I’ve been dating a guy for a few months now, he’s non monogamous and that has been clear from the beginning, though he doesn’t have other partners at the moment.

I have myself been interested in non monogamy since I was a teenager and read and talked about it a lot over the past four years, but a very bad, borderline abusive, “non monogamous” experience with my ex left me with deep trust issues and a sort of light PTSD (I’ve been seeing a therapist for the last year). I was also clear about this from the beginning.

I’m wondering how to deal with these issues and anxiety all the while being in a non monogamous relationship with someone I really like and value:

He went on a date not long ago and my trauma kicked in. For me, this translates mostly in a deep, freezing fear of being told one thing and done another as well as fear of a new love interest wiping me off the map.

I don’t rationally think this would be his style.

But I was also a bit caught by surprise when he announced his date because I thought (he told me, I think) he wasn’t looking for another partner at the time being (trigger here for “being told one thing and done another”).

My anxiety was so strong it made me wonder if this is the right time for me (I still feel pretty shaken from my last experience) but I definitely don’t want to ask him to be someone he’s not. I’m also afraid (though this is not at all the same kind of fear I previously named) that if he starts dating right now, a new partner would interrupt the NRE we’re still having and that I enjoy (even if it can sometimes be a bit overwhelming). I know there’s no “right way” to do this but I also think a common mistake (that I made myself) is to rush things. A lot of people in non monogamous relationships that work for more than a few months seem to have progressively “added” people to their lives and not rushed into a couple relationships in a short period.

So I’d want to take things slowly, but don’t know if this would be a fair thing to ask.

I value my relationship with him a lot, I see a lot of potential for us (whatever form this takes in the future) and don’t want to jeopardize that, and I would like to try a non monogamous, healthy relationship… I just want to make sure it doesn’t become toxic for me (I can only deal with so much anxiety).

I’ve talked to him about this and he’s being reassuring, but I’m wondering what to do about it myself.

There are a couple of things here that are jumping out at me that I’ll address:

  • Rushing into relationships
  • Fear of being replaced
  • Being “ready” for non-monogamy

Rushing into relationships

You mention how one of the things you want to do is to ask your partner if things can go slower, but, and I’ll be quite blunt here and hope you won’t take it the wrong way, I think you and your anxiety are what’s rushing things. He only has another date and another interest in someone else — not another partner. But you’re already battening down the hatches and preparing for your NRE to be ruined over what might be just a one off date that may not even go anywhere.

I think that ‘taking things slowly’ is a really nebulous ask, because what is ‘slow’ for one person is ‘fast’ for another and visa versa. And ultimately, what you’re trying to do is regain control over something that you have no control over. Neither of you can control how fast or hard you fall for another person. The only things you can control are the time commitments you make with one another, and that’s really what you should be focusing on.

You’ve only just been dating for a few months and you’re new to non-monogamy and on top of it, you mentioned not having the best experiences with it and all of that is going to mean that you’re just building your foundation with this person. It might be worth thinking about what you mean by your potential with this person. What form would you like your relationship to take? Do you both share that ideal? Are you both interested in the same type of lifestyle? No amount of slow moving will change a thing if you have fundamentally different ideas on what you want your relationship to look like.

Those are the types of things that are going to help combat your anxiety, rather than trying to put restrictions on how fast other relationships your partner has progress. Because if you decide, for example, that you both have two set date nights per week, then maybe you can start with one for a few weeks and then progress to two, if you need some type of progression. But try to make it less about how feelings develop with other people, which neither of you can control, and more about the time commitment.

If your partner manages your relationship correctly and if you both communicate, what goes on in other relationships he has really shouldn’t have any bearing or impact on you. Obviously as both he and you date other people, you will spend less time with one another, but if you figure out what that might look like and discuss the physical realities of that, it’ll be less scary of a change when it does happen. And that leads me to the next topic.

Fear of being replaced

Most people have this fear and it’s very understandable, but the truth of the matter is that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Your brain is hyper focusing on things like worrying that your partner has drastically changed just because he said he wasn’t really looking for a partner but wants to go on a date now which… isn’t really someone telling you one thing and doing another. He may not be looking for a partner actively, but that doesn’t mean he can’t meet someone in happenstance and schedule a date. But when you focus on little things like this, it’s your brain trying to convince you that you can control the ultimate outcome — being replaced — by controlling little things like this.

And while it may be more helpful for your partner to be aware of his words and how literally you will take them, it’s also more helpful for you in the long run if you face and recognise your fear head on. You cannot control whether or not a new love interest takes your place. Even returning to monogamy is not going to mean this isn’t going to happen either. Likewise, nothing you can do is going to stop your NRE with him, at some point, coming to an end. And at this point, you’re so entrenched in these fears, you’re spending less time enjoying yourself and more time worrying and trying to prevent things that you absolutely have no power to prevent.

Part of managing anxiety is experiencing it and seeing yourself come out of the other side and knowing you survived it. You’re going to have to go through some anxiety and fear in order to overcome it. I’m afraid there really isn’t any way to prevent than anxiety from happening. And even ‘going slowly’ is only going to continue to allow you to believe you have some control over the anxiety, which generally, in my experience, just makes the anxiety much worse. So, with that in mind, it leads me to the final topic.

Being “ready” for non-monogamy

If you have trouble with anxiety and PTSD, you might think it’s a good time to allow things to progress when you feel centred and settled and, while I would agree that maybe pursuing something stressful like opening your relationship right after or during an equally or more stressful life event isn’t ideal, I don’t ever think there is a perfect time for one to be “ready” mentally for non-monogamy.

I think putting things like dates and exploring other partners on hold for short periods of time only delays the inevitable, rather than giving someone space to ‘prepare’, because you just can’t prepare yourself for the oncoming anxiety. It’s much better of an approach to just accept that this is going to be something that gives you anxiety and try and learn coping strategies for dealing with it. Over time it lessens.

That said, I do think working on building a better understanding of what your partnership means to each other with your partner will give you more solid anchors that will help reassure you when you are coping with anxiety. I also think, if you have the resources, a polyamory friendly therapist could help be a sounding board to discuss your worries and fears, help deal with anxiety in general, and help you work through some of your issues from the past.

Definitely anticipate that the first couple of nights he spends with someone else will probably cause you a lot of anxiety and plan for that. And most of all, don’t kick yourself for this. It’s perfectly natural and normal to be afraid in this situation, especially with the experiences you’ve had. It doesn’t make you less polyamorous or less capable of being in a non-monogamous relationship.

In summary

Overall, I think you need to not rush in your own mind first when your partner is interested in someone else or has another date, because you never know what’s going to become of that. I think it would be beneficial for you to speak to your partner about what type of relationship you might eventually want so you feel more grounded, but ultimately delaying any action on his part in terms of relationships he can pursue just isn’t going to actually stop what you’re afraid will happen.

Seek a polyamory friendly therapist if you can to help you manage your anxiety and PTSD overall, but don’t beat yourself up for feeling anxious. Expect to feel anxious and try focusing less on preventing it and more on learning to cope with it and knowing you can and will come out of it alive. Try and accept what is causing you the most fear: that there is nothing you can do in this or any relationship to prevent being replaced by someone else. All you can do is focus on strengthening the relationship you have.

And, as trite as this might sound, try to remember that if someone does just think you’re replaceable, they probably aren’t a very good person to be with in general anyway. The therapist I work with wanted to add: “Because of the PTSD, I might encourage them to pursue things that help soothe them and increase their connection with themselves as part of managing their anxiety.”

I hope this helps and good luck!

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