What does monogamy mean to you and your partner? Sometimes a couple will have a different definition of what monogamy is and that miscommunication can lead to problems in your relationship and today we’re talking about that and a whole lot more. This week, our guest is Dr. Tammy Nelson, she is an AASECT certified Sex Therapist, and she’s also a Licensed Psychotherapist, with almost 30 years of experience working with individuals and couples. Tammy, also offers training for therapists who are working with couples around these issues is the author of The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity. Her work will help you heal and rebuild if you’ve experienced betrayal in your relationship, and it will also help strengthen your bond if you’re simply looking to create an even more robust version of monogamy that really works for you, and your partner.
As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!
Visit Tammy Nelson’s website to learn more about her work.
Pick up your copy of Tammy Nelson’s book, The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity
FREE Relationship Communication Secrets Guide – perfect help for handling conflict and shifting the codependent patterns in your relationship
Guide to Understanding Your Needs (and Your Partner’s Needs) in Your Relationship (ALSO FREE)
Visit www.neilsattin.com/tammy to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Tammy Nelson.
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Neil Sattin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. Recently in episode 167, we talked about how to keep assumptions from eroding your relationship, it’s crucial for you to take all those implicit ideas about what it means to be in partnership, the things you’re assuming that you and your partner agree on, and to make them explicit, actual conversations and agreements that you share with your partner. And there’s no place where this matters more than in defining what monogamy actually means to each of you. It turns out that there are a lot of nuances to something that on its surface, sounds as simple as forsaking all others, and if you don’t take the time to talk about it, those assumptions and nuances can spell trouble for your relationship.
Neil Sattin: On the flip side, if you do talk about it, there’s a ton of energy that it can create for you. That energy is the energy of being in integrity, diving into truly uncover your deep truths about what you want and what monogamy means to you, and what it also means to your partner and what your partner’s deep truths are, and then living in that truth with each other. Sometimes though, before you have a chance to do that, some sort of betrayal happens in your relationship, where either your implicit or explicit agreements get violated. Today, we’re not only going to be talking about how to help you create the version of monogamy that truly works for you in your relationship, but we’re also going to talk about how to heal from an affair, and how having infidelity rock your relationship can actually create an opportunity for an even deeper, more rich connection with your partner, if you’re willing to do the work.
Neil Sattin: Today’s guest, Dr. Tammy Nelson, is the author of The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity. She’s also the author of Getting the Sex You Want. Tammy Nelson is an AASECT certified Sex Therapist, and she’s also a Licensed Psychotherapist, with almost 30 years of experience working with individuals and couples. Tammy, also offers training for therapists who are working with couples around these issues. Her work will help you heal and rebuild if you’ve experienced betrayal in your relationship, and it will also help strengthen your bond if you’re simply looking to create an even more robust version of monogamy that really works for you, and your partner. As usual, we will have a detailed transcript for today’s episode, just visit neilsattin.com/tammy, T-A-M-M-Y to download it. Or you can text the word Passion to the number 33444 and follow the instructions. Tammy Nelson, thank you so much for joining us today, here on Relationship Alive.
Tammy Nelson: Thanks, Neil. Thanks so much for having me.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, it’s a total pleasure to have you here. And I have to say that, as I was reading The New Monogamy, I couldn’t help but think, wow, imagine the power if a couple went through all of these exercises around defining monogamy when they were first committing to each other.
Tammy Nelson: Yeah, I agree. Or at any point in the relationship. I always find it fascinating that we renew our driver’s license every two years, but we have this assumption that we can go on like a one-time promise at the beginning of our relationship, around whatever our monogamy agreement is and that’s supposed to last forever. It’s kind of like saying, “Well, I told you I loved you when I married you, so I’ll let you know if I change my mind.” And that should suffice. [laughter]
Neil Sattin: Right. And clearly, it doesn’t. Clearly, it doesn’t.
Tammy Nelson: Clearly.
Neil Sattin: We’re growing as people the entire time, hopefully, that we’re with our partners, and that growth necessitates being willing to talk to each other about what’s changing, what’s developing and how that’s impacting how we’re showing up in the relationship.
