Working with the Consensual Non-Monogamy Community
Explore the intricate world of Consensual Non-Monogamy (CNM) with Courtney Burkhardt, Marriage and Family Therapist, on this enlightening episode of the Heal Your Roots Podcast. Unravel the depths of this unconventional relationship framework, and dive into candid discussions about the complexities of sex therapy, communication, and trust.
Discover the story behind Courtney’s journey into the realm of sex therapy, inspired by her early interest and subsequent training experiences. Learn how she examines her own thoughts and feelings through sexual attitude assessments, and understand the profound influence of these insights in her therapeutic interactions.
The episode delves into the core aspects of CNM, illuminating its underpinnings, and presenting a holistic view of the community. Courtney shares her extensive research on the topic from her graduate school days, providing an analytical lens to this contemporary relationship paradigm. She elucidates on the practice of emotionally-focused couples therapy in non-monogamous relationships, and explains the hierarchical and egalitarian forms of polyamory.
The conversation also addresses the realities of transitioning from monogamous to non-monogamous relationships, the nuances of polyamory and swinging, and the distinctive contrasts between open and monogamous relationships. It further examines the intersection of chronic illness, trauma history, and mismatched sex drives with non-monogamous partnerships, underscoring the vital role of trust and clear communication.
Courtney also speaks candidly about the challenges couples may face in non-monogamous relationships, such as setting boundaries, crafting living contracts, and overcoming the stigma and scarcity mindset. The difference between cheating and non-monogamy is also discussed, offering listeners a fresh perspective on this often misunderstood topic.
Towards the end, Courtney shares valuable recommendations, including the book “Ethical Slut”, and introduces the Agape app, a tool designed to aid couples in enhancing communication. As the episode wraps up, listeners learn that Courtney is currently accepting new clients for sex therapy, providing an opportunity to benefit from her unique expertise.
In this episode, enhance your understanding of consensual non-monogamy, gain a fresh perspective on relationship dynamics, and discover the healing power of open conversations and clear communication in fostering healthy, fulfilling relationships. Whether you’re a therapist, a student, or just curious about the realm of non-monogamous relationships, this episode is a treasure trove of insights and knowledge.
- What is consensual non monogamy? 0:00
- Introduction to Courtney Burkhardt, marriage and family therapist.
- What consensual non-monogamy is.
- How she became a therapist and why. 1:16
- Becoming a therapist after talking with a family friend.
- Sex therapy.
- How did you become interested in sex therapy? 2:07
- Interest in sex therapy from a young age.
- How sex therapy training has been for you.
- Sexual attitude assessment and examining own thoughts and feelings.
- Working with the consensual non monogamy community.
- Consensual non monogamy. 6:30
- The consensual non-monogamy community.
- The research projects in graduate school on consensual monogamy.
- Using emotion-focused couples therapy when working with consensual non-monogamy.
- Hierarchical and egalitarian forms of polyamory.
- Understanding the hierarchy of consensual non monogamy. 11:36
- The two types of non-monogamous relationships.
- Transitioning from monogamous to consensual non- monogamy.
- The general idea around polyamory and swinging.
- What it means to be in a monogamous relationship.
- Open relationships vs. monogamous relationships. 17:12
- Open relationship vs polyamorous relationship.
- Benefits of non-monogamous relationships.
- Chronic illness and trauma history.
- Mismatched sex drives one partner vs another.
- The importance of communication and trust. 20:47
- Why consensual non-monogamy is not recommended or beneficial.
- The importance of communication and honesty.
- Security and confidence in a polyamorous or non-monogamous relationship.
- Stigma and scarcity mindset.
- Challenges for couples in non monogamy. 26:49
- Having multiple romantic partners.
- The difference between consensual cheating and non-monogamy.
- Struggles within non-monogamous relationships.
- Struggling with boundaries and boundaries.
- Setting up the rules and parameters in a relationship.
- Creating a living contract.
- The importance of clear communication. 34:13
- The foundation of clear communication in relationships.
- Every relationship is unique to them.
- Recommendation, “Ethical Slut” book.
- Recommendation of technology to couples, agape app.
- Courtney’s favorite app. 38:21
- Courtney recommends a few useful apps.
- Courtney is accepting new clients for sex therapy.
