“Being honest with ourselves is maybe the hardest thing of all and then being able to express that to a partner can also be incredibly difficult, but it’s where relationships thrive.
Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson
Dr. Veronica Anderson, Host, Functional Medicine Specialist and Medical Intuitive interview Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson Polyamory, Open Relationships, and Positive Communication.
Is polyamory right for you? Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson have been teaching and writing about relationships, sexuality, and Tantra since 1999.
In this episode, Mark and Patricia share their experience with open relationships and the key behind every successful relationship. They will also talk about the differences between swinging and polyamory. Listen to the end to hear what every relationship needs in order to stay successful.
Listen to episode 49 on iTunes here or subscribe on your favorite podcast app.
49: Show Notes
Dr. Veronica Anderson’s Links:
04:07 – What is polyamory
05:10 – Swinging vs. polyamory
10:00 – Moral and ethical standpoints
13:28 – Current relationships
18:00 – Friends with benefits
20:00 – Hidden agendas
25:00 – Open communication & honesty
Female VO: Welcome to the Wellness Revolution Podcast, the radio show all about wellness in your mind, body, spirit, personal growth, sex, and relationships. Stay tuned for weekly interviews featuring guests that have achieved physical, mental, and spiritual health in their lives.
If you’d like to have access to our entire back catalog visit drveronica.com for instant access. Here’s your host, Dr. Veronica.
Dr. Veronica: I’m Dr. Veronica, medical doctor and medical intuitive, bringing you interesting topics to keep you healthy and well every week so that you can go out… At least when you leave the show I hope you got a good laugh or heard something really stimulating so that you will take action and change your life with ultimately will change your health.
If you’re living on your purpose, on your master path, those are the people that are the healthiest in their body. So let’s get into talking more about relationships. And relationships are big, because if you are in a bad, toxic relationship you’re going to be sick, sick, sick.
So when you see somebody and they’re sick, sick, sick, it’s rare for somebody who’s sick, sick, sick, to be with somebody who’s well, well, well. People, they live together, they die together. You imagine couples a lot of times have the same list of health problems. I work with a lot of couples, and I see them walk in, they have the same list of problems virtually. I even get their lab tests back, and their labs even look remarkably similar.
And so, whoever you’re sharing your life with, your energy is intermingled with their energy. And so therefore it affects your physical health. When he has high cholesterol, you have high cholesterol. If he’s a diabetic, you’re pre-diabetic. If you have arthritis, he’s got a pain in the ugh. How do you get rid of this? You both sink together or you swim together. You both have to hold on to that life preserver.
Part of this is getting your relationship right. And relationships are complicated. So in those complicated relationships sometimes you have to go off the everyday script of doing it like mama said do it, doing it like the church, the synagogue, the mosque said do it, and you got to do it a little differently. And guess what, maybe some folks won’t like you, but you will be happy and well.
And so my next guest, Patricia Johnson and Mark Michaels. And they’re co-authors of Designer Relationships, Partners and Passion, Great Sex Made Simple, Tantra for Erotic Empowerment, and The Essence of Tantric Sexuality. We’re going to bring on now Patricia and Mark. Welcome to Wellness for the Real World.
Mark: Hi, thanks for having us.
Dr. Veronica: Thanks for being on. You guys were on before and of course a hit, and so we have to bring you back so we could talk more. Because I was just like, “I didn’t get to ask them enough questions. I get them back on quick.” We talked about more monogamy last time. I want to talk about polyamory. And so people say, “Polyamory? What are you talking about?” People say, “Let me just turn the channel.” But you can’t turn the channel because you want to hear what’s going to happen because you live vicariously.
I live in a little, I want to call it whitewashed, whitewashed bedroom community where everybody rides around. They all work out the same athletic club. They all wear the same hairdo. They all look the same. But under the covers is another wild area where people are swinging, big swingers’ community.
Let’s talk about polyamory and open relationships a little bit. How does one get started? How does one feel comfortable with it? Is this just a way that people can cheat and not cheat? What is this polyamory all about?
Patricia: You’re asking a lot of great questions. Where do you want to start?
