Author Archives: Bannigan McDade

The Role of Commitment in the Now.

About 4 or 5 months ago, I started listening to Adyashanti. At one of his recent Satsangs in Oakland, he spoke at length on relationships, and the central theme I gleaned was that relationships are constant change. The key to relationships is to not resist their dynamic nature, but to fully accept it.
I did not manage to ask the question that was smoldering in my mind, as I consider his words against the backdrop of my impending marriage. “Given the desire to always stay present to the moment, what is the role of commitment in our lives and relationships?”
Since then, I’ve asked this question to friends and other teachers in my life, and received a variety of answers. I’d be interested to hear yours…

I now believe that commitments inform our decisions in the moment. A commitment given stays in the present with us, until it is fulfilled or released. Promises broaden our spectrum of sensitivity to touch all who would be affected by a breach. When given with full clarity and volition, promises can be powerful lifelines of mutual support.

Even small commitments have power. This is part of why we seek out workout partners, friends to quit cigarettes or do cleanses with, and join writing groups.

The truth is, we create an energetic breach within ourselves when we break our word, even if the commitment was to ourselves. If we do it often, we may not even feel it, but it is there. Our very words have lost power.
This energy breach is not the same as feeling guilt or shame. Those are separate reactions that may cause further energy loss.

And there are times when a commitment needs to be broken, or is broken inadvertently. This happens often when we are caught in traffic and end up arriving “late.” Then there are techniques for minimizing the energy loss, which consist primarily of self-reflection, while avoiding self-recrimination, combined with making amends with any others affected, if necessary.

Then there are the big commitments. As I mentioned, I am getting married soon, which brings about all kinds of reflection on the nature of commitment.

In my relationship, there have been times when the only thing left holding me to my partner was my commitment. It was my given word that was strong enough to see me through some very dark moments in which I could not see my own demons were controlling me without my permission. It was my promise that held me until enough light was shed to give me a choice of how to act. And when the time came to make the choice, I no longer needed the strength of my commitment to see what was right for me. But it is good to know the strength it holds, and that I have it to rely on should I have need again.

Writing this piece has made me reflect on one area where I am not as strong in my integrity, and that is with my commitments to myself, or with my commitments which I think only affect me. I am beginning to see that those are, perhaps, the most important commitments, and that the rest build from there. Yet I know that for myself, those are the easiest to breach. Hrmph, that sucks. 😛

You might be wondering what this has to do with open relationships specifically, or, more likely, you’ve figured it out.

Perhaps ironically, open relationships often demand even more integrity than traditional monogamous relationships. Without the somewhat shared understanding of what is and isn’t okay offered by the established paradigm of relationship dogma, participants in an open relationship are left to define their own boundaries, and maintain them. This takes a high level of self-knowledge, personal integrity, and mutual trust that can take time to develop. All these things are demanded by monogamous relationships too, of course, but open relationships can offer something of a crash course, simply because of the high stakes and big stick that Lord and Lady Jealousy play with, and because of the lack of elders and community support so many in the less charted waters find. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help!

Much love,
Bannigan


Exploring openness in relationships

A woman was explaining how she and her partner both felt free to express their attractions for others, and how great it felt compared to previous relationships where that would have been taboo.

My friend, knowing I couldn’t help but overhear from where I was sitting beside them, invited me into the conversation, asking me about my relationship. I described my relationship as similar… except that sometimes we acted on those attractions.

“Oh, you’re in an open relationship.” Was the woman’s reply. She then started to defend her relationship’s boundaries, explaining that neither of them actually would act on their attractions even if it were totally okay with the other.

Because they simply didn’t feel the need.

I told her how great that was and exited the conversation as quickly as courtesy allowed, not exactly sure why I felt affronted.

Even within the relatively funky and open-minded communities that I run in, it is hard to find many people who, upon learning that my partner and I are not 100% sexually exclusive, don’t begin explaining their own preference for monogamy with some degree of defensiveness.

On the other hand, because my partner and I do have specific and occasionally shifting boundaries that we maintain, I’ve had my relationship called “not really open” by a friend who’s part of an open relationship community in San Francisco.

Open or closed, polyamorous or monogamous, all relationships lie somewhere on the spectrum of sexual openness, with the extremes of absolute exclusivity and complete openness extremely rare, if even imaginable.

There are relationships where one partner is so possessed they must never show any skin in public. There are relationships where it is not okay to spend time with friends of the opposite sex without the pretext of a party or work. There are relationships where it is only okay to speak of attractions towards celebrities, but never towards people who might actually be within reach. There are relationships where it is okay to express attraction to friends and mutual acquaintances, but never physically act on them. There are relationships where anything goes, so long as safety is taken into consideration and neither partner expresses feelings of hesitance. And there are relationships on every point of the spectrum in between and beyond, with every imaginable caveat either explicitly defined or implicitly understood.

With this continuum in mind, all relationships are open to a degree, and closed to another degree. Where do you define the boundary between open and closed?

For me, the narrow lens focused on a shifting spectrum of sexual rules misses the root of a healthy open relationship. What defines the qualities of opening relationship to me has more to do with how a couple (or triad, etc) interacts with the world, allowing new relationships, passions, and attachments to develop and enrich their lives. The biggest challenge of my relationship hasn’t been opening to my partner’s sexual interests in other people; it has been opening to her desire to pursue a career as a doctor. The unending demands of the institutions of western medicine inspire more jealousy and fear in me than any single person could. Choosing to work through this jealousy and fear has brought me face to face with some of my most nefarious and elusive demons, and given me a venue to shift long held beliefs that have been holding me back from my own potential.

I also wonder if this openness isn’t cyclical in a way, within the course of a relationship’s lifetime. I wonder if there are times of opening to the world, and times of closing to focus on each other. Relationships begin with an amount of closing, where progress is felt by how intimately you entwine your lives. This phase comes to an end however, as you reach a point where your bond is strong and secure, and becomes a sort of touchstone as you go back to the world and fulfill dreams that wouldn’t be possible without your partner’s love and support. This transition is a touchy process, as it can feel as if you are growing apart, and like you might never feel the exhilaration of intensely increasing intimacy again. It is also common for one partner to begin this process before the other, which can lead to intense jealousy and feelings of loss. However, if the bond is strong enough and the partners are supported by wisdom, the opening can begin with sincerity.

From this perspective, openness in a relationship would only lead to openness towards other sexual partners if that were a way one or both partners wanted to grow and expand. Perhaps certainty about that lack of want was what the woman defending the boundaries of her relationship was trying to express.

All passions being equal, sexual and romantic interests are generally considered the most threatening type of new passion to a primary relationship. The vast majority of people make sexual exclusivity the lynch pin of their most sacred bond. Why is that, do you suppose? I’d like to hear your thoughts….