Thanks for your posts, I’m obsessively reading them after I read the “thirteen reasons”. I am so warm inside after that. Being anxious and having problems to begin relationship (even non amorous or sexual) and sensorial sensitivity, living with my partner and feeling alone.. It’s really rare to have someone who understands that. We recently ‘reopen’ our relationship, now that I’m ok with my mental health, and I am ok with him going out but I don’t feel secure to start engaging into one and at the same time I feel really alone because I end up having no friends without him or other relations because of mental illness. Do you have any advice? We are also moving to another country so, extremely lonely. How can I meet people?

You’ve got a combination of issues going on here and I think what’s overwhelming you is trying to tackle them all at once. It might help if you do two things:

  • Remind yourself of the process you’re going through
  • Break things down into manageable chunks

Becoming non-monogamous

The first thing to remember is that any relationship we form with anyone has a period of uncertainty when it starts out — and that’s any relationship, whether it’s romantic or not. We’re just getting to know a person and we’re establishing a basis of communication and learning to test our trust of them. Insecurity is extremely common in the beginning because we don’t have anything to establish security with. If you already struggle with anxiety, you’re going to experience more anxiety during these times.

In fact, I would say that the process of trying to cope with anxiety is very much about building trust with yourself. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT is all about learning how to slowly face your anxiety, sit through the feelings, and then see that you come out of it okay. You begin to build trust in yourself and then when you experience anxiety, you have that trust which allows you to cope with it. It doesn’t stop anxiety all together and you may still have anxiety, but you begin to trust yourself to learn to cope with it and know it won’t last forever.

So in this new relationship, you’re building your foundation together. Once you have that foundation though, it can be really shaken by major events — just like your anxiety can be shaken by major events. Opening up your relationship is a major event and it will and can put stress on the foundations of your relationship similar to adding a new child, losing a job, or a death in the family puts stress on the foundations. And, if you’re already experiencing anxiety a lot in general, when these events happen, it may further exacerbate the situation.

You mention “re-opening” your relationship. I’m not sure if this is an issue with language, but it sounds like you’ve maybe tried to open your relationship before and something happened which caused you to close it and now you re trying again?

Quite often I think that people self-sabotage themselves when they have anxiety by not realising that their anxiety is quite normal. When we have a mental health problem where where we have an abundance of anxiety, we often forget that anxiety is and can be a very normal feeling. It’s just hard to feel like it’s normal when we experience it so much. I personally found that my anxiety was so much more difficult to cope with when I was expecting myself to be completely cured of anxiety via therapy. By setting my goals as “free of anxiety” rather than “coping better with anxiety”, I was completely setting myself up for failure.

I wonder if, when opening your relationship, you and your partner set up the expectation that you would be non-monogamous and be more happy, not less. And then when you began to experience normal anxiety and fear, you thought this was somehow a failure and decided to back away. People can be very confused when they first open up their relationship because they believe it will make them happier and don’t understand that it’s such a big change and all big changes cause some discomfort and unhappiness.

Very few people would expect to be instantly happy when they have or adopt a child. People expect that to be stressful, but rewarding in the long run, so when they don’t immediately feel happy all of the time when a new child comes into their life, they don’t instantly believe they are a failure as a parent. But there is such a lack of realistic information on non-monogamy out there and such a strong expectation for non-monogamous people to prove that non-monogamy “works” by acting as if their problems are small or don’t exist that I find that people often set themselves up for failure when they go about opening their relationship by expecting to automatically be happy.

I think you need to remember that opening your relationship will cause you stress. So will moving to a new country. There are a lot of big changes happening in your life and if you have anxiety, that is going to trigger that anxiety. You might find that you start caring about or being nitpick about stuff that didn’t bother you before. How your anxiety manifests might be very different to mine, which is why it’s important to work with a therapist to understand how your anxiety crops up and how you can manage it better. Finding a polyamory friendly therapist will help you work through this.

Break down things into manageable chunks

Another aspect here that’s probably making your anxiety worse is that you might be trying to do way too much all at once. Generally, you seem to have a problem with feeling isolated and always doing things with your partner. Rather than trying to date and find all the things you want all at once, you need to set yourself smaller goals so that the task you’re looking at isn’t such a large one.

A therapist would be able to help you with this but I’d think about approaching this by trying to reach some milestones. Maybe start by attending an event with your partner but having him spend some time without you so you socialise on your own. I find events where there is a clear task to complete much easier than general get togethers because I don’t enjoy approaching and making small talk with strangers. If that causes you some anxiety, maybe try going to a book club or a board game night — something where there is a clear topic of discussion rather than just a general get together.

If you’re looking for polyamorous communities, try searching online in the new country you’re in. You can always make friends now in that country and even start up an OK Cupid profile in that local area. OK Cupid doesn’t only have to be about romantic relationships. If you answer a lot of questions, you can also find people who are very similar to you who you will get along with.

Don’t expect yourself to be able to go to tons of things by yourself all at once. Start small and work your way into things as and when you feel comfortable. Don’t push yourself and accept that you can, do and will feel anxiety — and doing so isn’t a failure. You wouldn’t (I hope) blame yourself for having a cold, so likewise it is not your fault or a personal failure on your part to have anxiety.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Note: I wrote this column in 2018, so it’s possible my perspective on this may have shifted or expanded. Please feel free to resubmit a similar question.

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