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What I Learned From a Decade of Polyamory

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Polyamory may sound sexy on Saturday night. But on Tuesday morning, you still have multiple relationships to maintain with multiple humans with multiple real-life feelings. Polyamorous relationships can be astonishingly fulfilling, exciting, and fun. But they’re also incredibly challenging. There’s no one-size-fits-all for figuring out whom — and how — to love.

After 10 years in various poly relationships, I’ve learned a lot of things; many of which would have made a big difference in how I approached this lifestyle if I’d known them when I was still a poly newbie.

There’s no “right” way to be polyamorous

There are as many different configurations for polyamorous relationships as there are people on the planet. People who are new to polyamory often want to know what the rules are. They want to feel secure that they are doing it “right.”

The truth? The only steadfast rules of poly are the same rules that apply to any relationship… no matter if you have two or five partners. Ethical polyamory includes transparent communication, authenticity of self, and an openness to others’ wants and needs. Beyond that, polyamory is completely customizable according to your comfort and experience. The key is to share your needs and fears with your partners, and be honest about your intentions and behavior.

As long as you’re being ethical, there’s no wrong — or right — way to have a polyamorous relationship.

Google Calendars will save you

There’s an inside joke that the only people who actually use Google Calendars are polyamorists. Splitting time between multiple partners can be a bit like keeping several plates spinning at once. Google Calendars can be shared with multiple people and help everyone communicate and stay on the same page.

If you’re a poly couple, planning your dates away from your primary partner on the same night can help ward off lonely feelings or worrying about the partner left home. Just offering to share a calendar with a partner can help assure them you’re genuine in your desire to maintain open communication and honesty — which can go a long way in establishing trust in your polyamorous relationships.

Polyamory will not fix relationship issues

If you’re having difficulty being ethical in your monogamous relationships, polyamory is not the solution to your romantic woes. Yes, it’s possible to cheat in a polyamorous relationship. This may sound obvious, but all of your partners have to be aware that they are dating someone polyamorous for the relationship to be polyamorous. Otherwise, you’re cheating.

Likewise, adding a partner to the mix is not likely to “spice up” your relationship if someone isn’t getting their needs met. People are not need-filling machines. It takes a lot of communication, self-reflection, and emotional maturity to maintain romantic and sexual relationships with multiple partners.

We don’t always choose metamours

In polyamory, the person your partner is dating besides you is referred to as a “metamour,” or the love of your love. It’s really a wonderful situation when everyone can hang out and play Cards Against Humanity together. You may not be attracted to your partner’s metamour, but accepting him or her as your partner’s partner and maintaining a cordial — if not friendly — relationship makes everything a lot less sticky.

I love being friendly with metamours, but there have been a couple of times in my experience when I had to ask myself, “How can someone I love, love someone like her? We’re so different!” Part of the joy of polyamory is, for some people, variety. That means you might always like the person that your partner dates. But it takes a lot of stamina and emotional maturity to smile and be polite with someone that you don’t have friendly feelings toward.

Some partners negotiate “veto rights,” where partners agree not to date anyone their partner “vetoes.” Other poly people don’t appreciate these kinds of restrictions. Either way has its pros and cons. Regardless of how you choose to manage your metamours, it’s something to discuss with your partners well before the situation presents itself, when everyone is feeling secure, and there is no New Relationship Energy to contend with.

Polyamorous partners are not immune to jealousy

In 10 years of polyamory, I can’t count the number of times someone has said, “Oh I could never be polyamorous. I’m too jealous.” There’s a myth that polyamorous people don’t ever experience jealousy. I wish!

Jealousy is the only emotion that we are allowed to use to excuse all kinds of reprehensible behavior. But the truth is that jealousy is a cover for deep, often intense insecurity and fear. And, I ought to point out, all of this is perfectly normal — and prevalent — for most people. The best way I have found to deal with my own jealousy is to spend time with the person I’m jealous of. They are usually way less threatening and monstrous than I make them out to be in my head.

You won’t always be cured of these insecurities, but over time you develop coping and communication skills that help you get through those difficult moments of self-doubt.

