When is a good time to try and see if you are non-monogamous? And how can borderline personality disorder impact it? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Listen below or on Libsyn.

Episode 5: Tricky triangles and BPD

When is a good time to try and see if you are non-monogamous? And how can borderline personality disorder impact it? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon.

 

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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:

Alright, where to start.

I have a BPD, it is untreated but I have been fine. For the time when I ever was in therapy (several shorter periods, some only for urgent needs, with different therapists in different cities) I wasn’t diagnosed as one. I had a lot of different diagnoses but only after getting my life a bit more stable last year, I was able to realise that this is what I should have been diagnosed with. I identify very strongly with all of its features. Since I have done a lot of work with myself to be able to handle this and my grounding (at the time monogamous) relationship helped me tremendously. I think I’ve been through the worst already, and I have been able to live quite balanced life for some time now.

But about the relationship situation. I had to break up with my aforementioned partner for long time as the relationship and both of us were kind of stuck in it. There has always been much love between us, even after the break-up. So we dealt with some personal issues and realized that we still love each other unconditionally and want to be together. But during our separation, my partner (at the time ex) and my best friend fell in love with each other. I wasn’t living in the same country during this time and suddenly they spent a lot of time together.

They didn’t want to start a romantic relationship because there was still a possibility for me and my ex and we had to figure out how to be together, but of course this didn’t stop my ex and friend for having those feelings for each other. And as I wasn’t around and the relationship situation between me and my partner was open, the relationship situation between them had to be open and waited for me to come back to the country and figure things out with my partner. We talked about things a lot during our separation too, and started to have conversations about non-monogamy as an option.

Meanwhile (for a few months) my ex and friend started working together and really spending a lot of their time together. Additionally, I see them as very similar types of persons, and am envious for their connection on many levels (work, sex, energy levels, and communication skills). I have been looking for that kind of connection myself and am happy and jealous for them.

Little bit of background. My friend is non-monogamous and has done the emotional work for transforming from monogamous to non-monogamous for a few years ago. Me and my partner, we have been together for four years. The relationship started out as a non-monogamous one, but we weren’t able to handle that ethically back then, we really didn’t know what it was about and only ended up hurting each other. They had two relationships back then but wasn’t able to handle the feelings and responsibilities that come with it, and their actions and sayings also ended up causing me some very painful traumas, some of which due to the non-monogamous situation and rating and comparing the different aspects of the persons in the relationship.

For example letting me know that they would like to have sex with the other person more than me because she was better at it. After some very painful periods and a break-up then, we decided to have a monogamous relationship. So, we were in this relationship for more than three years and worked a lot with the traumas in the relationship. After over three years I thought that we were through those. And to be fair, I am guilty to this equally as well. I knew that we had to break up in order for us to be free to move forward with ourselves. I had decided to break up with my partner before they really got to have a say in it (part of my BPD, maybe). I fell in love with someone else and slept with him before our break-up was talked through.

Now, after this we have talked about non-monogamy and in so many sense that is the right type of relationship for us. I think I am a non-monogamist, or at least becoming one but I am not sure yet. I know that I should be sure about this first rather than be sure about the person I want to be with. I am working with this and learning about non-monogamy now and so is my partner. We have agreed to build our relationship on that basis now and are slowly coming to terms with it. But there is the pressure from my friend’s side. They want to have a relationship with my partner as well and my partner wants to explore that possibility too.

They have deep feelings for each other and this situation seems to be pending mostly because of my emotional work and me not knowing yet how to be in this relationship situation. So I feel a terrible pressure from both of them and also because I want to do the right thing for them both and see that they could provide much happiness for each other. We have tried solving this situation together, all three of us, talking honestly about it. But then I see my former emotional instability kick in and I don’t seem to have any tools for handling it anymore. I feel ashamed that I am not able to handle my BPD better and the severity of this surprised me too. Also, the traumas from the history of our relationship kick in with force and I find it very difficult to handle those with my crazy emotions. And because of these I am thinking if this is too much for me.

So, this feels extremely complicated. I am trying to write down some of the core issues in here.

