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Understanding Polyamory: An Interview with Dana McNeil, LMFT

An interview with Dana McNeil, LMFT, about polyamory and ethical non-monogamy. Curt and Katie talk with Dana about the basics that every therapist should understand about polyamory. We cover some of the vocabulary, the values and perspectives within the polyamory community, as well as the biases many therapists hold and what therapists often get wrong when working with polyamorous clients.

It’s time to reimagine therapy and what it means to be a therapist. To support you as a whole person and a therapist, your hosts, Curt Widhalm and Katie Vernoy talk about how to approach the role of therapist in the modern age.


Click here to scroll to the podcast transcript.

Interview with Dana McNeil Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Co-Founder of Confident Couples Therapist

Dana McNeil, LMFTDana McNeil is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and is the founder The Relationship Place, a group practice located in San Diego, California. Dana’s practice specializes in couples’ therapy and utilizes an evidence-based type of couples’ therapy which is known as the Gottman Method. Dana is a certified Gottman Method therapist and Bringing Home Baby instructor.  Dana’s practice works with all types of relationship issues from pre-marital counseling, dealing with the aftermath of extramarital affairs, partners working through addiction recovery, military deployed families, parents of special needs children, LGBTQ, and polyamorous clients.

Dana has been featured on many relationship podcasts and in publications such as the Business Insider, Authority Magazine, Eat This-Not That, Parade, Oprah Living, Martha Stewart Living, Ladders, AARP, and is the resident relationship expert on the Cox Communications show “I Do.”

Dana is also the co-founder of Confident Couples Therapist, a consultation and training program. She and her partner Nancy Ryan teach the tips and techniques to build a successful cash pay practice working with couples.

In this episode we talk about polyamory:

  • Polyamory and ethical non-monogamy (ENM)
  • The faulty assumption that therapists don’t have skills to work with polyamorous clients
  • The complexity of the non-monogamous relationships
  • Jealousy versus compersion
  • Metamour, Polycule, and new relationship energy
  • The goals and aspirations within the polyamorous community
  • The underlying reasons for entering into polyamorous relationships
  • The poly identity and lifestyle
  • Typical biases therapists hold related to ethical non-monogamy
  • The difference between boundaries and rules and agreements
  • The negative tone that can express bias to client

“They are making sure that the clinicians that they work with have an understanding of their fears, and that they’re able to normalize those fears for them and that they’re able to provide them a safe place to process it where they’re going to be free of judgment. That is hugely important to clients.” — Dana McNeil, LMFT⠀

  • Dana’s use of the Gottman method with ENM clients
  • The reality of how ENM relationships – emotional and practical logistics
  • The importance of transparency, clear communication within these relationships
  • Considerations related to when members of the polycule are parents, who and how they are introduced to children
  • Sex, fluid bonding, protection and testing
  • Swingers have sex as sport, open relationships are sexual, poly relationships may be for love and romance and not sex

“Because they are worried that this is going to get out at their their work, and that they’ll somehow be labeled as somebody that…has a sex addiction. And that’s really what clients hear a lot is that…[you] just have a sex, sex addiction, you’re just looking to have multiple partners, you don’t really understand what you’re doing…There’s this sense that somebody’s going to talk them out of it, somebody’s going to tell them that they’re wrong, somebody’s going to tell them that they should just get their act together and get like everybody else.” — Dana McNeil, LMFT

  • The stigma and misunderstanding that these individuals may face

A Message from Therapy Reimagined:

Therapy Reimagined 2021 – The Modern Therapist Conference

Therapy Reimagined 2021 will be held virtually again this year September 23-25th! We are looking for fresh, diverse voices to speak on topics that often aren’t covered in grad school or in other continuing education platforms.

Our learning tracks:

  1. Business and Technology
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  3. Ways of Doing (focused on innovative treatment and populations who are often ignored by our profession).
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Resources for Modern Therapists mentioned in this Podcast Episode:

We’ve pulled together resources mentioned in this episode and put together some handy-dandy links. Please note that some of the links below may be affiliate links, so if you purchase after clicking below, we may get a little bit of cash in our pockets. We thank you in advance!