Expand for Podcast Transcript
Courtney Burkhardt 0:00
consensual non monogamy is pretty much exactly what it sounds like it is when you are not kind of bound to a traditional monogamous style of relationship you can be sexually intimate, emotionally intimate with just more than one other person
Kira Yakubov 0:15
Hi, I’m Kira Yakubov Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Founder of Heal Your Roots Wellness practice. Every episode, we talk with a professional from the mental health field to learn more about their approaches and specialties, and also their journey of becoming a therapist. In this podcast will uncover a deeper look at the world of therapy from new perspectives. You’ll meet the therapist of Heal Your Roots Wellness practice, and trusted colleagues from the community tackling mental well being or your go to Network for practical and professional insight in mental health. Subscribe for new episode releases every other Wednesday.
Kira Yakubov 1:02
Hi, welcome back. I’m so excited for today’s episode. With us we have Courtney Burkhardt. She’s a Marriage and Family Therapist and one of our newest therapists that Heal Your Roots Wellness to join us for any thank you so much for being on with us today.
How Courtney became a therapist and why
Courtney Burkhardt 1:16
Yeah, thank you. I’m happy to be here.
Kira Yakubov 1:18
How you became a therapist and why you became a therapist.
Courtney Burkhardt 1:22
Yes. So I originally wanted to become a therapist after talking with a family friend, when I was a kid. And I remember having this whole conversation, I was like, you know, maybe in middle school trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. And she was saying that she’s a marriage family therapist. I’m asking her questions about it. And she’s like, do you like to talk to people and 12 year old little girl means like, of course, I love to talk to people. So and that was kind of it from there, it was pretty set on this track. And I kind of came to the idea of sex therapy, specifically while I was in college, just kind of exploring different avenues within marriage, family therapy. And yeah, that’s kind of how I got to be here.
How did you become interested in sex therapy?
Kira Yakubov 2:07
That’s awesome. I love that you already knew from such a young age that that was like, and that you were even thinking about it like what do I want to do forever?
Courtney Burkhardt 2:15
Yes, I tend to be a little more type A with some of that stuff. But it served me well. And I’m happy that I stayed consistent. I really love this job.
Kira Yakubov 2:23
And so how has the sex therapy training been for you? Like, what about going through the like, whether it was graduate school, or some of the courses that kind of made you want to lean a little bit more into that as well?
Courtney Burkhardt 2:33
Yes. So I think my interest in sex therapy started when I was in college, and I started taking a bunch of like, psychology of women and gender studies type courses. And that really appealed to me and talking about different aspects of gender and sexuality. And then that kind of propelled me into choosing the sex therapy track at Thomas Jefferson University, where I got to really expand on that education and figure out exactly kind of what I wanted to do within the field.
Kira Yakubov 3:03
I love that. Yeah. When I was in graduate school, and I was going for marriage and family therapy, we only had, I think, one human sexuality class, and I loved that class. And then once I graduate and started working with couples, you know, sex comes up. Like it’s inevitable. It’s a huge part of the relationship. And I was like, why did we not learn more about this? So it made me want to go back and learn more about it as well. So I went to Council for Relationships, which I think is part of Jefferson, right? Which is the program that you were a part of too
Courtney Burkhardt 3:32
yeah, yes, I had my graduate experience at Thomas Jefferson University. And then I did my internship with Council for Relationships. And I had a wonderful experience with both. They were phenomenal.
Kira Yakubov 3:45
Yeah, well, awesome program, right, like a huge shout out to Council for Relationships, because they really, really let therapists like, learn about obviously all of like, the information, but a huge part of it is also like understanding ourselves within that and like exploring our own sexuality and gender and like our biases, and really understanding like, what that means for us, so that it feels comfortable and feels safe for us to work with clients as well.
Courtney Burkhardt 4:12
Oh, absolutely. And I think even going through like the SAR experiences, the Sexual Attitude Reassessment was so so helpful of like, examining my own thoughts, feelings, things that I had, like really never considered before and how that might show up in the therapy room.
Kira Yakubov 4:27
What was it like for you because I remember telling my friends like, Oh, I’m just watching porn at 9am in class.
Courtney Burkhardt 4:34
Yes, I had that same exact conversation. I was like, I think we’re about to go and watch porn with our professors. And I, you know, did it and that’s kind of what it is kind of not, but it was definitely a very funny conversation that I had to have with some family members about what I was doing on whatever day
Kira Yakubov 4:54
Yeah, that’s awesome. I always love that watching other people’s reactions to hearing that.
Courtney Burkhardt 4:58
Kira Yakubov 5:01
So through this process, I know you’ve had experience working with couples, individuals and everything, what has been something that you’ve gravitated towards that you really want to spend more time focusing on with clients that you find is like kind of like your specialty or you want to specialize more in?
