When I started out serving folks in non-monogamous relationships many years ago there were VERY few resources and tools available that specifically focused on open relationships and polyamory. So I spent years borrowing tools form other areas of psychology and tailoring them to meet the needs of our community.
Enter "bookending," a concept from addiction recovery communities designed to help folks in recovery create intentional structures when they knew potentially triggering events were coming near.
For example, someone in recovery for alcohol use might set up bookend structures like a call to a sponsor before and after they attend a wedding where a lot of drinking could occur. By creating a purposeful strategy they're setting a mindset for more positive interactions.
And by reaching out to someone who cares they're combatting the shame often debilitates people in recovery processes. Shame prefers isolation and secrecy.
Some people opt for more introverted bookend supports. They might outline a self-care plan for before and after an event, they might text a friend or review their personal accountability agreements before and after to honor their growth and continued progress.
So what does this have to do with open relationships?
Non-monogamy is not the same as addiction. But the experience of triggering and overwhelming emotion couples with high-reactivity that comes up in many people can lead to a similar shame spiral felt by those in recovery. And it can feel like reactions are out of control in a very similar way.
Plus, these reaction/shame spirals can damage relationships in similar ways to the outcomes in addition relapse. Not the same, but similar.
So I ask my couples to anticipate potentially triggering events on their path to non-monogamy and create individual and relationship/couples bookends around them.
Individual Bookends = self-care plans to support your integrity and health and manage reactivity that could arise.
Relationship/Couples Bookends = practices of rituals that nourish your connection before and after the event.
Here's an example:
Kelly and Thomas have decided to open their relationship after six years of monogamy and want to start by meeting people on OkCupid. They anticipate having threesomes and dating separately in the coming weeks and months.
When I ask them to identify potentially triggering events they gave me four right off the bat:
- When their online profiles go live
- When one of them "clicks" with someone online
- When they have their first date with a third person as a couple
- When either of them has their first solo date
Each of these triggering events carries different meaning and different potential emotional triggers for the two of them so I'm not going to go into all three (Kelly, Thomas, and their couple) bookends for each here. But I will outline them for the first example (online profiles going live) below.
Kelly Self-Care Bookends:
"I plan to take a run the day our profiles go live to help me get rid of excess anxiety. I also want to talk to my individual therapist beforehand and then I have a girlfriend who knows what's going on I plan to call if something intense comes up."
Thomas Self-Care Bookends:
"I already made an appointment with a new therapist for the day we picked to go live. I think it will help me to use the Self-Control app to block the website once we make it live so I don't check the app all night. I told my good friend at work what's going on and we're getting breakfast the next morning I I need to debrief (if not we'll just have a good hang out)."
Kelly, "I'm going to feel better about this if we have time to cuddle before we publish our profiles."
Thomas, "Yeah, that'd be sweet. We should make dinner and just chill a bit before we do it."
Kelly, "What about after?"
Thomas, "We can just take the dog for a long walk together. I like our walks."
Kelly, "Great. And I will make sure I turn the app off that night so I don't get distracted from our connected night either."
If you want help creating these kind of bookend practices to support your relationship's health as you start opening things up I'm happy to talk with you. Set up a free consult, I have room right now.
Hi! I'm glad you're reading. Let me know if I can help you:
- reconnect with passion & desire in long-term partnerships
- rebuild trust after infidelity or dishonesty
- move beyond jealousy, fear, and insecurity
- manage intense emotions that arise in conflicts
- resolve sexual dysfunction & disconnect
- change communication & codependent patterns
- open your relationship & practice polyamory with integrity
I lead couples retreats, host workshops, and see private clients online (and in Portland, OR).
Call me for a free consultation to rethink the way you do relationships.
Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a communication consultant, sexuality counselor and certified relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, and infidelity.