Preventing hurt feelings

I am fairly new to the world of non-monogamy, having only been introduced to it in May 2020. Through learning about the different constructs that can be applied to a designer relationship I have discovered that this lifestyle could suit me well. Mostly as it encourages me to address the multitude of insecurities and other personal issues that make non-monogamy difficult. For the first time ever I am able to be compassionate towards myself and not just others, I am cultivating feelings of self-worth and getting closer to being able to allow myself to be present with my emotions instead of running away or numbing with substance abuse.

I care about the person that introduced me to non-monogamy deeply on many different levels and have communicated that we above all wish to safeguard our platonic friendship. We have also talked about their reservations with continuing the partnership on an intimate level as they are scared of hurting other people’s feelings. However, When I told them that I am a big boy and can handle change in circumstances they seemed to agree. The issue was then raised about if they were to flirt with someone in front of me how would that make me feel?

And upon reflecting on this dynamic I would personally like to get to the point where I could be in the same place as my partner and be fully comfortable with them flirting and then going off to explore an intimate connection with someone else. I feel compersion for friends and ex-partners in those circumstances and feel like it is possible to reach that level with a current partner but only if I have come to terms with my insecurities and know that I am enough to make myself happy.

To answer your question short and sweet: you can’t. You can’t completely assure someone of how you may feel in any given situation. You can, if you have experienced that situation before, give an estimation of what you think you would feel based on previous experience, but you can’t assure someone that you won’t feel anything about them being intimate with someone in your immediate presence.

But that’s not what necessarily concerns me about your letter and there a couple of things here that need to be addressed.

Polyamory will lead you to security

The first worry I have about the way you’ve expressed your letter and wants is that you feel that non-monogamy is going to lead you to a better place as a person than monogamy will. While I don’t doubt that non-monogamy brings with it different types of challenges, I really really discourage people whenever I can to view polyamory as some type of bootcamp for their emotions.

Why? Because the given assumption is that polyamory leads one to a Vulcan-like state of detachment from their emotions. There is a strand of beginner polyamory advice that is almost cult-like in it’s insistence that while there is supposedly “no wrong way to do polyamory” all of it’s suggestions point to the only and ideal way being detached, balanced and guru-like, giving off the impression that having or feeling emotions makes one “bad at polyamory”. And this, without a doubt, is not only an impossible expectation, but not fair.

Far be it from me to leap to complete assumptions about you, but I do wonder, if numbing your feelings with substance abuse was an issue for you in the past, if you are not just looking for another way to numb your emotions. And the polyamory advice often given seems to endorse or encourage the idea and promise a sort of zen like tranquility. I don’t think that’s the case for more people, nor do I think it should be the aim.

If you are practicing or wanting polyamory because you think it will bring things into your life that you as an individual will enjoy — great. But if you are practicing polyamory because you think it will make you a more mature, emotionally responsible person… well… that’s sort of like someone having a child because they hope it will make them a better person. Adding more relationships to your life doesn’t make you any better at coping with emotions. And throwing yourself into the deep in will not help you swim better.

Emotions represent insecurity

The second issue I have with the assumptions your making is that, if you should have any feelings seeing your partner flirt or go off to sleep with someone in front of you, that this is an immediate sign of insecurity — which is pretty much what a good deal of polyamory blogs will tell you. But this is not the case.

People have feelings about seeing their partners with other people for all sorts of reasons that are not as simple as just “being insecure”. For many people, they are afraid to lose the partner they have and this is a completely understandable reaction to have. Depending on the context of your relationship, if you have a brand new attachment with someone or you have a history of trauma where people have abandoned you or betrayed you, you may be reacting emotionally based on that lack of foundation or your personal history. These in turn may make you feel you aren’t good enough — but it’s not necessarily just a matter of personal insecurity.

I think, for the vast majority of people raised within a monogamous society, they are not going to be able to see their partner flirting with someone else without feeling at the very least some of the intrinsic fear they’ve learned by being in a society that’s told them that love only means something if their partner is sexually exclusive to them. Not only would I tell you that you are going to feel that way but I would tell you to expect to feel that way and, instead of trying to prevent feeling something, try and learn how to sit in discomfort, figure out what it is your afraid of, challenge some of the assumptions those fears are making or… avoid all of that together and, if at all possible, don’t be there to witness it.

Unless you both have the same social circles or go to the same parties, there’s no reason to purposefully put yourself in that position if you don’t want to. While you shouldn’t avoid doing things you want to do because you fear having a reaction, you also shouldn’t put yourself into a situation you know may be uncomfortable if you don’t have to. There are no awards to be won here for emotional endurance, I’m afraid. So why do that?

Don’t assume that having a reaction to your partner going off with someone else is about your personal insecurity. If you pursue polyamory, you’re going to be trying something without the same cultural scripts as friendships or monogamy and that in and of itself is enough to make one anxious on top of establishing a new bond of trust with someone and trying to counteract all of the social conditioning you’ve had that’s told you that sexual interest is something meant exclusively for someone you are interested in and only them.

Not to mention, the idea here is that there is some type of linear achievement you can have where you may in the past have feelings when you see your partner go off with someone else and then you progress to a level where you do not — and this is a false expectation. You may have no problems with one person but problems with another. You may have no problems and then suddenly experience a traumatic event and then have loads of anxieties you didn’t before. Life isn’t a linear progression in terms of our mental health. We go all over the place depending on what’s on our plates at any given time. Expecting to reach this “level” in a way isn’t fair on yourself or realistic.

Compersion is the ideal

Last but not least, you mention a topic that’s drawn much contention from me — compersion. I get why people use it. I’ve actually felt it now! You hear that readers? The compersion curmudgeon has felt compersion for the first time. Wild.

However, the problem I still very much have with this concept is that, again, while we say “there is no one right way to do polyamory” or “no wrong way” — whatever — compersion creates an ideal and you are creating an ideal that you just not may be able to do either because you just don’t feel compersion or because you do have an emotional response to someone you like going off with someone else — whether it’s fear or FOMO — and you can’t stop yourself from feeling.

I worry that by desiring this state, you are basically setting yourself up for failure. Compersion is great to feel, as I now actually know, but if you don’t have it or you are scared to lose your partner, this does not represent a failure on your behalf. Don’t let this be your goal. Let it be a nice bonus if and when it happens.

You are enough but you aren’t an island

Lastly, I want to address the sentiment you have in terms of your insecurities. “I am enough” is a wonderful sentiment and I don’t want people to feel like they are dependent upon others so much that they stay in relationships that hurt them because they think they deserve the mistreatment or because they don’t believe anyone else would love them.

However, there is a problem within much polyamory writing that promotes the idea of a kind of bootstraps mentality where if you have a problem, it’s only your problem and yours to deal with. This type of self-sufficiency paves the way for people who behave abusively to take as much advantage of others as possible and then gaslight people for attempting to reach out for help.

Human beings are social creatures and our nervous systems regulate either by us learning our own ways to self regulate but also by co-regulation with others around us. We have survived as a species for this long not because of brute strength or some type of weird survivalist individualist Mad Max type of concept — but because we formed communities and helped each other. There is a “Western” concept of individualism that creates a lot of problems when people are so focused on individuals that they forget that our communities are also important.

Bottom line, if you feel you cannot reach out to your partners for help or talk to them, there’s a problem with that. While they can’t be your therapists, they should be there to love and support you. And being afraid of the loss of them in your life is reasonable and understandable. There isn’t anything about that that means you aren’t enough. It just means the obvious — however enough you are, it hurts to lose someone who was important to you in your life, whether they are friend, family, or lover.

In summary

To sum up, I think that, while I can understand what it is you want, I worry you’re setting yourself up for failure. I wrote an introductory article about some of the classic blunders I see people trying polyamory find themselves in and that might help you in your initial quest and also with some of the things you’re worried about here.

Allow yourself to feel. You’re a human being, not a Vulcan. Feeling isn’t failure.

I hope this helps and good luck.

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Episode 65: No Longer Primary

How do you force yourself out of apathy if you feel the partner you want to settle down with is slipping away?

