What happens when our biggest fear is losing our current relationship?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic: In your worst fears, what might your colleagues at work be criticising you for behind your back?

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Episode 43 – What if It Ends?

What happens when our biggest fear is losing our current relationship? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – In your worst fears, what might your colleagues at work be criticising you for behind your back?

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

Letter:

Drew and have been together for 1 year and live together. We love each other very much. He may be the one. We are both divorced, and I have older kids. My marriage ended because my ex and I opened up our relationship; he broke the rules we had set; and so did I when I unexpectedly fell in love with the man I was seeing during the open marriage. Needless to say, I am VERY cautious about being non-monogamous again. I can also easily fall in love with men if I’m intimate with them repeatedly.

Unfortunately, Drew often brings up his need to be non-monogamous. Before we met, he was in a non-romantic, non-committed relationship with two women. There were no feelings involved. The three of them experimented and even briefly lived together. It was new and exciting, and he misses it.

I’m very open-minded, but I’m scared of the road he wants to take. I fear it will end our relationship. After listening to your advice, I have decided that I need to accept the worst possible outcome, let go of my fears, and give in to his need, no matter what happens. While we previously agreed to wait for 3-5 years, he brings this up so often, that I just want to rip the band-aid off and get it over with now.

He did say that he will suppress this need for me because he doesn’t want to lose me, but that he will be genuinely unhappy if he does so. In short, I know this needs to happen. There is no reason for him to suffer. If I can’t handle how he is, he deserves finding someone who will.

For what it’s worth, I think that for now he is only hoping to have another [woman] join us occasionally. This idea is not as scary to me as others. He is also open to couple-swapping if that’s what I prefer. I’m not against women and previously thought I was bi-curious. But a 3-way situation would hurt me more than swapping. This is because I can’t bear to watch him be intimate with another woman (if I notice his affection/tenderness towards her, as opposed to pure sex), but I can tolerate it better if I’m with the man in the same room. That is… if I don’t slip up and fall in love again. For me, intimacy is closely tied to feelings. On the other hand, I don’t want other men touching me but would rather find a way to enjoy it than be in a threesome and watch Drew and another woman.

For now, Drew insists that he has no desire for us to open our relationship or be intimate with others outside of our relationship. He simply doesn’t want to feel like he has to have sex with only one woman for the rest of his life. At this point in our relationship, I am not so bored or tired of him that I’m ready for the same. In fact, thinking about it still hurts a little. I even think I might be monogamous by nature, notwithstanding all my prior experiences and several threesomes. All my experiences lead me to believe this is a dangerous path. But I won’t deny him who he is.

I am at a point where I think we need to do this for him and the sooner, the better, so that I don’t have to agonize about it any longer. While your advice may be to hold off for now, I don’t think things would change if we wait. In fact, he will only crave this more and more. But I also don’t know if his desires won’t grow into more, like polyamory, etc. once he gets bored with threesomes.

In short, I see 5 possible outcomes: (1) we do this, and he gets hungry for more, which will lead to us breaking up because swapping/threesomes is my limit; (2) we do this, and I will fall for the new guy; (3) he gets bored or jealous of seeing me with other men and will ask that we stop; (4) I will get resentful and leave him; or (5) we do it successfully, without jeopardizing our relationship.

I should add that there is a lot of respect, and we communicate very well. He is not pressuring me. But his needs are what they are. We have gone to sex clubs and had sex there, including interacting with another [women]. But it’s no longer enough because he also wants sex from them. He also likes [BDSM], and I found great ways to enjoy it with him and for him, but that is also no longer fun for him, now that we’ve done it so often.

What do you think about my situation? And, if we are going to do this, what advice do you have to help ensure that we are successful? How can we do it and still we protect our love and our future? Are there safe/unemotional ways for me to give him what he needs and for us to stay together?

Response:

First and foremost, why is it a problem if you fall in love with someone else? That’s really kind of the big thing here because in your previous relationship you had a rule about not falling in love with someone else. Why? I think that that’s kind of something that you need to think about a little bit more, because your assumption here is that falling in love with someone else somehow, puts your other— your primary or whatever other relationship you have in jeopardy.