Courtney Burkhardt 5:17
Yes. So one of the first kind of areas that I really got into working with with sex therapy is working with people in the Consensual Non-Monogamy (CNM) community. Just by like weird happenstance, the first bunch of clients that I got were following me consensual non-monogamy community. And that was really exciting, but also a little intimidating as that was something that I, you know, had pretty much no knowledge of going in. And so I really enjoyed working with this community and kind of learning my own thoughts educating myself throughout that process, which was really cool. And the other kind of area that I really have enjoyed learning, learning more about and working with over the last year and a half has been couples that are going through like a major life transition, and then that are working towards rebuilding their emotional and sexual intimacy following any kind of transition or major change.
Consensual Non Monogamy
Kira Yakubov 6:14
So both like really big and interesting, fascinating topics, and lifestyles and like transitions and things that we kind of all go through in life at some point or another, at least with rebuilding like emotional and sexual intimacy after a huge life change. And for a lot of people the the consensual non-monogamy or like being monogamous, like a monogamous ish, right? Like all the different kinds of terms that fall under that is super fascinating. I remember also having a couple when I first started too that was in the consensual non monogamy community. I was like, wow, I haven’t learned about this. I think that’s kind of the fun part of being a therapist, too, is that, you know, we learn a bunch of stuff, and then we have somebody or a couple come in, right. Wow. Okay. Now I’m going to read a lot of stuff, familiarize myself with these topics, understand what’s going on for these individuals, and be able to kind of help them. But also super fascinating for us as like the professionals or the the health care providers on the other end, too.
Courtney Burkhardt 7:15
Yeah, yeah. It’s interesting. I feel like I’m from a, you know, moral conservative area. I went to college undergrad in a rural conservative area, and consensual non-monogamy was not even like something that I had heard of. So I was like, wow, this is like, really cool and interesting. And something I had never thought was possible. This is amazing.
Kira Yakubov 7:36
So completely, like out of the bubble, or the realm of even like hearing about it. That’s awesome.
Courtney Burkhardt 7:41
Oh, yeah. Yeah. And it’s, I’ve run into that a few times with like, different topics within sex therapy. And it has been such a joy, kind of expanding my mindset and my knowledge base over the last two years.
Kira Yakubov 7:55
I love that, right? Because we grow professionally, but also personally, and it helps us kind of look at life and ourselves and relationships. It’s such an open and different wait. So
Courtney Burkhardt 8:04
yeah, yes, I know. I am sure you went through the same thing of going through school, but you can feel like, yes, your professional self is growing. But personally, I’m like, I am a different person than I was two years ago.
Kira Yakubov 8:16
Courtney Burkhardt 8:17
In the best way.
Kira Yakubov 8:19
Aww, and so I remember you sharing that you actually did a couple of your research projects or something in graduate school on consensual non monogamy, are you able to share a little bit more about like, what that was, like looking into detail for what you got from that.
Courtney Burkhardt 8:35
Yeah, it was really cool. So I wanted to kind of do these do that topic as a few different research projects to kind of see how consensual non monogamy could be blended with emotion focused therapy, emotion focused couples therapy. And I very quickly came to the realization that there was like, no research out there. And that was like, Oh, no. Okay, so then, what I ended up doing was I found like, different articles and kind of was able to create like a puzzle frame or like a patchwork situation of how you can use emotion focused couples therapy, when working with consensual non monogamy, and even when you’re dealing with, like triads, or more than one or more than two people in a, in a relationship. Like, this is so cool and interesting. And I, as I was like, kind of just learning this, for my own knowledge of like, just working with clients. I was like, I should share this with class. And I should like, figure out how to do a project on this because that would be really great.
Kira Yakubov 9:37
Huh, that’s awesome. you created a whole new little section and niche for the research in our field
Courtney Burkhardt 9:45
Yeah, and I hope that I hope it’s useful, I hope. I hope people can find something good out of it.
Kira Yakubov 9:51
I’m sure absolutely. And so for listeners that are kind of listening to this episode. Would you be able to share a little bit about consensual non-monogamy? What that looks like? What that means? Different like forms of that so that people can have a better understanding.
Courtney Burkhardt 10:07
Yeah, absolutely. So consensual non monogamy is pretty much exactly what it sounds like it is when you are not kind of bound to a traditional monogamous style of relationship, you can be sexually intimate, emotionally intimate with just more than one other person. So there’s a few different ways that people might practice this in their own lives. So that kind of falls into two major groups. The first is like hierarchical, consensual non monogamy. And that’s going to look like where you have a primary partner. And then you might have secondary partners. So your primary partner might be your person who is your spouse, you might live in the same home, share finances, raise kids together, and then your secondary partners might be people that you still care for very deeply, you just don’t really have them as an active part of your day to day life. That doesn’t mean they’re any less important. It’s just that they fill a different role than the primary partner. And then the kind of other major form of consensual non monogamy is just, it’s more egalitarian, where all of the partners are more equal. So you may have like, more than one person that is that you’re living with, you may have kids altogether, share in finances all together, there’s less of a hierarchy, less of a structure, and more just community, sharing everything all together.