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

Discussion Topic: How has your ideal lifestyle changed over time?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 65 – No Longer Primary

How do you force yourself out of apathy if you feel the partner you want to settle down with is slipping away? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – How has your ideal lifestyle changed over time?

 

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

In the past I was married and dealt with an abusive, homo-normative relationship (married to a power lesbian doctor who wanted a submissive doctor’s wife). When I left that abusive relationship and moved to another country, I started my healing process and learned to be my own primary.

I read The Ethical Slut and this helped me define myself as a relationship anarchist. Because I met more people who were into alternative relationships, I felt more open and free. I was also involved in a queer anarchist punk group that I still see as my family.

I became my own primary and was happy to no longer have any other emotional responsibility. I explored my sexuality more and got into more BDSM activities such as spanking, bondage, and humiliation. This led me to move to another country where I started to teach spank therapy.

I loved my life there but also survived two racist/homophobic attacks. As a Black, gender non-conforming individual, I started to feel exoticised and missed seeing a more culturally diverse community. I also missed my family so after 7 years away healing from the past trauma of the marriage and getting to know myself again, I decided I needed to move back to the US.

When I moved back, I had to readjust to the extreme of capitalist life. I started working full time in the nonprofit world again and had to hide my BDSM kink lifestyle. People I dated were either monogamous, or else not familiar with healthy non-monogamy (it just felt quite trendy and not taken seriously). Finally I met someone called K last year that was on the same page as I was about non-monogamy and wanted to develop a healthy relationship. We even started out reading [polyamory books] and doing the exercises together.

About three months into our relationship they let me know that they wanted to date someone who they were attracted to prior. I accepted that and let them know that I supported this, and appreciated that they told me that they felt this way in the beginning. I am attracted to transparency, and I also still had a few lovers that I saw and was able to share that with them without them feeling our connection was threatened. I knew that the lovers I had would not evolve into more emotionally intense relationships (one connection being primarily sexual and the other spiritual). I felt that my relationship with K had the potential to become more well-rounded: emotional, spiritual, and physical.

The sexual connection started off great and continues to feel that way almost two years later. What I didn’t expect was for their other lovership to grow into a partnership that they found to be equally important. I met the metamour a few times at the beginning of their relationship and they were very respectful, even seemed to want to become friends.

I was resistant to this because I felt I had enough friends in my life and didn’t want a forced connection (although K would have liked this). Also-there were times where K broke boundaries that we agreed on (invited them to the DR to meet their family without telling me until last minute, and also fluid sharing when we formed an agreement around us only fluid sharing together).

Somehow we overcame those incidents and reinstated our boundaries. I still loved them and didn’t want to ‘break up’ because they were still affectionate and apologetic. During the pandemic we became closer and even though we were apart for three months we connected by doing a 21-day meditation challenge together. They were still connecting to their other partner long distance as well, but told me that they wanted to find a place together in the US and plan a future together (start a family and buy a house together eventually).

Fast forward, we did reunite, it felt good, and we now live together in the same flat (with our own bedrooms). With this ideal set-up, I thought it would work well since they would invite their other partner to come and stay with them sometimes and vice versa. But 5 months later, it proves to be more stressful than I thought it would be.

They see their other partner once a month and even though it started off as 4-5 days, it is now at 10 days a month. I am also dating another person that they have met and is also attracted to and we started a triad because I like to include them in my exploits, but with them planning to spend more and more time with their other partner, they have less capacity to develop this relationship with me.

There have been times I really needed them (when my Grandma has been sick, or I am feeling down, or want to plan a doctor’s visit together to freeze my eggs) that they just aren’t available based on timing. We have a shared calendar but they don’t seem to look at it prior to making plans with their other partner and I am starting to feel like a fool for being so accommodating. They sense my anger and proposed that we go to counselling to talk about our different ways of being non-monogamous since the timing has been the most consistent point of contention between us.

I am not sure it is worth it and am also triggered from the time I tried counselling in my last abusive relationship. It didn’t help ‘fix’ anything and I felt that I was being called ‘the problem.’ I am willing to get rid of this past trauma to work towards a stable foundation with K, but I also don’t want to waste my time if we can’t reconcile our different philosophies on being non-monogamous. I don’t want to be apathetic (my go to shut down), but I don’t want to try ‘too hard’ either.

Do you think our non-monogamous differences are worth going to therapy for or that I am hanging on to a configuration that just doesn’t work for me and should let it go?

I do know that any relationship can shift and change, but I am feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the way things are going, and feel like this may mean that I should move on sooner than later as I have the tendency to hang on and try to make things work when they aren’t supposed to. This is my fear.

Response:

The first thing here that I want to say, specifically about therapy — If you go into therapy with someone who is abusive, that doesn’t work. There’s an amazing book I constantly, constantly recommend people read called “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft, and I recommend this book because it was hugely, hugely helpful for me in understanding the pathology of people who are abusive.

And I do want to illustrate that there’s a difference as well between people who do abusive things that maybe they have learned because of where they grew up or just the society that we grew up in, and people who are pathologically abusive, which means — if you read the book then you do understand the difference between the two. And one thing that Lundy Bancroft, and a lot of therapists say who deal with people who are actually you know pathologically abusive is that going to therapy can sometimes make it worse — especially couples therapy can definitely make it worse.

So just because you’ve had a bad relationship with therapy with your other partner who you say is abusive does not mean that it won’t work in this case, I think that this is a situation where you have a really good concept of what your ideal is, but it doesn’t seem like you’ve had that conversation with K.

Or it may be that K’s ideal is shifting and maybe they don’t really know how to communicate that to you. The thing that I worry about is that K violated some pretty serious boundaries that you had. It’d be one thing if it’s like, “Oh, K was supposed to come to see me this time but didn’t”. But violating the fluid bonded boundary is a pretty big deal. And I worry that maybe you kind of forgave a little bit too quickly.

I’m not saying that you should break up or that you should have broke up. But I do think that you have a clear situation where K is prioritising another relationship in a way over you and you’re not really handling it or talking about it or it doesn’t seem like you really talked about — Forgiving someone for doing something wrong is one thing, but working out why it is that they did that is another thing.

I think that you need to both sit down and figure out if you share the same, as you said, philosophies on being non-monogamous but also ideals. Does K really want to do this, have a family, buy a house together? Is that something that K actually wants? And this is something that K really needs to figure out especially when it comes to this other person that K is also supposed to be in a triad with you? With this other person?

Maybe K has new relationship energy with this new person and is sort of being sucked in but still does want you know the whole marriage and family and settling down with you. But you have to have that specific conversation. Is the mishaps you’ve been having with timing intentional? Because you say, we have a shared calendar, but it doesn’t seem like K is checking that calendar before K makes plans, is that intentional?

Is K actually just so caught up in things that they don’t really think about it for they go ahead and make plans, or is it that K isn’t looking? That involves K being really real with themself, and they have to be really real with themself and what they want, because otherwise this is what eventually happens. Like stuff gets missed. The little things start piling up. Resentment and anger starts building, and then eventually it ends up being horrible.

I think that you could have a basic conversation with each other about whether or not you share that same goal. Does K actually want this or is K envisioning…? What is K’s ideal? Does K envision that this partner that they’re going to see for 10 days out of the month will eventually come and move with you guys? What is the ideal here? Do you have a shared intentional vision of what you want your relationship to look like?

If you don’t have a shared intentional, then what you can do — I don’t necessarily even think you have to break up, but it will allow you to decide, “Okay, K doesn’t want this” and you may need a break up period” It really depends on how you feel personally, but maybe you can shift that expectation, and then K spending so much time with this other person won’t be such a big downer for you. Maybe this other person that you’re dating that you have this like triad with, maybe that can be the person that you have this settling down with who is more interested in that.

So, it just comes down to what your shared vision is. I think that if you can get out of K, that you do have some shared visions, that this timing stuff is not intentional, that they have not, you know, they can see that they’re caught up in new relationship energy which does sound like. I don’t know how new this relationship necessarily is but you can be caught up in new— especially if you’re a long distance, and especially with all this pandemic stuff and like the way that people have been touched starved and how difficult it’s been like, I do think you can be caught up in new relationship energy for a long. long time with a long distance connection because every time you see each other, as they say absence makes the heart grow fonder.

