relationships | The Affirmative Couch

Out On The Couch

Relationship Boundaries From a Queer Femme Therapist: Common Barriers & Helpful Tips

Posted: 1-16-20 | Briana Shewan

Photo of femmes

This is the final installment in a three-part series on boundaries. In the first article, I discussed what boundaries are and why they’re important, and in the second article, I dispelled misconceptions about boundaries. In this last piece, I will name common barriers that femmes may experience in setting boundaries, and will share some tips to help you with this.

If the boundaries discussed here are unsafe for you to set with a partner, please check out resources on intimate partner violence for more appropriate support. 

Common Barriers to Setting Boundaries

  • You feel responsible for the other person or are preoccupied with how your boundaries will affect them
  • You feel guilty or bad
  • You don’t like yourself
  • You’re afraid of losing what you have
  • You’re afraid of being invisible as a femme without your partner
  • You love the other person and setting boundaries feels mean and selfish
  • Learning to deal with things yourself is what you’ve always done and all you’ve known how to do up to this point
  • In your culture, you don’t set boundaries with your parents or elders
  • You don’t feel like you need to set more boundaries because compared to your previous relationships, this one is better
  • Thinking about setting boundaries makes you feel confused
  • Your immediate circumstances or objective or capacity mean setting boundaries you normally would isn’t in your best interest 
  • You’re afraid the person will leave you and that someone else won’t love you

Tips for Boundary Setting

Address Power Dynamics

Particularly in intimate relationships, barriers to your exercise of boundaries may exist if your partner is more masculine than you; is older than you; has more experience sexually, in relationships, or with non-monogamy than you; identifies as straight; has been out longer if they’re queer; or is less marginalized in terms of factors such as size, ability, race, education, class, or profession. If your relationship is long-term, you cohabitate, you’re married, you parent together, and/or you’re part of a polycule, setting boundaries may have significant consequences for you and others. Whether you have a history of trauma separately or together, emotional symptoms can lead to less boundary setting for the sake of shorter-term well-being. Other barriers that may come into play are lack of access to a support system; health care, including  mental health care (and care that is affirming); and income, particularly if you depend on your partner to access these things. 

Name power dynamics early on in a relationship. Having ongoing communication about power dynamics that are inherent, meaning they won’t go away, and addressing how they impact relationship dynamics can help you work with the imbalances they cause.

Take Time & Space

In browsing other articles published on boundaries, I found a definition that stated, “Simply put, boundaries are what set the space between where you end and the other person begins” (Twardowski, 2017). One very simple way in which to achieve a sense of where you end and another person begins is to take time and space. The key is that time and space in themselves differentiate you from others. Take time for self-care and to slow down your mind through journaling, walking, gardening, drawing, and similar activities so that you can clarify what boundaries are right for you. We all process in different ways and at different paces, tolerate different amounts of confrontation, and need to separate our own experiences from the influence of other people’s perspectives.

Acknowledge Your Hurt

Acknowledging the impact of others’ behavior on us helps us set boundaries. Emotions inform our decisions. Often femmes are conditioned to deal with things on our own, say “It’s fine” rather than rock the boat, and not expect things of others. Compassion towards yourself in the form of getting in touch with your feelings like sadness, grief, and anger is foundational. Anger teaches us our boundaries because we get angry when our boundaries are crossed. Once you acknowledge the harm that someone’s behavior is causing you, you can choose to set boundaries on your own behalf. If you’re having a hard time accessing compassion towards yourself, think about what you would want for a friend or what a mentor or role model would do.

Trust Your Gut

Many people say that they know when something doesn’t feel good; they just don’t listen to their gut, or it’s hard to act on that in the moment. We are conditioned to ignore our gut telling us something is wrong, because it benefits others when we are compliant rather than when we set boundaries. Trust your gut–also referred to as your intuition–as a source of information for setting boundaries. You may not be sure why until you’ve had more time to process, and that is okay.

Know Your Needs

It’s easier to set boundaries if you first recognize your needs. Of course, this isn’t always realistic, and we learn many of our boundaries through our experiences. That being said, if you know that you don’t want children, or you don’t want others to access your email, or you alternate holiday plans year-to-year, or that because of previous traumatic experiences you need someone with a certain demeanor or communication style in order to feel safe, you can prioritize these boundaries with more self-assuredness. 

