How do I feel special when things I share with my partner are also shared with her other partner?

The reason I titled this blog ‘valued’ is because, in essence, I think that when we talk about the special things we do with romantic partners, we’re meaning that the things that we’re doing with those partners are things that make us feel valued.

Before you start comparing what goes on with you and your partner to what your partner does with others, you should establish a firm understanding of what your relationship means to both you and your partner and, most importantly, what your needs are.

Basic needs within relationships

Mainstream polyamory advice often tells people to communicate ad nauseum and while that is generally good advice, it often helps to know what exactly you’re communicating. Because we grow up in a culture that tells us that having romantic (heterosexual) relationships is the ‘norm’, we often proceed to having them without really understand why we’re having them and what we actually want out of them and what they value they bring to our lives.

I find it really useful to think about your basic needs in any romantic relationship and why they are your needs. My three basic needs are:

  • quality time
  • feeling respected and appreciated
  • feeling valued

In terms of quality time, I’m not a person who can feel close to someone if I don’t communicate with them. I have to be able to spend time with them communicating to get to know them in order to form an attachment and keep it. So I need to be able to talk to them fairly regularly. I found this out through dating and I noticed how when people didn’t speak to me on a regular basis (i.e. more than just once a week), I lost interest in them.

In terms of feeling respected and appreciated, I don’t always expect my partners to share all of my views and beliefs, but I do expect them to respect my views and beliefs. For example, they don’t have to be religious, but they do have to respect that I am. I also want my contribution to their life and any efforts I make to be appreciated and not ignored. I found this out by having relationships where my viewpoints were ignored. They were happy with me when I was being sexual, but not when I expressed a political viewpoint or stance.

In terms of feeling valued, I don’t want to feel like I’m just a random hookup to someone. While random hookups are fine for others and I don’t judge anyone else’s feelings and needs, I personally want to feel like my presence means something to someone. I want someone to value me uniquely as an individual and value all of me, not just the parts they can fiddle with or the entertainment I may provide. That means understanding all of the not so fun parts of myself and be willing to see that too.

When all three of these are met, I feel ‘special’ to someone. I know they see me as an individual who they respect, appreciate and who adds something to their lives.

What makes you feel special?

When people just end up in relationships out of good feelings and love and because our society doesn’t encourage people to really think about why they are in relationships, they don’t look much deeper. If you haven’t really examined what your needs are and how your partner fills those needs and conversely how you fill your partners needs, that might lead you to just examining your value to your partner on a more ‘things’ basis, i.e. the things you do with each other.

Although I don’t like many aspects of Dan Savage, I do agree with some of the things he’s said regarding our concept of relationships as only ‘successful’ if someone doesn’t make it out alive. Our society endorses a monogamy that tells you that ‘the one’ is who you’ll be with and that will be ‘special’. That’s why there’s so many articles about monogamous people fearing that their partners may be more sexually experienced than they are. Because there is an idea that ‘the one’ should be ‘the best’. If you’re not ‘the best’ in bed, how can you be ‘special’?

I’m not sure how many relationships you’ve had over the course of your life, but many people do the exact same things in relationships as they would regardless of who they’re with. Almost everyone goes out to eat as a ‘date’. What makes that special? The individuals and the circumstances involved, not the actual logistics of the things that happen. What makes something ‘special’ is completely defined by you and your partner.

And I would also think about what you and your partner’s relationship means within the context of non-monogamy. Quite often people can enter into non-monogamy without really defining what their relationship means within the context of non-monogamy. You may have already done this but perhaps you need reassurance on it. Are you primary partners? Do you have plans to live together? Are you considering long term commitments with each other?

Although a lot of polyamory advice rails against hierarchies, I don’t think that they are inherently bad. I have a functional hierarchy of having a primary partner who I live with and interact with most. That works for me. Even if you don’t have a hierarchical model, you still may need some clarification on what the commitment between the two of you represents and how that commitment may grow in the future. Defining that may make you feel more valued.

Making things special and unique

Perhaps though you have examined this and still feel this way. There are some things that you can try in order to make the things you do with each other more unique and different and that might in turn make you feel more valued and therefore, special.

If you both share a hobby that your other partner doesn’t care for, you can pursue this hobby together. Perhaps you can learn to do something new together. Or you can save something that’s just for the two of you. Let’s say you only go to amusement parks with each other. Or let’s say you reserve Wednesday nights specifically for doing things together. Maybe you both can take a night class or be gym buddies or listen to a podcast together. There’s all sorts of things you can do.

There’s actually a great app I’ve done some work for in the past called Pillow Play which is an iOS app that includes intimacy exercises. And being on the asexual spectrum, I appreciate that the activities don’t always have to involve sex.

You can also think about things you can do individually. My partner has a box full of cards I’ve written to him. I give him a card maybe once a fortnight. And the writing in them all may get a little repetitive, but I don’t care! I remind him of how much I care about him, reassure him about anything he’s been anxious about, remind him of all of the reasons I like him and what he means to me. People might say this is cheesy and hokey, but I like giving reassurance even when it’s not necessarily asked for.

In summation, try re-examining your thought process and what is encouraging you to believe that the things you’re not already doing with your partner isn’t ‘special’ enough and try doing something unique with your partner that they aren’t doing with anyone else.

I hope this has helped and best of luck!

Note: This column was written in 2017 so it is possible my viewpoint has changed. Please feel free to re-ask if you have a similar question.

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If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

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