I do think that can be especially true for long distance, even if K is spending 10 days of the month with them. It’s like that absence makes things super dramatic, in a way that can kind of intensify the new relationship energy. So if K is able to say like, “Yeah, I am being a little bit focused on this relationship. But I do want to have this settling down thing with you”. Then I would say go to counselling together.

The fact that K recommended counselling is actually really, really great. That does show an effort to fix things. And again, like I said, just because you’ve had a really bad experience with counselling with an abusive partner in the past, that won’t fix anything. A counsellor is not going to be able to stop someone from being abusive towards you, if that’s what they want to do, and going to couples counselling with an abusive partner can actually make it worse.

Like I said, it’s another thing about— one thing that’s quite popular within the community is Nonviolent Communication, and there’s a lot written about nonviolent communication about how if the person wants to be violent towards you, nonviolent communication does not work with them. And similarly with counselling so I think it’s a positive sign that K has adjusted to go to counselling. K has recognised that you’re frustrated and upset and wants to solve that.

And I think that you also might want to consider counselling on your own, because there’s a bit of a contradiction on what you’re saying You talk about how you’re worried about trying too hard, and hanging on but then you also say you’re apathetic and you shut down. And I think that you might want to work out some of the stuff that you went through with your other partner with a counsellor and figure out how to address some of these situations as and when they come up.

Because I do think that if you’ve had an abusive relationship that and you know depending on what kind of background you come from and surviving so many things that you have survived, it is going to be hard for you to feel comfortable and safe confronting someone about some of the things that they’re doing. That is quite understandable. I definitely think that makes sense.

To sum up. Just because counselling didn’t work in your last abusive relationship doesn’t mean it won’t work now because that partner was abusive. So of course, it didn’t work and it’s okay that you didn’t know that. A lot of people go through that. You should definitely like I said, check out that book. Look up what other people go through online with going to counselling and abusive relationships.  I’m sure there’s tons of things written about it, especially if you had a counsellor that didn’t understand your perspective, and where you’re coming from, and didn’t understand, you know, any kind of marginalisation. That can also compound and add issues to it so you can try and find a therapist who is more understanding of that.

And also, definitely check out online how to interview therapists and ask them questions. They are there to work for you. They are there to help you. And so you can absolutely  ask them if they’re used to polyamory, if they’re used to being with helping people who have been in abusive relationships, if they’re used to queer people. You can ask those questions. If you feel like you’re “the problem”, you can find a second opinion.

It’s not something where you always have to go by what one therapist says. Unfortunately, sometimes even when people aren’t abusive and are trying to find a therapist, it can sometimes not work and that isn’t because of you. So definitely, definitely keep that in mind. It’s a good sign that K has addressed these issues but you can have a sit down conversation and figure out if K is still interested in this shared vision of what you want together.

Is K still interested in settling down? And figure that out with each other. And then, last thing is just give yourself a little bit of a break for having a lot of these feelings and maybe, see if you can get some therapy one on one for what you’ve been through with not only just having that really horrible relationship that sounds like but also, moving so much, and then facing like specific horrible attacks and like dealing with horrible people. Yeah, it’s a lot and that’s a lot to go through. And now you’re also kind of back in the closet now a little bit when it comes to kink stuff, and that’s a lot to go through.

So you need a little bit of support in that regard. And then we all have the pandemic which is a lot of shit for all of us to go through so there’s a lot of stuff you’re going through. And you can be a little bit easy on yourself. You don’t sound like you’re beating yourself up too much, but I always think it’s good to remind people, especially when they’ve gone through a lot of stuff that like, “Hey, you’ve gone through a lot of stuff, and that’s understandable that you would feel anxious and a little bit nervous about the things that are happening around you”.

But overall I would say this doesn’t sound terrible. Again, my final point is that K suggesting that you go to counselling is a really positive sign. And I think that you should definitely consider it and just have a conversation. I feel like if K is already identifying that you’re unhappy and is wanting to fix it then having that conversation about whether or not you have a shared vision won’t be so difficult to have without a counsellor, but equally you can find one together who understands polyamory who’s accepting and understanding of queerness and kink, and also has maybe Black identified themselves, or maybe has worked with Black clients before or has some understanding of that, instead of just being ignorant about it, which unfortunately a lot of therapists are. But yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

Episode 64: What Rules to Have

Will the rules you want to put in place prevent what you think they will prevent?

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

Discussion Topic: If you could pick to either read your partner’s mind or have them read yours, which would you pick?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 64 – What Rules to Have

Will the rules you want to put in place prevent what you think they will prevent?  That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – If you could pick to either read your partner’s mind or have them read yours, which would you pick?

 

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:

