I have been in a poly relationship for six months now and just recently, my boyfriend started having two other serious relationships. Before that, he just had flings.
And I feel so threatened by these other women. I know my bf loves me and he cares a lot about me but it’s been difficult to do my own things when I know he is with one of his other girlfriends.
I KNOW they can’t replace me but I feel threatened anyway. How can I feel less threatened ? I know it has to do with a poor sense of self. But I’m already working on it with a therapist. What else could I do ?
I also feel a bit jealous of him. He has other meaningful relationships and I don’t and it’s been hard on me. I remember how hard it was before we started dating, how lonely I felt. And, even if it is not to the same degree, I still feel lonely sometimes when he’s not with me.
It’s like I need to have other relationships. But it’s been hard putting myself out there and finding someone I actually like. Moreover, I don’t want flings.
I’m sorry, it’s kind of a rant more than a question per se.
Your letter is such a perfect example of why I feel like most polyamory beginner advice doesn’t work properly for a lot of people. I could be guessing incorrectly, but I’m imagining that you read some advice regarding your feeling of being threatened and they told you to focus on the fact that you’re unique and what you should focus on is remembering that you hold a special place in your life that no one else can fill and so you *can’t* be replaced, right?
Unfortunately for you and a lot of other polyamorous people, that advice is trash.
And here’s why.
Being replaced in polyamory
The first reason your brain is not digesting this information is because your brain knows it’s not true. I mean, sure, yes, on some sort of deep philosophical level we’re all these amazingly unique individuals that deeply impact every person we meet in such a way that no other person can… sure. But when it comes to the position of ‘loving partner’, you can, in a way, be “replaced” in the sense that there is absolutely, fundamentally nothing you can do to prevent someone from falling out of love with you.
We all want to be good partners and we all want to have positive relationship with people. There are obviously things we can do as individuals to make ourselves more agreeable or more in tune with the needs of our partners, but on a basic level we have little control over whether or not someone ultimately decides to stay with us because they don’t necessarily have complete control over who they feel love for.
It’s never going to work to tell your brain that you can’t be replaced because you can. But this isn’t unique to polyamory, this is true of any relationship style and any relationship type. Your parents can decide to ‘replace’ you emotionally with another child. Your best friend can find a new best friend. And even if you return to monogamy, that will not guarantee that you will never be ‘replaced’ in a sense. The only reason you are fearing it so much more now in terms of your romantic relationships is because you don’t have the cultural backing behind non-monogamy to give you stability.
Building your foundation
On top of not having the culture around you telling you that non-monogamy is secure (and, in fact, sometimes giving you the opposite message) or having markers of ‘commitment’ that have cultural weight (such as the steps on what’s known as the relationship escalator), you’re also dealing with the fact that you’ve only been together for six months.
For as much as you may like each other, you’re still getting to know one another. Every new relationship, even if people wildly get along, has to begin by growing a foundation of trust between the people involved. Sometimes that trust is encouraged in monogamous relationships through the promise of exclusivity, but you don’t have that. So it makes complete and total sense that you would feel scared.
Additionally, you, like many other people starting out in non-monogamy, have a situation of partner imbalance. It’s very usual for two people who opened their relationship to end up with a disparity in partner numbers and it’s very rational and understandable that you would have some feelings about this. If your partner, let’s say, got a huge bonus from work and was able to buy, for example, a very expensive signed memorabilia from his favourite artist — you might be jealous too! Especially if you wanted something very similar to that.
Jealousy is not irrational
While I’m not your therapist and am not going to tell you the status of your self esteem, what I can tell you is that regardless of your ‘self image’ status currently, any person in the same combination of situations you’re in right now would rationally and logically be threatened *and* jealous. Unfortunately, a lot of polyamory advice encourages people not only to see all fear as jealousy but also to see jealousy as some type of character flaw or issue you have to ‘work on’ and not a very understandable response to a number of situations.
You feeling threatened is not likely due to a poor sense of self, but due to the fact that you’re afraid of losing someone you care about, you’re just starting to establish trust with someone new, and you’re also dealing with very understandable feelings of loneliness and jealousy. Especially if it’s hard for you to get out there.
I currently, due to the way I prefer to do relationships, deal with a lot of frustrations with not being able to have as many relationships as my partners do. Initially it caused me a lot of heartache, jealousy and sometimes made me feel self-conscious — especially since it really seems like your level of ‘success’ in polyamory directly correlates with the number of partners you can maintain.
I want you to re-read your question: “How do I feel less threatened?”. The only way to feel less threatened initially is to feel less — which some people can do but others may not be able to do.
How to feel less jealous
Fundamentally, you can’t feel less. You can’t stop your feelings like a tap but what you can do is reframe your perspective. The first step in doing that is, instead of trying to stop yourself from feeling or convince yourself that your feelings are unfounded or a result of a personal issue with yourself, is *accept* your feelings and validate them.
It makes sense for you to feel threatened, jealous and scared. Give yourself permission to feel these things. You cannot work with feelings you refuse to accept you have. Once you validate your feelings to yourself, you can then work on finding ways of coping with them rather than trying to reason your way out of them. It seems contrary to how you should work with anxiety, but my experience with anxiety has always been that avoiding or trying to reason my way out of anxiety has never worked very well.
At this point, it helps me to remind myself that there is nothing I can do to prevent my fears and, even though that sounds a little hopeless, it actually helps take the burden off of my shoulders. Accept that, if someone really wants to ‘replace’ you, they can and will and there isn’t anything you can do to stop that.
And even if you could, if someone wants to ‘replace’ you so badly… would you want to stop them? This is a roundabout and, in my opinion, more sound way of comforting yourself. Especially if you struggle with affirmations and feeling worthy of things. Rather than making it about how amazing you are in comparison with others, simply refuse to do any kind of comparison at all.
Distractions and coping
The next point and what I find really helps when I’m feeling anxious about any situation within polyamory is having a distraction. You can’t necessarily ensure you always have romantic dates at the same time your partner is out — but you can still have plans! Do something fun with yourself, go out with friends, start a new hobby, etc. Find something that you can do to take up your time and it will be more likely to fly by.
Other than that, the last step is really just coping. You can’t stop yourself from feeling threatened or scared, but you can survive it. Sometimes I find that with anxiety and all of these types of feelings, once I have them and I go through them, it gets easier to cope with over time. And that’s part of building that foundation with your partner. You have to go through trials and tests of trust and know that they will be there for you in the end. That will help you counteract anxiety in the future and help you feel less threatened over time.
Last but not least, try to reassure yourself that you are not a bad person for having feelings and that the feelings you have are very normal to feel. Someone doesn’t have to be terrified of heights to not want to skydive. And you don’t have to have an inherent character flaw in order to feel terrified of being replaced when you’re both new to polyamory and new to this relationship.
I hope this helps and good luck!
Do you have a question?
If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Your question will be posted anonymously.