Raising kids in a polyamorous family is complicated

Many of us still believe in this concept that it takes a village to raise a child. And nowadays many of us are well adjusted to the idea of multiple sets of parents providing care for children. In some demographics, more than half of children have step-parents, and split their time between households. Our culture is quickly returning to more communal living, and more step-parenting. So the concept of multi-partner parenting is not entirely new.

The benefit of polyamorous parenting is that children get more one-on-one time with parents, which aids in healthy emotional and social development. And according to some recent studies, children in polyamorous families spend less time in daycare, and have a wider variety of interests and hobbies just from having more people in the household.

The drawback is obviously the occasionally fluid nature of relationships in polyamory. Children can feel some negative emotions when a polycule breaks up and certain parental figures are no longer around. Of course, this also happens in monogamous relationships, evidenced by more single-parent households than ever before.

Love is unlimited. Resources are not.

You may be able to love five different people at once, but that doesn’t mean you have enough resources to maintain that many relationships successfully. There are only 160 hours in each week, and each partner requires time and affection to maintain healthy connections. Don’t forget about the actual costs of dating. All those dinners and movie nights can add up fast. So while your love for all these people may be sincere, you have to balance those romantic feelings with what is practical in the real world.

After looking at the cost/benefit analysis of all your romantic entanglements, you might find in the end that fewer is better.

Compersion is possible

Compersion is the feeling of joy someone gets when they witness their love being well loved by another. It’s the opposite of jealousy. It’s the kind of emotion that fills your heart to the brim and overflows love into a relationship. It’s not easy to reach — more like trying to experience nirvana.

But when you arrive at compersion, there’s almost nothing better. It happens when everyone in the relationship has their needs for time, affection, and attention met; and when everyone is confident that his or her relationship is secure. It happens suddenly. The first time it happened to me, I watched my boyfriend kiss my girlfriend, and the look of peace and contentment on their faces brought me to tears.

I was so thrilled that the people I love loved each other that I couldn’t contain my own joy. I haven’t felt that emotion in every polyamorous relationship I’ve been in, but the times I have felt compersion make it all worth it, and then some.

Complete Article HERE!

Be Brutally Polyamorous.

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polyamory1

“I’m polyamorous, but my partner’s new to this. They say they’re okay with what I’ve told them about poly, but… I can tell they’re nervous. So I’m going to damp it down for a while just to be kind to them – I’ll go easy on the side-dating.”

Don’t do that.

Your kindness will rip ’em to shreds.

Because if you give someone an artificial trial period, one where you give them the faux-monogamous experience to make them comfortable, then all you’re doing is lulling them into a sense of “Oh, this is what it’s like.”

And when you start up the dating after a while, they’re going to be *even more* panicky. Because *not only* will they have the usual assortment of jealousies and insecurities that come when you transition into a multi-partner relationship, but also they’ll be thinking, “But… you didn’t date anyone for a year! Now you’re looking for someone else!

What did I do wrong?”

And here’s one of the central truths about relationships: What usually scares people the most is deviations from the established norm. For example, I have a sweetie who’s a swinger: she goes to clubs and gets her itches scratched by all sorts of guys. She tells me about her scheduling problems organizing gangbangs. I think it’s adorable.

But that’s because I met her as a swinger. That’s who she was, and who she continues to be.

If my wife, who’s fairly conservative in who she hooks up with, suddenly started hitting the clubs every night, I would fucking panic.

I’d panic because my wife’s behavior would have changed, and I’d feel like maybe I didn’t know her as well as I’d thought I did, and wonder what I was doing wrong that she suddenly was into freaky anonymous sex. And whereas I know my sweetie loves me thoroughly because “gangbangs” were just part of our background noise when w met, my wife attending ’em regularly would be different.

PolyamoryhumorNot saying I couldn’t get used to it. I could adjust.

But that switch in behavior is what scares people.

Giving them a “trial period” and then dropping the big change of “Oh yeah, I date other people now” is going to hurt someone unfamiliar to polyamory more. Often, a lot more. You are doing them zero kindnesses.

Because what’ll happen by then is that you’ll be so much more attached by the time you find out the other person said they’d be okay with poly, but really, turns out they can’t handle it. It’s not like this happened in the first weeks of dating, when you were soppy with NRE but also shallowly attached – no, it’s been months, you’re both emotionally entangled. To discover after a year that whoops, this whole poly thing is actually a dealbreaker for your other partner hurts way more.