Reframe Boundaries

This section revisits many of the Common Barriers listed above so that you can work through them:

  • Boundaries allow you to have actual intimacy because the relationship is based on your true needs, capacity, and desires.
  • Saying no isn’t about not loving the other person. With boundaries you convey, “I love you, and I also love myself” (Viado & Greer, 2019).
  • Not setting boundaries with someone is actually doing a disservice to them; you’re not teaching them what’s okay or not, you’re enabling their dependence on you by doing things for them. If they’re also femme, you’re not modeling valuable skills.
  • Prioritize accountability over responsibility. Rather than not setting boundaries because of someone’s manipulation, gaslighting, blaming, denial, or guilting, set a boundary in response to it. Consider that these are effective tools for avoiding accountability rather than taking on someone’s struggles or circumstances.
  • Saying no doesn’t just mean losing something–it means making room for the people who are out there who will love you, support you, and see you for who you are.
  • Boundaries attract people who are able to respect them.
  • Becoming single doesn’t make you invisible as a femme; your essence is within you and nothing can take it away from you.
  • Boundaries free up space to accept your partner and yourself as you are without trying to change each other (Viado & Greer, 2019).
  • If someone isn’t able to meet your needs, it doesn’t mean you’re unlovable; it means that the two of you aren’t compatible at this point in time.
  • Rather than creating conflict with loved ones, boundaries give you the opportunity to confront your relationship in a deeper, more meaningful way.
  • Boundary setting allows you to truly let go of someone rather than ending the relationship out of spite, resentment, or to rebel (Viado & Greer, 2019).
  • Your feelings don’t go away just because you don’t deal with them.
  • You don’t need acceptance or validation from another person; it comes from within yourself.
  • Setting boundaries with someone from whom you’re seeking approval isn’t what keeps them from supporting you.
  • Just because something isn’t common practice around you doesn’t mean it’s not what’s best for you, nor that you’re alone in doing it.
  • No one can set your boundaries for you.
  • If your relationship is sustained by you not asserting your needs and you tell yourself that you’re being more passive for the other person’s sake, are you really avoiding risking feelings of abandonment?
  • Setting boundaries is something you can do for your younger self now that you’re an adult with more autonomy.
  • Your boundaries are tributes to all the femmes who have fought so hard for your ability to say no.
  • Boundaries are a political act; they’re the basis of movements built by people collectively saying “no more.” 

Boundaries are a practice. Each opportunity to practice boundary setting is a new one. Boundaries represent a chance for you to redefine yourself in the present. I hope that this series helps ground you to say no when you feel the need in your body. Know that you are not alone–you are a part of a long legacy of femmes enacting their worth.

References

Desano, A. (n.d.). Intimate Partner / Domestic Violence. Retrieved from https://lalgbtcenter.org/health-services/mental-health/intimate-partner-domestic-violence.

Twardowski, J. (2017, December 7). 6 Steps to Setting Boundaries in Relationships. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/6-steps-to-setting-boundaries-in-relationships_b_6142248.

Viado, L., PhD, & A. G., PhD (Host & Guest). (2019, February 20). 105: Everyday Codependency [Audio blog post]. Retrieved from https://lourdesviado.com/105-everyday-codependency/

About The Author

Briana Shewan

I am a femme therapist and I love working long-term, relationally, and one-on-one within my queer community! I started my private practice Mophead Femme Therapy in San Francisco, CA in 2017. Now, it’s virtual, full-time, and deeply fulfilling.

Relationship Boundaries From a Queer Femme Therapist: Misconceptions

Posted: 1-8-20 | Briana Shewan

Relationship Boundaries From a Queer Femme Therapist:

In my previous article on boundaries, I talked about definitions and why setting boundaries can be difficult and important for femmes. In this, the second part of a three-part series on the topic, I’ll clarify misconceptions and broach avoiding confusion and shaming when it comes to discussing boundaries.

If the boundaries discussed here are unsafe for you to set with a partner, please check out resources on intimate partner violence for more appropriate support. 

Common Confusing Language in Intimate Relationships

These terms are all related but differ slightly from each other:

  • Expectations can inform boundaries, but they don’t act as boundaries. For instance, if you expect your partner to celebrate your body and honor your bodily autonomy, you may set a boundary such as stopping sex if your body is touched or commented on in a way that doesn’t bring you pleasure.
  • Standards are the criteria you use to judge a partner. Standards may include educational background, annual income, physical characteristics, etc. Like expectations, standards differ from boundaries. They can inform boundaries  but are a different entity. Your standards may determine your make-or-breaks.
  • Make-or-breaks are boundaries, but not all boundaries are make-or-breaks, which definitively make or break a relationship for you. You may break up with a partner (or not enter into a relationship with someone at all) if you want an open relationship and they want a monogamous one, for instance.
  • Ultimatums and boundaries can entail similar or identical phrasing. However, unlike boundaries that are based on you doing what is in your control in response to your partner, ultimatums consist of you telling your partner to do something. For instance, saying “If you don’t stop lying to me about your drinking, then I’m done” is an ultimatum. Ultimatums are more like threats, because you can’t actually control what another person does, even though they may comply (Matlack, Winston, & Lindgren, 2018). Additionally, ultimatums may be made based on your make-or-breaks.
  • Lastly, rules and agreements tend to differ from boundaries because partners establish them together. They can also have less clear consequences when they’re not followed (Matlack, Winston, & Lindgren, 2018). Again, your boundaries and your partner’s boundaries are your own, respectively.