Mark: I’m going to jump in on the cheat and not cheat thing, because this is a very common idea that’s kind of out there. And when you see mainstream magazines talking about polyamory or any other kind of consensual non-monogamy they often call it cheating with permission, and it really isn’t that.
In some cases it may be a sort of a do what you want but don’t tell me. But what we’re really advocating is for people to be transparent with each other and open about what their relationships are. And so it’s not cheating if there’s mutual consent.
Patricia: Right. When it’s mutual we’re talking about enthusiastic yes from both parties. Usually it starts off that way with a pair of bonded couples. But where everybody is on board and in total agreement, and feels that this will deepen their relationship by opening up the relationship.
Dr. Veronica: Cheat with permission, this is not necessarily my particular way or mindset. I understand if people do it. It just seems to me that one person wants to stray off the plantation. Funny I would put it that way. One person wants to stray off the plantation and I’m going to get the other person to say it’s okay for me to stray off the plantation. And then we’re going to do it in a group of people where we can monitor and we think this group of people is okay. And so therefore it’s okay. It seems not totally on the up and up or quite right.
Patricia: Absolutely. And what you just described, coercing your partner is not an open relationship. That’s forcing your way over a partner, and that is not what we’re advocating at all. So yes, that’s very wrong.
Mark: We need to distinguish between swinging and polyamory to some degree before we go any further. Swinging tends to be more focused on recreational sex. Polyamory tends to be more focused on relationships. But there’s a lot of overlap in these different communities. So just so people are clear, they are two somewhat different things.
But when you go beyond that, and look at what happens when people get into swinging, most people who explore it and continue to stay in the lifestyle report greater relationship satisfaction, more closeness as a couple through this experience. And it’s because they’re treating this as an adventure that they’re on together. It’s not this idea of one person’s getting it and the other’s not, or one person wants to stray.
And sometimes people go into it and one person’s a little more enthusiastic than the other. But that can often shift pretty dramatically. And so the person who is a little more reluctant may discover, “Wow, this is really great.”
Patricia: The commonality thought is… I feel the reason why they report higher relationship satisfaction is because of what they’re doing behind the scenes, not how they’re behaving sexually, but the kind of conversations and the depth of communication and interpersonal understanding, that has to be standard and in place before you can even begin to sexually explore or adventure.
Dr. Veronica: It’s interesting because I’m just thinking about, I think a lot of people have experiences on the edges of this. And so my experience on the edge of this, some more on the edge and not. People will say, “What is she going to tell us about her? This is going to get juicy.”
I was friends with this couple. I’m friends with a lot of people so you’ll never be able to figure out who it is. One time I was having dinner with this couple, nothing going on. And the woman said to me, “We and so and so, we have an open relationship. People might call us swingers. I’m looking for a birthday present for my husband. I’m looking for a girlfriend,” and just kind of looked at me and smiled.
I can’t even remember what I said in that circumstance and how I got out of it. But it was just like, “That’s nice. Let’s go into dessert.”
Mark: Yeah, it was no pressure, right? It didn’t alter the friendship or anything. Or maybe it did but I think it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Dr. Veronica: I didn’t feel pressured, no. It wasn’t my choice at that point in time.
Patricia: Yeah, and I think most people who are in the lifestyle, as they’re going to approach someone they’re going to be very, very open to hearing no, or no thank you, or I hope you find that person for your husband’s birthday.
Dr. Veronica: And on the other side I’ve had men approach me and say, “I really would like to be your boyfriend. I know you’re married but can I be your boyfriend.”
Mark: That ethically for me is a little more problematic, but it’s sort of asking you to cheat or assuming that you’re willing to cheat. And that’s the kind of thing that we generally discourage. I think one of the things that we need to roll back again a little bit and say that cheating is rampant in the so-called monogamous world.
And a lot of people claim that they’re monogamous but they’re actually cheating. And the research on this shows that people who are in consensually open relationships are generally much more careful about their sexual activities than single people or people who say they’re monogamous and cheat. So there’s less likelihood that they’ll be intoxicated. They’re more likely to practice safer sex.
