ask me anything

How to Spot a Relationship Expert

relationship expert open relationship coach polyamory coach nonmonogamy

GAH! Here I am trying to eat between sessions and I run into yet another set of terrible relationship advice by some online "expert!"

Folks giving out awful advice and opinions abound online, here's what you need to know to find someone who can actually help you.

BOUNDARIES

When you're seeking advice consider the source.  If you want ongoing support for your relationship you need someone who understands clear boundaries, expectations, and communication.  If they can't do it in a professional setting, be sure they can't help you learn to do it in a personal one.

Find someone with clear professional guidelines they follow. This helps them be sure they can support you without getting tangled up in your (or their own) shit.  

I outline my boundaries on my website, in contracts, in initial sessions, screening calls, and by following the ethics codes of two professional organizations.  If you're hoping to work with someone ask them about the boundaries of their work.

EXPERIENCE

Find someone with lived and professional experience related to whatever topics you want to focus on.  Lived experience helps them have empathy and deeper understanding.  Of course, if they have solid boundaries they're not going to use your time to go into great detail about their own stuff- but you can ask if they've experienced similar struggles.  

At the same time be sure they don't ONLY have personal life experience, but also PROFESSIONAL experience to back up their work.  There are far too many opinionated "experts" who just want to teach you the way they do relationships who don't actually know what they're talking about, or how to help you. Hire someone trained. 

You can ask them about their experience- or better yet, ask them how many folks they've supported (professionally) who are working on the stuff you want to focus on.  If they haven't had much experience hire someone else, you're not here to train them.

EDUCATION

Lived and professional experience is critical, but they are two of three critical pieces of this work. You also want someone who has studied or read a few things to back up whatever they're selling you.  Ask them what books, teachers, research, and training they draw from when they work with people.  Be sure you hire someone who knows what's up.

PROOF

Ask to see proof their work actually, well, works.  Do they have testimonials or data that shows they're good at what they're doing?  You don't want to hire someone who over-promises in an inauthentic program, but you need to know what to expect.  Ask how they measure success in their work.

NON-JUDGMENT

Finally (but probably most importantly) it is essential you find a professional who takes a non-judgmental approach.  Far too many therapists, coaches, and healers come to the table with their own biased agendas that will compete with your needs.

Are they pushing non-monogamy? Do they believe monogamy is the best path? Are they really shame-free about sexuality? If they've got hang-ups in these areas they're going to carry over into your work.

If you can't say things to them for fear of judgment, shame, or criticism, please please please hire someone who can set all of that aside and meet you with clear presence.

Thanks for reading through my rant.  I get protective of my clients and see far too many people who've had negative experiences with couples therapists, marriage counselors, and sex educators along the way.  It's super risky to reach out for help- I hope this helps you discern a solid fit for your vulnerability work.


Hi!  I'm glad you're reading.  Let me know if I can help you:

gina senarighi polyamory coach open relationship coach
  • open your relationship & practice polyamory with integrity
  • move beyond jealousy, fear, and insecurity 
  • manage intense emotions that arise in conflicts
  • rebuild trust after infidelity or dishonesty
  • shift stuck communication & codependent relationship patterns

I lead couples retreats, host workshops, and see private clients online and in Portland, Oregon. 

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.  

Polyamory Advice: How to Find Professional Support

poly therapist polyamory couples counseling nonmonogamy open marriage therapist polyamory coach 

Ask me anything is a relationship advice column written by Gina Senarighi, a couples therapist turned retreat leader who offers online support for non-traditional relationships of all flavors.  

Submit your Ask Me Anything question right here or read more Ask Me Anything here.


THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: WHERE CAN WE FIND PROFESSIONAL SUPPORT?

 

From my inbox:

What would be your recommendations for attempting to find a similar practice locally to (STATE NAME) state? I'm in (PLACE NAME) so odds are if anything is at least as far as (CITY), a 1 hour drive. But I am sure you get this question a lot.

Me and my fiance are starting poly and I know I am a human so I will hurt her feelings, eventually. I just want to look up all the options to setup a healthy and timely recovery system. I know I need strong communication skills and that's another thing I want to work on.