And it doesn’t. Doesn’t have to. It may be scary and uncomfortable because you’ve— I’m guessing growing up in a society that has told you that you can only love one person or that you should only love one person and that if you don’t love, you know, prove yourself by exclusively only loving one person you don’t really love them etc and so forth. But you can be in love with more than one person at same time. And that can be fine.

So why is that a terrible situation? Why is that so horrible? Why is it something you’re so afraid of? Because the thing of it is, right… It sounds like this guy that you’re with is mostly interested in having sexual encounters, but even so I would never ever ever ever ever advise someone to create a rule that says, “I will never fall in love with someone else”. I wouldn’t even advise monogamous people to do that because you just can’t control that. Nobody can control that. Monogamous people— you could— you could dump this guy and you could find someone else who felt they were monogamous who had no interest in any kind of polyamorous situation or threesome or anything.

You could find somebody like that. And they could fall in love with someone else and dump you like… It’s just an unrealistic expectation for anyone to have. It’s not about preventing your feelings from happening. You can’t prevent that from happening. You can only decide what you’re going to do with it, and monogamous people may find themselves falling in love with other people. They just choose not to pursue it. And they also you know— it doesn’t have to be this massive devastation. It doesn’t have to mean that you don’t really care about, like… you’re putting so much fear around “Oh I’m going to fall in love with someone else.” And what if you do? So what if you do? What— does that mean you don’t love Drew? It doesn’t, so that’s that’s the big thing.

Second thing here is I’m gonna totally admit to you that when you said that you’ve read my advice, let me find the exact… “after listening to advice I’ve decided I need to accept the worst possible outcome. Let go of my fears and give in to his need no matter what happens”. Whoa! Whoa! Put the brakes on that. Put the whole entire foot on that brake and slam it down. That is, yes, people should absolutely think about the worst possible outcome. Giving into his need no matter what happen— whoa, whoa. No no no no no no no no no no no no no no. That is not what I advise. No, just just absolutely not. I would never ever advise you to go into a situation that you had no interest in that you that made you completely uncomfortable, just so you could please your partner. Absolutely not.

If you are really genuinely not interested in non-monogamy then dump him. You’ve only been together for one year. It sounds really harsh, I know. You’ve got all these fresh feelings. He’s clearly non-monogamous and you are right about that. That is inevitable. He is. He wants to be non-monogamous. He doesn’t want to be monogamous. He’s not interested in that. I think that you are probably non-monogamous as well. You just need to work out, or maybe you have the propensity to be in a non-monogamous relationship. You just need to work out all this fear of loving someone else, but if you don’t have any interest in it. You don’t have to.

So, never never never never never just think that you have to put yourself through Hell to please your partner. Like yes, we make sacrifices and we do things for partners, but you need to not let it get to that level where you’re willing to put away all of your feelings and all of your wants and all of your needs, just to satisfy somebody else. Especially, and I’m making an assumption about you and if I am wrong, I apologise— Women are always expected to do this for men. Always. Now he is being nice here and saying you know “Oh, I’m—“ For some reason— I don’t really understand why— he, knowing he’s non-monogamous, is fully investing in a relationship with someone who is not that interested in it I’m confused about that.

But he’s not pursuing it now and he’s kind of being a little bit monogamous for you now, even though you’ve— you’re still kind of trying things. But, you know, women are always encouraged to do this. To sacrifice everything to. To give up everything for their partner. No, no, you don’t have to give everything up just to make him happy. What about your fucking happiness man? Like no no no so. So yeah, no, that’s not what my advice is at all. Yes, face your worst fears, but the thing is is that you’re still in a situation where the most important thing in this equation is keeping you with Drew.

That’s the most important thing— not you being happy. Not you being okay. It’s staying with Drew, and that’s not where your priority should be. Your priority should never be to save a relationship with someone else at the cost of yourself. It should be yourself and your health and your happiness, and people think that sounds selfish because women are constantly socialised to give up everything and be martyrs and whatever. It’s not selfish.  You need to secure your own mask before you can help other people. You need to be able to help yourself before you help other people. So absolutely do not prioritise saving the marriage. Facing your worst fears— facing the fact that you may have to break up. That you may be inherently incompatible. That’s your worst fear here.

