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Suffocating in unsatisfying monogamy?

Rachel is frustrated. On the surface, she has it all. A loving husband of 22 years. Four healthy, well-adjusted children. A close-knit family she adores. A great job she’s excited to wake up for in the morning. A gorgeous home on the water. She’s the envy of everyone around her.

But on the inside, Rachel isn’t fully thriving. She and Noah have sex a couple of times a month – it’s still pretty great after all these years, and she comes every time – but let’s be honest, that’s a lot of years. Aside from a one-off infidelity early on, they have been entirely monogamous for over two decades, and she is done with it. There’s a constant feeling that something is missing. A voice keeps asking: “Is this all there is?” She craves to taste someone new, someone different, something different.

Rachel is a highly sexual, explorative person. She has a high sex drive and a need for erotic novelty and adventure. Before she met Noah, she had fun playing the field for a bit. She even had a threesome (though everyone was drunk, and it’s all a blur, so she’d like a sober re-do, please?) But then she fell in love and decided Noah would make a great partner to settle down and have a family with (she was right). She put her wild fantasies behind her. But denying that crucial part of herself for so long has made her feel a little dead inside. Turning 50 this year made her feel like the clock is ticking and it is time to be fully happy with her sexual life. She wants to expand her horizons with other people.

Noah is not like that. He enjoys sex and finds Rachel really attractive, but he’s perfectly happy with their twice-a-month routine. Noah just doesn’t have the same sex drive that Rachel does, nor does he have her level of sexual adventurousness. He feels nagged by her constant asking for more. He’s all for continuing to throw in the occasional new thing, like when they’ve explored anal, role-play, or sex on the beach, and he’s grateful Rachel has been open to experimenting. But he doesn’t need other people and definitely doesn’t want the complications and difficult emotions other people will bring.

She’s brought up an open relationship in the past, but Noah’s never been receptive to the idea. He doesn’t want to deal with the feelings of jealousy he knows will hit him like a ton of bricks, the sexual health concerns he’ll have to worry about, or the external judgment he’ll have to endure from his more conservative friends and family. And he just can’t shake off this feeling that Rachel’s interest in exploring outside the relationship means that he is somehow not enough or that she’s unsatisfied with him. Not to mention, he’s afraid opening up the relationship could open the door to losing the stability and security their partnership gives them. He loves their life and family and wants nothing to change that.

Rachel doesn’t want to leave either, but she’s feeling more and more stifled. She’s been suppressing her needs and frustration for far too long and can’t do it much longer. She feels like she might even end up cheating, and she really doesn’t want that. But she also doesn’t want to go to her grave without having explored more.

Tried nonmonogamy, and it’s harder than you thought?

Jamal and Tim are exhausted. It feels like they haven’t stopped fighting since they opened their relationship eight months ago. After 13 years and two children together, they thought it’d be easier, but here they are, hurting each other left and right.

They had talked about opening up over the years (nonmonogamy is not exactly taboo in their gay community), but Tim was always too insecure to go through with it. Then they adopted the twins and barely had time for each other for a while. But now that the kids are in school and Tim’s career has taken off, giving him a boost in confidence he never knew before, they decided they were ready.

Except that these first months of openness have proven a total disaster. First, Jamal brought up the possibility of their first threesome at completely the wrong time, place, and with the wrong person, which made Tim feel totally unseen and uncared for. It set the whole opening-up experiment back by over a month.

Then Tim ended up hooking up with someone during a work trip even though they agreed not to play separately until they’ve played together at least once. And to make matters worse, he didn’t tell Jamal about it for months. When they finally managed to have a couple of fun and seemingly uncomplicated threesomes with a mutual friend, Jamal started developing feelings for this younger man and now wants to date him more seriously, essentially turning this open relationship into a polyamorous one. Tim has “freaked out” multiple times and become resentful and angry at his husband – polyamory is not what he signed up for.

Tim’s worst nightmares are coming true. Their connection, sex, intimacy, parenting… basically everything has suffered. They’re both filled with doubt; “Can an open relationship work?” “Could it work for us?” “Are we even meant to be together?”

Single and unsure how to navigate this exciting yet scary life stage?

Alejandra is confused. A few months ago, she left her deeply unsatisfying five-year marriage. She married young, sexually inexperienced, and uninformed – like everyone else in her strict religious community. Her intimate life consisted of an occasional two-minute quickie that brought her much pain and no pleasure whatsoever. She hated sex; things were so bad for a while that she even thought she was asexual. She felt trapped and miserable. But getting divorced was the best decision of her life.

Now newly single, financially stable, and endlessly curious, Alejandra can’t wait to explore everything sensual pleasure has to offer: partners of different races and genders, casual hookups, play parties, group play, domination, submission, anal play, all the kinks, you name it, she wants to try it.

But where does she start? How does she go about it when she knows nothing about sexuality? She’s excited but also anxious and confused. She has a thousand questions: Where to find the right partners? How to communicate her needs and boundaries, keep herself safe, please her partners, treat them well, find a community, and shed the shame she still carries about her desires? And what kind of a relationship does she actually want eventually?