 

From my sent box:

Thanks for reaching out!  I see far too many people dive into non-monogamy after a lifetime of monogamy without setting clear intentions, expectations, and boundaries or cultivating necessary communication skills.  I often wish more people were proactive.

I don't know of anyone doing this work locally for you, but I actually have other clients in your area, and we've worked together three months without issue.  If you're at all interested in relationship coaching via FaceTime I am happy to support you.  

If you want to find a couples therapist or coach in your area I would recommend contacting them via Psychology Today or the International Coaching Federation and asking four screening questions:

1) How many polyamorous, open, or otherwise ethically non-monogamous couples have you worked with in the past?

2) What professional training do you have to support your work with consensually non-monogamous couples?

3) What personal beliefs do you hold about the health and wellbeing of non-monogamous couples that might impact our work together?  

4) Do you have any lived experience in consensual non-monogamy?

One other thing I can recommend is looking into Nonviolent Communication (NVC) training in your area.  It is NOT the same as therapy or coaching for you as a couple (I would recommend both) and while it's not specifically designed just for non-monogamous folks, NVC has helped polyamorous couples communicate effectively across/through challenging emotions for decades.  I strongly recommend finding a training or practice group now to start developing those communication skills.

As far as the hurt that will happen- that part is well within your control.  If you start working on things with a trained professional before you start practicing poly (building emotional or physical intimacy with other people) you can avoid most potential hurt and misunderstanding.  Communication skill development is essential for both of you.  

I hope that's helpful.  Please schedule a free consultation if you'd like to talk about working together.  I'm happy to support you.  

Warmly, Gina

 


polyamory coach | polyamory advice | open marriage therapist

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a retired couples therapist, sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, and keeping non-traditional relationships healthy and vibrant.  

She can help you:

  • rediscover passion in long-term relationships
  • repair trust after infidelity or dishonesty
  • move past jealousy, insecurity or codependecy
  • open your relationship and practice polyamory with care
  • resolve sexual dysfunction and disconnection
  • break stale or unhealthy communication patterns 

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).

 

Open Relationship Advice: How do I Work on My Insecurities?

how do i work on insecurities.jpg

Ask me anything is a relationship advice column written by Gina Senarighi, a couples therapist turned retreat leader who offers online support for non-traditional relationships of all flavors.  

Submit your Ask Me Anything question right here or read more Ask Me Anything here.


This week's question: 

"I lived with/dated a poly man for 18 months. He is a gem of a person! His wife, her boyfriend and I had a good relationship and are still in touch.

These last few months I've been dealing with jealousy and insecurity, so much so that we broke things off and he moved out.

I'm pretty devastated, and really want things to work, but need time to get my head on straight. We agreed to check back in a few months and see where things stand. I want to be ready and healthy for this.

How do I figure out how to work on jealousy and insecurity?"

I'm so sorry you broke up. I hope you'll consider working on your insecurity and jealousy for your own well-being, whether you get back together or not. 

The first step in managing jealousy and insecurity is learning to allow them. Most of us struggle with jealousy and insecurity and most of our struggle is beating ourselves up because they exsist.  

But jealousy and insecurity are normal, natural emotional states. If we ignore them we're ignoring part of ourselves. And we would never ignore other emotions (joy, excitement, calm etc) so why sever this part of ourselves?

I know joy and happiness are so much easier to sit with. But if you can bring yourself to accept that jealousy and insecurity are natural, you may be able to sit with them a while and learn from them. Often they're trying to tell us something useful. 

Next time they show up, find somewhere comfy and get something to write with. Then do a free-write (unedited, no-judgment allowed) interviewing them.  Ask your jealousy and insecurity:

  • What do they want most?
  • What are they trying to tell you?
  • What other emotions are they traveling with?
  • What are they trying to protect?

And answer for yourself:

  • How does spending time with jealousy/insecurity help me?
  • How do I feel when I believe my jealous thoughts?
  • How do I feel when I choose to believe my insecure thoughts?
  • How do I want to feel in this moment? What do I want to focus on/be present for?
  • Who would I be if you weren't focusing on them?