Tammy Nelson: Oh, absolutely. And our relationships themselves develop over time. So, we go through our early phase of romantic love. And then you basically go into the power struggle of your relationship, which lasts forever, for the rest of your marriage, or the rest of your committed partnership, and that’s totally normal.
Tammy Nelson: What isn’t so common is for people to understand that there is a new conversation that happens in every phase of your development as a person, but also as your relationship develops. If you make a commitment to each other during your romantic phase, that’s going to be different than maybe you have kids and the kids are little, or when the kids get older or when the kids leave for college. Or when you go through what I call your own second adolescence, which is usually a time in middle age, when we get really interested in our sexuality again, and we’re a little insecure about our bodies, but we’re super interested in this new individuation phase, where we kind of redo our adolescence and we want to sort of do over the things that we might have not gotten right in the first adolescence, but now we’re grown-ups. [chuckle] And all those times when we want to have a conversation even well into our 80s and 90s, with Levitra and Viagra and Cialis and even joint replacements, there’s an expectation that we’re going to be sexual for the rest of our lives, and either we’re going to do it together or we’re going to find a way to figure that out for ourselves.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. And let’s just get it all out on the table right now as well. When you’re talking about the new monogamy, and I like this because here on the show, we’ve talked a lot about how we’re having relationships in ways that are different than how our parents did or how our grandparents did. And generally, when we talk about that, what we mean is we know so much more about how to be successful in monogamous relationships. So the way that societal and cultural norms kind of kept the boat steady for prior generations except that in many cases it didn’t and it actually failed those people, at least that was the case with my parents. Then, right now we’re talking about new ways of being really intentional about the relationships that we get into so that we’re prepared for the storms that may come our way. But that being said, on top of that I think in this book, you’re adding the additional possibility here that monogamy may be evolving into something totally new and it’s a way of entering that conversation. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Tammy Nelson: Yeah. I agree with it. And I really believe that with the hundreds and hundreds of couples that I’ve seen and the people that I’ve talked to all over the globe, it’s not just America, I think because we’re all living such long lives. It used to be, 200 years ago, we live to be an average of 38 years old and you were married like maybe 15 years. By the time you got bored, you were dead.
Tammy Nelson: And so now, you’re supposed to live with the same person for a half a century or more, and only desire that person, which is virtually impossible. 98% of us have fantasies of someone other than our spouse, which pretty much means everyone except my husband.
Tammy Nelson: And I think that monogamy has developed into something that has to sort of keep up with our new lifestyle, and yet we’re still going on this old idea that we were living on 200 years ago, that monogamy means certain things, and if we get it wrong, then we fail. And so there’s a lot of shame around and guilt around, around marriage and around divorce and around infidelity and pornography and all the ways that we’ve kinda tried to cope with this long stretch of relationship life. And so now, I think people are creating new and more unique ways to not just cope, but to create sustainable and more healthy and joyful relationships. And so they’re realizing they can’t do it the way their parents did it or their grandparents did it because it’s not going to work for them. And they don’t necessarily want to get divorced and they don’t necessarily want to cheat, they don’t want to lie, they don’t want to be dishonest. I really think that the way to have a sustainable relationship is to live in some kind of integrity because we’re not necessarily faithful to another person. We’re faithful to our own values.
Tammy Nelson: And so, that’s true for everyone. And so if your value is to live in some kind of integrity, which basically means I want to feel like I can keep my promises, like, I’m not going to lie, I’m going to be a good person, whatever that is, for me. Then we have to redefine what it means to be living in integrity, and integrity, basically means I have to align myself with what it means to be faithful, and if being faithful to my own values means we have to create a conversation around what our values are so that we’re not constantly disappointing each other, then monogamy has to look like a conversation, an agreement where we create that definition. It’s not the definition of the past because we’re going to fail at that. 50% of people get divorced, more than that cheat, so statistically it’s bad odds.
Neil Sattin: Right. And what I love about your book, The New monogamy, is that it has some really great questions and it also coaches you the reader on a dialogue process for navigating those questions. But it has some great questions that help tease apart all these different aspects of what it means to be committed, what it means to be faithful so that you can know yourself and your partner way better than you would if you were just assuming that you knew the answers to these questions. And through doing that, I think it’s really crucial in order to bring yourself into the kind of alignment and integrity that you’re talking about right now.