Beyond Boundary Binaries

Boundaries are considered an important part of healthy relationships, but you’ll notice that I’m not talking about boundaries in terms of healthy and unhealthy or good and bad here. That’s because I wouldn’t even know how. It’s not for me or anyone else to judge what is healthy or good for you. You may also be used to the boundary binary of strong and weak. This oversimplification can shame people who struggle with sticking to boundaries or want to set more of them. It puts blame on femmes without contextualizing our challenges within cultural systems designed to exploit our bodies, intellects, emotional labor, and other skills. Additionally, I often see boundaries talked about in all-or-nothing terms. There’s no such thing as having “no” boundaries. Boundaries are always at play. Even the simple act of turning off notifications on your phone can be considered a boundary.

Boundaries aren’t fixed, nor is their development linear. Boundaries are personal and individual; it’s for you to decide what boundaries you need at any given time in relation to any given person. Consider, too, that boundaries are set among varying factors. Who you’re with, who’s around, where you are, what kind of day you’re having, what stakes are involved, timing, previous experiences with the person, having to compartmentalize an aspect of your identity in order to reach an objective of your given interaction or for your safety, not being offended by something that on a different day would bother you or vice versa, are all factors that are quickly being assessed and play into the fluidity of boundaries.

By addressing misconceptions, I hope to have clarified many practical elements about boundaries. In the last article, I’ll name common barriers that femmes may experience in setting boundaries. I’ll also share tips that can help you with your boundaries, including reframing them in order to work through those barriers.

References

Desano, A. (n.d.). Intimate Partner / Domestic Violence. Retrieved from https://lalgbtcenter.org/health-services/mental-health/intimate-partner-domestic-violence.

Matlack, E., Winston, D., & Lindgren, J (Hosts). (2018, July 3). 178 – The Basics of Boundaries [Audio blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.multiamory.com/podcast/178-basics-boundaries

About The Author

Briana Shewan

I am a femme therapist and I love working long-term, relationally, and one-on-one within my queer community! I started my private practice Mophead Femme Therapy in San Francisco, CA in 2017. Now, it’s virtual, full-time, and deeply fulfilling.

Relationship Boundaries From a Queer Femme Therapist: Definitions and Examples

Posted: 1-2-20 | Briana Shewan

Relationship Boundaries From a Queer Femme Therapist:

It’s your right to tell someone that you love them and you want to have a relationship with them. That they get to say, do, and believe whatever they want because that’s their business. But not with you. It’s your right to tell them the harm that their actions are causing you, the way that it’s interfering with you having a relationship with them the way you want, and that until they can support you as you are, they’re not welcome in your life.

This is what I told my client whose internalized biphobia was blocking her from recognizing the hurt that her mom’s biphobia is causing her. She knows that the relationship is strained and she’s beginning to see that she needs to set boundaries, but she doesn’t know how.

When I verbalized the above boundary to her in session, I meant it seriously, but I was also doing an exercise with her. I wanted to point out the influence of internalized biphobia on her understanding of her choices in how to interact with her mom. I wanted to say it out loud as an unashamed counterpoint because it didn’t seem like she had entertained the idea that she wasn’t responsible for her mom’s anxiety.

Ultimately, establishing this boundary didn’t feel right for her, at least not now, and we moved on to talk about her calling her mom less. And while my vision is of a femme revolution in which we lead our beautiful, queertastic lives without wasting energy on unnecessary emotional labor, the reality is that life consists of many more gray areas, that our beauty is in our ability to grapple with its complexities, and that there is revolution in the small, everyday boundaries we set.

This client is like many femmes in expressing that they don’t know how to set boundaries in relationships. When I hear this, I hear the need to break down the practical elements of what boundaries are and what, in practice, they look like. Perhaps even more importantly, I also hear the need to address the emotional blocks to establishing boundaries. 

This three-part series does both. In this first article, I will provide my own definition of boundaries and contextualize what makes boundary setting both particularly hard and important for femmes. I will then break down boundary setting and provide an example from queer pop culture. 

While these articles are written for femmes (you can check out my previous article, “Are You Femme? What Femme Isn’t and What it is” for reference on femme identity) setting boundaries in their intimate relationships, the information here can also be relevant to people who don’t identify as femme (particularly anyone who’s been considered feminine at some point). It can apply to members of non-intimate relationships, including parents and other family of origin, members of polycules, friends, housemates, and co-workers, too.

If the boundaries discussed here are unsafe for you to set with a partner, please check out resources on intimate partner violence for more appropriate support.

Boundaries Defined & Contextualized

Boundaries are acts of self-love that define your needs, capacity, and desires.

Let’s collectively pause for a moment and breathe this in. Boundaries are about self-love. Within our patriarchal, femmephobic, homophobic, biphobic, fatphobic, transphobic, xenophobic, racist, classist, ageist, and ableist culture, people believe that feminized people’s very existence is for the benefit of others, and fear emerges when we take up space of our own. This compounds our need to set boundaries and challenge the pushback we get when we do. Femmes navigate relationships within this paradigm, and we often do this while working through our own internalized “-isms.”

Therefore, when we set boundaries, they are radical acts. And because boundaries are about you, they’re about saying no, and they’re about exercising your power based on your needs, they are radical acts of self love.