My name is Kendall and my partner is John. I am cis female and John is a cis male.
You could say this relationship is non-conventional. John and I have been dating for 6 months exclusively. I am 23 years old and John is 56 years old. Though we’ve been dating exclusively I have been prepared/preparing for the day that he requests a hall pass. He has dated primarily non-monogam[ous] most of his life. He was married at one point for 20 years and towards the end of that they had an open marriage. Since then, it has been a mix of open, closed, short term and long term relationships.
This whole situation is entirely new to me. I’ve never dated someone so much older, with so much more of a vast dating history. Yesterday he caught me a little off guard by requesting his first hall pass. My response was ‘Do what you think you need to do.’ This woman was an ex of his, which I feel more comfortable with than him seeking out a new partner. Surprisingly overall I didn’t have a whole lot of feeling towards the whole situation. During that night I would have little waves of anger, insecurities and some disgust but I didn’t spend the night obsessing over the negative aspects of the situation.
Actually, I spent that night with a girlfriend and we ended up having sex for the first time. This was not planned and I didn’t do it out of spite. John and I had already discussed me sleeping with other women – with him participating and not participating. Also, I know there are some sexual desires that I cannot fully provide for John so that was another justification for me to not feel sensitive about him sleeping with another woman. We have also talked about threesomes with me and his ex’s or involving another male but we both feel like I am not quite ready for that.
The next time that I saw John, he gave me a small amount of information about the evening but not too much and not too little. We were able to have a good conversation about feelings and expectations. My question for you is: I would like to have rules and expectations lined out better for the both of us which he agrees with. But since this situation is so foreign to me, I am not sure what to consider. Are there essential things that you think should be addressed?
So far the things I did address with him are: I prefer that he sleep with his exe s. He is not looking to date anyone else, but I am aware that you can’t always control your feelings in an open relationship. I don’t want to be competing for his attention and I will remain his primary partner and taking care of my needs will be his priority. I am allowed to say ‘no’ if I am so uncomfortable with him doing something.
Is there anything else crucial that I am missing? Or any other pieces of advice you can offer is so much appreciated. This is all so much of a new dynamic for me. Being in an open relationship isn’t something that I was looking for but it isn’t a deal breaker for me either.
Response:
So I think that the biggest red flag here is the thing that you haven’t thought about — the big crucial thing that you’re missing is the feelings of the person that your partner is dating. Just because he’s dating exes or people that he’s dated before, doesn’t mean that they don’t have feelings and that they don’t have agency of their own, and that they don’t have, or may have a desire to have something with him that isn’t just sex.
I feel like your approach to this is you’re trying to create rules to prevent something that you can’t prevent.
And I don’t mind rules and I’m not the kind of person… I really actually quite dislike the perception that rules are always bad and that they never work. I think that some rules can work and I think it’s sort of like the ongoing joke in the BDSM community where someone says, “I don’t have any limits” and then some person goes “Okay well cut your finger off”. Yes, you do have limits. Everyone has limits.
The rules that people often agree on and don’t really consider rules within the polyamory community are STI boundaries or rules about testing or things like that. So everyone does have some rules. The purpose of a rule should not be to prevent something that it cannot prevent. Ultimately all of your rules and all of the things you want to put in place are to control your partner in a way that will prevent him from falling in love with somebody else and leaving you.
I think if you really look hard at these rules that’s what you want — you want to be his primary. You want *you* to be his priority even if that means hurting other people. You’re allowed to basically say no to anything that he does with someone else. So you basically have control over somebody else’s sexual relationship with him, which isn’t really fair, if you think about it. And all of that is not necessarily coming from a place of control. Like you weren’t purposely sitting over him and, tapping your fingers together, evil and going, “What can I control?”
You’re not trying to control the situation but because you have a fear — which is understandable and doesn’t make you a bad person — you are trying to control the situation to prevent him from falling in love with someone else. You can’t prevent that. If monogamy doesn’t prevent people from cheating, then all of these rules are not going to magically prevent him from crossing them or falling in love with someone else or someone else becoming somewhat of a priority for him.
So I think that, for that reason, a lot of the things that you’re trying to put in place don’t really make sense because they aren’t going to prevent the thing that you want. If you want to be in an open relationship… And I honestly feel like this is true for everyone. I don’t think that being in a monogamous relationship means that you think that your partner will never have any feelings for anyone else. I think that *that’s* actually really unfair and and isn’t something that this culture should encourage.
But it is something that this culture encourages with monogamy, the idea that once you’re monogamous like you don’t even look at anybody else or that you don’t have feelings for anyone else when I do think you can. I think that realistically, you need to accept the things that you can’t control. Whether you’re a open or not open relationship. People have monogamous relationships — I mean, I think that this is probably what’s igniting your fear so much. You’re with someone who has had a 20 year relationship with somebody, and that has ended.
So I think there’s something inside of your brain that’s going, “Well, how long is *this* going to last?” in a way. Not that you don’t trust him. But, you know, you’re looking at a situation where — 20 years people been together, you would think after 20 years like everything’s gonna be fine and we’re solid, but things can change, and in a way that you don’t anticipate or expect and a rule is not going to prevent that from happening.
A rule is not going to keep him from straying if he really wants to stray. So, you can’t create these rules with the expectation that it’s going to be able to control your partner’s feelings. He may not want to only date his exes and his exes, even if they are his exes, maybe you don’t feel as threatened by them, because in a way you kind of feel like you’ve won the spot and they lost it. You’ve won the priority spot. But that isn’t going to help you in the long run.
Because, even if it’s an ex, it’s still someone that could capture his heart again. You don’t know that. I think that you really need to think about — rather than think about like what you don’t want, you need to think about what you actually do want. What does your ideal non-monogamous setup actually look like? What do you actually want? You’ve talked a little bit about this, which is why I think that your anxiety wasn’t so bad on that first night because you had talked about things like that. So you need to explore that a little bit more.
The thing that worries me a little bit about this and I’m not gonna lie — I don’t always think that age gaps are a problem. But I do think that age gaps where a person is in their mid 20s, and somebody else is like 50 something… I don’t know about that. Just because I have been in situations — and I’m 33. I’m not in my 50s — where I looked at somebody who’s in their early 20s and I’ve been like even that gap… there’s a lot that goes on in your early 20s. Age gaps— if you were like in your 30s and he was in his 60s, I wouldn’t mind so much because there’s a lot of maturing that happens really really fast in your 20s.
And I just don’t know if it’s a good thing that someone who is that older is kind of looking at someone quite so young. I’m not gonna say anything negative about your partner. I’m not saying he’s a bad person because you know you, you’re attracted to who you’re attracted to. But I just am a little bit worried that he had this open relationship at the end of his marriage. He starts this relationship with you and you don’t have a discussion about this. You agree to monogamy— he agrees to monogamy knowing that he didn’t have monogamy in his last relationship and you don’t really talk about whether or not… you say you’ve been worried about him asking for a hall pass, but you don’t really talk about whether or not you had discussed the trajectory of what a relationship might look like.
Now you’ve only been dating for six months so maybe that just hasn’t come up but I think if it’s come up enough for him to ask for a “hall pass”. Then there needs to be a little bit more of an idea of of where this is going, and what you both want, and why he didn’t come to a discussion about an open relationship before this moment. I’m just a little bit worried that — if you hadn’t met him and from the get go he was like, “Look, I was in a marriage for 20 years it was open at the end I need non-monogamy. That’s where I’m going. That’s where I’m at.” Then I would be a little bit more confident about the situation.
But because he kind of has been dating you monogamously, assuming that this is what has been happening because you didn’t mention that he had brought up non-monogamy from the beginning. And now he is instead of asking for non-monogamy it just seems like he asked to sleep with someone else. I don’t know. I just really worry about if *he* is actually given a thought to non-monogamy and what he wants out of it. Or if he’s just kind of stumbling around. I don’t think that necessarily means that you need to break up. But I do think that it does mean that you need to think about what your ideals are instead of thinking about what you don’t want.
You need to think about what it is you want. What do you want personally out of non-monogamy? If you’re just doing this to keep him around. that doesn’t spell good things, because even though you have all of this to cling on like, even though you didn’t have a bad reaction to him sleeping with someone else because you have other things to cling on like you know that he has sexual stuff that he wants to do that he can’t do with you for whatever reason, so that comforts you. That’s only going to last for so long and that’s why I’m wondering if that’s why you’re creating all of these rules.
Because if you don’t have anything to hold on to on your own, and I call it an anchor (it’s kind of a ongoing theme). If there is no personal reason for you to do non-monogamy that is only about you, and it’s just about keeping a relationship, then eventually, that just isn’t going to secure you in the same way. Because ultimately if you are just trying to keep this relationship going, then you’re kind of wanting something that doesn’t exist anymore. Non-monogamy is just different to monogamy. It’s not a level up. It’s not an upgrade. It’s just a different way of doing things.
Think of it in terms of a long distance relationship versus a not long distance relationship. A long distance relationship isn’t any less than a in person relationship, but they are fundamentally different in terms of how they act. And if your partner is moving away and you agree to a long distance relationship thinking that that is going to be the same as an in person relationship, then you’re going to be disappointed. And if you can’t do a long distance relationship, agreeing to one just to keep your partner isn’t going to work.
Likewise I think the same, if you don’t want non-monogamy in your own terms — and I’m not meaning like… having the occasional threesome is not the same necessarily than having an open relationship or being polyamorous. And so that’s why you all need to discuss what you actually do want because what you want doesn’t really sound like… It sounds like some swinging aspects. It sounds like you don’t want him to have feelings for other people. It sounds like you want to be the person who he has feelings for, and that can work if it’s something that you both want.
If it’s not something that you both want then it isn’t going to work. Two people can be non-monogamous but not compatible. Non-monogamy isn’t a basic compatibility. You may just want to do swinging. He may want to do polyamory. So you have to figure that out between you and you have to make sure that you’re agreeing to it for personal reasons that actually appeal to you, and not just so you can keep him with you.
To sum up, I think that you need to think about what your purpose is in establishing these rules. I don’t particularly think these rules are fair to the other person that he’s dating, unless that person is fine with just sleeping with him and not having any feelings. Even if that were the case, you basically being allowed to tell him that he can’t do something with someone else isn’t fair to that other person. So you have to really think about what the purposes of your rules are. Are they actually going to accomplish the thing that you want them to accomplish?
Can you actually prevent him from straying? You can’t actually prevent him from leaving you by establishing these rules. So what is the purpose of them? Are they going to actually work? I think you also need to think about what it is that you do want instead of what you don’t want. What is your ideal polyamory or non-monogamous setup? What is his ideal? What can you compromise on? And it may be that you can’t compromise on some things.
If fundamentally you want him to not have any feelings for anyone else, or if you want that to be his goal. He could fall in love with someone else or he could start to develop feelings and still decide that, “Okay, I’m going to avoid that person or I’m not going to pursue things”. If that’s what he agrees on he can do that. Obviously rules can’t prevent him from falling in love with someone else. But if you both have the same goals, then that’s fine. But if he doesn’t have those goals and it won’t work and you’re not really compatible even when it comes to non-monogamy.
Think about the things that you do want and figure out what your ideal is, what you can compromise on, and then go from there rather than going from what he can’t do. I hope this helps and good luck.

Episode 63: Visualising Your Partner

What if you can’t see your partner with someone else in your head without feeling terrible?

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

Discussion Topic: What is one thing that you didn’t get as a child that you want to now have as an adult?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 62 – Visualising Your Partner

What if you can’t see your partner with someone else in your head without feeling terrible? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – Was is one thing that you didn’t get as a child that you want to now have as an adult?