Tammy Nelson: Yeah. And I think that those questions and the answers may change over time, which is why they get to revisit it, but I think just asking each other those questions and talking about your own answers, creates this really nice intimacy. Intimacy is like into me see, like how transparent can we be with each other around what we truly want, because we can pretend to the that this is all we want, we’re just going to live together until we die, and we’ll never think about anyone else and never want anybody else, and never want anything else, and you’re perfect just the way you are. And then live this other compartmentalized life with our real desires and our real fantasies, and never feel like we’re living in integrity, never feel like we’re integrated as a person. Never feel like we could be totally transparent with our partner about who we are.
Tammy Nelson: And I’m not saying that you’re going to always want to be with someone else and that you should be in an open marriage, although for some people that might be true, but for other people it might just be; I really want to have lunch with my co-workers every week, and be able to talk about whatever I want without feeling like you’re always worried I’m in an emotional affair. Or I want to have a private masturbatory life and not feel like I’m keeping it a secret. Some people walk in on their partner masturbating to porn and feel like you’re cheating on me and the other person feels like, are you kidding? I’ve been doing this since I was 10. This is my life.
Neil Sattin: Right, right.
Tammy Nelson: And those are conversations that should be included in your monogamy agreement.
Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. Well, in that there are so many things that are really interesting to me, and I’m not quite sure where to go next.
Neil Sattin: But alright. So let’s dive in here. First, one thing that I just felt for myself is like, wow, what a risk to take a topic like infidelity and to combine that with this idea that… Well, maybe one thing that we need to start talking about is loosening our definition of monogamy. And I think that for someone who is really still in a lot of pain from a betrayal, that might be a challenging thing to wrap their brain around at that moment. So how do you guide people into seeing; yes, you’re dealing with a major trauma right now, and all that that requires. And then like… But on the other side of that, hopefully, you can experience that this is potentially a real breakthrough moment for your conversation about your relationship and what’s actually possible.
Neil Sattin: And I just want to say, too, for people listening, even on the other end of that, it could be an agreement that we are… I’m not implying that on the other side of that is an open relationship of some sort, where one or both people now have permission to sleep with other people, and so now you’re not cheating magically because we have this agreement. That could be there, but you could end up in a space where, no, actually we’ve gotten really clear on how we just want to be with each other and end up there. So, I’m curious for you, how do you navigate the tenderness, around this, is a major trauma and there are some bigger pieces going on here, that are important for you to be thinking about.
Tammy Nelson: Well, there’s three phases of recovery after an affair. So there is the crisis phase, which is, as you said, a very tender time of, where there’s been disclosure or discovery and people are quite distraught, and the person who finds out about the affair is always lagging, behind because the other person who had the affair has known about it for a while. It’s going to take a while for that person to catch up and whose just finding out, and the trains are on different tracks and one person’s always ahead in the recovery process. A lot has to be decided in that time, about how that is going to be worked through. But you don’t have to decide if you’re going to stay or go during that time, that’s not the time to decide if you’re going to make things work. Because eventually, you do… If you go into therapy and you read the book and you really want to work through to the next phase which is like the insight phase.
Tammy Nelson: The insight phase is where you figure out, how did this happen? And what is this affair or what does this infidelity mean about us, and how did we get here? And you know you’re in that phase when you say things like, “This affair happened to us,” instead of, “You did this to me.” And you don’t blame the victim. It’s not like, “I know I deserve this. I made you do this to me.” But it is a shared experience with some curiosity about the meaning of the affair. And then you go into the third phase, when you’ve done a lot of discovery and then you decide, are we going to make this work? But I’ll be honest, you can never go back to the marriage or the committed partnership that you had before the affair because that monogamy is over. People know when they have an affair, you don’t fall into bed with somebody. You know when you cross that line that you’re breaking your monogamy agreement, so you have to draw a line in the sand and say, “Okay that’s over. We can’t go back to that.” If you try to go back, it’s going to happen again.