Website: ( has been taken down)

Facebook: @confidentcouplestherapy

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Facebook: @sdrelationshipplace

Instagram: @sdrelationshipplace

The Ethical Slut by Janet W. Hardy

More Than Two by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert

Relevant Episodes of MTSG Podcast:

Privileged and Biased

Who we are:

Picture of Curt Widhalm, LMFT, co-host of the Modern Therapist's Survival Guide podcast; a nice young man with a glorious beard.Curt Widhalm, LMFT

Curt Widhalm is in private practice in the Los Angeles area. He is the cofounder of the Therapy Reimagined conference, an Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University and CSUN, a former Subject Matter Expert for the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, former CFO of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and a loving husband and father. He is 1/2 great person, 1/2 provocateur, and 1/2 geek, in that order. He dabbles in the dark art of making “dad jokes” and usually has a half-empty cup of coffee somewhere nearby. Learn more at:

Picture of Katie Vernoy, LMFT, co-host of the Modern Therapist's Survival Guide podcastKatie Vernoy, LMFT

Katie Vernoy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, coach, and consultant supporting leaders, visionaries, executives, and helping professionals to create sustainable careers. Katie, with Curt, has developed workshops and a conference, Therapy Reimagined, to support therapists navigating through the modern challenges of this profession. In her spare time, Katie is secretly siphoning off Curt’s youthful energy, so that she can take over the world. Learn more at:

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Our opinions are our own. We are only speaking for ourselves – except when we speak for each other, or over each other. We’re working on it.

Our guests are also only speaking for themselves and have their own opinions. We aren’t trying to take their voice, and no one speaks for us either. Mostly because they don’t want to, but hey.

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Voice Over by DW McCann

Music by Crystal Grooms Mangano

Transcript for this episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide podcast (Autogenerated):

Transcripts do not include advertisements just a reference to the advertising break (as such timing does not account for advertisements).

… 0:00
(Opening Advertisement)

Announcer 0:00
You’re listening to the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide where therapists live, breathe and practice as human beings. To support you as a whole person and a therapist, here are your hosts, Curt Widhalm and Katie Vernoy.

Curt Widhalm 0:16
Welcome back modern therapists. This is the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide, the podcast that is all about all of the things that therapists should know, the things that happen in our lives, things that happen with our clients. And one of the areas that we visit often is kind of those niche areas of therapy that just don’t get taught kind of upfront and people end up stumbling into and today we are talking about polyamory and ethical, non-monogamous relationships. We are joined by Therapy Reimagined 2020 conference speaker Dana McNeil. She has a group practice in the San Diego area called the Relationship Place. She’s a confident couples therapist, and she’s our guest on today’s podcast. Thank you so much for joining us, Dana.

Dana McNeil 1:05
Thanks for having me. This is great. It’s nice to see you guys again, so soon.

Katie Vernoy 1:10
Yeah, we’re so glad to have you here. As we normally do with our guests, we’d love to know who are you and what are you putting out into the world?

Dana McNeil 1:20
Ah, well, I am, as Curt said, I’m the owner of a group practice here in San Diego, California. I have eight clinicians that work with me and we focus on relationships, we use the Gottman method. And I also am the co founder of a mentor group that’s called the confident couples therapist. And my partner and I, Nancy Ryan, help therapists who want to work with couples get the skills that they need to be able to do so. And one of the topics that we have to cover and it’s important to cover is ethical non monogamy and how to work with clients that are wanting to enter into that world or already are in that world.

Curt Widhalm 1:56
One of the questions that we asked at the beginning of episodes as a learning place, not as a shaming place, but as a learning place. You know, therapists already have made some of the mistakes that are out there then it gives us a place to not have our own space to make those mistakes. But what are therapists get wrong in this space around working with polyamorous clients?

