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Monogamy in a World of Attractive Others

You love your partner and you are committed to a monogamous relationship.  At the same time you find that now again some attractive other catches your attention.  You want to be loyal to your partner and also accept yourself and your natural human responses.

The feeling of being attracted to someone can be so strong and automatic that you might tell yourself you have no say in the matter.  Finding your choice requires making some subtle distinctions.  Let's look at the distinctions using the scenario below.

You are at work and a new co-worker comes around the corner.  Something about this person is immediately attractive to you.  Noticing you find them attractive you have a choice.  You can follow and encourage this attraction energy by looking at the person more intently, searching for all their attractive qualities.  Or you can notice the attraction energy, giving it a mental nod, saying internally something like, "Oh, attraction, that's okay, but not something I want to follow with this person."  You then turn your focus away from the attraction and toward your center and meeting this person for who they are, which is much more than someone you happen to find attractive.  As the person turns to leave, attraction energy might prompt you to let your eyes follow them, this is another choice point. Your lingering gaze will promote more attraction.  After they leave, you have another choice.  You can think and fantasize about this person or choose to put your focus somewhere else - your next task, your center, your love for your partner, etc.

Practicing with attraction really is as simple as deciding where to put your awareness moment by moment and then acting from that choice.  However, simple doesn't necessarily mean easy.  Here are some of my guesses (some based on my own experience) about what might make this practice difficult.

First, you may not have a mindfulness practice.  You don't catch all the choice points above and suddenly find yourself flirting with your co-worker before you realize what has happened.  You can start a practice in that moment.  Even as you are flirting you can start to notice yourself more closely.  Notice how you are standing, how much eye contact you are making, your physical proximity to the other, and your tone of voice.

Second, you may use flirting and the web of attraction to meet other needs.  This makes it hard to give up even though it's damaging your partnership.  Before I was mindful of this stuff, a friend once said to me, "Flirting is like breathing for you."  Fortunately, about the same time, another friend said, "You know people don't like that you do that."  Thanks to friends willing to give me honest feedback and a number of failed relationships, I started to realize the cost of meeting my needs in that way.  I began to learn other ways to meet needs for aliveness, acceptance, excitement, and belonging.

Lastly, giving your attention to attraction to other people can be a way to protect around the vulnerability of being fully committed in your partnership.*  You might be saying to yourself at a semi-conscious level that you never want to experience the hurt of your partner leaving.  You think it is safer to make sure you have someone else connected to you in that way.  Maybe this boosts a sense of self-worth or maybe it gives you the sense of having someone else to turn to.  Either way it seemingly provides a safety net.

Noticing attraction to others who are not your partner is a normal event.  Your mindfulness and conscious choices around it determine the role it plays in your life.  This week watch for a moment when you notice an attractive person.  Take time and notice what you do next.  Notice where you focus your eyes, the thoughts that come up and how you act.  Notice where habit takes you and decide if you would like to do something differently or not.


*This is not meant to be a statement about poly-amorous relationships.

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4 Responses

  1. Oct 30, 2009
    Yael Brisker

    I really enjoy your blend of Nonviolent Communication and Mindfulness practice, especially on such a charged subject. Such a gentle, non judgmental point of view...I really appreciate it
    In Gratitude
    p.s. sent you an e-mail with a more personal note

  2. Nov 03, 2009

    I would love to hear more about "other ways to meet needs for aliveness, acceptance, excitement, and belonging."

  3. Nov 16, 2009

    I would also like to hear more about "other ways to meet needs for aliveness, acceptance, excitement and belonging". Flirting is like breathing for me too and although it has rarely gone too far in my 20 year monogamous relationship, I know it would be better to find other ways to meet those needs.

  4. Nov 17, 2009

    Yea, I think part of giving up flirting was easy when I realized the costs that came with it - people feel confused and uneasy about my intentions, being seen as untrustworthy, stimulating jealousy, arousing clinging or obsession in my self.

    Nowadays I find that doing art, dancing, singing, and sometimes playful teasing with others best meets the need for aliveness.

    I hope this helps.

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