Dr. Veronica: By the way audience, I’d like you to know, no, I do not have a boyfriend I have a husband. I want to be very clear about that. But one thing that I feel for me that’s nice about this is I make the choice that I’m going to be morally and ethically the way I think it should be. The opportunity have many times presented themselves, however, I always have to say, “No, that’s not right for me.” I feel I have the utmost love and respect for my husband.
Even if there’s some attraction there, no. I feel that me to show my love and respect, and be true to me and myself this is how I would like to conduct our relationship. And therefore at this point in time there is no room for me to be consorting with somebody else. And so I believe that you have to decide where you stand ethically and morally.
But also I’m happy with me. Whenever I have any type of issue with the relationship and I’m unhappy with my husband with whatever it is I’m going to him first. I’m not going to say, “There’s this guy over there,” so it’s just easier for me to go over there. I think you have to in order to keep your relationship strong, when there’s opportunity outside and there are always opportunities outside for everybody at every single age in their life.
You have to decide, “I’m going to be strong. This is where I stand. This is where I am morally and ethically where I can be true to myself and true to my partner.” And so the idea of the polyamory where everybody is open to what’s going on I think is being respectful and true to yourself, but also respectful and true to your partner.
Patricia: Yeah, and you touched on something very, very important, is that you are actively choosing your monogamous relationship over and over again. Whereas there’s a huge segment of the population that they see marriage as an automatic, and they haven’t actively chosen to be monogamous.
Mark: They may not even have an agreement as a couple about what it means to them. For some people watching porn or fantasizing somebody else is the same as actually doing it. And for other people it’s not an issue at all. But if you haven’t talked about it you don’t know where you stand on them.
Patricia: Right. And often times people are signing that lifelong contract without knowing any of these terms, maybe not even for themselves personally. And then they expect their spouse to just naturally…
Mark: …anticipate that.
Patricia: Yeah, and figure out for you, but that’s not fair. You need to have very specific conversations.
Dr. Veronica: Let’s talk a little bit more about polyamory. Are you guys in polyamorous relationships currently?
Mark: We sort of straddle the fence. We’re very, very pair bonded and we’ve generally not sought deep loving relationships with people outside of our pair bond. But we have friendships with people that have lasted for years where we may go in and out of being sexual with them. And we’re in a whole lot of different communities and we have our own definition of our relationship which is pair bonded, non-exclusive.
Patricia: And I think what we’re really encouraging, hence our long title of our book, is for couples to decide exactly what they want out of a relationship, create it, co-create it, mold it, make it a work of art, and make it as life fulfilling. And forget all these other labels and rules, and you just make your own rules.
Dr. Veronica: When you guys were young did you always know you were like this? How did you get into it? You’re laughing.
Patricia: Because I think it was always part of my nature, plus my philosophy when I was younger and starting to date is until you had that conversation about exclusivity then you can’t assume it. So I just always figured, unless somebody said, “Hey, I want to see you exclusively,” I assumed they were seeing other people and I would see other people.
Mark: I think for me I really struggled with it. I think that it always has been something that underneath it all I wanted. I made some stumbling attempts at it in college. And then really tried monogamy and the more conventional way of being for a long time. That did not work out well for me.
And after my first marriage broke up I did a lot of really deep work on myself and my sexuality. Owning the pieces of it that I had felt guilty and ashamed of and tried to push away. And part of that self-acceptance involved recognizing that a more open way of relating is something that work better for me.
Dr. Veronica: Why Mark do you feel you felt guilt and shame? Was it because of what society was telling you? Is it because you were in a relationship where you were not monogamous and you were told that you were the bad guy? I’ve worn the scarlet letter on my chest where everybody judged me for something that they claim or thought so.
Mark: I think for me it was much more internal. Actually in the marriage I was exclusive for almost all of it. Really in terms of actually doing anything I was exclusive the whole time. But I think that there were desires and feelings that I had that in order to stay in that kind of exclusive box I really squelched myself. So for me it really was stuff that came from our society. I wasn’t brought up religious or anything like that, it was just the cultural messages about how you should be in a relationship.
