wrote a chapter about relationships in my book, but overall I haven’t written a ton about relationships relative to other topics. Also, I haven’t shared too many details about my marriage to Erin and how we manage our relationship. That might seem odd because Erin and I have been together almost 15 years now.

I get a ton of requests for articles about relationships, so it isn’t due to lack of interest.

The main reason I haven’t written much about this topic is that it was a part of my life where I had more confusion than clarity, and I didn’t want to give out phony advice that wouldn’t work. It’s also an area of my life where I’ve felt stuck for many years. It wasn’t until recently that I finally figured out how and why I was stuck and what I should do about it.

As I alluded to a couple days ago in the Overcoming Indecision article, we create growth forks of indecision when deep down, we know which path to take, but we don’t feel ready to accept it yet. My big challenge wasn’t really about deciding what to do. For me the really hard part was accepting the next step on my path. For reasons I’ll soon explain, I had a very difficult time coming to terms with a path that felt a little too overwhelming for me.

If you hold very traditional, mainstream views about relationships and especially marriage, then you probably won’t like what I’m about to say. My guess is that you’ll be inclined to frame this in a rather non-accepting, resistant way. And that’s okay if you feel that’s a reaction you need to have. That being said, please understand that I’ve already moved through this phase myself, so there’s no need to bother sending me a critical email to share your discontent and/or concern. I don’t want you to waste your time crafting a lengthy response that won’t actually be read, so if you feel inclined to do that sort of thing, please don’t.

Marriage

Erin and I have been together since 1994, married since 1998. We got married on the four-year anniversary of the day we met. In all that time, our marriage has been monogamous with no cheating or affairs or anything like that.

Erin and I are very much in love. I love her, and I know she loves me. Throughout our relationship, I’ve never doubted that she loved me.

Erin is my best friend. I feel I can talk to her about anything. We often talk for hours — about our lives, our careers, and how we can help the planet. I never get bored spending time with her. She’s one of the most conscious and interesting people I’ve ever known. I find her totally fascinating, and I feel grateful to have her in my life every day.

I love being married to Erin. I love that we get to spend so much time together. Our journey together has been magical.

Indecision

This may sound surprising given what I just wrote above, but a huge area of indecision in my life for years has been this question: Should I stay married to Erin, or should I get divorced and experience other relationships?

You really don’t want to know how much time I spent pondering this.

Since we have two kids, ages 5 and 8, and since we run a business together, the consequences of divorce can get pretty complicated.

The problem was that neither path intuitively felt right to me. I felt like I was stuck in a no-win situation.

Being married to Erin has been wonderful. However, we’ve grown so close over the years — to the point where we’re telepathically picking thoughts out of each other’s minds — that it’s hard to imagine growing much closer as a couple. I can’t even define what being closer to Erin would mean without us practically becoming the same person. I feel that Erin and I are closer than any other couple I’ve met.

As wonderful as our relationship has been, for a long time it has felt like something important is missing. The thought that I would never enjoy a deep, intimate relationship with any other woman really started to bother me. I felt like if I stayed married to Erin, I’d be missing out on a huge area of potential growth for the rest of my life. But more importantly, I felt that I had more love to give that was getting bottled up inside me with no good outlet for expressing it. If I stayed married to Erin, I’d have to accept that so many wonderful opportunities for love and connection with other people would never happen. I wasn’t willing to accept that.

I’m referring to both physical and emotional intimacy. For me the two are hard to separate. I can’t imagine being physically intimate with a woman without feeling deeply emotionally connected to her as well. Having sex just for the sake of orgasm feels hollow. For me the emotional bonding and the feeling of connection is an essential part of physical intimacy. There’s something magical about two souls opening themselves to each other’s presence. Consequently, a model like swinging (i.e. having sex with other couples) or just getting some extra sex on the side would be a total turnoff for me.

There have been times when I had to stop my emotional bonding with another women from leading too far into physical intimacy. In my heart I felt that’s where things were meant to go, but I always kept that door closed.