If you’re going to be poly, own it.

Mind you, I’m not saying to go out and date someone you hate to rip off the band-aid! If they’re the currently only person in your life, cool, drift with that. But for God’s sake, if you were dating other people before, keep dating. Don’t give your trying-to-adjust partner the illusion that this is trial period is what they’re signing up for.

They deserve to know what sort of effects dating other people will have on them. Some of them will be every bit as cool with it as they promised. Others will need some adjustment, and hopefully you can fine-tune your caring to give them what they need without selling out your satisfaction. And still others will freak out so much that really, your choices boil down to “be monogamous with them” or “break up.”

All of these things are better to know early on.

So yeah. It seems selfish, but… be brutal. Show them what they’re in for. Polyamory’s not for everyone, and going out of your way to give people the impression that “polyamory” means “occasionally you flirt but really, nothing happens” can demolish ’em once the first dating happens. And if you drop that hammer after they’ve come to rely on your love and support, you’ll be one of those poly folks going, “How could they not know I was poly? I told them! Why are they shocked now?”

They’re shocked because you told them that what you were doing was what they could expect, and it wasn’t.

So keep dating. Give them as much love as you can. Hug them and let them know that your love for them is a unique thing that’s not touched by other people.

But keep dating.

Complete Article HERE!

Death Is Way More Complicated When You’re Polyamorous

By Simon Davis

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Screencap via ‘Death Becomes Her’

In February, Robert McGarey’s partner of 24 years died. It was the most devastating loss McGarey had ever encountered, and yet, there was a silver lining: “I had this profound sadness, but I don’t feel lonely,” McGarey told me. “I’m not without support, I’m not without companionship.”

That’s because he has other partners: Jane, who he’s been with for 16 years, and Mary, who he’s been with for eight. (Those are not their real names.) And while his grief for Pam, the girlfriend who died, was still immense, polyamory helped him deal with it.

There’s not a lot of research into how poly families cope with death—probably because there’s not a lot of research about how poly families choose to live. By rough estimates, there are several million poly people in the United States. And while polyamory can bring people tremendous benefits in life and in death, our social and legal systems weren’t designed to deal with people with more than one romantic partner—so when one person dies, it can usher in a slew of complicating legal and emotional problems.

“Whether people realize it or not, the partner to whom they are married will have more benefits and rights once a death happens,” explained Diana Adams, who runs a boutique law firm that practices “traditional and non-traditional family law with support for positive beginnings and endings of family relationships.”

Since married partners rights’ trump everyone else’s, the non-married partners don’t automatically have a say in end-of-life decisions, funeral arrangements, or inheritance. That’s true for non-married monogamous relationships, too, but the problem can be exacerbated in polyamorous relationships where partners are not disclosed or acknowledged by family members. In her work, Adams has seen poly partners get muscled out of hospital visits and hospice by family members who refused to recognize a poly partner as a legitimate partner.

McGarey and his girlfriend Pam weren’t married, so the decision to take her off life support had to go through Pam’s two sisters. The money Pam left behind—which McGarey would’ve inherited had they been married—went to her sisters too, who also organized Pam’s funeral.

This kind of power struggle can also happen among multiple partners who have all been romantically involved with the deceased. The only real way to ensure that everything is doled out evenly is to draft up a detailed prenuptial agreement and estate plan. Adams works with clients to employ “creative estate planning” to ensure that other partners are each acknowledged and taken care of.

Adams is a big proponent of structured mediation as a way of minimizing post-mortem surprises, like when families discover the existence of mysterious extra-marital partners in someone’s will. It’s much better to have those conversations in life than on someone’s deathbed, or after death.

But many poly people remain closeted in life and in death, according to sociologist Elisabeth Sheff, who has studied polyamorous families for 15 years and authored The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families. A person might have a public primary partner—someone they’re married to, for example—plus other private relationships. That can make it harder to grieve when one of the non-primary partners dies, because others don’t recognize the relationship as “real” or legitimate in the way the death of a spouse might be.