Dana McNeil 2:19
I think one of the things that the clinicians I work with do wrong first is assume that they don’t have any skills that are going to apply to working with with clients that are seeking out ethical non monogamy relationships. Relationships are relationships. The things that you know about relationships are going to apply. There’s just more people involved and there’s more complicated dynamics. One of the things though, that we don’t really understand as therapists that have come from working with just a couple to working with more than one person is that sometimes we don’t understand how the idea of jealousy transcends to ethical non monogamy relationships. And so we assume that there’s going to be a lot of jealousy present in those relationships, and that we need to tackle it or talk about it or help them work through it. And what you’re going to find is that is that those that participate in ethical non monogamy don’t embrace the idea of jealousy. This idea of compersion arrives, which is I aspire to be more than someone that’s jealous, I want to rise above that. And so if you’re not dealing with it in a way that doesn’t produce guilt and shame for your clients for experience it that you’re going to have a problem already building a relationship with your clients that come to see you.

Katie Vernoy 3:33
I would imagine, especially from a more monogamous point of view, that there would be this big idea that my clients, if they get into these types of relationships are going to be super jealous.

Dana McNeil 3:47

Katie Vernoy 3:47
And will come from come from that place of assumption and then start working on that. So, this idea of compersion, did I say that properly compersion? Yay, yay. So the idea of compersion and that they are vowing to be above jealousy, it seems like if therapists are not even understanding that that’s a concept.

Dana McNeil 4:06

Katie Vernoy 4:06
And then also not thinking that it’s possible, it seems like therapists could get in the way of these clients…

Dana McNeil 4:13

Katie Vernoy 4:14
…if that’s potentially a goal for them.

Dana McNeil 4:17
It is a goal. And one of the mistakes I made, so learn from when I was a rookie is: I had a client that came in and she kept talking about her frustration on Saturday nights when her partner was with his metamour, which is the name for your partner’s partner, and that she would get very upset and so she was coming to see me for depression. And I’m like, Girl, you’re jealous. This is not depression. You just talk about, like, of course, he’s dividing his time with you. You’re by yourself on Saturday. And it wasn’t that at all. She was not aware of healthy boundaries that she needed to set around Saturday nights because he was what we call in the polyamory world in his new and his new relationship energy. And so he was very excited to spend time with the metamour and he was not doing some of the things that he should be doing around the house, right, leaving lots of chores to do; childcare routines, for her, leaving her to like, do all the dirty dishes and you know, change the bedding. And so she wasn’t setting healthy boundaries about like, hey, but you have to pay attention to your other relationship as well. And she was viewing it as depression. And I inadvertently was viewing it as jealousy. So there was so many things going on in this situation that because I didn’t really understand this idea of, I’m not going to talk about feeling guilt, you know, feeling jealousy. I feel guilt and shame about even expressing that when I’m in the polyamory world, because we are aspiring that is the high holy ground is that I get excited for you, when you have this experience of being in a new relationship that brings a light to your life. That yes, we have a relationship and there’s a stability there. And we have a connection, and we have a history, but this other person is adding something to your world that I can’t possibly do. And so if we don’t understand that idea as therapists, and by the way, I don’t have to embrace that, that might not be how I live my life. But that’s not my life to live, that’s my client’s life to live. And if I don’t go there with them from a space of understanding what they’re aspiring to, then I’m gonna get confused and lost and shut down my client, and they’re gonna go somewhere else and feel bad about the therapy experience.

Curt Widhalm 6:31
So I’m learning all sorts of new vocab already here. Compersion, metamour. For those listeners that are hearing about polyamory for the first time, I’m sure, kind of like myself here, there’s all sorts of questions of how did people end up in these relationships in the first place? And really being able to kind of break down this, you know, traditional, egalitarian, or traditional, just kind of pair of a relationship and being able to conceptualize this in both maybe a healthy way, in an unhealthy way. Because I imagined that there are people who enter into this unexpectedly and don’t kind of know what they’re getting into.