Boundaries: The Breakdown

  • Rather than adapting yourself for the sake of a relationship, you set boundaries so that a relationship best meets your needs.
  • For boundaries to be effective, they have to be within your control, and what’s in your control is you, not the other person. Trying to control another person is toxic. Boundaries are about what you communicate and the actions you take.
  • The clearest and most obvious boundary entails disengaging and removing yourself altogether, either in the moment by walking away, or ongoing by breaking up or cutting off contact with the other person.
  • When you communicate a boundary, it’s up to your partner, friend, or family member to decide if your boundary works for them or not, and to proceed accordingly. Boundaries have a cause and effect that goes both ways. If the other person sets a boundary, it’s up to you to decide if their boundary works for you or not, and to proceed accordingly. You have the right to set a boundary and you have the right to decide that another person’s boundary doesn’t work for you. If your boundary doesn’t work for them, that doesn’t mean the boundary changes. It means that how you relate to each other does.
  • Boundaries are not conditional on how someone else responds to them. It’s not a boundary if you’re asking someone or waiting for someone to change in order for your need to be met, because they may change–but they may not.
  • You’re not responsible for anyone else’s feelings or behavior. We are each responsible only for our own.
  • Boundaries are about creating your own options rather than acting according to what the other person wants. If you only act according to what the other person wants, they have all the power.
  • If you find that you keep having to set the same boundary, you may need to address this as a larger issue by taking more space or evaluating the relationship overall. It is a form of gaslighting when someone denies an ongoing issue, thereby making you question your own perceptions, and responds to you by saying things like “What are you talking about?” or “No, we haven’t talked about this before.” 
  • If a person’s behavior escalates when you set a boundary, it doesn’t mean the boundary is wrong. It may be from fear of change or because they don’t want things to change.
  • The key is setting boundaries to which you’re able to stick. If you don’t stick to them, then they’re not actually boundaries. They’re dependent on the other person’s behavior not requiring that you stick to them. They function more as requests if they’re not enforced. Situations like this teach others that they don’t have to take your boundaries seriously.
  • If you find that you’re setting boundaries in order to get a certain response from your partner (like a sign of commitment or intimacy), friend (like attention or acceptance), or family member (like approval or permission) rather than with the intention of sticking to them, these are not actual boundaries. You’re coercing a desired outcome that’s not in your control and some honest reflection may be helpful. 

Boundaries mean saying: no, I won’t just stand here while you yell at me; no, I won’t stay silent while you misgender me; no, I won’t answer my phone right now; no, I won’t remind you to do the dishes; no, I won’t spend time with you if you’re guilting me; no, I won’t stay in a relationship in which my partner continually gaslights me; no, I won’t have sex with you if you fetishize me; no, I don’t have time for you to vent to me right now; no, I won’t pay for things you’re able to afford; no, I won’t cancel my plans to come over; no, I won’t wear what you want me to instead of what I want to wear, and; no, I won’t smile and laugh when you say something that offends me.

Boundary Setting Within Queer Pop Culture

If you want an amazing example of queer boundary setting, look no further than the most recent season of Are You the One? The MTV dating show features 16 participants meant to find their predetermined “perfect match” among each other in order to win money. In its eighth season, and the first season to have an all-bisexual, -pansexual, and -sexually fluid house, the show portrays the toxic relationship between Jenna, a cis, femme-presenting woman, and Kai, a nonbinary transmasculine person, as one of the primary character arcs. Jenna and Kai continue to be drawn to each other despite Kai’s manipulative behavior (like crying, pleading, and making grand statements that contradict his actions) and despite confirming through the show’s Truth Booth that they’re not a perfect match.

The turning point several episodes in that left many queers cheering from their couches was when Jenna saw Kai’s toxic behavior play out with another femme-presenting person. When, in desperation, Kai goes back to Jenna again and tells her, “I’m madly in love with you,” Jenna responds, “But I don’t want this, because this isn’t healthy. I need to put me first. I need to love myself first right now.”

So many femmes fear that if they set a boundary with another queer, that person will be worse off and isolated. However, you can keep watching and see that after Jenna set her own boundary, the house stepped up to collectively and empathically call in Kai on his behavior. This is described in the article “How On Earth Did Are You The One Get Queer Love So Right?” by Jeanna Kadlec, which reads, “There is a rich and real no person left behind mentality, which is so distinctive to the queer community. Even as the femmes rally around each other, the entire cast is unwilling to let bad behavior go unchecked.” Kadlec goes on, “The drama affirms how much intentional work there is to be done when it comes to building relationships and examining attraction—but also how much joy and especially self-love can be found along the way” (2019).

Now you have a better sense of what boundaries are and how they work. In the next article in this series, I’ll dispel misconceptions to address confusing and shaming ways in which boundaries are commonly discussed.

References

Desano, A. (n.d.). Intimate Partner / Domestic Violence. Retrieved from https://lalgbtcenter.org/health-services/mental-health/intimate-partner-domestic-violence.