Other things are fears but they’re not necessarily your worst fear so kind of readjust that first and foremost. Secondly, I think you need to have a really big deep dive that not just like, “Why are you so afraid of falling in love with someone else?” But what are you actually interested in? What do you actually want? You know you’re both kind of jumping into all these semi non-monogamous situations, but you’re not really talking about more or less your endgame here, like. I mean, it sounds like Drew is interested just in— He’s just doesn’t want to only sleep with one person for the rest of his life and wants to have sex with other people. Is he actually interested in multiple romantic relationships? Is it about just sex?

What are you interested in? You know, before you broke the rule and everything else. Was it okay for you to be in love with more than one person at a time? You know, is that something that you’re interested in? What do you want? Okay we know what Drew wants. We got that message. We got everything. We got a list. We got you know— but what do you want? Do you actually want to be swapping? Like, I get that like being scared and not really wanting to see your partner be intimate with other people. That is something maybe you can work through. That is something maybe you can, you know, especially if you’re, together like for such a brief time and you do still have to build that with each other.

You don’t have much of a foundation and maybe once you’re with him for a lot longer you won’t be so scared of it, but it’s not about just trying to build your resilience for something that’s for Drew’s benefit. It’s about, what are you interested in? Because and that’s really, really important. Anytime someone forces themselves to do non-monogamy just for the pure benefit of keeping someone else in their life, it usually doesn’t work out, and the reason is that when you’re in those difficult situations— because you are— You’re going… this isn’t— All these scenarios that you’ve put forth, you forgot the sixth scenario and what can happen, which is maybe you find that you’re interested in this independently of your own volition, and maybe you try this and you still feel like shit like because you will.

A lot of people who are interested in polyamory who go into it. I started— The relationship, the longest relationship I’m in now, I started being polyamorous. We’re both polyamorous. We started— No one had to introduce it to anyone else. I still felt like shit, the first time my partner went out with someone else. The first time my partner spent all night at a party, I still felt like shit. You’re still going to feel like shit. There is no dream scenario in this situation where you never feel unhappy that your partner is with someone else. Even if you want non-monogamy and when you’re in those situations— the fact that you want it, and the fact that you can go. “Okay. Yes, I feel shit right now but I’m interested in this because of this reason. I get this out of it individually as a person.”

That is what can anchor you, especially when you’re in a new relationship and you can’t anchor yourself with “well we’ve been together for so many years”, you know. When you don’t have that anchor, you can bring yourself back to that situation and back to safety by going, “Okay but I’m interested in non-monogamy because of this”, and then also realising your worst fears can bring you back to safety because even— like I said if you got rid of Drew and you found someone else, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to be together forever.

And monogamy creates a type of cultural safety net and the cultural reassurance that you’re going to be together forever because you have all these— as it’s called “the relationship escalator”— you have all these milestones. You have all these ways that kind of infer safety, but it’s not actually safe. It’s not necessarily any more safe because even if you’re with someone in a monogamous relationship for 24 years they might, you know, fall in love with someone else in it or decide they want to be part of a band and travel the world and that’s not what you want. Like… there’s a multitude of things that could go wrong.

But you have to anchor yourself in what about it actually benefits you. What about it are you actually interested in? If you’re only doing this for Drew’s sake, that’s not going to help you. So you need to figure out what it is that you want. If you want this, you know, are you, is it— Are you okay with being in love with more than one person at a time? Why did you freak out so much about it? Is it just because it was against the rules? Why did you make it against the rule? Because you were afraid that your relationship was going to end— and that that’s the thing.

You’re not facing your fears then. You’re creating rules to prevent a situation which the rules can’t and clearly didn’t prevent. So don’t do that. So yeah, to address kind of the steps you need to take: You need to figure out what it is that you both really want. Do you really want non-monogamy? I think it’s okay if you have a little bit of an interest in it and you do sound like have a little bit of an interest in maybe trying new sexual things, being in new sexual situations. You might not be that hungry for it at this point in time, because you still are quite new with each other, but you do have a little bit of an interest in it.

But you need to figure out — okay what does that look like as a relationship, you know? Is it multiple romantic relationships, you know? Think about the physicalities. Do you expect, you know— do you want a partner that lives with you but then maybe goes and visits other people or do you want to live separately? Like it sounds like he had a pretty good setup with the two women that he lived with. Think about what your situation is that you are both happy with and have that discussion with him. Figure out if it’s the newness he needs? Is it actual relationships, you know?