Dana McNeil 7:16
Yeah, for sure. One of the main questions that I ask, and it depends if I,, am a seeing individual that has been invited to participate in an open relationship, or a polyamory relationship, or are you a couple that’s thinking about going into it, have already been in one and it kind of screwed it up because we didn’t get any healthy boundaries in place or agreements in place prior to doing it? Right. So I have to discern that first. And then second of all, okay, why now? Right, what’s going on in our life that makes them feel like it’s an option for us? If you’ve always aspired to have more than one love in your life and this is your value and your belief system, fantastic. If it’s because my partner just had an affair, and I want to even the score. Not so fantastic. Right? This is the recipe for disaster then.

Katie Vernoy 8:06
Yeah, yeah. And so I think part of Curt’s question is also about just kind of learning the basics of what it means to enter into a polyamory relationship. And I know, I was able to hear a lot of this stuff based on your talk at the conference, because there was so much juiciness in there. And obviously, we can’t do that whole talk right now. But what do you think is most important that the basics a therapist should know about polyamory and ethical non monogamy?

Dana McNeil 8:31
I think you have to learn some of the vocabulary because what I have found is that my clients get quite frustrated when they feel like they have to educate their therapist. You have to have a basic understanding of the theory, the differences between an open relationship and a polyamory relationship. You have to understand the motivations and the heart and soul of why someone chooses this lifestyle or this goal for their relationship. And so that’s a really good place to start. Because again, like they said, you’re going to be able to apply whatever theory you’d use or whatever you understand about relationships, but you have to have the vocabulary down understanding of why clients are seeking this out as a lifestyle, as a minimum.

Katie Vernoy 9:15
Well, I’ve also heard poly being more of an identity that I am poly this is something where that’s like, I’m not a monogamous person, that kind of thing. So is there is there a certain amount of identity as well that goes into this?

Dana McNeil 9:29
Absolutely. It’s a lifestyle. It’s an it’s something that I embrace for you know, for some clients, it’s almost like a religious or a spiritual experience, right? This is going to bring me to a new level of awareness and consciousness and then I’m not just prescribing to the rules in that I am already been requested to participate in in the world that I was living in prior to this, that I can shape my identity and what makes sense to me. I don’t have to be compartmentalized. I don’t have to be put in a box that I can choose to love whoever I love, and love as many people as I love.

Curt Widhalm 10:02
So one of the roles that we look at a lot is the therapists role in this. And it seems like there could be a lot of bias related to therapists who don’t understand or don’t agree, you’ve talked about the effects that that has on the clients. How can therapists who are working with a polyamorous client or clients if it is relational in nature, how can the therapist identify where their bias is in these relationships? And how do you recommend that therapists work on that?

Dana McNeil 10:32
Well, if somebody gives you a call, and says they want to come in to work on their, you know, opening up their relationship, and your first thought is, well, this is never gonna work. That’s probably an idea that you have a bias, right? Because you’ve gotten into your head about your own relationships, or what you think relationships should look like, versus what the clients are presenting with. I have no idea what that looks like when they call every client calls and says, Hey, we’re getting in to an open relationship, and we want to set healthy boundaries. Well, I already know that they don’t know what they’re doing. Because it’s not about healthy boundaries. It’s about rules and agreements versus boundaries, right? And so, if I’m a therapist, and I’m like, well, I need to get them in here. And so that I can help straighten them out so that they stop thinking this is a good idea, I probably also have a little bit of bias.

… 11:20
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Katie Vernoy 11:20
I think about the clients that I’ve had that are in either in polyamorous relationship/identify as poly. And the presenting problem wasn’t that it was usually something else. And and oftentimes, there’s a period of time maybe a trusting of me, I’m not a couples therapist, I, you know, I’ve different specialties that, that have different kind of connotations to them. And so I think the the piece that, for me was was helpful was recognizing that there are a lot of different ways that you can love others, and that you can be in relationship and that kind of stuff. But oftentimes, it wasn’t the presenting problem. It was something that came along later. And and you know, whether it was a relationship that kind of has just organically evolved, or if it’s someone that identifies I think it’s something where even individual therapists, I think, need to have some of these basics that you talked about. But I could imagine were I not a little bit more informed. I don’t think I was 100% informed. I still am learning the vocabulary, but but my clients would not have received a response that would have been good. And so kind of in the interplay with a client where might people where might the bias come in, as far as a poly client focusing on other issues, but but that’s an element of who they are? How might we be shutting them down so that they can’t fully talk about their full experience with us as therapists.