  • The trust issues between me and my partner because of our history and our ability to work through those as we apparently haven’t already. Or is this just something this new situations causes and we could be past those sooner than expected. I am pondering if we are able to work through the traumas really, or have we already damaged each other too much, is there too much emotional baggage between us.
  • There certainly would be easier situations to find out if I am a non-monogamist and I am seriously thinking if I should do this and leave the situation even though I love my partner unconditionally and know that we could build a future together.
  • The terrible pressure I get from outside to this situation. I feel that I should be able to give answers to my friend and to my partner and that it is not okay for me to keep their situation pending.
  • My apparent emotional instability and all the feelings of insecurity and unworthiness that come with it. I thought that I was fine with these already, but this situation surfaced them again. I don’t know if learning to be in a non-monogamous relationship is going to be the healing process for me or is this too much and it will shatter my mental health. The latter feels especially dangerous because I currently have no access to therapy and will have to mostly rely on my own means (and my partner’s and friend’s support) for coping. I don’t really have anyone other than those two whom I could trust.
  • Related to the previous point, I am not sure if I can see my boundaries in this situation. And if I can see them I am questioning if I should move them a bit further and learn more. And this particularly because of my partner and my friend. I feel like that I owe it to them, that I have to show them and myself that I am for sure doing everything in this situation to be able to live in a non-monogamous relationship. And I feel like that if I don’t do this I am not worthy. So in a way I feel like that I should find my boundaries but also be able to work through them to a situation that pleases my partner and my friend. Or my partner’s love for me will fade at the same time when my friend can present themselves as mature, emotionally stable, and empathetic. And even if this doesn’t happen knowingly I sense my partner’s feelings growing stronger towards my friend while I am struggling. I see this as a natural process. I find it already difficult to accept that anyone other than me should deal with my mental health issues.
  • I feel ashamed of my BPD and the emotions it brings to the equation. I am trying to work with all my personal issues constantly but because of the former point, am partly afraid of bringing them all out.
  • I see that this might teach me a lot and at its best heal me and help me to live more balanced life in a relationship that I am content with but from this point I can’t tell if this is possible in this situation.
  • I find it really difficult to give space to any other people and love now when I am in the middle of this emotional turmoil, so I also find it difficult to understand if I am really non-monogamist or if this is just something I am doing for my partner and/or my friend.
  • I feel like my friend is too much trying to solve this situation according to their needs and that I don’t really have the space I would need. But I also feel that I can’t claim that and keep them waiting. I feel there is hurry to somewhere and it is painful to see my friend and my partner being in this anticipating situation. I feel like my friend is also too much aware of the situation between me and my partner and somehow that has started to feel intrusive. I don’t want them to know about all the issues we have in a relationship between me and my partner.
  • I have noticed that I have started to have some serious trust issues in this situation, I am afraid to completely trust either of them because I can’t be anymore sure if they know what could be best for me. That their own agendas are impacting the help they give me.
  • I am also starting to doubt if my partner can really handle a relationship with a person with BPD, they seem to be afraid to cause me emotional trouble and therefore they are not always being totally honest with me.
  • Being in a hierarchical relationship is not an option for my friend or my partner. My friend needs this to be non-hierarchical. They feel like that they should be able to be with each other as they want to.

There are probably many other issues at play but I seem not to be able to access them now. I would so much appreciate any advice on this situation, I feel almost helpless and my tools for coping are running out. What would you suggest, how to approach the issues and in which order? And to end this on a high note – of course this is a big issue only because of all the wonderful things I have with my partner. One should imagine that after all this we should already be able to let each other go but our mutual love has only grown. That love is something I can really trust, and that is why I am putting myself through this emotional purgatory.

Response:

So there’s a lot of stuff going on here.

I think my first question and the first consideration in all of this is firstly what’s the rush? Does anybody have a terminal illness in this equation? Is anyone moving? Is anyone dying? Is anyone… you know what’s the rush? I feel like whether it’s you or it’s your friend and your partner or a combination of both putting pressure on you to decide this… you know it’s not that big of a deal.

It feels very melodramatic, soap opera-y. “Oh these two people just like each other so much and they just can’t…”. You know, it’s a bit dramatic and it’s a bit overhyped. I mean these people…  your ex (or I don’t know if you still consider them your ex) with your partner and your friend already have a very close relationship. They’ve already spent tons of time together. You know, they are already… I mean what is the difference….

One of the big things about non monogamy that I appreciate is, within the type of monogamy that society encourages there is a very big line between friend and partner and I’m not saying that for me that doesn’t exist but for me friendships mean a lot. They mean a lot to me and I can be very very close and very intimate with friends. Maybe not in the same way personally that I’m intimate with a romantic partner but for me the only real difference is a sexual relationship. But that’s not true of all people. But that doesn’t… they already have this intimacy so the only thing theoretically that I’m seeing that they’re not doing it as having sex.

And can they not just chill? You know? Like where is the rush? Why is there such a rush? I’m a little bothered by the fact that there is all this pressure on you and I just think that, you know, I think it’s partially… you’re doing it a bit yourself it sounds like. It doesn’t sound like they’ve given you a deadline but they need to just freaking cool it it for a bit. I don’t know how how long you’ve kind of been in this situation but they can chill. So I just feel like that’s the first issue. Like calm down.