Notice what you can learn from these emotions if you allow them.  There is likely some important learning here for you.  If you want a coach to walk you through creating a different relationship with your jealousy and insecurity, call me, I'm here for you. 


polyamory advice | open relationship advice | open marriage advice

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC keeps non-traditional relationships healthy and vibrant as a coach and retreat leader in Portland, OR.  

She can help you:

  • rediscover passion in long-term relationships
  • repair trust after infidelity or dishonesty
  • move past jealousy, insecurity or codependecy
  • open your relationship and practice polyamory with care
  • resolve sexual dysfunction and disconnection
  • break stale or unhealthy communication patterns 

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).

 

Relationship Advice: How do I Regain Her Trust?

polyamory advice | open relationship advice | open marriage advice

Ask me anything is a relationship advice column written by Gina Senarighi, a couples therapist turned retreat leader who offers online support for non-traditional relationships of all flavors.  

Submit your Ask Me Anything question right here or read more Ask Me Anything here.


This week's question: 

"I've been in a relationship for nearly two years. Recently we had some misunderstanding issues, regarding privacy, boldness, and respecting each other's feelings. How can I solve the problem, and regain trust?"

I'm so glad you're asking.  Rebuilding trust is so critical to staying together- and most of us are clueless when it comes to relationship repair work.  Thanks for bringing this up!

Trust is touchy because it's so difficult to build up and so easy to lose.  It gets built up in the tiniest of everyday actions - so small it can seem invisible.  And so tiny building it back can seem like it takes forever. 

And building trust back after it's been broken is a struggle because we rarely can see the full impact our actions have on a partner.  Just as it's built in tiny increments, it can be broken in tiny increments- so tiny we can miss them if we're not invested in paying attention.

I offer that information only to help give you a little perspective. Lots f folks get impatient when trying to earn trust from a loved one after we've broken it. But it takes time- sometimes, lots of time to get back to a similar trusting place. And getting impatient isn't going to help.

You can do it though. If you stick with it.  

The keys to building trust after a break are twofold: you have to both repair the specific break, and you have to keep momentum building on the tiny incremental trust-installments you've already made. 

Repairing the Trust Break

When trust has been broken you have to apologize.  But that doesn't mean just saying you're sorry.  Apologies have four essential parts if they're going to work. 

  1. Acknowledge the specific behaviors you did that broke trust
  2. Acknowledge the emotional impact on your partner
  3. Suggest an alternative behavior you'll do if a similar situation comes up in the future
  4. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART: Follow through on what you said in #3

The more specific you can be when taking ownership of your actions and the more clearly you can connect to the impact it had on your sweetie the better.  But above all, be sure when you suggest alternatives for the future, you offer something you KNOW you can commit to following through.  Follow through is where trust is built.

Keeping Trust-Momentum Building

The other part of regaining trust is to keep the day-to-day trust nourishing behaviors you already have in place moving in the right direction.  We build trust when what we do and what we say are in alignment. 

So start paying extra close attention to the agreements, promises, and commitments you make with your partner and be especially careful not to over-promise. And start looking for ways to make more promises you KNOW you can follow through on.  As you create verbal agreements and follow through on them- even tiny ones- trust between you will slowly return.

I'm sorry you and your sweetie are in the difficult place of repairing trust.  But with care and intention, you can get back to a sweetly connected place again. Let me know if you'd like help along the way.


    polyamory advice | open relationship advice | open marriage advice

    Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a retired couples therapist, sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, and keeping non-traditional relationships healthy and vibrant.  

    She can help you:

    • rediscover passion in long-term relationships
    • repair trust after infidelity or dishonesty
    • move past jealousy, insecurity or codependecy
    • open your relationship and practice polyamory with care
    • resolve sexual dysfunction and disconnection
    • break stale or unhealthy communication patterns 

    Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

    Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).

     

    Open Relationship Advice: Can We Really Open a 15-Year Marriage?

    polyamory advice | open relationship advice | open marriage advice

    Ask me anything is a relationship advice column written by Gina Senarighi, a couples therapist turned couples retreat leader who offers online support for non-traditional relationships of all flavors.  