Dana McNeil 12:49
We might ask them a lot of questions that we think are innocent. But if we have a bias, then we’re probably going to tilt the question so that it sounds like it’s a negative response that we’re expecting, if that makes sense. Like, so why do you think that you guys are going to be able to handle this? So it’s almost like there’s a tone that will come through therapists, like you need to convince me that this is a good idea so that I can get on board with it. Because until I buy in for the relationship, and you show me that you are good candidates for this, we’re not going to be able to move forward in it. Do you know what I mean?

Katie Vernoy 13:22
That makes sense.

Dana McNeil 13:24
Yeah, that’s what I have heard from some clinicians in the past is that they’re either fearful of it, and it feels like a stranger from another planet. And so they’re looking at it like, I’ve never seen an alien on my table on my couch before. And I’m quite not quite sure how if they breathe oxygen, so I don’t know how to talk to them, like people. Or you need to convince me that this is a good idea, because therapeutically, I’ve never believed this is a good decision. And so you need to, you know, let me know why it is that I should buy in.

Curt Widhalm 13:52
To help for those people who are either already working in this space, maybe don’t have the training or those who are interested in working with clients who approach with poly relationships or polyamory ideals, what approaches should they look at as far as working and pursuing more training and education to be able to take this approach?

Dana McNeil 14:16
They can use whatever theory that they like to use. I use the Gottman method and even though it had you know, there hasn’t been a ton of research about using the Gottman method with ethical non monogamy clients. A lot of the issues that are happening or issues that are happening in other couples. If we’re having issues of not feeling like we have influenced or not being seen and heard or not being acknowledged or not being validated. Any theory that you use that helps clients come together in that way you can apply to use with clients that identify as ethical non monogamy.

Katie Vernoy 14:48
Are there any special considerations you think for working with couples that are engaging in ethical non monogamy?

Dana McNeil 14:55
I think what I have found is really important to address with my client particularly ones that are just starting to enter into this space in their relationship is, are we going to aspire to the theory of polyamory in that we are all supposed to be equal participants in this relationship? So if you and Curt are in a relationship and you bring in a metamour is, are you guys the primary couple? Or do you all have equal standing. And so in the theory, we are all supposed to have equal standing. In reality, I don’t know that that always works. And that has to be a conversation in the office with my client, because there are things like finances and mortgages and children and wills. And you know, do not resuscitate orders if somebody goes into the hospital. There’s messy parts of life, that in a theory, just like when we were in grad school, the theories were great. And then I came into my office, and I’m like, Oh, my God, there’s like a real life couple, they have like co-occurring mental health issues, and their life is complicated. They’re living on the street. Right. So, I think that that is one of the things that we get to bridge as clinicians is that we get to take the beautiful part of this theory that our clients are aspiring to, and that they fell in love with, and then also bring some of those realities that we do best in a loving way is, you know, this is a person that hasn’t been vetted. Are we going to introduce them to our children? What happens if this person doesn’t stay in our life? How are we going to deal with this other person not being okay with us still identifying as a primary couple, and they’re a secondary partner? Right? Those are the really nuts, nuts and bolts parts that start to create something that’s the opposite of compersion that we have to deal with in the therapy office. And that’s a safe place for clients to process it. And that’s a really important part of the work I do with my clients.

Curt Widhalm 16:47
Sounds like a lot of this is taking overt or unspoken rules, or even unidentified conversations and making them out in the open and being able to have the have the agreement made and just be straightforward with each other and then following those rules?