Dr. Veronica: What happens when people realize, because I believe that a lot of people have the ability to be polyamorous. We have these constraints put on us. I realized about myself, it’s really easy for me to be in a monogamous relationship. However, I can’t just block out that I’ve loved somebody else. And so rather than block it out and numb it out I just say, “I loved that person.” It doesn’t mean that I want to be with him and have sex with him, but I love him. As oppose to, “I have that person. I can’t stand him. I never supposed to think about him again. Everything was horrible about them.”
I’ve come to the realization that… The universe loves me. I’ve had wonderful men in my life. And so when I look back over past relationships I can say, “That person was wonderful because of this.” And at this point in time I love them all because I’ve gotten wonderful things, and I’ve learned a lot about me through these relationships.
So rather than, although I’m with someone that I’m very happy with and plan to stay married to forevermore in this lifetime, I decided that if I go at it where I love all these people, and it’s okay, and there’s enough love to go around. And that doesn’t mean that I’m sleeping with everybody necessarily, it’s a much easier feeling than trying to say, “I don’t have any feelings for anybody who I’ve ever been with before.”
Mark: That’s what you’re supposed to do. When you meet that magic one person, all of a sudden everybody that you’ve loved in the past somehow… Even if you do have a lingering affectionate feeling for them you’re supposed to say, “It didn’t mean anything to me. It was just a mistake.”
Patricia: And I think this happens in society even more extreme where when someone goes into a relationship that suddenly they cannot have deep friendships with someone of the opposite sex. There are some people that…
Dr. Veronica: You’re touching on a subject there.
Patricia: …completely forebode. And it’s like, no. I enjoy my friendships with all genders and it’s very enriching. Why would you stop enriching your life.
Dr. Veronica: Okay. Let’s go further into that because that is just really common. I think it’s about your own insecurity with whatever your insecurity is with when you think that your partner, your husband, your wife, should not have any relationship with anybody of the opposite sex.
Let me just tell you, for me I’m not concerned about my husband. I’m concerned about the intent of the other person. And I feel because I don’t necessarily know the intent of the other person that’s what makes it more uncomfortable for me.
My husband and I have had this discussion and he’s just like, “It doesn’t matter because nothing happens because I don’t have any intent.”
Mark: I think he’s right about that. The other thing is that if you have that kind of relationship, and there may be a little bit of an erotic charge. But if it’s all above board and it’s clear, “We’re friends and it’s just never going to go any further than this,” then there’s not a problem.
I think there’s potentially a much bigger problem, the whole idea of what you resist persists. And if you’re like, “I’m really, really infatuated with Joanne, but I can’t allow that. And Patricia’s going to be mad at me because I’m fascinated with this woman. Oh no.” That’s actually a pressure that’s going to make it maybe more likely that something unanticipated and sexual is going to happen, than if it’s all really clear and out on the table.
Patricia: I think also that friendship, if that person your friends with has an agenda then that’s just no good on their part. That’s really unethical to come in to a couple and develop a friendship but you have that hidden agenda, not good.
Dr. Veronica: How does one navigate those waters though? Here’s the agenda that’s more uncomfortable. Let’s you’re in a relationship, but the other person is not in a relationship with somebody necessarily. And so they’re free, they’re available. That’s where I think it gets more dicey. And this based on my history. I’m completely going to lay out my history here. I don’t trust other women because I think they have agendas. And most other women would say that. Women tend to have agendas. They’ll say that they don’t.
Now, I’m going to come at it from a particular history that I will share with you. When we were growing up my parents got divorced and my father took up with mother’s best friend and married her. And so from my point on I never trusted anybody. And so I know that in the back of my mind although there may really be no intent on the other part I understand my history makes me have that level of suspicion of everybody who want to my husband’s friend and not my friend particularly.
But I back it off. It’s controlled. I realized that it’s fine if he’s fine. And we talk about it. And whenever I have any kind of insecurity I will say, “Here’s how I feel baby. This is what I’m feeling and I just got to tell you and just got to say it.” And once I say it and tell him it’s usually cool, because I got it off my chest. I said, “I just don’t trust it. Here’s why I’m upset. Here’s what’s going on.” And then I’m cool about it. But I know that from history of that, what happened in my family of origin that I feel uncomfortable with those type of relationships, especially when the other person is unattached. What do you guys say?