Kadlec, J. (2019, August 30). How on Earth Did ‘Are You The One’ Get Queer Love So Right? Retrieved from https://www.elle.com/culture/a28857415/are-you-the-one-jenna-kai-queer-toxic-relationships/.

About The Author

Briana Shewan

I am a femme therapist and I love working long-term, relationally, and one-on-one within my queer community! I started my private practice Mophead Femme Therapy in San Francisco, CA in 2017. Now, it’s virtual, full-time, and deeply fulfilling.

Managing Jealousy in a Polyamorous Relationship

Posted: 6-14-19 | Stephanie Sullivan

jealousy and polyamory

Stephanie M. Sullivan, MS, LLMFT

Keywords: Polyamory

When people are first introduced to the idea of polyamory, one of the first questions they ask is often about jealousy. How do people in polyamorous relationships manage jealousy? Are they ever jealous? In the vast majority of polyamorous relationships, jealousy does come up at some point. However, jealousy can be broken down to determine what your real concerns are. When you recognize what is bothering you, it is possible to manage this challenging feeling. You may even reach a point of compersion, in which you feel joy when your partner is with another partner. You may feel this because you are happy that your metamour is making your partner happy. This article will provide some tips if you are attempting to navigate jealousy within a polyamorous relationship. Therapists who work with polyamorous clients may find this article to be a helpful guide as well.

A step that is often missed or overlooked when moving away from jealousy and into compersion is the feeling of neutrality about something. If you have been jealous about something often, it may be more realistic to strive toward a feeling of neutrality before attempting to feel compersion. Feeling neutral or even a little less jealous is always a step forward! If you notice that you only feel some anxiety when your partner is on a date with someone else, rather than having a panic attack, that is still progress! Moving forward by recognizing those small steps is essential in the process of managing jealousy in polyamory.

When thinking about your own jealousy, it is important to explore where this feeling is coming from. There are three different parts of jealousy to consider. First, there are the worries and doubts that occur based on a person’s suspicions and perceived threats to the relationship. Second, there is an emotional component to these thoughts and worries. You may feel anxious, uncomfortable, angry, fearful, or insecure about yourself or your relationship. Third, you choose how to respond to your thoughts and emotions, which becomes the behavioral component of jealousy (Knobloch, Solomon, & Kruz, 2001). Your reaction could be to ignore the jealousy, to be angry, to have a conversation with your partner, or many other reactions and behaviors.

Jealousy may be triggered in a number of ways. You may witness an interaction between your partner and your metamour that triggers your jealousy. You may also feel jealousy even at the idea of what could be occurring between your partner and metamour. Regardless of how the jealousy is triggered, if you find yourself experiencing it, you may need to think about where that feeling is coming from and tune in to yourself. What thoughts are you having, what emotions are you feeling, and how are you reacting? Are you comparing yourself to someone else, feeling competitive with another person, fearing the loss of your partner, or feeling a loss of control in your relationship or in your life? Are you feeling neglected by a partner? Do you have a fear of missing out on the activities they are doing with someone else? All of these thoughts and feelings can lead to jealousy (Sheff, 2014; Winston, 2017).

Journaling is an excellent way to do some self-reflection and allows you to explore and take responsibility for your own feelings, rather than blaming outside influences. Once you have an idea of where your jealousy is coming from, you will be better equipped to discuss it with your partner and manage that jealousy! If you have trouble identifying where your jealousy is coming from or managing jealousy, it may be helpful for you to find a polyamory-affirmative therapist to help you explore these things. A good polyamory-affirmative therapist will also be able to help you identify and practice tools for managing jealousy.

Constructive communication is one tool you can use when you are feeling jealous. Constructive communication focuses on maintaining your relationship and engaging in open discussions with your partner(s). It also facilitates good feelings about yourself and your partner(s). Research studies have shown that people who use constructive communication about jealousy are more likely to be satisfied in their relationships than people who use destructive communication techniques (Guerrero, 2014). However, destructive communication techniques (such as yelling and blaming a partner) are used most often in our media, especially in popular romantic comedies (Frampton & Linvill, 2017). Therefore, this is what we are often exposed to and “taught” to use when we are feeling jealous; because we are certainly not taught how to communicate constructively in school.

So, how can you engage in more constructive communication when you are experiencing jealousy in a polyamorous relationship? Constructive communication can be achieved by engaging in positive behaviors toward yourself or your partner. Some examples of constructive communication may include getting dressed up for yourself to feel good about yourself or being extra nice to your partner and focusing on the things you appreciate in your partner, rather than your jealousy (Guerrero, 2014). Another example of constructive communication is simply telling your partner that you are feeling jealous and engaging in an open discussion with them about that jealousy and where it is coming from. It is important to approach these conversations with care and consideration for how your partner is feeling, as well. You may approach this conversation by stating something like, “I have been feeling jealous lately, and I would like to talk about where this is coming from for me.” This sentence allows you to take responsibility for your own emotions without placing blame on your partner or causing them to feel defensive.  

