In doing research for this episode I came across a June/2020 NYT article that Gay Couples could teach straight couples how to improve arguing. So I loved the idea of pursuing an episode on how gay couples have insights to offer all couples. This is an interview with Michael Dale Kimmel author of The Gay Man’s Guide to Open and Monogamous Marriage. He offers important ideas like what is the intention of your marriage? to have fun, share great sex, deepen an emotional connection, to stay together for life? He also invites you to consider emotional monogamy if you are in an open relationship.

gay, monogamy, polyamory, open, relationships,

What Gay Couples Have To Teach Us About Monogamy & Open Relationships

Gay couples have insights to offer all couples. Interview with Michael Dale Kimmel author of The Gay Man’s Guide to Open and Monogamous Marriage. He offers important ideas like what is the intention of your marriage? to have fun, share great sex or deepen an emotional connection to stay together for life?

 I loved his bio on his website: lifebeyondtherapy.com where he shares a wonderful description of living in other countries & interning at Sesame Street. Most importantly he has written a book The Gay Man’s Guide to Open and Monogamous Marriage which is rated 5 stars on amazon.

I’m so grateful you were enthusiastic about joining me today. In my practice I’ve encountered many more couples exploring open relationships & there have been several articles in the NYT about polyamory. Your practice is working with a majority of gay male couples and I believe you have many insights to offer my audience. 

I know you were considering calling your book The Double Testosterone Marriage which makes a lot of sense to me because Men are relieved when I am clear a healthy sex life matters when I’m working with couples &  women with estrogen seem so often give up their sexual needs too easily. I’m astonished at how many women have missed out on their sexual peak in their mid-thirties. So my first question is: Do you think that sex is more important for a gay couple than a straight couple? If so, why?

Or they’ll have some kind of physical challenge. I mean, I’m 67. So my peers are sometimes having physical challenges that make their sex life more difficult and maybe their partner really is super healthy and some people just have higher libidos. So if the couple really wants to be monogamous, I try to help them have that, like your reference to Sonia, Sonia Nevis, To have conversations about, you know, how’s that going to work? How can you help each other? How can you find a compromise?

Rhoda: A middle ground. Meeting in the middle?

Michael: But I will say this is one of the precipitating factors to initiate conversations to that open relationship. This is a real typical one. 

Yeah, because if everything else is going really well, but your sex life is the weakest part of your relationship, then what are you going to do with that? And as a therapist, as you know, sex friendly, like you said, sex comfortable therapist, I try to help my clients talk about, well, what are your options? What are you comfortable with? What is it that you want? And how can you and your partner help each other get there?

Rhoda: I especially loved your idea of asking couples to think about the intention of their marriage, that really got my wheels going. And I’m wanting you to share more about that, and in your description, you said, the intent is your marriage to have fun, share great sex, deepen an emotional connection, stay together for life. You gave a variety of intentions and I haven’t thought about it quite like that. I just thought that was wonderful.

Michael: Thanks, Rhoda. That’s something that I made up. I don’t remember ever being taught or about that or reading about that. I guess part of it was, being a therapist. I would see people in relationships and I would think, why they together, like, you know, why are they still together? And when I see couples and I will ask them… I interview each person separately before I meet them together. And I will say, why are you still with him or her, you know? All these challenges, why are you still together? And when I started doing premarital counseling, ironically, mostly for straight people at the beginning, I would say, what’s your purpose in getting married? I just thought everybody asked that, you know, I just thought of it, you know, makes sense. If you apply for a job, they say, why do you want this job?

If you’re going to get married, it’s like, why do you want to be married and why to this person? And God, rather the answers that I got. I mean, some of them were, oh, I want someone to travel with. I was like, wow, that’s really not what I expected. You know? And other people said, oh, you know, he’s so hot. And I thought, oh, how long is that going to last? And then other people said, oh, I really love this person and I want to deepen my relationship, and I know I could learn a lot from them and, you know, we have a spiritual meditation path that we share and I’m thinking, oh, that sounds like there’s a lot of depth there. 

So it would just tell me a lot about the person. And I like asking people this question at cocktail parties. I’m like, gosh, why did you guys get together? Like, why did you want to… why him? Why her? You know, and I love asking couples that I meet, how have you stayed together through the hard times? And after a couple of glasses of wine, they are usually ready to tell me.

Rhoda: I like that, I think that’s a right new party question for me. So I just reached back, grabbed my card that I wrote my husband for our 47th anniversary and my first sentence, “So grateful we are aligned on so many earthly delights.”

Michael: That’s lovely, Rhoda.

Rhoda: Another new way to think about open relationships, and this was important to me as well from you, is to explain what emotional monogamy means to you and your partner. Could you explain this idea to my audience and share your perspective on how you can remain emotionally committed to each other, while having sex with other people? I thought that would be important. 