But the other big thing here is that there is… you’ve pointed out there’s a lot of pressure and the situation and what really strikes me is… I mean, you know BPD is a thing. Mental illness, a specific mental illness, is a thing but… everyone, and this is not to downplay how serious BPD can be but, a lot of people struggle with mental health issues. And a lot of people who are non-monogamous struggle with mental health issues. And there’s things I’m seeing in you like… you kind of seem to expect that there’s going to be some point where you want have any mental illness problems and that’s certainly not true for me. And I have anxiety and I have social… I’ve got all sorts of different types of fun anxiety. I seem to have collected all all different flavours and my… part of for me dealing with having anxiety is accepting the fact that I will always have it and that seems depressing and defeatist but actually not putting myself in a position where I constantly have to fight and I’m constantly judging myself as not good enough because I’m having a panic attack or that there’s something wrong with me because I have a mental illness, it actually it makes it much much easier to cope with it.

And what worries me about this situation is you’re kind of… you’re doing what a lot of people I think coping with mental illness do which is put themselves in a position where they define success only by not exhibiting any symptoms of their mental illness. And that’s just not realistic or feasible especially if like many other people your mental illness and issues around mental health become completely out of whack when things in your life change.

I mean most people… it is not even about mental illness. For the vast majority of human beings, when something massive changes in their life, they experience emotions about it. You know, there’s that list of like the most serious maybe not traumatic, but the most difficult things to go through like moving, someone passing away, the birth of a child… even good things can cause a complete upheaval in someone’s emotional wellbeing, whether or not they have a mental illness. It’s change and it’s constant and it’s part of life.

No one, mental illness or not, BPD or not, is going to be able to escape that. There’s never going to be a perfect equilibrium of emotional stability where you or anyone else is going to be at where you can handle anything without… you know, it almost seems like… and I don’t blame you because this is the problem with I think a lot of polyamory advice and a lot of the way people talk about polyamory  because the first thing people talk to you about is, “Do you get jealous? Do you feel jealousy?” And it almost seems like people are constantly expected to perform this, “I don’t feel jealous” or “Yes I did once, but I processed and I’m fine now and everything is fine”.

It’s almost like we’re expected to be emotionless. And when we exhibit emotions about things it’s jealousy. And it’s not always jealousy. Or you know, we’re controlling our partners by having feelings about things and it’s just so shit especially for people who have mental health struggles because you have fucking feelings. You’re not a robot. You’re not going to go through difficult situations in your life and be emotionless. So I think that’s a big thing here. You are defining success and whether you can “do non monogamy” by whether or not you have feelings about things and I don’t think you’re ever going to reach a state where you don’t have feelings.

The other big thing that really concerns me here is that you don’t have any other means of emotional support except these two people. Now hierarchy is a thing I have a lot of capital O, opinions about. I feel like when people say they don’t want to hierarchy, I think they need to be clearer about what that means but I also think you need to be realistic about what your needs are to yourself and to other people.

I’m super realistic about that. I have social anxiety. I have generalized anxiety. I like a situation where I have you not a partner that I live with who I can lean on for emotional support. I do have a therapist but I do like to have emotional support from my partners. I couldn’t date someone who has no interest in providing me any emotional support and that may be to them what they want out of relationship. Maybe they don’t want to provide emotional support for the people. Maybe that’s what they like about polyamory, that they can take as many people as they like and not have any of the responsibilities that usually comes with monogamous relationships and in my opinion non-monogamous relationships which is emotional support.

I know that I probably need more emotional support than maybe other people do because I don’t have a family. I don’t have family connections. I don’t have a lot of really close friends just due to the way that I am and that’s just me. I can’t change that and I’m aware of that. And so you know I’m very conscious when I go into a relationship to say “Hey I don’t have this massive support network that everyone else probably has. Therefore I might have more emotional needs” and so that’s the really tricky thing. And one of the things that I find frustrating about the idea of no hierarchy because some people have more needs than others and that’s just how it is. Sometimes you can’t balance everything equally across the board because some people need more help.

It is really worries me that that the way that your best friend is saying “I want everything to be equal”… it’s sort of like saying this means you’re not going to be able to rely on your partner for as much emotional support as you would need because they need to be worried about balancing everything. And you do probably need more support than other people and it just kind of worries me that these, I’m assuming that the friend you mentioned is also this friend, that these two are the only people that you have to rely on and that creates a really awkward situation as well for your friend. And that might be why they’re being sort of like everything has to be equal.

