How to Avoid Drama When Playing with Unicorns in The Lifestyle
Written by Dr. Cari Oneal on Jan 23rd, 2022
To Anyone Playing with Unicorns in the Lifestyle…
If you are a couple in the Lifestyle OR a single woman engaging with others, I suggest you keep reading. While this post is written with the couple/Unicorn* dynamic in mind, the advice is relevant to anyone engaging in any form of non-monogamy. The couple/Unicorn scenario I discuss below is fairly common and it provides insightful lessons learned for all of us.
*The term Unicorn refers to single females engaging with others in the Lifestyle.
The Original Question:
The origin of this post came from a Lifestyler who reached out to their local online community asking for others’ input. One of the community administrators asked for my expert opinion on the topics raised. Here is the original post, a popular dilemma and thoughtfully posed:
Before I begin I’m gonna say that this is a teaching moment and not intended to call anyone out in particular. If this post strikes a cord and rubs you the wrong way, I’ll ask you to take a breath and think long and hard about the reason you’re feeling the way you do before posting any comments.
I’ve seen the same scenario play out multiple times since I’ve been in the lifestyle and it needs to be addressed…
Single female in the lifestyle is shown attention by a couple. They hook up (once or multiple times doesn’t really matter in my opinion) and all is well. Everyone is happy. Then at some later time husband is out at a lifestyle get-together, alone and runs into the same single female. They hook up. Only it wasn’t ok for him, for whatever reason, to hook up with her alone. The single female was never told this.
My questions for you are…
1. Is there fault in this situation? If so, whos’?
2. What advice would you give the single female in this situation?
3. What advice would you give the couple in this situation?
4. Not as important but; If the situation were reversed and a single male and the wife hooked up, would your opinion be the same?
Before we start, I’d like to say that #4 is the MOST important point of this dilemma. Relationships are composed of human beings, so design your behavior to fit the needs of those human beings rather than relying on gender to dictate what is/isn’t OK in any given situation. This piece of the puzzle is important because it suggests that not only are the writer’s “rules” ineffective at covering every situation, they are falling short in supporting the relationship.
The most important lesson to be found here is to ditch “rules” and adopt “agreements” instead.
Rules VS. Agreements
The above situation is riddled with problems found in not recognizing and utilizing the difference between Rules and Relationship Agreements.
Eri Kardos, in her National Best Seller, Relationship Agreements defines them as:
“Rules can be seen as what is allowed and what is forbidden by some governing authority. Rules are ordained, ‘set in stone’ not to be broken and if they are broken, punitive consequences are levied which often yields more rule-breaking, resentment, and anger.
Agreements on the other hand are a consensus reached by two or more healthy, consenting, independent individuals who have the freedom of choice to create something unique and wonderful together. This is not a parenting situation; this is your partner. Relationship Agreements reflect what you are committing to do to the best of your ability along with your partner.”
I personally like Agreements over Rules for two reasons:
- Agreements are made to support the relationship and they are “a living document.” They can be modified as needed by the changing needs of the relationship.
- They encourage partners to live more to “the spirit” of the Agreement than to “the letter of the law” of the Rule.
Agreements offer more latitude for ‘outside the box scenarios’ that pop up. They give EVERY participant in the agreement the power to choose their behavior to be in accord with the intention of said agreement.
Example of a Rule: “I can’t have sex with another woman if my wife is not present.”
OK. So, when the opportunity to be “the third” to TWO other women was presented and the husband took it – that would be OK right? It was with TWO women, not “one” as in the stated Rule. Or perhaps the husband does “everything but” sex with another woman— surely the wife couldn’t be upset since he didn’t “have sex with” another woman without her…
Example of an Agreement: “My wife and I have discussed that it makes her uncomfortable for me to engage sexually with others when she isn’t around. So, for the health of our relationship, I am going to choose to stick strictly to social behavior.”
The focus here is to discuss needs with your partner and then proactively make decisions for the well-being of the relationship. In this, you know what is supportive of your relationship and make decisions that nurture it. Agreements show mutual care and understanding— the perspective shifts from what can/can’t I get away with to what is/isn’t supportive of our relationship.
Stop playing word games (that your partner doesn’t want you to win) with “Rules” that can’t cover all scenarios. Move to Relationship Agreements. Because at the end of the day you are responsible for your actions, regardless of the word loopholes that a Rule may not cover.
Is There Fault in This Situation? Whose?
In this situation, I see fault in…
- The Couple:
- For not having clear agreements for sexual engagement. Together, they are at fault for not clearly agreeing on what is and is not supportive of the relationship and for not making a plan on what to do when questions arise.