Dana McNeil 17:09
So yeah, and you bring up kind of an interesting point is that there’s the difference between boundaries, rules and agreements, right. And so a rule is typically considered something that’s negative or a little bit too rigid, because it’s implying that if, if we’re a primary couple, and we make a set of rules, that’s typically because we’re trying to ward off feeling jealous or to try to exclude someone else from being a primary partner. So, we like to speak in agreement so that everybody who is involved in this relationship has a voice and gets to choose how we’re going to navigate this as a polycule, which is a family. And so how are we all going to have a voice? What are we all going to be able to do to participate in this. And then personal boundaries also comes into play, where I get to decide, hey, I don’t want to be your relationship coach, if you guys get in a fight, I’m not going to be the messenger that comes in and, you know, gives you the bad news about what your partner said about you. So yes, it’s also it is it’s the logistics, but it’s also the difference between boundaries, what are agreements, and what are rules? And how are we going to all navigate those that we all feel like we have a voice in this relationship?

Katie Vernoy 18:24
The rules or boundaries that sounds like are not typically the things that are the most present. But like when you mentioned the idea around Do we introduce our secondary or metamour or whatever, do we introduce this person to our child? That seems like there could be a rule or a boundary around that that’s not necessarily around jealousy. It’s around, kind of making sure that you’re doing what’s in the best interest of the child, for example. But then these agreements, I like this idea that there’s this conversation, this kind of this collaboration around what is it that we’re doing? And to me, it seems like there’s so many options. And so I start thinking that okay, well, I’m not a couples therapist anyway. But I do have clients that may be wanting to enter and enter into these conversations on their own. And so to me, it seems like there’s a lot to understand around what the options are, around how relationships or polycules or different types of relationships get set up. And so I’m, I’m wondering if there’s good resources for folks that want to make sure that they have the knowledge and if there’s a point at which it’s really important to refer out for someone that is much more knowledgeable or within the community?

Dana McNeil 19:36
Yeah, there’s a couple of great books and one that your clients will always have read, so make sure that you’re familiar with it called The Ethical Slut. Because your clients will come in and say, I heard this book and it changed my life and I want to talk about it. Okay, you should probably know what it says in there. Right? And there’s another book called More than Two, which has really great questions that I have adopted and kind of changed into therapeutic terms that help this conversation get going. Right? Conversations like, what does commitment mean to you? Those are great questions. Your clients are not thinking about that at all. They’re thinking about like, it’s going to be cool to have another person that when you’re mad at me, loves me and thinks I’m great. I’m like, Okay, let’s back up. Right, here’s some basic, I need to know your value system. So, those are some great resources that they can start with.

Katie Vernoy 20:27
Yeah, and we’ll definitely put those in the show notes. I’m gonna have to put them into my, my little library. That sounds amazing.

Curt Widhalm 20:33
You did bring up, you know, talking with kids in a relationship. Do you have suggestions for how those conversations might end up impacting children and helping them to understand, because I’m sure that there are plenty of kids out there who have a worldview, that families or two parents and kids that introducing more people may end up being confusing. And helping them through the process?

Dana McNeil 20:59
So, it just depends on where the couple’s out if they’re both in agreement that they want their children to be part of their polycule or to know of their metamours, then that’s great, right? Then we just need to talk about how much is this person involved? And when do we introduce them? And what is how are they going to be introduced? Are they going to be Aunt Susie and Uncle Joe? Or are they going to have different names. But if there’s conflict around it, which is typically why you come to therapy, then we need to have some exercises within the Gottman method, we use something called dreams within conflict. And with that’s a tool that we use before we go to compromise, because again, this is going to be some compromise here, hopefully. And so what I’m really trying to get at is I need to acknowledge your thoughts and your feelings and why this is so big to you. And at the end of the day, what’s the catastrophe scenario that you worry about that if I did introduce this person, and it didn’t go, well? How would this impact either us as a family or child. And having a conversation at that heart level so that we can then make sure that when you start compromising with me, you’re compromising me with like, as someone who loves me and understands my catastrophe scenario, and helps me address those fears? That that’s actually how we can start making some progress around this topic.