Because using your metamour as an emotional support…  ideally I think…. You’re already expressing discomfort about the amount of information that your friend knows about the relationship that’s between you and your partner. That’s only going to increase if you need them for emotional support. And that is understandable for you to feel uncomfortable with that because you probably don’t and won’t know as much about their relationship because your friend doesn’t need that kind of emotional support from you.

And that’s fine and that’s no one’s fault but it’s only going to continue to be unequal and so that’s that really worries me… the fact that you would be relying so much on both of them. Because this is a very, like I said, this is a very pressurised situation. Not only are you pressurized to do non-monogamy when you’re not really sure if it is for you but you’re also very pressurized to perform for both of their happiness. And throughout this entire letter you’re not even remotely considering… you’re barely considering your own happiness here.

I mean you say a lot about… I want to prove myself to be worthy. I want this to be a learning experience. Non-monogamy is not a lesson. If you were to have that same approach to monogamy… like if you were to meet someone who’s like all “I wanna have a boyfriend because he’ll teach me a lesson” that would be appalling. I mean… I would hope it would be appalling. So why is it that that acceptable for non monogamy? Why do we look… you talk about your friend has done all this emotional work to be non monogamous… The only thing that is required to be non-monogamous is just saying “I’m not monogamous”. That’s it. There is no test. There’s no qualification. There’s no emotional battlefield that someone has to go through and they get a trophy saying “I’m non-monogamous now”. There’s no licence. There’s no test.

All you have to do to be non-monogamous is just go, “Oh, I’m non-monogamous now”. That’s it. You have this conception of non-monogamy as somehow better than monogamy. Somehow you ascend to some type of higher level by becoming non-monogamous and you’re emotionally centred and somehow better as a person for being non-monogamous. I really think you need to question that because it’s not true. People who are not monogamous are not necessarily any better or more capable and handling what life throws at them as people who are monogamous.

That’s it. Non-monogamy may require some different coping skills and some different approaches and it may require different considerations but it doesn’t mean you’re automatically better at anything. So it really worries me that this is adding to that pressure. Not only will you be expected to perform for the happiness of these two people, not only are you relying on them for emotional support but you’re also putting yourself up to this idea of non monogamy as “I want to become some type of emotional gladiator and be better and and excel and pass this test and then I am non-monogamous”. Do do do do!

And that’s just not how it works and not what it is. So I really think that if… it’s not even necessarily about having BPD and I do think that you know, I understand you’re not in a position right now you can get therapy and it really really sucks that therapy is not accessible for all people easily. That’s horrible and shit. But I do think that regardless of whatever kind of relationship you’re in, BPD is the kind of thing but you really do need to work through things with a therapist. You need to have that because what BPD does is constantly questions your own reality. It constantly makes you feel unworthy. It constantly puts you in situations where you know you are very emotionally fragile and that’s not your fault.

I’m not saying… It’s so easy when someone says “I feel ashamed of this” to say “Oh don’t be ashamed”.  “Oh, thank you that’s the… thank you so much that fixed everything”. You need to work through that shame with a therapist. You need to come to any relationship, non-monogamy or not, I think you know once you accept… “Ok I have BPD. This is what it does. This is what it is. This is what I need”. It will be much easier for you in general in life, regardless of what emotion or what relationship style you choose.

And I really think you need to do that and I’m not sure this is the healthiest environment for you to do that in because there’s so much pressure for you to perform. There’s so many options for your brain to say that if you don’t do this you will be abandoned. And that is a really terrifying thing and it’s going to be really hard to cope with. I think you’ve already talked about how you feel like you have to be this non-monogamous person and you have to go with this because your partner is slowly falling out of love with you and falling more in love with this other person.

You’ve already had like… situations where she’s out and out… I forgot what their pronoun is… where your partner’s out and out compared you to somebody else and literally said “I like having  sex with this other person because they’re better at it”. I mean that’s a horrible ass thing to say to somebody. BPD or no, that shit hurts. Like damn. We all have different likes and dislikes and you know when you have multiple partners sometimes one person is technically better at something then the other. But it doesn’t have…. first of all if I had one partner that was better at something in the other I probably go to the one that isn’t so good at whatever was and say, “Hey do you want to try this?” I wouldn’t tell them, “Can you kiss like my other partner cause they’re  much better at it”. I’d never say that to somebody because that’s horrible.

I mean if we took this out of relationships and took it out of sex and you went home to your parents, assuming you got along with them, and you said, “Mom, I love this spaghetti but it’s actually not as good as I had at this place. Can you make it that way?”. You wouldn’t say something like that even about spaghetti to a family member so why would you say to a partner? So you’ve already been in a situation where you’ve been directly compared to somebody. BPD or no, that’s going to trigger somebody’s feelings of like oh shit now I’m always going to be compared to somebody else. And that’s really hard.