Tammy Nelson: And so, you both have to grieve that this was not the vision we had of how this relationship was going to turn out. And then, and only then, do you decide okay we could have a new monogamy together or we could break up and do it with someone else. But if we’re going to do it together, it can’t look like the old monogamy, because that didn’t work. So our only choice is to discover together what we want going forward in this new relationship, and it’s gotta be something that you agree on together. You may not agree on every single point, and certainly, an open marriage is not an excuse to continue an affair. So you might want to start with small things like, is it okay to send pictures of ourselves to our friends on social media? How much should you text? And should you share each other’s passwords? And there’s a lot of steps in between fantasizing and open marriage. Monogamy is a continuum. And so there’s a lot of things that have to happen before you have that ultimate conversation about whether or not you even want a new monogamy together.
Neil Sattin: Tammy, before we continue, I have to go meta for a moment because I’m noticing a lot of that scratchy sound again.
Tammy Nelson: Oh okay.
Neil Sattin: And I’m just wondering if we can figure out quickly… Okay, so diving back in.
Tammy Nelson: Yeah.
Neil Sattin: I appreciate that you broke it out into these separate phases, and it would seem like when you’re in that tender spot at the beginning, that’s a time when you’re trying to shore up the safety of a couple so that the immediate danger is not there. So that probably wouldn’t be a good time for the affair person; the person who had the affair to say, “Well maybe we should just have an open relationship, and then what I did won’t be considered cheating anymore.”
Neil Sattin: What are some ways to help couples, once they’ve never navigated the tenderness phase, to develop that understanding that you’re talking about? Because that does seem so crucial for both people to understand each other, and to start to get that sense of how they co-created the dynamic that led to one or both people having an affair?
Tammy Nelson: Well, I think in that first phase of the crisis, one of the biggest struggles that people have, is not so much safety but trust. Because what happens is you kind of get to this place where you realize I’m never ever going to be safe with this other person again. You go from this naïvety about love being, I’m never going be hurt by this person to realizing that that risk of being in a grown-up relationship is knowing that another person could always hurt you, and choosing to love them anyway. And that’s painful.
Tammy Nelson: And knowing that relationships are a choice, knowing that you’re going to get hurt because that’s what love is. And that knowing also that trust is not about trusting the other person. Trust is about now learning to trust your own intuition, again. Because most people aren’t really mad at the other person so much as they’re mad at themselves. How could I have trusted you? How could I not have known? How could I have ignored my intuition? Why didn’t I listen to my inner voice or I did listen to my inner voice, but I chose to ignore it because it was easier for me because the kids were little or it was more convenient, or I didn’t want to believe that about myself, that I would actually stay with someone who was cheating on me. There’s a lot that happens in the damage to your own belief and your intuition, and you have to learn the difference between your intuition and your fear.
Tammy Nelson: And that’s a turning point when people put the onus on themselves and realize, you can jump through all the hoops I set for you. You have to come home at a certain time. You have to give me your password. I have to have access to your email, you have to tell me you love me 10 times a day. You have to tell me all the details of what happened. We have to have these conversations three times a day. People can do that but it doesn’t change the level of trust, because the trust issue is internal. And once people can shift that onus onto themselves, then they’re ready to move into that insight phase where they can talk about perhaps what was happening before the affair.
Neil Sattin: Great, great. And before we go there then, I love how you brought that up. It was something that really struck me in your book, is that distinction between whether you’re experiencing your intuition or your fear, and how much our fear can be misinterpreted as intuition because that primal part of our brain is trying to protect us from some pain.
Tammy Nelson: Exactly. Exactly.
Neil Sattin: Perhaps could you offer our listeners a way that they could maybe start to discern between the two, fear versus intuition?
Tammy Nelson: Yeah. I think it’s such an important part for everyone to discover in themselves. Part of an affair is it’s not so much about the affair partner; with all due respect to the third party, but it’s who you become when you’re in that affair. You discover this whole other part of yourself, that you long for or that you miss or that you want to discover and… But I think one of the things we don’t talk about too much, is that the person who has been cheated on also discovers a part of themselves. When the affair has been disclosed and they’re going through the pain of the recovery, they discover a new part of themselves, and one of those parts of themselves is a deeper understanding, a deeper listening, a deeper mindfulness or awareness of what is going on inside? Of what fears do they have. And being able to really listen closely to that inner voice that says, “What do you mean you’re coming home late? Does that mean you’re still cheating on me or does that mean you’re just nervous to tell me you’re coming home late and that’s why you sound weird?” To really discover that part of yourself, that has that inner strength to know that you will always be able to trust yourself, you will always be able to listen to that voice and be able to discern. And that integrity, that integration of those parts of yourself, means that you will always feel strong, regardless of whether or not that other person lives in integrity, and that is a huge shift.