 

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:

My wife and I have been married for 24 years – Our only sexual experience has been with each other. We have had a good relationship over these years.  Recently she brought up the idea of moving in the direction of an open relationship. She thinks she is oriented poly[am] and is wanting romance and sex from more than just me.

I am open to the idea but I am really afraid. I have always tried to be her biggest cheerleader – encouraging her to be herself. When I think about living out a polyamorous relationship I can totally grasp it intellectually and sometimes even get excited about the idea.

But emotionally it has really shaken me. When I think about my wife dating someone else and having sex with someone I panic inside and feel anxious for days even though I seem okay intellectually with the idea. My core self really wants to set her free in her desires but emotionally I seem so far from it.  How can I bridge this emotional gap between my core self and my fears?

When I try to visualise my wife with someone it creates so much anxiety and fear in me – not fear of losing my wife – I know she loves me so much – but I fear that I won’t be able to handle the anxiety and pain. I know it won’t kill me but I am afraid the anxiety and fear would be very draining for me and would really pull the joy out of our relationship.

Response:

First thing I want to say is this is extremely normal. Okay? And I think that if you’ve tried to find help online for this, that might have been where you’ve really struggled, because a lot of people will sort of… they kind of act like that there’s a state that you should reach where you’re kind of zen like about everything and I don’t really agree with that. I don’t really feel like polyamorous people are polyamorous because they visualise their partners with other people.

You don’t have to do that. So many people sometimes when they’re opening their relationship they think… sometimes — they’ll literally go “Well I’m not gonna have sex with someone unless you’re in the room” and even though I understand why they do that and I’m not saying that that’s what you’re doing but this is like… the whole visualisation reminds me of this is. You got to have that trust and it’s just, sometimes it just hurts.

Sometimes, you can either be kind of completely not interested in seeing your partner with somebody else because you’re not a voyeur or you just… it does hurt because you’re not getting attention and you want attention from your partner. You do not have to visualise in your head your partner with other people. That is not a step that you have to take and be okay with. You can be polyamorous solid for a long time and still feel jealousy, fear, all these sorts of things when you see your partner with another person… that is not at all a yardstick by which to measure yourself.

So, don’t do that. Don’t try to visualise your partner with other people, because it just might not be something that you like. Some people really like that. Some people are really into that. Some people are really nonchalant about that. And also that feeling about whether or not you’re into it or you’re nonchalant, or it hurts or it makes you — you know— that can vary as well depending on what’s going on in your life, how you feel about yourself, all sorts of different factors.

So don’t do that, because it doesn’t help. It doesn’t necessarily… it’s not like if you could… if you were, turned on or excited by seeing your partner with someone else or are thinking about it that doesn’t even necessarily mean you’re going to be… that polyamory is going to be the thing for you. So, so yeah. First, don’t do that.

Second thing, there’s an article that I wrote, which is called “13 Mistakes That People Make Before Trying Polyamory” and I also wrote another one called the “13th Things I Wish I’d Learned Before Trying Polyamory” or trying non-monogamy which you should be able to find it on Non-Monogamy Help.com. But those are just the mistakes one will actually really help you in kind of setting things up but the two kinds of things that I recommend people think about when they’re considering whether or not polyamory is for them.

Or two things. One. Do you have any benefits to polyamory solely for yourself? So it’s not that this would make your partner happy. It has to be something that is just for you. So you might be actually interested in having other sexual experiences, because you did say that you and your partner — you’ve been the only people that you’ve had any sexual experience with. So that may be something that you have an interest in, and that is something that can help in the future when you start to experience some of that anxiety and pain.

And I wish I could tell you that you won’t go through any of that but the fact is that you might. I still have some anxiety and I’ve been polyamorous for about 10 years now. So, you will have that anxiety. It’s more about how to address and how to manage that then necessarily about you reaching some kind of master Vulcan state where you don’t experience any of it.

The second thing that you really should think about is, do you feel comfortable with your partner not spending, the vast majority of their time with you? I point out quite frequently in my columns this is something that a monogamous person would have to consider if they were dating someone with a really time intensive career or anything like that.

Some people don’t want to date for example someone who has to travel a lot, so they barely ever see them. They couldn’t deal with that kind of relationship. Some people can’t do long distance. So, you have to ask yourself because, inevitably, if this is the route she wants to go she will be spending date nights with other people. She’ll be spending time with other people. She is not going to be spending 100% of her time with you and that’s really, really important.

Because I think that sometimes people agree to polyamory especially when their partner wants it and they don’t necessarily want it, but they agree to keep the relationship but what they don’t realise is that the relationship they’re keeping is fundamentally different to a relationship that they had. And one of the big major physical obvious differences is the amount of time spent with one another. So would you feel comfortable not spending all of your time with her?

Do you have stuff that you do on your own? Are your lives so wrapped up within each other that you don’t have any separate hobbies or can you not see yourself having a separate hobby? And I mean if you are interested in polyamory for yourself, if you want to date other people, then that is time when she’s not there that you could be spending with other people. So it sometimes works out but a big thing that I also usually point out to people is that it’s very very normal and very very common for a lot of people who are in a couple, and then they open their relationship for one person in that relationship to have more quote “success” than the other person in terms of finding dates.

So you it may be that you open up and you look for dates you don’t find any and she does and then all of a sudden she’s got, Thursday, Friday, Saturday booked and you don’t. So be prepared for that inevitability and and think about it. Are you fine with her not spending 100% of her time with you? Because if you have a polyamorous relationship then that won’t happen. So I think if those two those two things are things that you’re like, “Yeah I’m fine with that and I do have a benefit to myself.”

I think that where a lot of the anxiety and fear comes from is, and it’s good that you said that you’re not afraid of losing your wife. And you know that she loves you. But a lot of the fear and anxiety that people can feel comes from the fact that whether or not they feel comfortable and established in their relationship they still have grown up in a mono-centric society. They still have grown up in a society that has told them specific things about love, and that love only means something, if it’s scarce.

10 mins. So, you know, you can’t love two people, or three people or four people or five people – you can’t love them all the same. So you know they’re out there it’s a competition and, you know, so that is something that you’re going to have to challenge. I think that if you feel like you can challenge some of these things. And if you go to the article that I wrote about (13 Mistakes), it talks about facing some of your fears and how facing some of your fears is sometimes a result of taking on too much responsibility. There’s only so much that you can do. And I think that if you’ve been married for 24 years. The biggest thing that is probably going to be really triggered by this is that even though you’re like “I love my wife. I’m not scared of losing her.”

The fact of the matter is, is that there has always been the chance that you, you will you both could break up. And that the problem was, kind of existing in a mono-centric society and being in a monogamous relationship, and especially doing that sort of relationship escalator thing where you know you get married and you have kids and la la la. And I’m not saying you have I’m saying, you know, being married as part of that escalator and that is a societal script that reinforces you and makes you feel safe. You don’t think that you’re likely going to break up because, hey, we’ve got all of these scripts things that we followed and that reinforces you.

When you start to go off script, when you start to do polyamory, you may start to fear it, because the threat that you’ve been told all your life is actually presented right in front of you. And I think the other thing that you have to kind of think about is, most people when they’re in this situation they are afraid of losing their partner and furthermore on that they put the burden on themselves to keep their partner, because they’ve been kind of conditioned by a society that wants to sell things. Consumer capitalism (wee!) wants to sell you things and it sells you things by making you feel deficient.

And it’s really really easy to make you feel deficient by saying, “Oh, you know, buy this cologne and you’ll be irresistible to women” or whatever all the sorts of bollocky nonsense but that kind of stuff does get embedded into your psyche, the idea that you have to compete for a partner, the idea that you have to find someone and earn them and keep them and all you know it’s reinforced constantly throughout our society. So what that does is that puts the burden on you and on your shoulders for keeping your partner around.

Now I’m not saying that you that by being a decent person, and by treating your partner well that those aren’t things you should do to keep your partner. I think that those are the things you should do period. But there is only so much that you can do to keep someone from falling out of love with you. There really isn’t that much control over the situation. And the problem is is that a mono-centric society convinces you that you have control over these things, that you have control over whether or not your partner loves you, or is attracted to you.