    Submit your Ask Me Anything question right here or read more Ask Me Anything here.


    This week's question: 

    "In your professional opinion, is it even fathomable to think a marriage after 15 years could ever be an open one? "

    Yes.  Absolutely, any relationship could be an open one.

    But it may not be easy to get started. 

    There are a couple big hurdles in the way for most people who've been practicing monogamy a long time.  First, there's a HEAP of cultural conditioning you're going to face and second, there's a skillset required if you're going to stay together- skills most of us never received training for.

    As far as the cultural conditioning part, that is something most my clients call a mindset shift.  We often talk about it as of they've been able to see the Matrix (yes, I am seriously dating myself here) and once they can see it, they never think about relationships the same way again.  

    The thing is, there are a lot of default assumptions we base relationships on in our culture- but we rarely check those assumptions.  A large part of putting ethical non-monogamy into practice is checking assumptions.

    Here's one example: I'm presuming you and your spouse have been practicing monogamy for the last 15 years.  If so, have you ever talked about what the boundaries of your monogamy are?  Most folks don't.  But in ten years of asking couples I rarely have clients who are 100% on the same page about their monogamy expectations.  Here are some of the things I hear:

    • We'd never have sex (oral, anal, or vaginal) with anyone else but we do kiss some friends hello
    • I expect you'll never be alone with someone of the opposite gender in a private space
    • I don't think we should dance with other people
    • We don't get naked with members of the opposite sex (except massage tables)
    • We don't hold hands or sit touching other people
    • I would never share secrets with anyone else
    • We don't make future plans with people we're attracted to

    Usually, couples I see are clear on one of those items, but most of them are unclear about the rest.  I often recommend couples try getting clear about their current/standing monogamy agreements before trying to discuss ethical non-monogamous agreements.

    As far as the skills, they're easy to outline but more difficult to practice.  Really practicing non-monogamy ethically means being much more careful and intentional about the promises and commitments you make, the expectations you hold, and the personal work you do to regulate difficult emotions. 

    It's usually really helpful to hire a support person to help you learn the skills and practice them with support.  

    So, like I said, yes, ABSOLTELY you can open any relationship- if you're willing to do the work of shifting perspective, learning and implementing new skills. Let me know if you'd like help along the way.


      polyamory advice | open relationship advice | open marriage advice

      Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a retired couples therapist, sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, and keeping non-traditional relationships healthy and vibrant.  

      She can help you:

      • rediscover passion in long-term relationships
      • repair trust after infidelity or dishonesty
      • move past jealousy, insecurity or codependecy
      • open your relationship and practice polyamory with care
      • resolve sexual dysfunction and disconnection
      • break stale or unhealthy communication patterns 

      Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

      Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).

       

      Open Relationship Advice: Is There Hope for Our Mono/Poly Relationship?

      polyamory advice | open relationship advice | open marriage advice

      Ask me anything is a relationship advice column written by Gina Senarighi, a couples therapist turned couples retreat leader who offers online support for non-traditional relationships of all flavors.  

      Submit your Ask Me Anything question right here or read more Ask Me Anything here.


      This week's question: 

      "I am naturally a monogamous person and I fell in love with a polyamorous person who is in love with me... 

      ...Is there hope?"

      Honey, I am sorry whatever you're going through has you asking if there's hope. Mono/poly can absolutely work out, but it's essential (in any relationship) you hold fast to hope. When it's gone there's not much that can keep you together. 

      And questioning hope is a really hard place to sit.

      You say you're in love. I want to know more about what that means for the two of you.  Lots of folks say they're in love and they mean lust. Others mean comfort.  Neither of those are bad things, but neither will sustain you if staying together long-term is your goal.

      The behaviors that make up your love are what will help you stand the tests of time. And it sounds like you're standing in a test right now. Identifying the behaviors that show love in your relationship will help you reorient to the strengths you share in hard times. And it will help you (as the monogamous person in a polyamorous relationship) get clear in a world that can seem so counter to the lessons our culture has taught you about love.