Neil Sattin: So what are some signs that you’re in your knowing versus being in your fear?
Tammy Nelson: I think that’s a shift into the second phase, which is recognizing your stories, the stories you make up. So one of the exercises I have couples do is talk about the story I make up about the affair and what it meant about me, and the story I make up about what the affair meant about you, and the story I make up about what the affair meant about us. And I have both partners or if there are more than two partners in the office, I have everyone talk about those stories that they make up, and I certainly have stories about what the affair meant as well, as the therapist. But once people can talk about those stories and what they mean. They’re always connected to our own childhood, our own beliefs about ourselves, our own fears. And when you do that, you start to see that your story is totally different than your partner’s story.
Tammy Nelson: For instance, I had a couple today, where she said that the story she made up, about his affair… He had an affair with another man. And she said, “Well, obviously it means you’re gay, and you’re never going to want to have sex with me, again, and I’ve never made you happy.” And the story he made up was, “I’m just a very sexually curious person, and I don’t identify as gay, maybe I’m bi, maybe I’m just curious, but what I make up about me is that maybe I won’t ever be satisfied. But I still love you and I consider you my partner.”
Tammy Nelson: And she said, the story she made up, about what it meant about her is that, she went back to a time in her childhood where she was never good enough, her parents criticized her perpetually, she didn’t play the violin well enough, she didn’t get good enough grades, she didn’t clean the kitchen well enough, and it was like the story again about she would never be good enough. She would never compete with a man. And so once again she was never good enough. And he said the story he made up about what it meant about her, was that she was so loving and so caring about him as a person, that she was allowing him to have this freedom to explore who he was, and that’s not what had happened to him as a child. He wanted to play sports and his parents wanted him to go to science camp. And he said he never felt so in love with her. And she just fell apart. She just bawled in the office and cried because, for her, she didn’t see it as a sign of their love. She saw it as a sign of her inadequacy. And so they could have a… Whether either of those stories was true or not, is irrelevant. The fact that it opened a conversation and a dialogue between them, that can last for weeks or months.
Neil Sattin: Right. And you talk about and encourage people to have regular dialogues, where they’re structuring it in imago dialogue fashion. And we did have hard and have Harville Hendrix and Helen Lakelly Hunt on the show, back in episode 22 to talk about the imago process. So we don’t have to go into that here. Though, I will say that one thing that’s really great about your book among many things, is that you offer some great prompts for those structured dialogues, that help people get at the nuances of what was going on when an affair happened, and the stories that people were telling themselves about themselves and about each other in those moments.
Tammy Nelson: Yeah, thanks. I think it’s easier sometimes to have a little bit of structure. Otherwise, we go down a rabbit hole with our stories. Well, you didn’t love me, you just did this to hurt me. You don’t care about me. You are a narcissist. You didn’t pay enough attention to me. We didn’t have good enough sex. All those old stories of critical voices and inadequacies and our own self-hatred basically. Instead of approaching it with a little bit of curiosity, and being able to really hear each other, which is hard.
Neil Sattin: Right. And the Imago dialogues, more or less force you to do that.
Neil Sattin: To really actually hear the other person and do your best to understand them. One thing that stood out for me in terms of that discerning between fear and knowing that you talked about in the book, was that when you’re in your intuition, when you have a truth, and you have people go through a process, it’s like a mindfulness process of getting really quiet, and then putting a question into that quiet space to see what arises. And you talk about if you’re in your fear, you’ll actually feel fear, like signs of fear happening in your body, whereas when you’re in your knowing, that brings with it a sense of calmness. Or when I went through it myself, I experienced it as more like a solidity, that I would have called it almost the antidote to fear for myself. Yeah.