Understanding the hierarchy of consensual non monogamy
Kira Yakubov 11:35
I love that. And even like within those two categories, there’s so many that fall underneath that. I liked that you broke that up into those two structures is that there was a hierarchy where there’s like a primary partner, where the two of you decide kind of the parameters and what that looks like outside of your relationship versus the other group where it’s everyone is equal, whether it’s sexual, romantic, platonic, there is no priority over a particular partner. It’s very open and fluid in that way, which both are pretty interesting and cool, and have their own kind of parameters and boundaries and everything that individuals have to work through to make that work for them.
Courtney Burkhardt 12:17
Yeah, there can be a lot of really good things and really beautiful things that can come out of consensual non monogamy. But you’re right, there are some challenges. And especially if you’re transitioning from a traditional monogamous relationship into consensual non monogamy, there’s going to be hiccups, because it’s a pretty big change. And that’s just what happens in life. But so long as there is good communication and clear boundaries, and you’re able to be open and honest with one another, you can make that transition as smoothly as possible.
Kira Yakubov 12:51
Yeah. So I wanted to talk a little bit about more like the sub pieces of each of those two, because I think this is a really big topic that can feel intimidating for a lot of people or like you said, may have never heard of it and may think like, it’s just based on sex or wanting to have sex with other people. When I think that, yes, that’s a piece of it, right? Just like how it’s a piece of any relationship. But it’s so much more than that. Right? Like even research shows that individuals receive emotional support, like societal support different roles, their needs are met in different ways. They’re fulfilled in different ways, they get to explore their own sexuality in a different way. Right? So it’s so much more involved than just sex, but sex is an important part and also, you know, something that is available through this relationship structure too.
Courtney Burkhardt 13:44
it reminds me of something I always heard growing up that sex is a important part of relationships, but it’s not the only part. There’s a lot of other things going on, you’re dealing with everyone’s emotional needs, physical needs, family needs, everything. We’re not talking about. You know, it’s we look at all relationships as a system and to just talk about the sexual component would be ignoring everything else going on there.
Kira Yakubov 14:12
Yeah, and really minimizing the fulfilling parts and rewarding parts of relationship outside of just that.
Courtney Burkhardt 14:19
Kira Yakubov 14:20
And so I think that some of the other types of non monogamy or consensual non monogamy, right? If it’s within the hierarchy, right, is if it’s monogamish right? So some couples may have let’s say, they can have like an open relationship where one or both partners outside of their primary relationship may have an emotional or sexual relationship with someone else. But they you know, talk about the parameters that’s kind of something that’s decided on if it’s okay to be emotional and or sexual. Can you name a couple of other ones underneath like the structural. not the structural, the hierarchy, relationship ones for non monogamy?
Courtney Burkhardt 14:58
Yeah, you might see It’s like, swinging or polyamory I think sometimes the, the actual language may be kind of picked up by the person you’re working with. And a lot of these terms I’ve found at least might be used somewhat interchangeably. And for that reason, I think like, it’s helpful for me at least I don’t want to speak for everyone out there. But it’s helpful to just kind of look at, okay, we’re dealing with something in the consensual non monogamy umbrella ,and however people want to define their individual relationship is kind of up to them and whatever they feel most comfortable with
Kira Yakubov 15:40
Absolutely it can you share a little bit of like the general idea around polyamory and swinging so people have a better idea, because I obviously I know that each structure is going to have its unique features and things that are decided and agreed upon within the relationship or individuals.
Courtney Burkhardt 15:57
Yes. So in most cases, you might see like a couple that has been together, and they may be an established couple. And then for whatever reason, they may feel that their sexual needs are not necessarily being fulfilled entirely within this relationship and want to open up some doors to share their sexual experiences and emotional experiences with other people. And that can be a really great thing for kind of lighting up that spark and a marriage again.
Kira Yakubov 16:32
So yeah, so that can look like swinging for some couples. So this is really just to let the audience members know, like a better idea. And understanding, because we kind of have an idea. We know we work with people, people who come in or already have their own, whether it’s labels or understanding of this. But for listeners who may not know, right? like, swinging is when the couple has a sexual relationship with another couple where they may swap, and that they’re present with each other. It’s not necessarily that it is a separate sexual experience, although sometimes it may be, right? like in different rooms or different places, but it’s an experience kind of that they want to share together as a couple.