And unfortunately, that is not something you can completely control because it isn’t even something that your partner can completely control. People are married for decades and decades and decades, and fall out of love with each other. That happens. It happens sometimes even being married for 24 years isn’t necessarily going to prevent that from happening. And it’s easier when you’re monogamous and when you’re in a marriage and when you’re close to ignore that possibility because you have everything in society encouraging you to think that your relationship is stable, safe, and nothing can shake it.

When you open up and you start dating other people, that is going present a more realistic physical, tangible threat to the balance that will remind you of this uncertainty and will trigger a lot of anxiety. Even if deep down you know that your partner wouldn’t just up and leave you for somebody else because they aren’t that kind of a person, you still are going to have a lot of fear and the thing that you do to handle that is face it, which a lot of beginner polyamory advice I really really hate and I rag on it and I rag on it because the way that they decide to tell you to treat that fear is by going, “Encourage yourself to see how special you really are”.

And I do think that positive self talk has a place in helping you combat fear. But the real problem is that in my opinion that’s like a, it’s like the. Gosh can’t think of the right metaphor. It’s like your boat is sinking and instead of repairing the hole you’re just tossing water out of the side. It doesn’t address the real core issue. The real core issue is you placing the responsibility on your shoulders of keeping your partner around. And it’s tricky because to a certain extent. You are responsible for that. You can put effort into your relationship. You can put effort into noticing your partner. You can put effort into spending time with them into being loving into reciprocating.

But the thing is you could put into effort into all that and still they fall out of love with you so it’s not something that you can completely control. When you remove the burden off of your shoulders of what you can and can’t control. Before your partner even considered polyamory, there was nothing really stopping her from meeting someone at, you know, work, and falling in love at work and leaving you. That could have happened.

Nothing about opening your relationship necessarily threatens that any more. If anything, you could look at it as the fact that you kind of are willing to explore this with her as makes it more likely that she will stay with you but either way. There is nothing you can really control. And so, recognising that “Oh, okay up until now I’ve assumed safety. I’ve assumed that there was nothing that, or that there was no way my partner whatever leaves me because we’re married and duh duh duh”. But actually, you can’t ever assume that nothing is ever really safe nothing is ever really completely and totally in your control.

So once you in my experience at least once I realised that and I was like, “Okay, I’m going to put effort in. I’m going to be the best partner that I can be. Sometimes fuck up I’m not great all the time. I have mental health problems. Sometimes I have anxiety. Sometimes I have freak outs. I’m not by far from being the perfect person. But if I put effort in, that’s the best I can do”. I can’t make someone fall in love with me and I can’t stop someone falling out of love with me. If that’s what happens. And I think that that will help you.

I’m not saying that that is going to poof! Your anxiety’s gone. No. Anxiety is going to happen. You’re experiencing a massive change. Think of it this way. If you guys wanted to have a baby — I don’t know if you have children. It doesn’t say, but if you wanted to have a child — I think most people, even people with or without children, if someone said, “I want to have a kid and I don’t want to feel anxious about it at all”. You would be like.. eehhhh. No matter how prepared you are, no matter how many books you read, no matter how many parents who talk to, you’re going to feel scared and anxious because it’s a massive change to your life. This is a change to your life.

This is a change to how you do your relationships. This is going off of the course that society has told you is the safest. It’s going to come with anxiety, it’s going to come with fear. You’re trying something new. You’re trusting and changing the way that you’ve trusted your wife for a long, long time. It will come with fear and there isn’t anything you’re going to be able to do to avoid that. But what you can do is find the aspects that interest you about this relationship, just as you would if you had — you know i’m not saying that polyamory is like having a kid.

But I think, speaking to at least a lot of parents that I know, everyone has a moment where they’re just like, “Why did I do this? Why did I do this?” And so obviously there are benefits to having a child that keep them going through those difficult moments. I think, a similar outlook could be said about polyamory or any lifestyle change. You know if you went from living in a city all your life living in a country and you were really interested in it, you’d have hard moments. And the reason that you decided to move is going to be the thing that keeps you going through some of those hard moments.

So I think that that is going to help anchor you. It’s what I call an anchor. And then also, remembering the benefit you get out of it and remembering the amount that you can actually control and constantly reminding yourself of that, because in response to uncertainty and fear your brain is going to encourage you to think that you can control everything because that’s way better. If you think about looking at it like “I can totally control and prevent a terrible thing from happening to me”, versus “This terrible thing may happen to me and there’s nothing I can do about it”.

Of the two mindsets, the one that is convinced that you have the power to control things is going to be the one that your brain is going to pick, because that is going to make you feel better. So try and think of it that way. And I think the article that I wrote goes a little bit more in depth I definitely recommend that you read it and that should help you address that anxiety. It sounds overall like you’re very positive towards your your wife’s wishes, and that’s good.

You may be one of those people that is monogamous to polyamorous person. Like if there’s no benefit you see out of it, if you don’t have any desire to have any other kind of relationships or sexual experiences with other people, then it may be that you’re a monogamous person with a polyamorous person. That does sometimes happen. But I think the thing that will mean this is a situation that you are going to be fine with and that you can live with has to do with whether or not there is a benefit that you can find personally to yourself, even if it means that you get to hug the bed some nights.

And also being comfortable with the fact that your partner won’t spend 100% of the time with you and being able to challenge some of those ideas that monogamy is kind of really ingrained into your brain and finding ways to cope with that anxiety. I think that you. It’s not impossible. The anxiety will be— it’ll be worse sometimes than it is, but in my experience, it does go away. Like it’s really intense at first because it’s new.

It’s scary. It’s a change, just in a similar way that a lot of experiences like this are. Every time you make a big change in your life, every time something new happens, there is a period of fear and anxiety and uncertainty and then you start to feel better. If you can find that anchor, then you will definitely feel better. Yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

Rules about love

My partner and I got married recently, which in these COVID-19 times was amazing! A month before the wedding however he said that he would like to start exploring non-monogamy separately. In the past we would explore together or under the same roof. I agreed and We spoke about acceptable boundaries at the time.

He quickly found two connections which escalated quickly, the two girls really liked each other and they formed a type of trio. I felt pretty left out as the idea of three girls and a guy dynamic wasn’t appealing. One of the things I asked at the beginning was if there were feelings of love, to speak to me about it first. After a weekend away with the girls I asked him if he felt like he would fall in love with the one he was closest to. He replied, ‘yes I think we are – we discussed it at the weekend’. Admittedly they were drunk but it felt like a huge betrayal.

We then had productive deep and meaningful conversations following this as in their NRE I had felt frankly forgotten about. He kept certain things from me as he didn’t want to have the conversations which may cause upset. I asked if we could just focus on us for a while and he agreed.

He then said the day after that he felt sad and that he didn’t want to change the dynamic with the other girls (one especially). He did agree to put more effort into our relationship and be more mindful of me. The one thing I do not doubt from him is his love for me. One of the things we agreed to was for me to feel more involved in their relationship for which I felt positive about.

I just can’t shake a feeling from which I recognise from previous relationships. That uncomfortable feeling when an ex-partner starts dating someone else. The difference is we’re still together and it’s making me feel quite defensive and critical. I just can’t shake it, the thought of the other girl is in my mind a lot, the comparisons and what my mind conjures up when they’re together. It’s starting to affect my own emotional wellbeing and I’m feeling sad a lot of the time. I think it’s feeding into a gremlin I formed as a child of not feeling good enough, and having a scarcity of love growing up.

I love my partner so much, I need a way of reducing the negative thoughts and feelings so that I can feel better in myself and the relationships. I’m pretty sure I’m not a hoot to live with currently.

Update: the week after we had the big chats he had a therapy session which made him realise that he may not be in love with the girl, that there could have been an element of codependency. The prior chat we had though was like a stab, it hurt me and the wound is still there. The potential of it happening again with another girl in the future is there too.

There is an element here that you really can’t escape which I see you attempting to do in some ways — you’re going to be afraid that your partner will leave you for someone else. If, in previous relationships, you haven’t had good experiences with it, then it’s going to be even more of an anxious time for you this time around.