Mark: That makes sense. And our families of origin play a huge part in how we are. But I think that the thing that you’re pointing to, and what I suspect didn’t happen in your family of origin is that they probably never talked about it until it way too late. And what you’re doing now with your husband is having it all on the table. And that’s what we’re all about.
Because as soon as he knows that you’re feeling insecure. And then you may be thinking that this person has an agenda, he’ll be more vigilant. Again, it’s all on the table. And then he’s in a position where he can set the boundary with that other person and say, “This is great but it’s only going to go so far.”
Patricia: Plus it sounds like you introduced the topic owning how you feel and not accusatory. You have suspicions and then you don’t accuse him of actually doing something. You’re just saying, “Hey, I’d feel better if we talk about this.” That’s a wonderful way to approach it.
Dr. Veronica: I think most people don’t approach it and just get accusatory. And I realized that it is my insecurity and from my history that this is where this feeling exists. It’s interesting, I always felt like… I’m in my second marriage now, so you do your second marriage different than you first. But I was always concerned in my first marriage that one of my friends is going to marry my husband.
And in fact what happened is we went to a big church, First Baptist at Lincoln Gardens. My husband, 35 days after our divorce married a woman from our church. I was like, everything that I thought was going to happen happened. So here it is. Now I’m past it. Now I can move on to my new life.
It didn’t happen that easy when it was happening. But it was a big drama happening in my mind because I felt like, “Hey, somebody I know is going to after my relationship.” And it was close enough to be like, “It’s over. Now I can get past that particular thing.”
I love to hear that you guys have gotten to a place and people can get to a place where they can negotiate being in relationships where everybody can feel comfortable. The difference in cheating or when people are feeling insecure seems to be that two people in their relationships really have on their big boy and big girl pants. And they communicate with each other what’s going on in their mind.
And so that’s why I believe my relationships work now because, one, I am honest with myself about what’s going on. But also whenever I have any other kind of question, problem, whatever, I go right to him and I say, “Baby, this is how I feel about this. I said my peace. You don’t even have to say anything if you don’t want to. I don’t need an explanation, but I’m just telling you how I feel.”
Mark: That’s where the work really is. Being honest with ourselves is maybe the hardest thing of all. And then being able to express that to a partner can also be incredibly difficult, but it’s where relationships thrive and that’s where the juice is. And whatever the structure the more that you can do that the richer it’s going to be.
Dr. Veronica: We all have to realize is everybody is responsible for themselves. My husband will say to me, “Listen, you’re going to do what you’re going to do, and there’s nothing I’m going to say or do that’s necessarily going to stop you. And so I don’t need to check on you or follow you or anything like that. You’re going to make a decision to do what you’re going to do, and I’m going to make the decision to do what I’m going to do.” Having that approach and stance and that level or honesty I realize that, “You know what, you’re right. And so we’ll just deal with whatever as it comes.”
You’re listening to Wellness for the Real World. I’ve been talking to Patricia Johnson and Mark Michaels. Their website michaelsandjohnson.com. Their book, Designer Relationships: A Guide to Happy Monogamy, Positive Polyamory, and Optimistic Open Relationships.
Female VO: Thank you for listening to the Wellness Revolution Podcast. If you want to hear more on how to bring wellness into your life visit drveronica.com. See you all next week. Take care.
Dr. Veronica Anderson is an MD, Functional Medicine practitioner, Homeopath. and Medical Intuitive. As a national speaker and designer of the Functional Fix and Rejuvenation Journey programs, she helps people who feel like their doctors have failed them. She advocates science-based natural, holistic, and complementary treatments to address the root cause of disease. Dr. Veronica is a highly-sought guest on national television and syndicated radio and hosts her own radio show, Wellness for the REAL World, on FOX Sports 920 AM “the Jersey” on Mondays at 7:00 pm ET.