My feelings aren’t caused by any sort of deficiency in my marriage. Erin is an absolutely awesome wife. I think I would feel the same way no matter who my wife was. Erin and I are compatible on so many levels, so compatibility isn’t the issue. In the most important ways our marriage can work, it works wonderfully. The issue is that my desire to connect with women is more expansive than what can be provided by any one relationship. I want to express and share more love than I’m currently able to.

For a time I thought the only viable solution was to move into a serial monogamy situation, so I could experience multiple relationships. That felt totally wrong to me though. That would merely convert the current problem into a recurring problem.

When I thought about getting a divorce from Erin, it felt absolutely wrong to me. I have no interest in breaking up with her. We’re still totally in love with each other. I love spending my life with her. Why would I want to give that up?

For a long time, I got stuck in the trap of either-or thinking. I thought there were only two realistic options. Either I had to stay monogamous with Erin, or we had to break up so I could experience other relationships. But there was no way I could fully commit to either choice because they both felt wrong to me.

I guess another option would be to have an affair, but I could never do that in secret because that would mean turning my back on truth. So I can’t give that serious consideration. I even read an excellent book about people who have affairs in order to understand why so many people choose that path, but it didn’t change how I felt. Having an affair would be an unconscious path that would force a decision later, but I’m looking for a conscious choice I can feel good about. In general, people don’t consciously choose to have affairs; affairs almost invariably arise unconsciously.

Being in this state of indecision for so long had a negative effect on my marriage. Because I wasn’t sure what to do, I felt uncommitted to Erin. As a result I held back a lot of love I might otherwise have given her. When I was feeling very stuck, I often disconnected from her. I didn’t want to keep feeding a relationship that I thought would have to end in a break-up. I’m sure that created a lot of stress for Erin too. She’s very intuitive of course, so she knows when I’m not fully present in our marriage.

Due to the close nature of our relationship, I often discussed my feelings openly with Erin. I brought up the possibility of divorce many times. I thought that by discussing this with her, it would give me more clarity and lead to a decision that felt good. Unfortunately, it didn’t. I wasn’t trying to threaten the relationship, but I didn’t think it was a good idea to keep all of these thoughts to myself. I couldn’t just pretend everything was okay.

I read many acclaimed books on relationships, but nothing proved helpful. My relationship with Erin had already advanced beyond the stages those books addressed. Our level of closeness and connection wasn’t the problem, so trying to get closer wasn’t going to yield a solution.

This indecision also had a negative effect on me as a father. I felt disconnected from my children. Every day I’d look at Emily and Kyle, not knowing if we’d be living in the same household much longer. That was very hard for me. I know I held back a lot as a parent, and of course that made things harder for Erin as well. Just thinking about this makes me pretty sad.

I used every decision-making technique I knew, but none of them gave me an answer that felt right. I know that when my head and heart don’t agree, something is wrong. But I just didn’t know how to resolve this.

An Alternative Answer

Eventually the answer came to me. What’s really amazing is that I have to credit the answer to the gains I experienced after going 100% raw and especially after completing my juice feast about a month ago. If I didn’t take those steps, I’d probably still be feeling stuck right now.

The mental clarity gains were only part of the solution process. Actually the more important part was that I finally felt like I had the physical and emotional energy to implement the solution. Prior to making these dietary changes, whenever I caught a glimpse of the solution, I always had to reject it as insanely impractical. I just didn’t have the power needed to face that kind of truth.

My problem wasn’t really due to a lack of clarity. So it’s no wonder that trying to gain more clarity was a perpetual dead-end. The problem was that I was unwilling to accept the answer that was presenting itself. Every time it came up, I’d shove it aside with a loud, “No way!”

So what is the solution? To put it simply, I needed to replace either-or with and.

This is where we have to say goodbye to mainstream paths. This is also the point where my Puritanical readers will begin looking for a good throwing stone or an appropriate Bible verse.

I very much want to stay married to Erin, but I also want to experience intimate relationships with other women. Is it possible to do both at the same time?

As it turns out, the answer appears to be yes.

The specific nature of the answer is still foggy because I haven’t implemented anything yet, but the general solution could be labeled polyamory.