      Most couples try to choose monogamy. Of those, most end up choosing unethical non-monogamy (cheating) at some time. Which means most of us have very little information, and social support as well as few role models to look to when we start talking about ethical non-monogamy. It can seem really foreign.

      One of the biggest struggles I see monogamous folks deal with when partnered with someone who wants to practice polyamory is that feeling of overwhelm and uncertainty- because we have so little exposure or support. Don't worry, there are a few things you can do to help you through.

      1) Study Up- get some baseline information about what consensual polyamoryand ethical non-monogamy can look like.

      There are two great books (Opening Up and More Than Two) I frequently recommend to clients who need more info. They're great because they give lots of real life examples from actual couples. Check them out. 

      2) Define Your Poly- Once you have a little background information you're going to start an important conversation conversation with your partner about what the words "monogamy" and "polyamory" mean to you. 

      You see, no two open relationships are structured the same, and they change over the course of time. So if you want to stay with this person, you will need to get clear about what each of you want right now and you'll need a way to process how and when that changes over time.  

      Plus, it's possible what your sweetie means by polyamorous might not even be that far out of what works for you. The clearer you two can be, the better equipped you are to discuss consent.  

      My wish for you is that you don't lose hope. I've seen LOTS of couples figure out ways to navigate non-monogamy that work for both parties. Let me know if you'd like help along the way. 


        polyamory advice | open relationship advice | open marriage advice

        Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a retired couples therapist, sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, and keeping non-traditional relationships healthy and vibrant.  

        She can help you:

        • rediscover passion in long-term relationships
        • repair trust after infidelity or dishonesty
        • move past jealousy, insecurity or codependecy
        • open your relationship and practice polyamory with care
        • resolve sexual dysfunction and disconnection
        • break stale or unhealthy communication patterns 

        Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

        Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).

         

        25 Things to do When Your Partner Goes on a Date

        opening relationship open marriage polyamory help

        Even the most secure folks sometimes have trouble when opening a relationship goes from philosophy to practice.  And the first times your honey is out with someone other than you can be particularly challenging if you've only experienced monogamy before.  

        Its totally common for me to hear from folks who say they've been fine all along and suddenly when the house is empty- or their partner isn't available by phone insecurity, jealousy and anxiety swoop in for an unplanned visit.  

        If you haven't thought ahead it's really easy to get swept away in an anxious surprise.  So I often urge clients to think up a self-care action plan before that trifecta of emotion comes knocking.  Here are some of the ideas my clients have come up with:

        1. Take a colleague to dinner
        2. Call/Skype/Facetime that far away friend you haven't spoken with in a while
        3. Got to the spa
        4. Take a run/hike/jog/walk/roll
        5. Go to therapy
        6. Find an art gallery you haven't visited (or return to your favorite one)
        7. Take yourself to the movies
        8. Plan a date with your sweetie in the future
        9. Yoga
        10. Go to a concert
        11. Wander through Powells (or whatever your favorite bookstore is)
        12. Plan your own date
        13. Find a meditation space near you and join others for meditation
        14. Go to happy hour
        15. Try that class at the gym you've always been curious about
        16. Host a dinner party
        17. Travel to see that friend all the way across town you never get over to see
        18. Take a long bike ride
        19. Eat something you normally wouldn't with your sweetie
        20. Enroll in that class you're curious about and see it through
        21. Find somewhere to dance it out
        22. Plan a big trip you've been dreaming about
        23. Find a poetry reading to attend
        24. Play with your pets
        25. Slow-cook yourself something special

        If you want more ideas about structures that support healthy open relationships give me a call- I'm happy to help you create a tailored plan for success.


        when spouse is polyamorous

        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.  

        What I Wish I Had Known...

        Polyamory Mistakes | Opening Marriage Regrets | Opening Relationship

        I recently had a great conversation in my Opening Up Support Group I knew I had to share (with their permission of course).  All the folks in the group are in the beginning stages of opening their relationships and after weeks and months of ups and downs and navigating big changes (mostly really smoothly) they've gathered a lot of great experience and perspective.

        Because I work with so many greta folks considering opening their relationships, I wanted to gather their thoughts looking back- what (if anything) would they change about how they started out?