Michael: I first started thinking about this when I lived in France. I lived in France for a few years in my thirties, and I noticed that amongst well-educated financially comfortable French people, there were a lot of non-monogamous marriages. And then when Francois Mitterrand was the leader of France.

You know, and he had a mistress, they had a daughter, it was openly known. And I remember at Francois Mitterrand funeral that his wife and children invited the mistress and the daughter to be part of the family. I thought, oh, this would never happen in America. Like how do they wrap their minds around this? And I came up with the idea of emotional monogamy versus physical monogamy. And to me, emotional monogamy is, if I’m married to you, Rhoda, I am committed to you, you will always be my number one. 

I will always be there for you to the best of my ability. You know, I want to spend the rest of my life with you. My emotions are committed to you, and then there’s physical monogamy. And I really would like to have the ability or, I mean, yeah, physical monogamy. I’d really like to have the ability to be physical with other people, it’s not physical, may I be pardon? I misspoke. 

So emotional monogamy is my bond to you as my partner. And then the physical relationships I have with other people are always secondary to you, always secondary. And I will never put them before you. And if I ever intended to put them before you, I will come and say, Rhoda, I’m really feeling a lot of feelings for this other person, can we talk about it, because I don’t want to go there.

And I’ve helped couples have those discussions, and its sort of like at the beginning of an affair, if you can go to your partner and say, you know, I’m starting to feel distanced from you and I’m starting to feel closer to this other person and I don’t want to be unfaithful, it seems like a moment where you can really make a decision. Did I answer your question or I talked around it? 

Rhoda: Nope, I think you answered it, I really do and, you know, I always talk about how being authentic is really what matters, you know, and I think straight couples tend well and also gay couples can go sideways to get physical needs met, instead of that honest conversation and instead of that kind of wrestling with the truth that certainly isn’t happening enough in our culture in general, you know?

Michael: Remember when that Ashley Madison scramble?

And all those… what was it? Thousands of heterosexual men and women were, you know, cheating on their partners, and I remember thinking, well, I’m not really surprised, because this isn’t being talked about, but to me, it was just kind of like a symptom that, you know, monogamy doesn’t work for everybody all the time. And so it’s really good to have conversations about, well, how could we fine tune our relationship rather than, well, I’m just going to lie to you and go on Ashley Madison and get laid with somebody and never tell you about it.

Rhoda: That’s right. So I think the problem that can occur in open relationships, which we’re touching on, but I want to hit it full on, is problems like jealousy and insecurity in an open marriage. What do you have to say about that?

Michael: I was very inspired by the book, the ethical slut. And if you haven’t read it or your readers haven’t read it, it’s a really great book. I didn’t model my book after it, and that book was written by two women. But part of the ideas in the ethical slut that I tried to develop for gay male couples is, you are responsible for your own happiness. And if you are jealous or insecure in your relationship, it’s basically your responsibility to bring it up to your partner, to problem solve. 

Let’s say you’re in a monogamous relationship and you’re still jealous and insecure, because your partner works with somebody who’s really beautiful inside and out, and you know, you just hear how they glowingly describe this person, and you’re like, oh, that doesn’t feel so good, you know, that makes me feel a little insecure or jealous and you know, then your partner and that person, and some other people go on a business meeting somewhere.

And you’re like, why do I feel so uneasy about this? So whether you’re gay, straight, bisexual, or whatever, and I’m a proponent of internal family systems, Rhoda, that’s one of my paradigms for therapy. And there’s a book in internal family systems called you are the one you’ve been waiting for. And the premise is that no partner, no matter how wonderful he or she is, how loyal, how beautiful, how smart, nobody can give you security and comfort and a sense of yourself, and if you look to your partner for that, inevitably, they’re going to fall off their pedestal and you’re going to be pissed. 

You know, I tell couples, you know, the first time that you need something and he can’t give it to you, just notice how you respond to that, because that’s something that we can work on, you know, and COVID has been really fascinating for me, because my most unhappy clients are all couples, because these people used to have jobs outside the house. They saw each other in the evenings and on weekends, and now they’re spending 24 hours together almost every day, and they’re not used to being around each other that much. And they’re not very happy about it. So that’s some…

And that is I think related to jealousy and insecurity, in the case of COVID, it’s like annoying, you know, like their annoying habits are just grading on me. And so whether it’s jealousy or annoying, I think we’re responsible, like if you and I were in a relationship and I was jealous of you being with somebody, it’s my responsibility to say, Rhoda, I’m feeling jealous.

And I don’t know why, and I don’t really have a reason, but I’m just really feeling insecure knowing you’re going on that business trip with that handsome guy that you really like.