He might not know and and as you said it might be that he tries the kind of new sexual thing and he’s interested in new relationships. Okay talk about that. What would it mean for him to be in love with someone else or for you to be in love with someone else? Is that actually a threat to your relationship? And you need to stop forcing yourself to be part of things just for his sake, and I feel like a lot of people who open their relationships do this. They think, “I don’t want my partner to think that I’m cheating. So the solution is to involve them in the sex act. They need to be part of the threesome. And we’ll just have threesomes and then I won’t be accused of cheating”,

You got to trust each other. And don’t automatically think that just because you’re a part of it that you’re going to be okay with it. Like you may be okay with it now, like sitting here and thinking of it in your head, but thinking of it in your head it’s going to be very, very different to it actually being there, and you might actually find if you’re so afraid of your partner loving someone else, and you’re so afraid of that meaning that they won’t love you. Then, even when you swap, and you’re in the same room together you might interpret something that he’s doing as intimate or loving and then your paranoia and fear is going to kick in.

Like, you need to stop addressing the symptom and start addressing the disease. Your inner fear here is that you or your partner falling in love with someone else is somehow a massive threat, and you need to figure out why is that? Is it a threat? You know, maybe you just need more reassurance. You need to kind of tell yourself. “Hey, actually, my partner being love with someone else doesn’t decrease the love they have for me. And it doesn’t mean that they don’t like me or or that they’re going to love me less”. It’s understandable that you feel this threat and this fear because that’s kind of the way that society has set up romantic love and set up a couple partnership love for you.

That’s kind of the basis and foundation for a lot of love stories is jealousy. “Oh my god she’s with someone else. I really love her”. It’s toxic for a lot of reasons but it doesn’t— It needs to be broken down, and I think that you kind of need to think about that but don’t fix it by forcing yourself into situations that are going to make you uncomfortable. That’s not what my advice is.

Also last but not least, throughout all of this stop putting other people’s needs above your own. Yes in relationships, we all sacrifice things for our partner sometimes. You know when we’re really tired and our partner wants a cup of tea, we go make them a cup of tea anyway. Yeah, there’s things like that. But you need to kind of be conscious of when it gets to be too much. When you’re sacrificing too much and it’s actually hurting you. Facing your fear isn’t facing the fear that you’ll have to do something that you don’t want to do because your partner wants it. It’s facing the fear that your relationship may end.

And that needs to not be the worst case scenario for you. That needs to not be the thing that needs to be saved at all costs, is your relationship with Drew. You need to be saved at all cost. That’s what you kind of need to prioritise and trust me, I find this so difficult. It’s kind of embedded within my personality makeup to be you know— my love language— and I don’t necessarily sign off from the people who have created the love languages but I think that they’re helpful tools— my love language is acts of service. I am the one that’s like “Let me get you something. Let me do something for you”. Oh, you know like, that’s me to a tee.

I have that part of my personality is just kind of who I am, but I have to be very very vigilant. Because I will find myself all the time in friendships, romantic relationships doesn’t matter— I will find myself all the time, giving my time and energy to people who would not do the damn same for me. I find myself all the time willing to sacrifice myself for people who would not piss on fire to put me out to be extremely blunt with you. And so you need to be really vigilant of that. I know it’s a hard line and sometimes you might not know it until you know you’ve realised you sacrificed too much and you either feel resentful or you feel angry, but you kind of have to be conscious of that in that situation.

So yeah, I think if you just you figure out what you want— your partner, Drew figures out what he wants. And you have a discussion about it and you really think about you know what you’re interested in, and you break down that fear you have that either he’ll fall in love with someone or you’ll fall in love with someone, if you want to. I think it’s a useful fear to break down even if you’re going to be monogamous for the rest of your life.

I think that that fear leads a lot of non-monogamous— or a lot of monogamous people into feeling quite toxic possessiveness and jealousy. It’s an understandable fear, but I do think it’s something that you should work on, regardless of what you choose to do in your romantic relationships, and then prioritise yourself more, and and don’t think that it’s absolutely necessary to just sacrifice yourself for other people. All right. I hope that helps and good luck.

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