        I was most surprised to learn how many of them wouldn't change a thing- ups and downs and all.  Those folks said the long-term outcome was gaining priceless self-awareness and for many a deeper commitment and connection to their partners.  Looking back, they wouldn't change anything.  

        But the majority had some thoughts to share.  I did my best to preserve their words just as they said them (save any identifying information).  I share these with the hope they may help you navigate new openness with greater ease.  

        "I wish I had realized earlier it's really okay to have feelings for more than one person at a time.  I mean, I knew it in theory, but it took a long time to really sink in and own it.  This led me to lots of second-guessing."

        "Sometimes losing a partner is less painful than staying with them."

        "Yeah, and you have to be ready to do a lot of emotional labor. Relationships take work."

        "I wish we would have taken things much slower.  I would have hired Gina sooner for support to get us through the parts where we just couldn't figure things out.  We needed an outiside opinion."

        "I got carried away too. It was like a drug. All that outside attention really caused problems between [my partner] and I. ...Never make life-changing decisions quickly."

        "I wish I had kept my self-care in check in the beginning. I totally stopped going to the gym when I was in NRE [New Relationship Energy]."

        "I'd have taken things slower too. I don't know why we were in such a rush. It got overwhelming quickly and I kind of lost myself in it. I mean, it was fun, but I was drained. I needed to learn balance."

        "Non-monogamy is a valid choice. Pure and simple."

        "I wish I would have figured out how to connect with all parties involved sooner.  I found out months in my boyfriend's wife was not consenting and the whole situation imploded."

        "There's no one right way to 'do' polyamory."

        "Equal is not the same as fair."

        "Jealousy is natural.  I wish I had accepted that and stopped spending so much time beating myself up about it.  It's a natural emotion and there's nothing wrong as long as I don't expect my partner to fix it for me."

        "All your same old relationship patterns are still going to be there when you start practicing non-monogamy.  So if you are terrible communicators before you start, you'll still be after you're seeing other people but you'll have even more you need to talk about."

        "Yeah, I'm a people pleaser.  So seeing more people just meant more people to try to please. It was exhausting."

        "I wish I was better at asking for what I need."

        "It's ok to not be ok with something that your partner is doing."

        "I needed to learn more about how to be okay with being alone before we got started. Poly FOMO is terrible."

        I hope that helps those of you considering opening your relationship somewhere to start a conversation or a little self-work.  If you'd like some support (or you want to join our group) set up a free call with me.  I'd love to help you sort out what's best for you.


        BW Gina Senaeighi Headshot.jpgopening marriage regrets | open relationship mistakes | polyamory regrets

        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.  

         

        ASK ME ANYTHING: IS IT TOO SOON TO OPEN OUR RELATIONSHIP?

        Ask me anything is a relationship advice column written by Gina Senarighi, a retired couples therapist turned couples retreat leader who offers online support for non-traditional relationships of all sorts.  

        Submit your Ask Me Anything question right here.  Or Read more Ask Me Anything here.

         

        This week's question: Do we need to be together longer before we open our relationship?

        Here's the full question: I feel excited and terrified at the thought of opening up my relationship. I've been with my partner for 3.5 months and the topic came up a few times. Before meeting him I was curious about open relationships but when he brought it up, I was totally freaked out and felt very insecure.  Two weekends ago he had a panic attack and it ended with him breaking up with me.  Soon after I connected with another man. Two days later my partner came back.  We talked things through and decided to be together.

        My questions are: is it a good idea to establish our relationship more, get to know and trust each other better, and again, before exploring an open relationship? Or better to have the early foundation of our relationship be that of an open one? 

        I found you through your don't ask don't tell article. I don't know if I'm ready to kiss and connect with others (our agreement is that when we aren't together we can kiss others). I don't know how to talk to him about kissing someone else, I don't want to hurt or lose him, and I don't like the idea of hearing about him kissing someone else... But ultimately I'd love to feel good sharing things and being open, honest and happy for each other. Is it just too soon?

        Are we not ready or is this just something we have to force ourselves to go through so we can learn from it and get to a place where we can be open and share experiences?