Open relationships vs. monogamous relationships
Courtney Burkhardt 17:11
Exactly. And then you might look at an open relationship, which may be a little more separate, where if you’re looking at a, let’s say, a heterosexual married couple, with an open relationship, they may seek out partners separate from one another and do that on their own time. And they may just keep their dating life separate from their married life a little more.
Kira Yakubov 17:37
And then we have polyamorous right where that is, it’s actually a relationship with more than one person. So like you said, it could be a separate partner. So like one partner within the relationship might have their own second partner, or all three of them might be in a romantic and or sexual relationship together. And they may not date other people, or each partner may have another partner, right? So it kind of just depends on how they want to work that out.
Courtney Burkhardt 18:03
And that’s really exciting, because that’s when you get into that, that non hierarchical, type of consensual non monogamy where everything is a little more, you know, equal and fluid with one another.
Kira Yakubov 18:14
Yeah. And so have you found some particular main reasons or benefits for whether it’s a monogamous relationship to want to explore and expand into a non monogamous relationship or for individuals to participate in one just from the start?
Courtney Burkhardt 18:31
I can’t necessarily speak regarding individuals I, I honestly haven’t had as much experience in working with individuals in the CNM community. But I think for couples, I’ve seen a number of really interesting reasonings for beginning to engage in that community, like one that’s come up a few times has been things like chronic illness, and perhaps even like a trauma history where, for whatever reason, the couples may not be able to engage in sex and intimacy in the way that they might want to at that time. And so expanding their relationship and opening that up may be really helpful for one or both partners to have their needs met in another way. You could also see just people trying to try new things with one another, and expand their sexual relationship by opening up their relationship as a whole, which has been really cool to see.
Kira Yakubov 19:27
Yeah, so it’s interesting. I’m glad you brought up the like the piece whether it’s trauma or chronic illness, right, because I know that so I see a lot of couples where there might be a mismatched sex drive, one partner might be more like a higher desire for sex while the other partner, whether that might be a traumatic background or a chronic illness or something that has occurred for them, that that becomes a sore spot in their relationship and so much focus is placed on that and so much pressure that that becomes, it just eats up the relationship. And so being able to take that pressure off this one person to fulfill that role for you, and allow the relationship to focus more on the pieces in the strings that are working and knowing that they can receive that need somewhere else, I think increases their intimacy, emotionally, and sometimes even sexually as well. Because, you know, we know that pressure is not a sexy thing. It’s definitely a turnoff. And feeling like you’re disappointing your partner constantly, also doesn’t help that process either. So I’m glad you brought that up, because it does allow the couple to get their needs met from other individuals. And once that pressure is taken away, it actually adds so much more to the relationship and appreciate one another a lot more too
The importance of communication and trust
Courtney Burkhardt 20:47
Oh, yeah, absolutely. And I think especially when you’re looking at maybe trauma, for example, when you’re talking about someone who like they really do need to go on their own healing journey from whatever may have happened, taking off that pressure of their partner wanting to have sex can be so helpful with their with their own process of healing.
Kira Yakubov 21:09
And so what about some, whether it’s reasons or a point in the relationship where exploring that or going into that is not helpful or not recommended or beneficial? If you’ve seen that in relationships
Courtney Burkhardt 21:21
I think there’s there’s a number of reasons why it could not work out well. I think people who may already be like, pretty high conflict and are disconnected. I think starting off with disjointed communication in the relationship, and low emotional intimacy, when I think all of these you to go into consensual non monogamy in any of these forms, you really need such a strong foundation, you need to have like, your communication on point. And it’s okay to have some hiccups every now and again. But if you don’t have that foundation, like already in place, then it’s going to crumble and crack away very quickly.
Kira Yakubov 22:07
Yeah, that’s a huge one right is communication, as I learned through this process, too. And for couples, or, you know, the relationship structures where it’s consensual non monogamy, the communication and honesty and trust and respect, I found is a lot of times at such a higher level than a lot of relationships in a monogamous relationship. Because in order for this to work and be beneficial for everybody, which makes it consensual is that you constantly have to be communicating, and communicating in a very safe and effective way. And being really open and honest
Courtney Burkhardt 22:43
with that that honesty piece is so crucial. like that is if you cannot honestly communicate with one another, and you’re still holding things back from your partner, then you’re not going to be able to articulate your boundaries very clearly, you’re not going to be able to advocate for yourself and your partner need to maybe restructure things at points. So making sure abundance of communication and abundance of honesty is so so so important.