Take, for example, something like an employee bereavement policy. Guidelines from the Society for Human Resource Management spell out the length of time off given in the event of the death of a loved one: a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, in-laws, aunts, uncles, grandparents. Unsurprisingly, extra-marital boyfriend or girlfriend is not on the list. (Actually, “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” aren’t on the list at all.) It’s possible for an employee to explain unique circumstances to an employer, but in her research, Sheff has found that some poly people prefer not to “out” themselves this way. People still disapprove of extra-marital affairs and some poly people, according to Sheff, have even lost their jobs from being outed, due to corporate “morality clauses.”

It’s similar, she says, to the experiences of same-sex couples who are closeted. “It’s much less so now because they’re more acknowledged and recognized, but 20 years ago, it was routine for [the family of the deceased] to muscle out the partner and ignore their wishes—even if [the deceased] hadn’t seen their family for years and years,” Sheff said. “They would come and descend on the funeral and take over. Or when the person was in the ICU. That same vulnerability that gays and lesbians have moved away from to some extent is still potentially very problematic for polyamorous people.”

Legal recognition of polyamorous unions could provide some relief. After the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 and legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, calls for legalizing plural marriage have only become louder. Adams noted that an argument put forth in Chief Justice John Roberts’s 2015 dissent may provide a legal foothold for legalization advocates. “As Roberts points out, if there’s going to be a rejection of some of the traditional man-woman elements of marriage… those same arguments could easily be applied to three or four-person unions,” she said in an interview with US News & World Report earlier this year.

In 2006, Melissa Hall’s husband Paul died at the age of 52. Both were polyamorous, but Paul’s death presented “no special problems,” since they were legally married and Hall had all the rights of a spouse. Instead, she found unexpected benefits in dealing with her husband’s death: In particular, she told me that “being poly made it easier to love again.” Since they had both dated other people during their life together, Hall knew her husband’s death wouldn’t stop her from dating again.

In traditional relationships, it’s not uncommon for people to impose dating restrictions on themselves to honor the desires of their dead spouses, or to feel guilty when they start dating again. Of course, you don’t win if you don’t date either, as people eventually get on your case to “move on with your life.” All this goes out the window when you’re polyamorous, where dating doesn’t necessarily signal the end of an arbitrary acceptable period of mourning.

More partners in a relationship can certainly mean more support. It can also mean more people dying, and with that comes more grief. In an article about loss among polys published in the polyamory magazine Loving More, one man wrote: “Those of us who have practiced polyamory through our lifetime must be grateful for the abundance of love in our lives. But having those wonderful other loves means we must accept a little more grieving as well, when our times come.”

Is the trade off worth it? McGarey certainly seems to think so. “There is more grieving, but… we are held and cradled in the love of other people at the same time.”

He compares his relationship to the Disney movie Up, which starts with a guy falling in love and marrying his childhood sweetheart. “And then [she] dies, and he turns into this grumpy old man because he lost his love,” McGarey said. “I don’t see myself turning into a grumpy old man. I don’t know if I can attribute that to poly, but maybe that’s why.”

Complete Article HERE!

Having Kids Helped Me Embrace My Own Sexuality

By

Margaret E Jacobsen

My children’s first interactions around sex and sexuality are actually taking place in our home right now. I’ve worked hard to establish where we live as a safe place for them to grow, make mistakes and learn from them, and to inquire about life. It’s why I made the choice early on in their lives to make sure that they learned about sex from me and from their dad, and that in teaching them about sex, we taught our kids to be sex positive. As much as people warned me that the conversation around sex is awkward between a parent and child, I didn’t let the fear of being uncomfortable keep me from taking about sex with my 3- and 2-year-old children.

I’m sure that talking to a 3 year old and a 2 year old about sex sounds like it’s a bit young, but I feel like that’s because we’re so used to framing the sex conversation around the “birds and the bees” conversation. When I was growing up I never had that conversation with my parents and had to frame my own ideals about sex and sexuality through experience and age. I didn’t want that for my children, though. So I felt that a toddler age was actually a wonderful time to start talking to them about how to love their bodies and how to appreciate them. I felt like the intro into sex isn’t about diving head first into questions like “where does the penis go?” and “what is the purpose of the vagina?” I wanted to give my kids a foundation for understanding and respecting their bodies before I ever taught them how about the intimacy shared between two people.