I just… I don’t know if this is the best situation for you to be in, in any relationship to be honest. Because you really need to find an emotional support that isn’t just this person and I think that might be why you’re holding on to the situation. I know you say you love them and I’m not questioning that but if you only had your partner and your friend as emotional support in your life altogether… you may be holding on to that because that’s your emotional support. And you know that if you say, “No I don’t think I want to do this”. They’re gonna go off and do their own thing. I think in the in the periphery you’re kind of worried that they are just gonna forget about you and then you’ve kind of lost them both. So you’re trying to kind of get into a situation where maybe this isn’t emotionally healthy for you but you still at least have those two people to rely on.

And I don’t think that that’s a good reason to be in any relationship, not monogamous or no. Because you are relying on that person. I mean we all to a certain extent… I don’t think it’s completely unhealthy to rely on someone for a bit of emotional support. There are people who do that “Your emotions are your responsibility” and all that bull shit but you know… I think that it’s very human and very expected to want to have some emotional intimacy with with a partner and to rely on them a bit for assurance, for backup, for a listening how bad your day went.

This to me is the bread and butter of what a relationship is. If I don’t have that with someone, I don’t have a relationship with them to me. But that’s up to you to decide so all-in-all like… There’s a lot about this situation and there’s a lot of issues that you’re dealing with but ultimately I think there’s a big rush on this. And there shouldn’t be such a big rush.

Like I said that may be just as much you putting that on yourself and not necessarily them completely putting that on you but I do feel like overall… the fact that you are relying on these two people for your emotional support and then also you’re being pressured into a situation…  even if they’re not pressuring you, you’re pressuring yourself into this situation where you’re going to be expected to be ok with everything, or at least that’s your goal.

You’re setting yourself up for failure because your goal is to do this and be awesome and be ok and not have any mental health problems and I’m just the best and I’m cool with everything. And that’s just not a good goal. It’s not a realistic or reasonable goal and regardless of how non-hierarchical your friend wants to make this, there is going to be an imbalance or not a perfect equal balance of needs because you are going to need their emotional support more than they probably need yours.

So it’s just it just seems like it’s doomed for you to be in a horrible horrible shit place and especially when you don’t have access to a therapist. I just don’t think that this is a good situation to put yourself in and I think it seems worse. The alternative of saying “I don’t think I want to be in this relationship” and losing that romantic intimacy with your current partner and may be driving a bit of a wedge between you and your friend because obviously the more they get together the more maybe crappy you’re going to feel about it but actually I think that even as you might be reliant on them right now, putting yourself in a situation where you’re also in a relationship with them… it’s just making it worse. It’s ok to be reliant on people from emotional support. It’s not all bootstraps and every human for themselves.

We rely on each other. That we humans do and that’s the reason we’ve survived is because we work together but putting yourself in this kind of a pressurised situation is really, really difficult and I don’t think that it’s the best move for you right now. I really think that… like I said, don’t put yourself in a situation where you expect to come out of any therapy situation where you never have any emotional reactions to anything or you never have any feelings of worthlessness or any of that. I don’t think that’s realistic. But you want to get to a point I think where you accept that you have BPD. Where you understand your BPD enough to know what your needs. To understand your BPD well enough to know what triggers those feelings of worthlessness, what triggers fears of abandonment, what triggers splitting, what triggers you going down that difficult snowball where you’re just going and going and you can’t stop.

It’s good for you to know what triggers that. It’s good for you to know coping mechanisms. It’s good for you to be able to come to a new partner in and say “Look, this is what I’ve got. This is what I need. This is the way you can help me”. You want to know that somebody is comfortable with that and that they can deal with that and that they’re not going to, as you said, be less honest with you because of it because that isn’t going to help either.

So yeah I think overall this is probably not the best situation to put yourself in and it does sound more difficult to separate yourself from the situation but I think ultimately that is probably what’s going to be better for you.  As best you can, reach out find some resources. There might be a therapist who’s willing to see you for a low-cost or for free. You never know what kind of resources are out there. So invest your time into making yourself feel better. Invest your time in to you and not trying to please everybody around you.

Because I think that’s what you need. Rather than just trying to like, “Oh I want to be in this thing where my partner can date my friend so that they can be happy and I can be happy and we all can be happy”, I think you need to think about what makes you happy in the long run rather than just having this emotional support now. It just feels like a situation where it’s kinda going to collapse in on itself a bit if I’m honest.

I hope that helps. I really hope that helps. Really difficult situation to be in. Really confusing.  I really hope that things get better for you.

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