Kira Yakubov 23:11
Absolutely. And being comfortable with hearing things that don’t make you feel good. Right? Or like triggering jealousy or understanding that your partner may be enjoying this other person or this other aspect in a different or more way than they are with you. Right. Like if you are not good at receiving feedback, or constructive criticism, this is going to be really difficult because it’s going to be constantly pushing those triggers and those buttons for you, which is going to create an unsafe environment, which will promote lying or hiding.
Courtney Burkhardt 23:47
Yeah, it seems as though from at least an outsider perspective looking in that you need to have a thick skin and you need to feel safe with your partner where you can, you know, share some of your own insecurities, or theirs and you can have that have that safe space, and be open to hearing from one another about all of that
Kira Yakubov 24:10
Yea. So a lot of security in your relationship. But I think also as an individual, a lot of security and confidence within yourself because it’s not for everybody, right? Like, I think it takes a particular person or a particular process to get to a point where you feel comfortable and safe knowing that what I can provide this person in my relationship is enough and if they need something else outside of it, that’s okay. And that doesn’t say something negative about me or make me unlovable or unworthy. It’s just that some people can love multiple people at once, or the sexual emotional relationships increase our intimacy, not take away from it.
Courtney Burkhardt 24:51
Exactly. And I think one nice, paraphrasing a quote I saw a while ago, but it’s Not at all that you’re not enough of a person in a polyamorous or consensual non monogamy relationship, it’s that maybe the other person just has so much love to give your cup maybe filled up and they are still kind of overflowing and want to share that with another person. And I thought that was really beautiful kind of reframe of all that.
Kira Yakubov 25:23
Yeah, I really like that. That’s interesting, because there are very loving people, and they can give so much love. And they can give that to multiple people or in different ways as well.
Courtney Burkhardt 25:33
Yeah, absolutely. It’s really, really cool kind of getting to learn more and see how these couples work and see that there is so much love in all of these relationships.
Kira Yakubov 25:44
I think a tough part for some people or a lot of people, right? Because this is very still very stigmatized, even though at this point, it’s the most accepted, it’s probably been ever in any time in history, at least in our Western culture, right? Because there’s indigenous cultures that have been doing this for so many years. But is that this understanding or this script of like a hetero heterosexual normative monogamous relationship, that there’s almost like a scarcity mindset, right? Like, this has to be my person, and I have to be able to fulfill all these needs for you and if i don’t, you’re gonna leave me. And that there’s like this fear that if I’m not enough, or they’re not enough, we will leave or we’ll cheat. So it’s constantly being scared of the partner leaving or having to do more, instead of recognizing that it’s kind of impossible for one person to fulfill all the needs of their partner. That’s why we have friendships, that’s why we have careers and work and mentors and school. Like, I think that people can accept that piece of it. But it might be difficult to accept that they might have another romantic partner in that way, too.
Challenges for couples in non monogamy
Courtney Burkhardt 26:49
Yeah. And you kind of hit it exactly of, we already have multiple relationships in our lives, we, we don’t expect our romantic partners to fill every single role. And even within having a romantic partner, people may just have a lot of expectations and a lot of needs, that maybe not every single person can fill every single one. And it’s okay to have more than one partner, if that’s what you need, and that’s what can benefit you and your relationship.
Kira Yakubov 27:20
I think a couple reasons that it might not be beneficial for some couples, as well is feeling like it has to save the relationship, or almost feeling pressure, like well, my partner wants this, I don’t really want to but again, I don’t want to lose them. So I’ll just do this to fulfill their need. And kind of white knuckle it and hope it goes well. When those are not the best reasons, right? It’s almost like don’t have a baby to save the relationship, like don’t do an external thing to save the relationship. Work on it first, and then try something different.
Courtney Burkhardt 27:55
Like we were saying before you need, you need that strong foundation, you need to be comfortable and safe with one another before you do this kind of really different thing together. And if you if you’re at a point where you’re like, grappling and trying to save the relationship, making any major life change to try to stay together is not really going to work out the best maybe
Kira Yakubov 28:20
Yea and also trying to avoid cheating or avoid your partner cheating or accepting that they want to be with other people right? Because they’re they’re very different things. I think sometimes people confuse cheating and consensual non monogamy as something similar or overlapping, and like you’ve mentioned multiple times is the biggest difference in features is that it’s consensual. Cheating is not consensual. Cheating is something a person decides to do behind someone’s back. Non monogamous relationships is everyone’s on the same page. I mean, there can be cheating within non monogamous relationships, if you step outside kind of the parameters of the things you agreed on or negotiated or hide things from your partner. Right? It’s really the feature of lying and hiding that’s so big in this piece,
Courtney Burkhardt 29:03
Right. So long as you are communicating upfront with your partner, being honest and addressing boundary violations as they occur, and setting clear boundaries. Consensual non monogamy is the opposite of cheating and infidelity. You know, it still can exist there as well as in any monogamous relationship. But it’s really that lying or dishonest, that lack of honesty that that really sets that apart.