Margaret E Jacobsen2

More than anything, I wanted my kids to understand as soon as possible how to love themselves, to understand consent, and to respect others’ bodies. I believe that sex positivity isn’t just about the act of having sex, it’s also about learning that the experience starts with you and will eventually (if you choose) include others.

By the time I was 18, I had disassociated myself from my body because of how my parents talked about it. now I had the chance to do things differently.

My upbringing kept me from understanding what sex was. My parents sex hidden, far above my reach. I was told we’d open that box when I was old enough, but only when I was was getting close to marriage. I found this strange — even at 10 years old. I would look sex up in the dictionary and in the encyclopedia. I often wondered what sex was and what was so special about it — why was it something only adults could understand? I’d hear my friends talk about boobs, about liking boys, and wonder if I’d ever feel comfortable enough to be naked around another person I liked. At the time, the thought horrified me.

I was uncomfortable with my body. I didn’t understand what was happening to it, or why I was suddenly getting hair under my armpits and on my vagina. My parents were constantly telling me to “be modest,” and I felt so much pressure and responsibility to look and behave and act a certain way. By the time I was 18, I had disassociated myself from my body because of how my parents talked about it. now I had the chance to do things differently.

Margaret E Jacobsen & kids

When I was 18, I was in love and I had sex for the first time. It was amazing, and I had no idea why I’d been so afraid and so ashamed. I was raised Christian and was taught to believe that sex before marriage was shameful. But after having sex for the first time, I didn’t want any forgiveness. I simply wanted to keep having sex, without feeling guilty because of it. After I’d gotten married to my then-husband and had two kids, I looked back on my own sexual experiences and realized that I didn’t want my children gaining their sex education from the world around them without some input from me. I didn’t want them feel ashamed of the fact that they liked having sex or pleasuring their bodies. I wanted my kids to know that they could always come and talk to me, that I would always support them.

I tell them dressing my body in things that make me feel confident makes me feel empowered, as if my body hold some kind of magic. They love that. So do I.

So I started to talk to them about celebrating their bodies when they were young. And because of that, I had deeper conversations with myself surrounding my own sex positivity. I had some sexual trauma in my past, which has always made it a bit difficult for me to grapple with wanting to be sexual and carving out safe spaces to practice having sex. I made changes in my personal life: I was more vocal with myself about my needs and wants, then with partners. It helped me shape the conversations I’d have with my children about how they can and should voice what they want, not with sex because that’s still a ways off, but when interacting with others. I wanted them to learn and understand the power of their own voices. I taught them to say, “No, that’s not something I would enjoy,” or “I would really like if we did this” in their everyday lives, knowing that these lessons will help them in their sexuality later on. We’ve focused on how important it is for them to speak up for themselves and to advocate for themselves.

Margaret E Jacobsen's kids

Another thing we do in our house is walk around naked. I used to shy away from showing parts of my body, like my stomach or my thighs. I have stretch marks and cellulite — both things I’ve been told aren’t “sexy.” My kids, however, could care less about whether or not my body is sexy enough, because they just like how soft my body is. It’s soft for cuddling and for hugging, two things that are very important to them. My kids move so confidently with their bodies, both with clothes on and with clothes off. My daughter’s favorite thing is to stand in front of the mirror and compliment herself. She’s actually inspired me to do the same. I’ve taken up the practice. They’ve seen me in some of my lingerie, and tell me it’s beautiful. They don’t know that lingerie is “just for sex” or that it’s something I should feel wary of other people seeing. Instead, I tell them dressing my body in things that make me feel confident makes me feel empowered, as if my body hold some kind of magic. They love that. So do I.

I watch them be confident in their bodies. I watch them say “no” strongly to each other, and to others, and most importantly, I watch them hear and respect each other.

My kids are 6 and 7 years old now, and we’ve talked about what sex is. The conversation has changed as they’ve grown up. They understand that sex is a beautiful act, one that mostly happens when people are naked. They don’t really care to know more yet, but I watch them be confident in their bodies. I watch them say “no” strongly to each other, and to others, and most importantly, I watch them hear and respect each other. As a person who is non-monogamous, I’ve shown them that sex and love are not limited to one person. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. In turn, my children have taught me to respect and be proud of my body. They think it is magic — and I agree.