Another way to communicate when you are experiencing jealousy is a technique put forth by Dedeker Winston (2017). She calls it the “Pay it Forward” technique. This is a type of constructive communication that facilitates positive feelings in yourself, rather than jealousy. Winston recommends sending texts of gratitude to friends, family, or other partners to tell them what you love and appreciate about them. Using this technique may help you feel more thankful for all of the good that you have in your life, rather than remaining stuck in cycles of jealous thoughts.

It is important for your partner(s) to remain open to hearing about your feelings of jealousy, and to respond to your requests, if they are reasonable for your relationship. For example, if you are feeling jealous that your partner took their other partner to a new restaurant that you want to try, it is perfectly reasonable to ask your partner to take you the following weekend. In addition, if your partner is experiencing New Relationship Energy (NRE) and spending a lot of time with a new partner, causing you to feel neglected, it is not unreasonable to let them know, and to request more quality time with your partner. However, if you are feeling jealous and make a request that limits your partner’s time with a new partner to once a month, that may be seen as unreasonable and unfair to the other relationship.

Beyond addressing things directly with the partner with whom you are feeling jealous, you may reach out to a friend or another partner so that you are involved in your own life or with other people, rather than focusing only on what your partner is doing (Sheff, 2014; Veaux & Rickert, 2014; Winston, 2017). This will help to reduce the intrusive thoughts you are having about what your partner is doing, and will help you create a more positive emotional state. Mindfulness techniques work well for this too, so that you are engaged in your own present moment, rather than anguishing about your partner’s activities and whereabouts.

How you react when you are feeling jealousy is important to consider when you are exploring the possibility of a polyamorous relationship. Do you yell at your partner, act rude, argue, or forbid them from seeing the person that triggers jealousy for you? Do you engage in violence, and hit, shove, or threaten to harm your partner or the person you are jealous of? Or, do you try to also make your partner feel jealous? If any of the above are true for you, you may be engaging in destructive communication patterns (Guerrero, 2014). Not only is this destructive to your relationship, but it is also harmful to your partner, as many of these behaviors are abusive. If you find yourself engaging in violence or threats of violence toward your partner, it is important that you seek help from a mental health clinician or take a break from your current relationship, as you may not be ready to be in a relationship. If you are in a relationship with someone who is engaging in these behaviors against you, it may be time to seek support from a mental health clinician, family and friends, or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233). Seeking support to maintain your own emotional and physical safety is crucial when leaving an abusive relationship.

In a polyamorous relationship, it is important to remember that placing restrictions on your partner generally does not help you to work through jealousy. Unless these restrictions are temporary, while you actively work to figure out what is triggering your jealousy and how to manage it, the restrictions may end up only leading to even more distrust and higher levels of jealousy. Controlling your partner or the things that trigger your jealousy will generally not be helpful in a polyamorous relationship. Placing these restrictions on your partner long-term may only facilitate mistrust, as you are then caught up in thoughts about whether your partner is following the rules or lying to you about what they are doing. Likewise, snooping through your partner’s belongings, phone, or email will also not be helpful to control jealousy or to facilitate more trust within your relationship (Veaux & Rickert, 2014; Winston, 2017).

The above behaviors are also invasive and abusive. Jealousy is not an excuse for abusive or controlling behaviors. Trust is important in any romantic relationship, and may predict relationship satisfaction (Campbell, Simpson, Boldry, & Rubin, 2010; Wieselquist, 2009). Therefore, it is important to ensure that you can trust your partner and to respect your partner’s autonomy, privacy, and boundaries, both before opening up a relationship or before entering into a relationship with a new partner. Sometimes, this may mean healing old wounds before getting into a relationship with a new partner, if you feel that you will not have the ability to trust anyone. Especially in this case, you may want to seek support from a polyamory-affirmative mental health clinician, so as not to carry baggage from an old (or current) relationship into a new one.

Many people may also try to keep score in their relationships, thinking that as long as their partner is spending more time or money on them than on anyone else, they will not feel jealous of their partner’s other partners. However, keeping score like this will often lead to even more distress, as it is simply another way of controlling what your partner is doing. It does not allow your partner the opportunity to show that they are actively making an effort to see you if you are telling them that they have to see you a certain amount. This strategy may actually end up having the opposite effect that you want to achieve, because your partner may begin to feel resentful or controlled about how much time they must spend with you. When you stop keeping score, you can be sure that your partner is reaching out simply because they want to see you and prioritize you in their life.

Once you feel you have identified where your jealousy is coming from, your needs are being met, and you are actively managing jealous feelings, you may be able to start feeling compersion. Compersion can be facilitated through the understanding that your partner is not there only for your own gratification. You may need to change your perspective on what you can reasonably expect from a partner, and recognize that you want them to be happy just as much as you want yourself to be happy. You can ask yourself what brings your partner joy, and if you want them to experience that joy. If you do not want them experiencing that joy, it may be helpful to ask yourself why you do not want this. Compersion can occur through the knowledge that you do want your partner to be genuinely happy, whether that happiness is caused by you or someone else (Hypatia, 2018).