This is likely the reason behind you created this rule — where if he felt “feelings of love” he had to speak to you “at the beginning”. While this may sound like a good rule, the problem with it is that it’s not as clear as it may sound and it doesn’t actually help. In general, what it seems like you actually want is reassurance and also to not be left in the dust when your partner gets involved with someone new, which is a completely understandable rule. But you can’t create that with this rule. And all it ends up doing is creating these feelings of betrayal when he doesn’t come to you at the right time to have a conversation.

Furthermore, you say he’s kept things from you because he doesn’t want to have upsetting conversations. It’s hard to say whether or not there’s an expectation of you to know more than needs to be said because that’s often what happens when people are worried about their partners leaving — they think that more information will prevent their partners from leaving them especially if they have previously been doing non-monogamy as a couple.

However, he shouldn’t be avoiding conversations because they might be upsetting. If he wants to keep some things private — because his partners do have a right to their privacy with him as well — then he should be able to tell you instead of avoiding it. He can put more effort into your relationship without changing the dynamic or telling you details about his other relationships. I feel like your anxiety is pushing for you to know more details and to be more involved thinking it can and will change his behaviour, but realistically I don’t think that would help — and it’s not really essentially fair for you and him to agree things about relationships he has with other people.

Ultimately there is going to be some discomfort. Instead of avoiding it, you’re going to need to sit through some of it. You’re going to have to trust your partner will support you when you need to and be able to have discussions with them if they are shifting focus from you. If you have a partner who is not good at attending to your needs, no amount of rules or involvement in his relationships is going to be able to change that.

I wrote an article about mistakes people make when they begin polyamory and some of those preemptive steps in terms of finding your anchor and also facing your fears might be helpful for you. Definitely also make sure that, if it’s accessible for you, that you are doing some therapy on your own and able to focus on some coping techniques for dealing with anxiety. Remember there is only so much you can prevent on your own.

I hope that helps and good luck!

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Episode 61: PTSD and Polyamory

A previous abusive experience of a polyam relationship is causing floods of emotions on your second try. Should you stop?

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

Discussion Topic: If I knew I couldn’t fail in my professional life, I would like to try to…

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 61 – PTSD and Polyamory

A previous abusive experience of a polyam relationship is causing floods of emotions on your second try. Should you stop? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – If I knew I couldn’t fail in my professional life, I would like to try to…

 

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:

My first relationship with poly[amory], I was 19 years old and very inexperienced, during that first relationship I was emotionally and sexually abused. I was in that relationship for 4 years and it has been over for quite a while.

I am in a very healthy relationship now and we have slowly been working up to poly[amory]. At first I was excited about starting it and trying it out in a healthy setting but I started to notice that I get triggered when my primary goes out with someone.

I want to be clear I do not have an issue with him and someone else, but when I have to face the fact we are in a poly[amorous] relationship head on, I start having a lot of flashbacks and feelings of fear. I become very afraid of losing my autonomy again and I get stuck in the depressive mindset I was in when I was in that abusive relationship.

My primary is very patient and does whatever he can to help. We maintain complete transparency in our communication and try to work through any issues that come up, but he is not a mental health professional and I understand his ability to help with this is limited.

I have a therapist I go to and what’s always gotten me through things most is exposure therapy which is very difficult especially with this. When he’s out with someone I don’t want to interrupt them, I think it would be unfair for his partner if he was focusing a lot of attention on me while they were together.

I also don’t want to burden a fun night with all the emotional pain I am going through, when there isn’t much he could do short of coming home to physically be with me. I would actually feel worse if he did that since I would be to blame for ruining a nice night. I try to distract myself with friends or really anything, but nothing seems to help.

I also don’t like the idea of going back to monogamy for a lot of reasons. I like how open the communication is now because we both know if we slack in that area things fall apart, so it really forces us to be conscious of our feelings and how we communicate them. While I tried to act on poly[am] for myself at first, I soon realized I personally am not in a mental state where I can pursue something between my PTSD and a very busy schedule.

I would like to have good experiences with poly[amory] I see a lot of value in it, but my past haunts me. I also hate the idea that I cannot enjoy something because of my ex, it feels like he still holds power over me and that idea makes me feel sick to my stomach. I have been slowly getting through these feelings and understanding them which helps me move past it, but it is a slow and incredibly painful process.

Additional Details: Previous relationship was polyamorous relationship involving a “one penis policy” and kink. You also had a previous upset period with your current partner that caused him to back out of a relationship.

Response:

So the first thing that I want to say to you here is that even if you hadn’t been through that previous abusive relationship, you might still feel this way. Your fears are very rational. And I feel like I know for myself being a person that has had problems like this — I haven’t been through that kind of abusive relationship that you described. But I have felt those fears. And I have felt that intensity of emotional pain. And I know kind of what it’s like when nothing can distract you, when you just feel so much fear and it feels like a lot.

And it feels like there’s nothing that you can do. And when you have anxiety and when you have mental health struggles, it can often feel like you’re being irrational. And that’s kind of like the thing that I want to fight back when everyone says that about themselves and also about other people. “Oh, it’s irrational, I’m being irrational, I’m being irrational”. Anxiety typically is a rational response to a previous environment that you’ve been in.

And that makes a lot of sense. It’s your brain trying to survive. A lot of my anxieties are health related. And when I’ve talked to my therapist about it, and I said, “You know, I will feel like literally like  I can’t breathe, something’s closing down my throat, things like that”. I’ll just fear the worst. And my GP will probably tell you how many times I’ve called him and been like, “What is this weird physical thing that’s happening to me?” And my therapist said, “You’re rationally looking for the reason why you are so anxious”.

You’re feeling a huge amount of anxiety. And so your brain is going “Well, if I feel this anxious, there must be something really, really wrong”. So that makes a lot of sense. And I think that the first step for dealing with the intensity of these feelings is a little bit of self compassion — a lot of compassion, actually. But give yourself a little bit of compassion here in that you’re not being irrational. Nothing about what you’re afraid of is silly. Nothing about what you’re being afraid of is out of touch.

And it can be so hard because I know that when you have these feelings, you think, “Why do I not believe that my partner loves me will stay with me? Do I not trust them?” And I all the things that you said about… I don’t want to ruin that night. I would feel worse if he came home because then I would have ruined it. I can’t tell you how much I relate to that. And I haven’t even gone through what you’ve gone through.

And what you’ve gone through, especially the details that you told me, you have literally every reason to be afraid of losing your autonomy. This is directly— especially if that was your first polyamorous experience. You’re going to be directly triggered by this because the first experience that you had was so bad. And that makes total sense.

And by the way, this isn’t your ex having power over you at all. This is you actually having power in that your brain is trying to help you survive. Your brain is saying, “Wait a minute, we’ve been through this before. No, no, no, no, don’t think so. This is bad get out”. And that is frustrating and that is difficult. But that is… that is your brain trying to help you. And that is one thing that helps in trying to address the situation.

I wrote a lot about this and I don’t know if you’ve checked it out yet. I wrote an article called “13 mistakes people make when they are trying polyamory” that goes through about how to identify your anchor, about how to hold on to that when you do have these experiences. There are options. You can be fully honest with your metamour about the situation. And I think that it depends on  how they feel about the situation.

But I know that if I was dating someone and they were like,  “Look, I have this other partner…” and it doesn’t have to be full honestly. You don’t have to even give them the details you gave me. If I were your primary — and if that’s how you want to do things, and make sure that you explain that to someone — But if I were your partner, and I was going on a date, I would probably say to them, “I have a partner right now who this is their second experience of polyamory. Their first experience was extremely abusive. They are going to really struggle while I’m out. Could I take about five minutes, just to call and check on them?”

I don’t think that that’s too much to ask. And I don’t think that that is going to suck the fun out of the night. I don’t want to compare it— this is a little bit of a bad comparison. But for the sake of of helping to understand it. If you were their kid, like and I know that that’s not great. But like, if they were a parent, if they were somebody, or even if they had someone they were caring for like an older relative, it wouldn’t be out of touch, or it wouldn’t be bad, or it wouldn’t be it wouldn’t be unreasonable for them in a date or the night out to say, “I just need five minutes to call and check on somebody”.