Kira Yakubov 29:34
Yea. And so what are some kind of struggles that you’ve seen or challenges for individuals or couples within non monogamous relationships that generally it works right, but as any relationship friendship, family romantic, there’s going to be some struggles, some common ones that you might have seen pop up.
Courtney Burkhardt 29:54
I think the biggest one that I’ve probably seen has been boundary communication. From like the jump, making sure that you have like a, a clear cut kind of set of rules, making sure that everyone is aware, agreeing, and consenting to those rules. And that can be a very challenging and lengthy process, just kind of getting all of that setup. And then that might hit on some soft spots for anyone in that relationship of, because, you know, you’re talking about really intimate details of Okay, so do you want partners to be in our home? Yes or No? Will they interact with our children or families? Or how are we going to navigate different social situations? There’s so many complex questions that people may not have even considered yet. And kind of ironing all of that out as early on in the process as possible can really set you up for success going forward. But it is a that is a difficult process that I’ve helped people with navigating and kind of going through, which has been really exciting and interesting.
Kira Yakubov 31:03
Courtney Burkhardt 31:03
I think, I think the other big thing, too, that I’ve encountered is when the boundaries may not have been clearly set up, and you get boundary violations where one person will be hurt that some action that may have gone on that they felt they may have been okay with but then as it turns out, no, it was not going to work out and kind of navigating through some of those. Those boundary breaches there.
Kira Yakubov 31:28
Yes, that’s an interesting one, because it’s almost like you gotta set up all I don’t want to say the rules. I mean, some of them are rules. Some of them are parameters, like agreed upon things. And you really have to be thoughtful, right? This isn’t like, Okay, go see somebody and let me know how it goes and have fun. I mean, you could do that, right? Some people do that. But then they kind of run into these issues where well, how are we going to handle it in this circumstance? Or how’s it going to feel if someone we know finds out? Right? Or if it becomes more than just emotional, or more than just sexual? And what you’re saying is really important is that even if you agreed upon it, thinking that that’s how you would feel in theory, and then it actually happens, you’re like, I don’t like how that how that felt internally. I don’t know if I want to continue doing that. And having to renegotiate, and re discuss this again, and being able to share what that felt like for you and why it felt that way. And deciding, okay, is this something I just need to process to work through and then I’ll be okay? Or, you know, what, I don’t think this is a good part of the parameters anymore.
Courtney Burkhardt 32:33
It is very, like, clear cut. And I think one way that I almost think of it as kind of like you’re creating a living contract between within the relationship over you kind of go through and answer these questions. And then as needed, you go through and revise and add things take things away, when different situations crop up, when new things new people may enter the relationship. And I think like, it may sound a little silly, but the idea of that contract can be helpful in just being so so so clear with everything. And yeah, it can be helpful for the communication to have that, like, extremely explicit like that.
Kira Yakubov 33:16
Yeah, I don’t think it’s silly at all. I think it’s, I think, honestly, every couple should have some, some level or some degree of a contract, right? Where it’s an understanding of expectations, because I think a lot of relationships, particularly monogamous ones is we kind of have a lot of assumptions about what we think our partners should do, how they should act, how they should feel, how we should act and feel. And then things come up that we didn’t talk about, we didn’t think about, we thought we’d be on the same page, and then we’re faced with it like, oh, shit, we’re not on the same page at all. And it’s kind of no one’s fault, because neither of us talked about it. So we wouldn’t have known that to begin with. So I think it almost sounds like having a weekly check in or a consistent check in of, okay, this is the structure, how do we feel about this, maintaining that, has anything come up in between, like, do we want to change anything? Do we feel good about it? And just consistently talking
The importance of clear communication
Courtney Burkhardt 33:16
You mentioned something interesting which is like, there’s so many situations that can come up that you don’t know what’s going to happen between you and your partner that this may just be something that you’ve never considered and you need to have that foundation of, you know, whatever it is, like whether it’s monogamous relationships or consensually non monogamous, you know, the foundation of clear communication and having the ability to check in with your partner and be able to talk it through and understand where each of you are coming from, and really listening to one another. That’s really important that I think a lot of people just kind of overlook sometimes.