… 22:16
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Katie Vernoy 22:15
What are some of the risks do you think for introducing to children?

Dana McNeil 22:22
Well, confusion, right? I don’t know what this adult’s role is. I go to school and like the hetero like normative, let’s just do everything the same way. And I don’t understand what it is that’s happening here. And so if the parents are lost in their new relationship energy, and they’re just like, hey, I just want to have this person around all the time. And they’re not worrying about the attachment that the child has. It’s kind of like when I get newly divorced. And I’m like, bringing all my girlfriends or boyfriends around and just introducing them to my kid without thinking about how is it going to be for them to see so many people come and go in their life. I mean, it’s it’s a lot of the ideas that we’ve already been thinking about in relationships, it just has a different name on it.

Katie Vernoy 23:06
That makes a lot of sense.

Curt Widhalm 23:07
One of the areas and I’m not a couples therapist either. So, one of the advice things that I’ve heard from a lot of our couples therapist guests on this podcast that we haven’t talked about yet here is how how the sex works in these couples, and how that may end up becoming parts of jealousy and parts of the boundaries and agreements. Can you lead us down that path with your knowledge that neither of us are prepared to?

Dana McNeil 23:37
There’s this idea of in the ply world called fluid bonding. And so sometimes if we’re a primary couple, we have an agreement that we are the only partners that have sex without protection. And there might be an agreement that you have sex with your metamour or outside partners that use protection with them. That’s an important question. Right? Do we have a question about: do we require that whoever you’re interested in having sex with that they get tested? And we all know about that, right? Or how regularly are we going to get tested? How soon do we open it up? Right? I mean, those those are important questions. I know that there’s going to be other questions. But I mean, those are going to kind of be on a case by case basis. If there’s, there can be something that arises that feels like jealousy around that you’re correct. But we’re supposed to approach it. If we are, you know, part of the poly philosophy is that: do I trust my partner to make decisions that are the best for all of us? So is my partner going to do something that is going to just enhance their relationship with their metamour and exclude me and cause me pain? Are they doing something that serves the greater good of all of us? And I’m supposed to be able to approach all of the decisions that we need to make about our relationship from that place, which is probably easier said than done. But if we can refer back to: what did what feels threatening about this or what feels like it’s being exclusive about it and have conversations from that place that maybe that would help facilitate some of these difficult conversations.

Katie Vernoy 25:11
And I think that there’s potentially some bias or some stereotypical kind of thoughts around having sex all the time with all these different partners and swinging and that kind of stuff. And I’ve actually heard heard that within some of these relationships that can be I only have sex with my primary partner and the others are more the romantic elements that don’t have the physical components or not the sexual physical components. And so I think there’s a lot of nuance in, in having these decisions. Am I right?

Dana McNeil 25:43
You brought up a great point that I totally just assumed everyone knew. So. Yes, okay, a little definition time. So a swinger or people who are in the lifestyle, that means we have sex a sport, right. I typically will take my partner with me, when I go to a party, we engage in sex together, typically, as a couple. If I’m in an open relationship, that’s a sexual relationship, I am going outside of my primary relationship, for the point of having sex with people outside of my relationship. If I’m in a poly relationship, I am in it for love. And that might mean I don’t ever have sex with the other people that I have in my polycule. I might just have sex with my primary partner. And I have nothing but romance and love and unicorns and flowers, with the other people that are in my world. And we’re not even talking about sex with each other. So yes. Okay. That’s an incredibly important point. So thank you for reminding me of that.

Katie Vernoy 26:44
I didn’t know all of those things. So I’m glad I asked.

Curt Widhalm 26:48
At its core, it seems to be communicating needs, communicating the boundaries and the rules that you had discussed before. It’s communicating ideals and goals and having healthy relationships. That that just seems like a nice little summary. But I know that, like you said is when you first, you know, end up out of grad school, seeing your first couple. Or you first end up seeing a client like this, just getting over that that first bias or that looking at things, the alien that you had referenced before. That just kind of takes that needing to take the step back and entering into the client’s world rather than dictating or operating from this foundational idea of where they should end up.