- The Husband:
- It sounds as though there was a rule or an agreement that he broke— for that he is at fault. He is also at fault for not creating more clear agreements with his partner AND for not asking her for consent when this out-of-the-box scenario presented itself.
- The Single Woman:
- For not asking “Hey, since your wife isn’t around and that’s usually been our set-up, do you have any agreements I need to know about related to us being together?” This woman is equally responsible for asking questions and not assuming consent.
- The Wife:
- I also see some fault by the, I will assume, now very angry wife. She has some fault because it sounds as though this couple could have added some more clear dialogue around what was and was not okay. If she’s working off hard and fast rules that don’t make space for previously unconsidered scenarios, does she have all the right to be mad? She’ll feel that she does because she feels the breach of trust and respect between her and hubby. But there’s some responsibility she bears in not having clear Agreements or methods to solve unforeseen scenarios.
Can you see it? Everyone participating in the Lifestyle is responsible for their emotional and physical safety. While this scenario is more about emotional safety, when you strive to take care of both, you’ll have a LOT more fun. It’s incumbent upon ALL involved to communicate clearly what the expectations and allowances are for every sexual encounter in which you engage. This is not a gender or a relationship issue, it’s a personal respect and safety issue.
The time you spend on the front end working out who has what Relationship Agreements and where you fit into those agreements will save you HOURS of drama and upset. How much drama and pain do you suppose the author of this post experienced for them to have felt the need to write this post?
Need some help checking in with your Physical & Emotional needs before your next party? I just added my original check-in guide as a free bonus to my Lifestyle Party Essentials Online course. Just want the check-in guide? Reach out and I will be happy to email you a copy.
Advice for Unicorns
To answer the next portion of the writer’s question, here is the advice I would give to the single female in this situation (and to all single females engaging in the Lifestyle)…
- Take inventory! Is this situation out of the ordinary from your usual interactions? If so, start asking questions.
- Clearly ask the person you are about to engage with if both they and their partner are okay with this situation.
- If there is any question about whether or not you should be engaging, and it is an option to do so, ask the non-present partner directly! If your relationship with that partner allows for it, consider reaching out with the present partner so you both receive the clear “hell yes” from the partner that isn’t there.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “It’s better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” In sexually charged environments, many opt for the former and take advantage of the heat of the moment— hoping for the best when tomorrow comes. Under the influence of desire and substances, it can be hard to take a quick time-out and explore agreements and sexual protocols. But that’s exactly what I encourage my clients to do. As soon as you know you want to pursue engagement with someone, hit the pause button and have those conversations. I promise you, this will relieve a lot of stress down the road. Making a habit of doing so will strengthen trust, relationships, and reputations!
Honor yourself and everyone you engage with by creating a space where you all feel comfortable and confident that you are “clear for takeoff” so to speak (and see how this changes the energy in the room— people really loosen up when they know they are fully ready to have a good time ).
Advice for Couples
The author of this question said they had, “already engaged once or many times,” when the three of them were together. As a community, we are squarely moving into “Consent Culture” which means that you cannot simply assume that permission granted once means permission granted later. Consent must be established continuously. This goes for every gender, relationship style, and every combination of people involved— sexually and non-sexually.
Ideally, the husband or single woman in this situation would have asked themselves or each other, “This is different from our usual setup— is this OK to be just us?” If ANY PART of that answer is unclear— in other words if it wasn’t a “Hell Yes!”— then Consent Culture suggests that your answer is “No.” Therefore, don’t engage further until you do have a clear “Hell Yes.”
If there is even a hint of doubt, do everyone a favor and ASK. Call your partner and get clarity right then. Or set up for another time to meet up with this playmate until you establish clarity with your partner. This isn’t always easy and you may not want to…but it WILL save you from hours of pain and arguments.
And if I haven’t already made this obvious, get clear about your agreements. There are some incredible resources out there (Eri Kardo’s book mentioned above is my top recommendation) if you need help. It may take some time and talking but this really will help build trust and avoid hurt feelings time and time again.
No one gets it right every time
Between the mix of sexually charged emotion, substances, fatigue, and peer or personal pressures, you’ve got a human being not fully able to make great (or even decent) decisions.
Your best success lies in YOU taking responsibility for the choices you make and the behaviors you did/did not engage in. Own it. Clean up your messes and make amends where needed. Learn from the mistake(s) made and create or adjust your Relationship Agreements accordingly. Your forgiveness today may be the same kind of forgiveness YOU need tomorrow.
The Lifestyle is a fun environment…and it’s a dog that can bite, so respect it.
Cheers to your great pleasures!
— Dr. Cari Oneal
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