Tammy Nelson: I think that’s very true. I think most of us spend a lot of our time in our heads. If you’re an analytical person or an intellectual person, that sort of can be a defense against your feelings. If you feel an intense emotional reaction to something, sometimes you’ll go into your head, but underneath your head and all those monkey brain kind of thoughts are perhaps real feelings, and then underneath the feelings, if the feelings are overwhelming, is your intuition. So all those places are telling you something. Your thoughts, you have a story, and then you have your emotions, and then under that much deeper are the things that you actually know. And sometimes we can’t hear them because our feelings or our head is too loud. [chuckle]
Neil Sattin: Yeah. The question that popped up for me when you were talking about how often we did know or we may have known that something was going on, or something that wasn’t right, is something that we use in our relationship and with our clients, it’s, “What do you know that you’re pretending not to know?” Which hopefully helps people unearth those layers of like, “Oh yeah, beneath all of that, if I’m willing to let myself go there, this is what I actually know to be true.”
Tammy Nelson: Yeah. That’s a great one. That’s really important.
Neil Sattin: Now, there was something that I found a little confusing and I’m hoping that you can clear it up for me. I love that you talk about exits, and that’s a topic that’s come up on the show several times. And how people… How we have these strategies that take us away from our partners, away from intimacy, away from our vulnerability. And then I think where it gets confusing, is as we think about what it is that we want and what it is that we desire, and particularly where this circles back onto the conversation, of, “Well maybe I desire to have some freedom in this relationship to be with other people. How do you discern the difference between something being an exit versus… Oh, that would actually be a healthy choice for me and for us, in our relationship.
Tammy Nelson: I think that’s a good question. I think there’s a difference between being conflict avoidant and living in your own truth. Your honesty is like your true north. So, that’s different than turning around and walking north to avoid your conflict in your relationship.
Tammy Nelson: So we all do things to avoid what’s uncomfortable. Some people are more conflict avoidant than others. Some people are more minimizers or more withholders like they’d create space around themselves, to avoid conflict because they don’t want to fight, and that makes total sense. That makes good sense, particularly if you’ve had a background where there’s been a lot of fighting. And other people are pursuers and they’re maximizers, and they get loud or more intense and pursue their partner because they feel abandoned, they feel like you’re not listening to me, you’re not hearing me, you’re not taking my feeling seriously. And so that’s the thing that sets up that pursuer-distancer relationship.
Neil Sattin: Right.
Tammy Nelson: But even pursuers have exits, they have ways of avoiding real intimacy and real transparency. And for most couples, it’s really hard to sit, to sit with the uncomfortable stuff, to sit and be true. The longer you’re together, you would think it would be easier to share what you really want, to share your true fantasies, your true desires to say, “Let’s try something new.” You think it’d be easier because you’re more comfortable, you’re safer. But just because you’re safer doesn’t mean you trust each other. You actually have more to lose the longer you’re together, so you might feel like it’s harder to take risks, to start making changes because you don’t want to disrupt the safety of your relationship, you don’t want your partner to change their feelings about you. And one of the things that shut down in a long term relationship is curiosity. We put our partners in a box and we’re like, “Yeah, I know them, I know what they like. They wouldn’t be into that and there’s no way they could take it and they’re too jealous, or they don’t like that kind of sex, or they couldn’t handle it if we did that.” That kind of boxing your partner in is the opposite of love. We fall in love with someone when they’re curious about us. When they say, “Oh tell me about you and what do you like and where did you go to school and what turns you on?” And I mean that’s why we go to therapy.
Tammy Nelson: So someone is curious about us for an hour. But that’s also why we end up having affairs because we meet someone who is curious about us and we get sucked into that attention and it feels really good in the beginning. It’s really exciting.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. I think that’s helping me focus this question a little bit more, which is how do you know as you are entertaining thoughts of like, “Oh, maybe we should be entertaining thoughts of other people on some level, maybe that would be good for us or maybe that’s my true north.” Yeah, I’m having trouble articulating this. I’m holding that up against the notion that, let’s say, if we’re going to be in a closed monogamous situation, so it’s just you and me forever, which is, I think, at least implicitly, what most people are choosing when they’re choosing to be monogamous with someone. And they may find after they’ve gone through the questionnaire in your book, like, “Oh there’s actually more nuances to that than I thought.” So I invite you, listening to go through the questions in the questionnaire. They’re very insightful and evocative. However, choosing closed monogamy is a difficult predicament, that brings with it the questions of how are we going to handle the inevitable humanity that exists in us when we are attracted to another person. And I think where the line gets blurry, is someone might think, “Oh, well, this is because, and there are certainly some people and authors who are making this argument, this is because monogamy is a bad choice. Like closed monogamy is just stupid.”