Dana McNeil 27:36
Yeah, it’s very much like what we learned in grad school, which is meet your client where they’re at. Like you said, what are their needs? What are they presenting to the office, right? If they’re coming in, and you’re getting all caught up? Because they said, Well, we’re in a poly relationship. And you’re like, oh, whoa, what? Who, where? And they’re coming in because they want to negotiate how do we do chores fairly? And how do we set up talk about finances? And you’re so caught up and like the idea that they came in with this label, you know how to do those kinds of conversations. You know, how to help them have healthy communication, there’s just more people. You do family therapy, you can handle this, right? But it’s just we hear this phrase, and we like freeze in our tracks and think we have no oh, we need some kind of special training. You already know how to do this special training, you know how to listen, you know how to give, you know, good tools and coping skills on how to manage disappointments and conflict and ask for your positive needs. It’s not really that much different. We’re just kind of getting caught up in the logistics of like, this is a new situation that we’re not sure that we approve of, versus this isn’t something that we can handle.

Katie Vernoy 28:49
Yeah, I think the thing that I’m hearing is, it comes down to being aware of your bias, and getting past that label. And I think I’m just thinking about kind of different ways that may play out in life. I think, you know, I wonder what the kind of the amount of polyamorous, ethical non monogamy type relationships that are occurring or people that are open to those types of relationships that have that are either identify as poly or are choosing that lifestyle or would choose that lifestyle were the opportunity available. I wonder how common it is? Because it seems like there may be societal pressure to keep those types of relationships or that kind of choice silent. And so I’m wondering, and this is kind of a long way around to: Is there prejudice? Is there? Is there fear of these types of relationships becoming public knowledge? I mean, what, what are our clients facing in that regard?

Dana McNeil 29:47
They are fearful and they are making sure that the clinicians that they work with have an understanding of their fears and that they’re able to normalize those fears for them and that they’re able to provide them a safe place to process it where they’re going to be free of judgment. That is hugely important to clients. Because they are worried that this is going to get out at their their work, and that they’ll somehow be labeled as somebody that a kook or somebody that you know, has a sex addiction. And that’s really what clients hear a lot is that, oh, you’re just you’re just have a sex, sex addiction, you’re just looking to have multiple partners, you don’t really understand what you’re doing right? So that there’s this sense that somebody’s going to talk them out of it, somebody’s going to tell them that they’re wrong, somebody’s going to tell them that they should just get their act together and get like everybody else. And so there is very much a fear and a worry that the clinicians that they meet are going to be dismissive of them and minimize their feelings. And so that’s something to be definitely aware of when you’re working with clients that they want you to normalize that their feelings and their thoughts and their needs are okay and perfect just the way that they are.

Curt Widhalm 30:57
Our guest today is Dana McNeil, and she has a wealth of information on this. She had a great presentation for us at the Therapy Reimagined 2020 Conference. Where can people get in touch with you and all of the wonderful offerings that you have and potentially even book you for some consultation in an area that many therapists don’t seem to be trained on?

Dana McNeil 31:23
Yeah, well, thanks. We have a website, it’s You can send us an email at Nancy Ryan and myself partner. We have a mentoring program coming up starting in January. It’s a four month program. This is one of many of the topics that we will cover. We also have some personalized mentoring and consultation. That’s definitely something that’s very popular right now. And we would love to answer any questions or hopefully get you signed up in the mentorship program. There’s lots of skills beyond this in being a good couples therapist. So we’re pretty excited about the program and the group that we have together.

Katie Vernoy 32:04
So we’ll make sure to put all of that in the show notes. And thank you so much. This has been such a great topic and conversation.

Dana McNeil 32:11
Right. Thanks so much for having me. This was wonderful. I appreciate the time.

Curt Widhalm 32:16
And you can find those show notes on our website And until next time, I’m Curt Widhalm, with Katie Vernoy and Dana McNeil.

… 32:25
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