No matter what stage your relationship is in, it is natural to feel jealousy! If you have a difficult time managing jealousy, or feel that your partner is being unfair to you, it may be beneficial to seek either individual therapy or relationship therapy from a polyamory-affirmative therapist. This therapist should be equipped to help you with these struggles and help you and your partner(s) navigate your relationship agreements, communication, jealousy, and much more. Check out Finding a Polyamory-Affirmative Therapist for more info!

References

Campbell, L., Simpson, J. A., Boldry, J. G., & Rubin, H. (2010). Trust, variability in relationship evaluations, and relationship processes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(1), 14-31. doi:10.1037/a0019714

Frampton, J. R., & Linvill, D. L. (2017). Green on the screen: Types of jealousy and communicative responses to jealousy in romantic comedies. Southern Communication Journal, 85(5), 298-311. doi:10.1080/1041794X.2017.1347701

Guerrero, L. K. (2014). Jealousy and relational satisfaction: Actor effects, partner effects, and the mediating role of destructive communicative responses to jealousy. Western Journal of Communication, 78(5), 586-611. doi:10.1080/10570314.2014.935468

Hypatia. (2018). Compersion: Polyamory beyond jealousy. Middletown, DE: Author.

Knobloch, L. K., Solomon, D. H., & Cruz, M. G. (2001). The role of relationship development and attachment in the experience of romantic jealousy. Personal Relationships, 8, 205-224. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2001.tb00036.x

Sheff, E. (2014). The polyamorists next door: Inside multiple-partner relationships and families. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Veaux, F., & Rickert, E. (2014). More than two: A practical guide to polyamory. Portland, OR: Thorntree Press.

Wieselquist, J. (2009). Interpersonal forgiveness, trust, and the investment model of commitment. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 26(4), 531-548. doi:10.1177/0265407509347931

Winston, D. (2017). The smart girl’s guide to polyamory: Everything you need to know about open relationships, non-monogamy, and alternative love. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing.

 

About The Author

Stephanie Sullivan

Stephanie M. Sullivan is a Limited Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at A Compass Within Personal Consulting in Rochester, MI. She specializes in anxiety, self-care, sexuality, polyamorous relationships, and other forms of consensual non-monogamy. Stephanie often utilizes collaborative, solution-focused theories to help empower her clients in their life’s pursuits.

http://acompasswithin.com/

Breaking Mental Illness Stigma: The Broad City Way

Posted: 3-12-19 | Briana Shewan

By Briana Shewan, MFT

If you are a dedicated viewer of Broad City, then you’ve already seen “Make the Space.” Directed by Ilana Glazer and written by Jen Statsky, the fourth episode of the fifth season of the Comedy Central series, which aired on Feb 14th, 2019, focuses on mental illness by way of characters Jaimé’s hoarding and Ilana’s take on a therapy intervention.

Spoiler alert – details of this episode are referenced throughout this article.

This is not the show’s first episode dedicated to addressing mental health (for example, Ilana’s struggle with seasonal affective disorder, aluminum foil, and a light so powerful she blows a restaurant’s circuit in season four, episode five, “Abbi’s Mom”). What this current episode manages to do, though, is help to break mental illness stigma; portray queer, brown, and affirming love; and set us up to cheer on Ilana’s pursuits as a therapist.

Breaking Mental Illness Stigma

“Make the Space” is reflective of what makes Broad City so great: their unique take on a subject in a way that is relevant, upbeat, funny, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Despite the prevalence of people experiencing mental illness and the range of media portraying these issues, this episode uses its platform to normalize anxiety and focus on positive, however comedically flawed, responses.

The episode features Ilana Wexler (Ilana Glazer) non-consensually going into her roommate Jaimé Castro’s (Arturo Castro’s) room. She does so to find the source of a funky smell, though not without acknowledging it as wrong, particularly given that she is white and Jaimé is brown. Jaimé later makes clear that he doesn’t excuse her breach of his privacy. When she opens his door, she finds evidence of hoarding in the form of excessive amounts of alarm clocks, newspapers, piggy banks, and the like. Ilana proceeds to recruit her best friend and co-star Abbi Abrams (Abbi Jacobson), and together they put Jaimé’s things into black plastic bags and carry them out to the trash. Just when your cringing reaches its climax, Ilana reads about hoarding in her old psych textbook that she found amongst his items and, realizing they’ve crossed a boundary, puts his room back the way it was before he returns home, thus returning his autonomy and agency.

I imagine that if I experienced hoarding or specialized in it as a therapist I might have more criticism of the portrayal of it, particularly because the episode doesn’t go into Jamié’s struggles or challenges. Despite the drawbacks in relatability of its linear and reductive approach, the episode achieves a non-pathologizing stance by focusing on his stressors.

Keeping it Queer, Brown & Affirming

When Jaimé returns to the apartment with his boyfriend, Johnny (played by openly gay actor Guillermo Díaz), Ilana facilitates a therapy session to address Jaimé’s hoarding (again, non-consensually). This is not the show’s first go at portraying queer sexuality. Many of us cherish Ilana’s love and attraction for Abbi, whose actress came out publicly as bisexual in real life.