There is no one-size-fits-all when it
comes to sex and relationships.

Our whole lives, we’ve been told there is only one way to live and love: complete, lifelong monogamy. That all other ways, if at all possible, are morally wrong, physically and mentally unhealthy, or simply inferior.

And that, if for some reason, you don’t want or aren’t happy with that one way – if you want more or less than one sexual or romantic partner, then there’s something wrong with you, your partners, or your relationships.

Either endure lifelong repression sacrificing all other desires at the altar of strict monogamy, or jump from one monogamous relationship to another, hoping the next one will be “The One” and will quench all your thirst for the Other.

The Truth is…

There are many ways to love,
and they’re all equally beautiful and valid.

They can all be done in healthy, intentional, ethical ways,
or in unhealthy, unintentional, unethical ways.

The choice is yours.

1320027500Rachel and Noah finally have The Conversation they should’ve had two decades ago. They begin to understand and appreciate each other’s needs and boundaries in ways they never have before. Noah understands that Rachel’s desire to be non-monogamous has nothing to do with her dissatisfaction with him. Rachel understands how potentially threatening to their relationship opening up could be if done haphazardly.

They eventually design an Open-Mono relationship where Rachel gets to explore her curiosities on her own, and Noah is not pressured to do things he’s not interested in (if he changes his mind, he can open up in the future). They set a clear container of boundaries and agreements around Rachel’s explorations, and decide how she’ll communicate her experience with Noah so that she feels fulfilled (even if she can’t get everything she wants right away), and he feels safe and loved enough not to be threatened by them.

Noah’s working with a nonmonogamy-experienced individual therapist to manage his feelings of jealousy and confront his shame about being a “cuckold.” She’s working with me to ensure her explorations are healthy, safe, and pleasurable for everyone involved. They are both finally thriving.

1781936777Jamal and Tim close things down for a few months until they figure out what they’re doing. They spend the first month working with their couple’s therapist and me to clean up the mess they’ve already created and truly understand what they each want and don’t want from each other and other people. They focus on reconnecting with each other and ensuring their relationship is in a good place before they complicate things by opening up again.

They then set better, more explicit boundaries around all aspects of their play with others, both together and separately: Who, what, when, where, how often, how, and how much to share… then compile these together in a Relationship Agreement they both sign. They institute regular bi-monthly relationship check-ins to ensure they stay on track and can course-correct before they stray too far off. And they make a big decision not to pursue any romantic possibilities at this time. They need to ensure they know how to navigate the “open play” realm well before attempting to navigate the “open love” realm. They are happier and more invigorated than ever.

1526094920Alejandra discovers that a strong, committed – though not completely monogamous – primary partnership and family is where she is ultimately headed. But she is in no hurry to get there. She is giving herself at least two years of intentional singledom first. She needs to get to know herself better before she can call in her next love match. And she’s having a blast at it.

She learns through books and online courses what she needs to know about her own and other people’s bodies. She slowly but systematically applies her pleasure anatomy and physiology lessons to her personal experiences as she methodically and mindfully samples the different flavors of erotic pleasure life has to offer. She practices keeping herself and others safe in all of her interactions. She’s connecting to a sex-positive community and slowly undoing the internalized shame she’s carried with her her whole life.

After the initial couple of months of weekly sessions, we now meet twice a month to go over and analyze any relevant events, celebrating her successes and learning from her mistakes. She can’t believe she’s living this life that only a year ago she couldn’t even imagine was possible.

What’s YOUR ideal love life?

Hi, I’m Dr. Zhana.

I’m a relationship consultant, a pleasure advocate, and a dream maker. My life’s mission is to help people make smarter decisions about their sex and love lives and rid the world of mediocre, or worse – toxic – relationships.

I have a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from Cornell University, ten years of teaching Human Sexuality at New York University, 15 years consulting individuals, couples, and polycules of all sizes, and a lifetime of bold, unapologetic, unencumbered explorations into all corners of the worlds of sexuality and romance that few people (especially women) have dared explore.

Our intimate relationships are one of the critical factors determining the health and happiness of our overall lives. And we have a lot of control over them. More control than people have ever had in our long evolutionary history. And more control than we have over most other factors that greatly determine the quality of our lives, health, and happiness: pandemics, wars, global warming, the economy, politics… So let’s exercise that control.

We live in a world of unprecedented opportunities. All our wildest dreams can come true. But we also live in a world of unparalleled risks. All our worst nightmares can also come true.

Luckily, if you’re ready to start making smarter decisions about your sex and love life, science and technology already have a lot of the answers.
You just need to know what your options are.
Find the one that’s right for you given your unique psychological makeup and your life circumstances.
Then develop the skills to do this option well, maximizing pleasure and minimizing harm for everyone involved.
That’s what my science-based LoveSmarter™ Method does for you. It gives you a map of the relationship landscape, a compass to orient yourself, a GPS to provide step-by-step directions to get you where you’re going, and a toolkit to develop the skills you need to navigate your journey safely.

Learn more about the LoveSmarter™ Method, and stop letting fear get in the way of your best life.

*Names and stories are composite narratives and do not reflect actual clients.

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