Neil Sattin: “And what we should really be doing is figuring out how to be safe with each other, while we allow ourselves to be human and experience other people.” Other people might say, “Well, that’s part of the whole project.” As soon as you’re entertaining other people then you are potentially jeopardizing the whole safety of your container with your relationship and that can create huge problems for your deepening intimacy. And I’m not monogamous relationship. So it’s really the higher level question of, yeah, how do we know what’s right for us in the middle of that? because there it seems like there’s no right answer really.
Tammy Nelson: Well, I think it’s a great question and I think that it goes to this idea of some researchers who say that we’re not born to be monogamous. Humans biologically are not really monogamous. And I would argue that fact and say, we’re not born knowing how to eat with a fork either.
Tammy Nelson: But we can learn. We are higher primates and we have a prefrontal cortex, we can choose. And that’s the fundamental issue, is that you have a choice and so yes, you can choose any kind of monogamy you want. And the issue is that you have to choose it every day like it doesn’t just happen with a one-time decision, it’s a choice that you make every day and you might have to modify. But it is something that you choose and give to your partner. It’s a commitment, it’s like a sacred commitment like yoga or meditation, that you give to yourself because it’s something you value if you value the freedom to choose and be with different people. Because that to you helps you express different parts of yourself, then you’re never going to feel good about your partner or yourself if you don’t do that, and that’s a different choice. And you have to honor that choice. But one of the ways you can figure that out, and I can tell you the secret to having that conversation with your partner, is you’re never going to change your sex life, or your relationship life, by saying, “I hate it when you go to the left,” you say, “I really love it when you go to the right.”
Tammy Nelson: And because the secret to the universe is you always get more of what you appreciate. Our tendency is to point out what’s not working, and to criticize our partner or criticize the structure of our relationship, or to go to therapy and say, “Just change them and we’ll be fine.” And the idea is to really point out what is working, what you do appreciate, what you do like, what you want more of. So to expand on what’s already working, and then, and only then, talk about what you want to try. Because if you start off saying, “Look, I think we should open our relationship,” it automatically creates a fear in your partner if they are not on the same track. And even if they are on the same track, the threat that it might create for someone who isn’t normally in that same mode as you happens because it creates a hole in the implicit assumptions that you’ve already made. But if you start off with; I really love the times that we can joke together about how attracted we are to other people, I really love the times that we’ve been able to watch pornography together, instead of hiding it. I really love the times when I’ve seen you dance with other people, it’s really exciting for me. To be able to share some of the ways that you’ve already done it in maybe simple ways that were good for your relationship.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. And you talk about how appreciation is even one of the key areas that you need to address in terms of what may have caused an affair to happen in the first place. The kind of communication that was happening in a relationship, the kinds of appreciations that were being shared, and then, of course, the question of what was happening in the bedroom with you as a couple.
Tammy Nelson: Yeah. I think we have to go beyond this idea of forgiveness as the goal after an affair, and you really have to work on erotic recovery or else that another person is still going to be in bed with you like this is an erotic injury. And so you have to work on a new erotic life together. If you don’t, then you’re both going to feel somewhat disappointed and stuck, and there’s no impetus to making a new relationship between you work. You need some kind of a new vision for what this new relationship between you is going to be. And if it’s not hot and sexy then you’re not going to be excited about it.
Neil Sattin: Yeah. So take us on the first step or two of erotic recovery and what’s required for a couple who has gotten through the crisis phase, has developed some understanding of what led to what happened, have explored these questions of creating a new vision and what’s okay and what isn’t, and really gone deep on that. So now they’re really communicating with each other about what they’re looking for and understanding each other better. Yeah, how do we take that further into erotic recovery?