Lately, the children have been exploring their bodies, which I’ve told them is fine, but it’s reserved for their alone time. I’m trying to make sure that when we talk about our bodies and about sex that we do so in an uplifting, positive way. I don’t want my children to ever question or feel any shame around their bodies or their wants. I want to equip them with the right knowledge so that they’ll be able to enjoy. Most of all, I want them to be happy.

Complete Article HERE!

The Five Dimensions of Relationship Openness

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When we say that someone is monogamous, we usually mean that he/she is sexually exclusive with one partner. But does that mean only intercourse or all sexual acts? Does that include emotional intimacy? How about cuddling or other nonsexual types of intimacy? Since we relate to people in so many ways, how we draw the boundary between monogamy and non-monogamy varies from relationship to relationship. It turns out that monogamy is not a binary, any more than polyamory can be described as simply the opposite of monogamy. Both monogamy and polyamory are on a continuum with multiple dimensions, which I’ll describe here as social, emotional, physical, sexual, and familial.

polyfidelitySocial:

Humans are social creatures, and even though most of us want to pair up with a special someone, we often maintain social bonds with others. Do you go out to dinner, see a movie, go hiking or shopping with friends by yourself, or do you prefer to do those things with your significant other? People who are socially monogamous feel that forming a social bond with a person of the opposite sex (or same sex if homosexual) is a slippery slope to infidelity. Therefore they may prioritize socializing with other couples, keeping very transparent and casual all relationships with the opposite sex, and socializing as a unit as much as possible.

Emotional:

Sometimes friendships turn into deep emotional bonds and couples find themselves having to negotiate to what extent they feel emotional intimacy with others is acceptable. For example, would you be ok with your partner having a close friendship with his ex-lover? Would you be ok with your partner forming a close friendship with a person of the opposite sex? Would you be ok with your partner saying, “I love you,” to someone of the opposite sex? Some emotionally intimate couples are purely platonic while others develop romantic feelings. How would you feel about your partner being romantically involved with someone without sex? Do you need emotional exclusivity with your partner?

Physical:

Not all physical ways of relating are sexual, and they may or may not be within the bounds of a monogamous relationship. Some individuals are very affectionate and can kiss, hug, and cuddle with their friends and it’s not at all sexual. Some cultures are more physically expressive than others. Some monogamous couples are fine with their partners hugging and even flirting with others, but draw the line at kissing. Others may engage in massage or sensual touching but agree not to have sex with others.

Sexual:

We tend to think of sex as the last stop on the monogamy train. Some people need sexual dancing_together_naked_and_freeexclusivity to feel safe with their partner, even when they are permissive in all other areas. For others, sex is not the ultimate symbol of love and devotion, but emotional intimacy is. One person may feel that “it’s fine for my partner to have sex with someone else, but I’m the only person who is allowed to cut his hair!” Some couples reserve specific sexual acts with each other or permit certain ones with others. For example, a couple may decide that BDSM with other partners is ok but they will only make love with each other. Some couples are ok with their partners having sex with others but don’t want them to sleep with other partners or go on vacation with them. Swinging is considered to be the type of non-monogamy that is sexually open but reserves emotional intimacy for the primary couple.

Familial:

While love may be infinite and potentially shared with an unlimited number of individuals, time, space, and money are limited and we may be able to share them with only one or two individuals. It is quite common that individuals who are polyamorous in all aspects may only share finances, parenting, or cohabitation with one partner. In those cases extra partners are like friends of the family or extended family. If other partners become integral members of the nuclear family and they become exclusive with each other, this type of arrangement is sometimes called polyfidelity. Even with people who consider themselves totally polyamorous, not every partner can be equal when it comes to the limited resources of time, money, and space.

As we can see, monogamy is not as straightforward as we may think it is. A couple may be emotionally monogamous but not physically or sexually so. Or they may be sexually exclusive but physically and emotionally open to others. Polyamory also has social, emotional, physical sexual, and familial dimensions. It is important to ask specific questions and understand each other’s level of openness instead of assuming we know what someone else needs. Understanding our own and other’s boundaries can also help us stretch them and grow in directions that will benefit us and our relationships.