         

        I'm so glad you wrote me!  I know it's a hard place to be in, but I'm hoping it helps to hear you are far from alone.  The tension you describe between being curious and terrified at the same time is all too common among people who are first starting to think about openness.  I meet with lots of couples who say trying to open their relationships felt like a wild emotional roller coaster ride (articulated in your panic attack/break up example).  

        There are a couple phrases you used in your message that I want to point out to help respond.  You asked "is it too soon for us" in a number of different ways.  I find a lot of people get stuck on that question  because their individual truth is "this is too soon for me."  Check in with yourself- does that resonate?  Is it too soon for you?  

        There is no exact right or wrong time to start negotiating openness in a relationship for the first time.  There are plenty of reasons it can be a struggle when you're just beginning with a new partner and I've seen lots of people struggle to open previously monogamous relationships as well.  

        But a couple things you said made me think you might want to put on the brakes a bit for now.  First, hearing that the conversation about openness lead to panic attacks and break ups tells me you might want to ease in more gently and have stronger resiliency support around you both.  You also want to commit to working together instead of threatening break ups.  I would recommend sorting out those things for now, so your conversations about openness can feel less dramatic.  

        Finally, your word choice "is this something we just have to force ourselves..." is really telling to me.  I often tell clients "you can't force anything good" and ask people I support to reconsider the "have tos" in their lives.  Relationships function better with want tos instead of have tos.  This more than anything tells me it's time for you to slow down.  

        Please understand by slow down I am not saying you should stay monogamous now or forever- you can (and should) revisit this conversation often and with each new partner you build relationship with.  I'm saying it sounds like things have progressed more quickly than either of you may have anticipated and it's time to pause for more reflection before taking more action.  

        It's not about how long you've been together, it's about the way you're being together dear one.



        Gina Senarighi Oregon Couples Retreat Polyamorous Couples Retreat

        Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, LGBTQ issues and infidelity.  

        She can help you:

        • rediscover passion in long-term relationships
        • repair trust after infidelity or dishonesty
        • move past jealousy, insecurity or codependecy
        • open your relationship and practice polyamory with care
        • resolve sexual dysfunction and disconnect
        • break unhealthy communication patterns 

        Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

        Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).

        You Asked, I Answered: What to Know About Working With Me

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        I get asked a lot of great questions about my work.  Here's a short list of the most commonly asked questions about couples and relationship work with me.  

        Read more of the most frequently asked questions by my clients here

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        How is coaching different from counseling?

        Yes, I have completed a masters in counseling, but the work I do is not based You’ve tried therapy and stuck to it… but it’s time to apply the skills learned. Counseling is important reflective healing work, but my clients come to me hoping to take action for change.  That's where coaching comes in.

        Counseling (the "assessment and treatment of mental health disorders") is about asking why something is happening.  Coaching doesn't assess or treat these disorders- my clients are healthy.  Instead we ask what you want to do differently.  How do you want to change? 

        You're pretty friendly, how is this different from a friendship?

        Having friendly relationships with my clients is important to me, but this isn't a friendship per se.  Whenever we meet I'm working for you providing facilitated space, open-mindedness, years of experience and training, and deep professional care.  

        What's different than friendship is:

        • I bring ten years of professional expertise and training helping people build healthy relationships
        • I don't have personal attachment to your story so I won't offer judgment and you don't have to question my motives
        • You don't have to take care of my feelings or needs- this is a one-way relationship
        • I won't hit on you, sleep with you, or date you- our boundaries remain clear no matter how intimate our conversation
        • I won't search you online or in social media, what you choose to bring to session is up to you
        • The things you say to me remain strictly confidential (see more on this below)

        How long are sessions?

        Couples sessions are 75-90 minutes long.  I ask you to reserve 90 minutes for our meeting each time we schedule.  Many of my clients arrive 15 minutes early to collect their thoughts before session- I highly recommend it.

        Individual sessions are 50 minutes long.  Many of my clients arrive 15 minutes early to collect their thoughts before session- I highly recommend it.

        How often will we meet?