Polyamory

Polyamory simply means having multiple intimate relationships at the same time. I’m not going to dive too deep into explaining the details at this time. If you want to learn more about it, you can Google polyamory and find some good sites devoted to the topic.

In practice, polyamorous relationships can get complicated because you’re dealing with multiple partners. I believe I have a good shot of making this work. I’m a pretty conscious guy, and since I don’t have a job, I have a lot more free time than most people. Plus I love challenges.

I guess the main challenge would be finding other partners who are open to this sort of thing. Obviously it’s not very mainstream. But neither is raw food, juice feasting, being happily jobless, experimenting with polyphasic sleep, or many of other things I’ve done.

What appeals to me about polyamory is that it’s a way for people to learn to share love and connection without trying to possess each other. It feels a lot more free and open to me than a closed marriage situation.

Is this just about having sex with other people? No, if that was all I wanted, I could just go pick up some tourist women on the Strip.

The truth is that I love connecting with Erin physically and emotionally, and I want to enjoy that kind of connection with other women too. I can use self-discipline to try to deny those feelings, but that would require turning my back on the principle of Love, which is a big no-no. In this case I have to follow my heart.

Erin’s Reaction

What’s Erin’s reaction to all of this? Due to the nature of our relationship, of course I’ve talked to her about this in depth. At the present moment, she’s actually okay with it. Like I said, she’s a very conscious woman.

I expect this will deepen my relationship with Erin in the long run. Her acceptance of this already makes me feel more committed to our marriage. By taking divorce off the table, I feel like we can continue to invest in what we’ve built together.

I feel our relationship has already improved in the past few weeks. We spent a lot of time talking and snuggling today. I feel much happier about our future direction, and I think Erin does too.

In fact, to kick off the New Year, Erin and I have decided to commit to a 30-day trial of 30-60 minutes per day of physical intimacy (sex, massage, cuddling, smooching, etc). We’re normally very affectionate with each other, so we want to see what happens if we turn this into a daily practice for a month. I doubt we’ll blog about it as we go along, but I’m certainly looking forward to this trial. It seems a lot more fun than the ones I did last year. :)

If I don’t go this route, what’s the alternative? The alternative is that we’re back to the original either-or decision. I could stay monogamous with Erin without feeling good about it, or we could get a divorce. Regardless of how a polyamorous relationship model works out, we’re really no worse off than before. Sure there might be some added consequences, but to me the biggest deal right now is the status of our marriage. I’d like to stay married and keep our family together in one household, and I know Erin wants that too.

Being in this state of indecision for so long has held me back in a lot of ways. For example, I didn’t want to grow the business too much because it would complicate things even more if we eventually got a divorce. It sucks to have to think like that, but indecision can’t be so easily compartmentalized. It feels good to move beyond that level of thinking though.

Linear Growth

Looking back I can see that the growth fork (i.e. that prolonged state of indecision) was something I created to keep myself from moving forward because I didn’t feel ready to take the next step.

The next step in my relationship with Erin was to expand beyond sharing an intimate connection with just one person and to learn to create and share that kind of connection with other people too. Deep down I knew that was the truth, but it was a truth I felt unready to face.

Obviously I’ll have to deal with some flak from people who have issues with this new direction. But the more important issue is what will happen to my relationships with Erin and my kids.

Intuitively I sense that it’s time for me to explore other models for intimate relationships and to share what I learn along the way. The comfortable path would be to stay monogamously married and pretend everything is fine as-is. The courageous path is to reach out and attempt to share love and intimacy with more people. The courageous path is the only one with a heart.

Erin and I have basically taken our personal connection about as far as we can on our own. If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we may enjoy some small incremental gains, but it’s doubtful that we’ll experience any major leaps. Without those kinds of growth opportunities, it’s hard for me to get excited about our relationship, and it’s hard for me to feel committed to it.

But the thought of taking the kind of deep connection that Erin and I have built with each other and creating new relationships with other women — now that’s exciting to me. But I wouldn’t just want to talk about it or write about it in a theoretical way. I have to do it. My growth style is experiential.