What “Make the Space” does more than ever before on the show is contextualize Jaimé’s mental illness as a gay brown immigrant. As Ilana prompts him to reflect on the origins of his anxiety from which his hoarding may have manifested, Jaimé speaks about the lack of control he experienced due to his status before becoming a citizen as the initial source.

As a white U.S. citizen since birth, I can only imagine what the significance of this representation of Jamié and his partnership might be for queer, brown and undocumented people. As the show often does in overt and covert ways, it seemed as though Broad City was making a timely point to address our political climate, this time taking on immigration, racism, and homophobia amidst Trump’s wall-building agenda.

Finally, it’s when Ilana is constantly distracted by Abbi from attempting to be a therapist for Jaimé that he is truly affirmed. Through face-to-face conversation with Johnny in Spanish, and Johnny’s non-judgmental, supportive approach, Jamié is able to talk about his embarrassment over hoarding and his more recent source of anxiety, their relationship. Through their intimate and honest communication, Jaimé and Johnny agree to face the vulnerability of falling in love together in order to continue to grow their connection. While the 22-minute episode presents a feel-good arch to hoarding that’s just as short, doing so highlights the strengths of its queer brown characters. However unrealistic, this take is a refreshing narrative when focused on Jaimé and Johnny’s relationship.

Ilana the Therapist

As a therapist myself, Ilana’s approach with her roommate was particularly humorous. She’s dressed in all white, wearing glasses, with a neutral, calm tone to her voice (at least when she’s not arguing with Abbi) and an empty pizza box in her lap for taking notes. She’s turned their New York City living room into her “office” equipped with tissues, candles, and the empty assurance of it as a “safe space” only to have a light fixture fall off the wall. “Well, not literally safe,” she clarifies. The portrayal is a stage of therapeutic clichés.

Jaimé, Johnny, and Abbi each separately tell Ilana that the session wasn’t real and was unprofessional, from the fake statement of confidentiality to calling Jaimé “crazy” for deciding to move in with his boyfriend- because he’s her roommate- to yelling at Abbi about toe sucking and lactose intolerance (to name a few examples). Ilana asks Johnny if she was a good therapist to which he replies, “You made the space for Jaimé to talk about his issues. That’s really all you can do as a therapist, right? Just make the space.” The episode ends with Ilana sharing with Abbi that she wants to look into schools in order to pursue a therapy career. This is a particularly poignant moment. Long-time viewers have watched Ilana not take her work life seriously. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, her sharing her professional goals with Abbi in this final season of the show is heart-warming character development for more than just Abbi to get behind.

I like to imagine that more people like Ilana in the field would help to disrupt patriarchal curriculum, exploitative labor practices, and the inaccessibility of mental health services due to medicalized gatekeeping and the non-profit industrial complex. I think Ilana’s unapologetic feminism and sexuality, and preference for weed over respectability politics would translate to her being client-centered, sex positive, and a harm reductionist. Even with these forward-thinking qualities, we all have things to work on. For example, if Ilana were my colleague, I might start a conversation with her about her appropriative use of African American Vernacular English, including her common use of the phrase “yasss queen” as well as her referring to Jaimé’s relationship as “going dopely” in this very episode. I would also mention that her joke about her mom looking at hoarding videos to lose her appetite when she’s dieting makes me hyper-vigilant of fatphobia.

The next order of business – processing our grief around Broad City ending.

References

R. (2018, April 07). Abbi Jacobson is bisexual: Ilana Wexler has called dibs though. Retrieved
From https://www.autostraddle.com/abbi-jacobson-is-bisexual-ilana-wexler-has-called-dibs-though-416956/

Blay, Z. (2015, October 19). 12 words Black people invented, and white people killed. Retrieved
From https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/black-slang-white-people-ruined_us_55ccda07e4b064d5910ac8b3

Glazer, I. (2019, February 14). Ilana glazer on Instagram: “this is one of my favorite moments from tonight’s episode of @broadcity written by @jenstatsky and directed by me! @arturocastrop is a star…” Retrieved from https://www.instagram.com/p/Bt4XGqUlzvx/

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2018, February 03). Hoarding disorder. Retrieved from
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hoarding-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20356056

Reddish, D. (2018, June 14). Guillermo Diaz, the ‘Scandal’ star who made out & proud look easy. Retrieved from
https://www.queerty.com/guillermo-diaz-scandal-star-made-coming-natural-breathing-20180614

Statsky, J. (Writer). (2019, February 14). Make the Space [Television series episode]. In Broad City. New York, New York: Comedy Central.
Trump wall. (2019, February 19). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trump_wall

About The Author

Briana Shewan

I am a femme therapist and I love working long-term, relationally, and one-on-one within my queer community! I started my private practice Mophead Femme Therapy in San Francisco, CA in 2017. Now, it’s virtual, full-time, and deeply fulfilling.