Tammy Nelson: Well, what I would tell all my clients, and all your listeners, is to create a sex date once a week. And to do it the same time every week, same day and to show up whether you feel like it or not, whether you’re mad at each other, whether there’s something better on Netflix, whether you have a headache or you ate too much, or you feel gassy or you drank too much wine. And you show up, say, it’s every Thursday night, at 9 o’clock, and you show up and you light the candles and you turn on the music and you create an intimate erotic date. You don’t have to have intercourse. It doesn’t have to be any specific kind of sex, depending on if you’re same-sex or trans-sex or whatever, that kind of specificity is not necessary. But the idea is to have something that’s a sacred dedicated time to your erotic life. All the other time of the week can be for your companionship, it could be like; who’s walking the dog and who’s picking up the pizza, and who’s paying the mortgage. But there is something truly important and sacred about your erotic life that makes you feel like you’re in love. All the other time is about loving each other and caring and supporting. But if you don’t have that erotic time, you’re not going to feel in love. And a lot of people react by, “But that’s not spontaneous.”
Tammy Nelson: And I want to say, you can be as spontaneous as you want, if you plan it, even when you were dating, you kind of planned it, you knew when you were going to see each other, and you wore nice underwear and you shaved and you… It was a plan.
Neil Sattin: Right.
Tammy Nelson: I think what people are worried about is it’s not going to be impulsive. And if you want to come home and sweep the dishes off the kitchen table and say, “Take me now”, then do it, but still keep your Thursday night at 9 o’clock, as something that’s like your sacred practice for each other. And then you can practice other things during that time but if you don’t have that commitment, then when are you going to commit?
Neil Sattin: And this is a great example of why I think the process in The New Monogamy is so helpful for anyone, even if you’re not recovering from infidelity, going through the process of figuring out who you really are, what you really want, who your partner is, greater understanding. And having a regular date-night where you’re there in the bedroom, or maybe occasionally in the kitchen or wherever.
Neil Sattin: That how important that is to just be prioritizing feeding that energy into your relationship.
Tammy Nelson: Exactly.
Neil Sattin: So yeah. So whether you’re recovering from infidelity or not, I think that’s such a valuable practice. And you do outline in the book, like six week, six weeks of erotic nights once a week, and kind of a step-by-step that takes people through an experience that I think would alleviate some of the pressure of what we’re showing up and now what we’re supposed to have sex with each other, like, what do we do? Yeah. So maybe could you talk about that a moment? And then we probably gotta go.
Tammy Nelson: Yeah sure. And if your listeners want me to send them a protocol for like six weeks of sex dates, I’m happy to do that, if they want to contact me directly.
Neil Sattin: Awesome.
Tammy Nelson: because the six weeks of erotic dates I think is important, particularly for people who haven’t had sex for a while, or are finding it difficult to get back into or really need some time to remember and re-integrate what it means to really receive pleasure and to give pleasure. That it’s not about getting to the finish line, which is usually the male orgasm and if you can’t get there we’ll give you a pill, which I have nothing against. But the idea is to redefine what intimacy means and to remember what it feels like to experience pleasure with this other person at the moment, to be really mindful about it and to also change what it feels like. Because there’s a lot of stuff that gets stuck in your habits and patterns around sex and your communication, that you definitely have to change. So you don’t get triggered by thoughts around an affair or boredom, or the story that you make up. We’re creating a new story. And so you can do that over six weeks, with these exercises, and at the end, things will be different. It’s absolutely possible.
Neil Sattin: Great. So people should reach out to you through your website, which is…
Tammy Nelson: http://Www.drtammynelson.com.
Neil Sattin: Great. And we will have links to that in our transcript. So for those of you who don’t remember that, you can just check out the transcript. Which again, you can download at neilsattin.com/tammy T-A-M-M-Y or by texting the word Passion to the number 33444. Tammy Nelson, thank you so much for your time, your wisdom and I think your optimism about what we’re capable of, and I really appreciate your being here with us today to share your strategies on how to build stronger and more modern monogamous connections.
Tammy Nelson: Thanks, Neil, I really had fun with you, I appreciate being on your show.
Neil Sattin: You are most welcome.