My heart is excited by all of this. My head needs some time to catch up, but eventually he’ll be on board. I don’t know exactly what I’ll do about this yet, but intuitively I know this is the right direction to go.

Writing about this publicly feels like a good first step. I’m sure the next step will reveal itself soon enough.

Sharing Love

Sharing love and connection is my main motivation for wanting to experience other intimate relationships. It’s not about trying to get something from other people. I don’t feel I’m coming at this from a place of neediness, at least not in the sense that I need something from other people.

What I’m feeling is that I have this massive energy source of love inside me, but I lack the channels to fully express it. I want to let it flow, but all I’m doing is keeping it bottled up. Some of it flows into my relationship with Erin of course, but there’s still more to give.

Sharing emotional intimacy is great, but I’ve felt stunted by my inability to cross the physical intimacy border and take the sharing of love and connection to a much greater level. I think some amazing things will happen by dropping that limitation from my life.

Obviously I can share love through writing, speaking, and talking with people. However, my most natural manner of expressing love is through physical intimacy, especially touch. I give Erin massages all the time. If I see her sitting on the couch, it’s hard for me not to start squeezing her. When we go to bed at night, I usually massage and cuddle her first. Sometimes I play a game to see how much massaging she can handle before she’s so sleepy that she asks me to stop. We also have sex pretty often, especially since I know how to put her into a receptive state. A foot massage always sends her to la-la land. :)

But I still have the capacity to share more attention and affection than Erin can receive. If I give out as much as I feel inclined to give, she eventually starts rejecting it. Consequently, I always have to hold back. Some of this desire for expressing affection gets channeled into my writing, which is a way for me to reach out and connect with lots of people, but since that medium is a mismatch for physical intimacy, I often feel stunted trying to express love through the written word.

Why can’t I just become a massage therapist on the side and touch people all day long? That wouldn’t be appropriate because in my case, sensual touch leads very naturally to sex. I’d have a hard time holding back. Touching, kissing, massage, and sex are all part of the same bundle in my mind.

Physical and emotional intimacy go hand-in-hand with me. I’m not exactly sure why, but it’s hard for me to separate the two. A physically intimate relationship with a woman would make me feel very connected with her, and I’d automatically want to connect with her emotionally as well.

I’ve no idea how easy it will be to follow this path, but at least I know that others have already done it, so hopefully I can learn something from them.

I’d never want to do anything deceptive, so I wouldn’t start a relationship on false premises, like by pretending I’m a single guy. I’d need to find women who could understand my situation without going kittywompus. I have to imagine that somewhere on this planet, there must be other women who are open to exploring physical and emotional intimacy without major hang-ups and possessiveness issues… hopefully ones who like being massaged a lot.

2009

So my main focus for 2009 will be to explore intimate relationships in more depth. I mean that experientially of course. This includes my relationship with Erin as well as creating intimate relationships with other women. I can’t say in advance what the exact nature of those relationships will be because I’ve never done anything like this before. That remains to be seen.

There may be a limit as to how much I can write about this because I’m not going to reveal info about others who might be involved w/o their permission. I may not be a very private person myself, but I respect other people’s desire for privacy. What happens in Vegas… ;)

However, I can certainly open up and write more about relationships in 2009. I’ve learned a lot from my very conscious relationship with Erin. The things we did that brought us so close happened more than a decade ago though, so for the most part these would be pretty old lessons. But I’m sure they’d still benefit a lot of people.

If I had it to do all over again, knowing what I know now, would I still get married? No, I doubt it. The monogamous marriage model doesn’t feel right to me. I love the idea of long-term committed relationships though, but you don’t need marriage for that. I don’t see a compelling reason to get a formal divorce just on principle, but it’s fair to say that my commitment to being in a single monogamous relationship has ended.

I can’t really say where this path will lead, but I’m sure this will be another amazing year of growth and change. I could easily write 10x more about this topic, and I know there are a lot of loose ends I didn’t wrap up, but that will have to be shared later. Most of those loose ends are still loose right now, so at this point I can’t tie everything into a nice neat bundle for you.

Happy New Year! May your 2009 be filled with the discovery of new truths, an expansion of your love, and a strengthening of your power. :)



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