Rhoda: No, I was just going to say, and it’s so rare to hear anybody own their jealousy about anything. I was just talking about that with somebody yesterday, who’s famous in their field, and, you know, they were saying that their peers were not giving them congratulations. And I think that it really is just, you know, I said, if I was going to give you congratulations, I would have said, I’m feeling a little jealous, but I want you to know I’m really happy for you at the same time, because two opposite feelings, if you’re authentic they are awesome together and being able to recognize that is part of being more secure within yourself. It’s a rare thing to be able to own both those things, you know?

Michael: It is, John Wayne would not…You know, let say, you know, honey, I’m feeling a little jealous, you know, it’s like, you know, he would just like stuff it and get an ulcer and go out…

Rhoda: Or a migraine, right?

Michael: Or migraine, right. And it’s funny, Rhoda, I didn’t use to think I had a whole lot of jealousy. So I have been with my partner a long time, and you know, we were monogamous and we took this gay ballroom dancing class and we were waiting to go in and this really cute younger guy just dropped down and sat on my partner’s lap, and I just went, yeah, awesome. And I was just like, oh my God, and my partner looked at me and I just looked at this kid and I said, get off, and Ted, my partner said, I have never seen you like that. 

I said, I don’t know where that came from, but I was really jealous. And I was really insecure and I did not want that guy on his lap, and afterwards, he said, alright, I thought that was kind of flattering, you don’t usually say stuff like that. I said, well, let’s talk about it, then we had a really good discussion about jealousy.

Rhoda: Yes. And it’s just so rare. You know, it really is. So you were saying that you thought that gay male couples typically experience conflict and competition more often? And I just wondered if you wanted to talk about that or more intensely.?

Michael: Yeah. Thanks Rhoda. I didn’t know this until I started working with so many gay couples. And I think it’s similar to the sex. There’s, I think biological urge to win and be the Victor and be the macho strong champion that exists in almost all of us, and, you know, we’ve been socialized to cooperate and, you know, be loving and blah, blah. But I think, you know, bottom line is, it’s easier for us to compete with another man than it is to compete with a woman or maybe for two women to compete with each other. 

I think I say in the book, you know, if you look across your breakfast table and there’s somebody of the opposite gender, you’re probably not going to feel super competitive. You know, like, oh, well he’s a guy or she’s a girl, and you know, I don’t have to compete with her, we’re different. But if you look across the breakfast table and you see someone who looks a lot like you, I think it’s different. 

Like, oh, he’s better at this than I am. Well, what am I better at than he is? Is he so much better than me in so many ways? He makes so much more money than me. Whereas what am I good at? Where are my strengths? And I don’t see it talked about in gay culture at all, but it it’s like, you know, as a therapist, these things that bother people, but they don’t ever talk about it till it blows up, that’s where I see competition and conflict, and I don’t know if you’ve ever listened to two men arguing about something, whether they’re gay or straight or married, one of them wants to win. 

Rhoda: Yeah, top dog, yeah.

Michael: They want to be right. I’m right. I’m telling you I’m right, and you’re wrong. I don’t hear those kinds of arguments nearly as often with straight couples or lesbian couples, and when I see straight couples, so often the husband is like, well, I’m right about this, and the wife is like, well, that’s not really the point. The point is that we’re not happy, and you know, and the husband will just like really push this point, like I have to be right, or I’m just weak, and when you have two men together, it’s even stronger. There’s no grounded wise feminine energy to moderate it sometimes.

Rhoda: So I want to finish up with you sharing about your book that’s available, and I’m wondering if you’re working on a new one?

Michael: Oh, yes. Thanks for asking. Well, I’m actually working on two books at the moment. I’m writing a book called the gay men’s guide to aging.

Because I don’t think we’re aging very well. When I look at gay media, we’re following the path that heterosexual women have been later led or encouraged to follow by the advertising agency. You know, like, oh, you should have Botox and you shouldn’t have a trainer and you should have liposuction, and you know, you should have a [unintelligible 34:56] and you should have hair implants, because your hair is getting thin. And you know, you should have, you know, a little filler, because you’re starting to look old. 

And 25 years ago, this was not prevalent in the gay community and a client of mine the other day came in and said, oh, I’m so excited, I just had Botox for the first time. He’s 32, and I said, why? And he said, well, you know, I work in in retail and I really want to look young and, you know, I’m not in my twenties anymore. So I have to really work hard to look young now….

Oh, dear, and I’ve been doing workshops for older gay men on the art. I call it the art of aging well.

Rhoda: That’s great. It really is. That’s impressive.

Michael: Thanks. And the other book I’m writing, I’m writing fiction. I’ve never written fiction. It’s about a gay psychiatrist and his struggle balancing his masculinity and femininity throughout his life.

Rhoda: All right. Well, Michael Dale Kimmel, Thank you so much for joining me.

Michael: Oh, Rhoda. This has been great. I would do this any time with you.

Rhoda: Thanks so much for listening, audience. I really appreciate it. Do you consider ordering Michael’s book or visiting his website lifebeyondtherapy.com

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