        Most of my clients meet me every other week.  This gives you time to check in with your partner, your other partners, and (if you're in couples work) your individual therapist or coach.  It also gives a little more time to try out the skills we're working on before we meet again. 

        A small number of my clients meet me weekly.  These are typically clients healing from affairs and experiencing extreme emotions.  Sometimes clients meet me weekly during stressful experiences (loss, break-up, new partner etc) or when they are making time-sensitive decisions (should we stay together, move to China, abort this pregnancy etc).

        There's also a small number of clients who I have worked with for a while who want to invest in pro-active relationship maintenance.  We've generally cleared up the initial concerns they brought to my office, but they want a container to hold their conflicts with care moving forward.  We typically meet every third week for this kind of preventative relationship care work. 

        How long do you meet with people?

        Most clients work with me 4-6 months.  Many clients choose to stay on for monthly relationship maintenance meetings to help keep their relationships healthy.  

        I'm proud that over 50% of my clients return years after working together to start up again when new issues arise.  They enjoyed our work together, found it helpful, and want to work with someone who knows their back story.

        Where is your office/Where will we meet?

        All my initial screening free consultations happen on the phone.  

        Once we've decided to work together we may meet on the phone or in my office in Northeast Portland, OR.  My office is in the Overlook/Arbor Lodge neighborhoods at the corner of N Denver and N Killingsworth.  You can take the Max or the bus easily and there is ample street parking.

        How much does this work cost?

        I recommend budgeting between $175 and $800 each month for this work (depending on the frequency and type of meetings).  I offer some reduced rate spaces for clients who make a lower income.   

        Initial phone consultations are free.  First sessions for couples are $200 and first solo sessions are $175.  Ongoing couples sessions are $175 and solo sessions are $125.  Again, let me know if this is too much for your household budget, I may have reduced rate sessions available.

        Do you offer sliding-scale or reduced fee sessions?

        I do reserve a small number of spaces for reduced rate clients who make a lower income.  Some of my clients also meet with me less frequently to make this work fit in their budgets.  Let me know if you need help affording our work.

        Do you bill insurance?

        I would never share your personal information with a corporation- so no, I do not bill insurance.  Some of my clients have used Flex Spending Accounts and Health Savings Accounts to work with me successfully.

        Will you see either of us individually if we also see you as a couple?

        I will see you individually to work on issues related to the relationship.  But if you want additional support for other areas of your life, or very intense self-work I will likely refer you out.

        How does confidentiality work?

        Everything you say to me in session is kept confidential on my end forever.  There are only a few exceptions to this:

        • If you are abusing someone in your care, or your partner, or yourself I'll likely have to report your abuses
        • If you are planning to kill yourself or another person I will report your plans
        • If you contact me using the internet, social media, email, or a smart phone I have no control over the confidentiality of the information you share (but google, facebook, etc will) 
        • I am currently receiving supervision for both a Sex Counselor and a Master Coach credential and will talk with my supervisor about my client work- but I will remove identifying information in these conversations.

        How do you maintain boundaries with a community so interconnected?

        It's not uncommon for one of my clients to have some familiarity with others.  But your confidentiality is of utmost importance.  If there's something that feels uncomfortable we'll talk about it, but I won't be able to share information about any of my other clients, famous or not, past or present.  

        Your information is safe with me.

        I also don't discuss my own personal connections, interests, desires, or activities with clients.  If I show up at an event and a client is in attendance I will probably leave.  I do this to maintain a professional relationship, instead of beginning a personal one (that could complicate our work together). I'd rather maintain extra distance than harm our work.  

        What if we stop working together?

        Your confidentiality is respected even if we stop working together.  Once you become one of my clients you can always return to our work, so your information will wait in a secure vault if (until) you decide to return.


        sex therapist portland sex counselor for couples in portland couples therapist

        Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a communication consultant, sexuality counselor and certified relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, and infidelity.  

        She can help you:

        • rediscover passion in long-term relationships
        • repair trust after infidelity or dishonesty
        • move past jealousy, insecurity or codependent patterns
        • open your relationship or practice polyamory with care
        • resolve sexual dysfunction and disconnect
        • break unhealthy communication patterns in your relationship

        Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

        Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).