Kira Yakubov 34:53
Yeah, these are like very, very critical and essential skills that help couples maintain healthy relationships, like they’re skills, which means they’re they can be learned, they can be taught, it’s not something we’re born with, like, this is a particular thing that you practice over time. And it’s unique with your partner, right? Because good or effective communication can look very different from one couple to another, based on their emotional status, or their attachment style, or the communication style. So it’s kind of always remembering that every couple or every relationship is very unique to them, because every person is unique, and has their own experiences.
Courtney Burkhardt 35:31
Yeah. And even looking at family backgrounds, how, how they were raised to communicate, how did witness communication go on with their grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, everyone in their lives? What is their own communication foundation? How is that going to show up in the present relationship is so important to kind of understand and conceptualize what might be going on here
Kira Yakubov 35:57
Absolutely it informs so much of how we start relationships, and maintain them
Courtney Burkhardt 36:03
Kira Yakubov 36:05
There is a book that I would recommend. I’ve had a lot of my clients read this book that was very helpful. It’s called “Ethical Slut”. And have you heard of that one?
Courtney Burkhardt 36:14
Yes, I have. It’s on my “To be read list”.
Kira Yakubov 36:18
So it’s a phenomenal book. It helps couples or individuals looking to be non monogamous, really have some of these deep questions, right, and have some of these deep discussions about what would this look like for us and kind of challenging some of these biases or informed thoughts that we might have had before and see things really differently. And give kind of practical tips and help on how to navigate this for the first time. So if anyone’s listening who is thinking about it, starting it, “Ethical Slut” is a really good book for that.
Courtney Burkhardt 36:50
That is definitely getting pumped on my list. I will be checking that one out soon.
Kira Yakubov 36:56
Yeah. Is there anything that you like to give clients? whether it’s like worksheets, or anything that you typically give? Or is it more like in session, working it out together?
Courtney Burkhardt 37:06
I think we do a lot of in the session working things out together. But something I like to make a lot of use of is like technology. So like, I like to suggest a couple of different apps to couples. So the one that I really, really love is called Agape. And this is like, so what they do is they provide a question each day. And this is more just like a general communication exercise. And then you each have the app, you each kind of answer the question, and they don’t let you see your partner’s answer until you’ve answered the question yourself. And then it’ll be things like, how do you like to show affection to your partner? Or if you had a million dollars, what would you want to do together? Like it ranges from silly to more serious and some sweet, but that’s a really good like conversation starter to begin building up that intimate component. And then the other one is called the Official App. And that one’s really, really good for sexual communication. It gives you like a list of yes’s or no’s, different activities you’d be interested in. And that can be really helpful for like, the consensual non monogamy, negotiation, kink negotiation or anything else when you’re starting up a new relationship.
Courtney’s favorite apps
Kira Yakubov 38:21
And when was that called? The Official App?
Courtney Burkhardt 38:23
Kira Yakubov 38:23
The Official App, that one’s cool. I’ve never heard that one before. I’ll have to add that to the list of things.
Courtney Burkhardt 38:29
Yeah, I just saw that like, pretty recently, I think it’s a new app that I started following their page on TikTok, and I was like, this is going to be so helpful, I’m going to recommend this to every single person I come across.
Kira Yakubov 38:41
That’s awesome. Yeah, so it’s really great to have these additional resources for individuals or couples to go to, right? Because we discuss things, we talk it out, we process it, and then having something outside of sessions to really learn more about or practice, especially with something like this is very helpful, because it’s not a one time conversation, right? Like majority of the time, these are going to be conversations you have follow up and follow up and follow up. And, you know, checking in and maintaining. So having this consistently where you check in or you learn more about your partner, and negotiate things as it goes is really phenomenal for continuing this process for couples.
Courtney Burkhardt 39:20
Oh, yeah, of course. And, you know, I love finding different new apps that you you know, you’ve got it in the palm of your hand all the time. Little tool to help you with your relationship wherever you go. It’s great.
Kira Yakubov 39:31
Yeah. And so I know we’re coming to an end. I feel like we could talk about this all day. But I wanted to let the listeners know that you are a new therapist that Heal Your Roots Wellness, and you’ll be accepting new clients, individuals and couples and for sex therapy. Is there any final words that you’d like to share with any listeners or anything before we hop off?
Courtney Burkhardt 39:49
Thank you so much for listening, and I hope to meet some of you guys soon.
Kira Yakubov 39:54
Awesome. Thank you so much for being on today. Courtney, I appreciate it.
Courtney Burkhardt 39:58
Thank you so much.