That is okay. That’s not a bad thing. If that sucks the fun out of their night completely, I’d be a little bit worried about your partner and their boundaries. But it doesn’t sound like that’s the case with your primary. It sounds like they fully—  you already had an issue where, and that— you had a lot of emotional pain. And they backed away, I can understand why they did that. I think that that kind of in a way it kind of works against the situation.

I’m not trying to say anything bad about your primary. I’m not trying to say anything bad about you. But sometimes the only way to get through this emotional pain and get through this anxiety — you know it if you’ve had exposure therapy. You have to sit through it. You have to sit through those nights and you have to see your partner come back to you and know that you can trust them and know that it’s safe. And it is like exposure therapy, because you are going to have to — the first couple of nights that the partner that I have and that lives with me, the first couple of nights, they didn’t even go on a date.

They didn’t even— they literally just went to a party, not even a date with anybody else. But the first couple of nights they spent out of the house and they weren’t even staying out all night. I couldn’t sleep. I was an emotional wreck. I have that same reaction in other relationships that I’ve been in. And over time, as we’ve established trust and established  a connection, I’m less worried. Now I can sleep fine. I’m happy to have the whole bed to myself now. It’s no problem.

But those first couple of nights were really, really hard because I had a very understandable fear that they were going to leave and I didn’t even go through what you went through. So not only do you have that understandable fear from the society that’s around you that says, “Hey, the best… the truest love is exclusive romantic love yada, yada”. You have all of that on top of you as well. So it’s going to be hard for you to just snap out of it.

You’re not going to snap out of it. And then on top of that you have this previous relationship that you had, which was really horrible. And sounded incredibly abusive and put you in a lot of really uncomfortable situations. And I think that it makes total and complete sense for you to be afraid. So don’t beat yourself up too much about that. I do think you have to sit through the pain and a little bit.

You can try to distract yourself. That has honestly helped me sometimes. One weekend, I think that my partner was at like a weekend long convention or something. I went to Sweden to visit my friend. That was helpful. I still felt a little bit shit. But like that was much more helpful than sitting at home all by myself. So it does help to do stuff like that. And don’t expect yourself to feel 100% happy. But it will distract you a little bit. But you do just have to over time, learn that you can trust again, learn that you’re safe again.

It’s going to take a long time for your nervous system basically to get back to a calm state. Just because you’ve been through a lot of really horrible things. Give yourself a little bit of credit. I think when it comes to meeting your metamour, and meeting the person that he’s interested in, I completely understand your hesitance to do so. I think that one thing is important to remember here when it comes to both meeting your metamour and when it comes to feeling all this fear — what’s helped me — and I wrote a little bit about it in the article that I mentioned, which I do think you should check out. But what really helps me is to absolutely face my fear in terms of how much control I have of the situation. And this is something that has helped me generally with my anxiety.

It doesn’t mean that my anxiety goes completely away. But sometimes it has been something that has really, really helped me. And the fact of the matter is, is that there is only so much that I can control in these situations. If my partner decides that they don’t like me anymore, falls out of love with me, I can’t control that situation. I think in the past, because of the things that I have been through, I have felt like— I’ve been in a lot of really bad situations, and part of my brain that helps me survive has taught me, “Oh, if we do X, Y, and Z, then we can control the situation”.

A lot of people who’ve been through trauma have that feeling. And that is because it’s a lot better in the moment for you than total helplessness, total helplessness and feeling “well, there’s nothing I can do”, especially if you’ve been through — if you have CPTSD. And he’s been in a situation where you literally can’t stop, you know, what’s happening on a continuous basis. And it sounds like that might have been situation that you’re in.

But you you think, “Oh, if I just do things better”. And it’s the same kind of philosophy behind victim blaming. It’s the same kind of philosophy behind, “If I just don’t wear this skirt, if I don’t wear this thing that I won’t be attacked”. It’s a philosophy that helps us deal with being an under constant duress, because it’s way more empowering than just going “Well, there’s absolutely nothing I can do”. That is disempowering in the moment. That doesn’t feel good.

And in the moment that can be really, really hard to mentally cope with. The problem with that is that in that time it served us. In that in the time when I was under a lot more duress and a lot more threat and danger and harm, it served me to believe that I could control the situation if I did x, y, and z. It distracted me from the harm, it distracted me from a lot of things. But now that I’m not in that situation, what this actually tells me is that all of the things that I have experienced are my fault, because I didn’t do x y z.

And that’s the problem with this mindset is that when you believe that you can control whether or not your metamour likes you, whether or not your partner loves you, all those sorts of things, later on down the line, you are going to be in this constant vigilance state where you are looking out for anything that you can do wrong, looking out for any mistakes that you can make, and you’re unable to enjoy actual facets of life. And that’s what anxiety is.

It’s like the constant worry that somehow I’m going to make the wrong decision. And that will ultimately cost me the situation. Now, obviously, you can be a total jerk. You can insult your metamour. You can insult your partner, and they’re less likely to want to be around you if you’re a jerk. But there is only so much that you can do to control whether or not they are in love with you. If your partner is the type of person to meet someone else and chuck you out the window, you can’t control that by being a good partner.

You can’t. And the problem with this whole philosophy that’s going on in your brain is that — I see it illustrated in when you say you’re frustrated because it feels like your ex still has control of you. So it’s like you feel that you can stop this if you do X, Y and Z. And that’s not to say that you should go into total helplessness because I think that’s also sometimes a response. But it’s to accept what you can’t control. Because once you do that, the burden that you face, like a lot of this distress that you’re going through is “This is a dangerous situation, I need to get out”.

It’s a fight or flight, nervous system response. And it can be hard to transition to a calmer state because you think you have control over the situation. If he comes home, then you will have solved that situation. And in the process, the emotional pain I think also comes from — it blames you. It puts so much weight on your shoulders to prevent something from happening to you. And that causes a huge amount of pain. In the past and now when I’m trying to face my fears — And I’m not saying I don’t get anxiety because it’s still I still get it.

I still worry. But it helps me to go “How much of this can I actually control? What can I do right now in the moment that is going to change even the worst outcome that I think will happen? So if I’m sitting up at night and I think, “Oh my god, I have a pain somewhere. This must be something terrible wrong with my health”. Yeah, I’ll still be anxious about it but the constant kind of push to have an obsessive reaction —  obsessive compulsive reaction which I have had in the past. To stop the compulsion reaction, I could go up, I could sit up all night looking on Web MD. I don’t do that because I go, “Okay, if there is something truly terribly wrong with my health, how much can I actually control about it in this situation?”

You’re just still going to feel like shit.  I would just prepare for that. Batten down the hatches, you’re going to feel like shit. But recognising how much you can control of the situation can remove the burden from your shoulders of being so constantly vigilant to find some sign that your partner is leaving, something you’re doing wrong, some little mistake that. Because we all fuck up.

We all make mistakes. And it’s not to say that you can’t make a mistake that really messes up your partner. But you need to have a reckoning that this constant vigilance over that isn’t necessarily going to prevent you from making a mistake. So that’s been something that’s really really helped me. Other things that have helped me during these times… I honestly used to write love letters to my partner when they were out with other people or at parties or things where I was just feeling so I would try and focus on that.

That was one of my anchors, in addition to wanting to be in a polyamorous relationship myself and wanting that freedom. Another one of my anchors was thinking about all the positive stuff that we had together. And, and just gratitude — being grateful for some of the things that we shared, being grateful for some of the ways that they were able to understand my anxiety. That also really, really helped me. You should still expect to feel a little bit shit.

But being a little bit more grounded in the situation by focusing on what can I control about this? Over time will really, really help you. It’s explained a little bit better in “13 mistakes people make when people—“ look, I can’t even say it right. It’s on Non-Monogamy Help dot com if you scroll all the way down. But check it out. That will help you learn how to find an anchor, learn how to hold on to it, and also be a little bit more compassionate with yourself.

It’s really hard when — the biggest problem I have with a lot of intro to polyamory stuff, and just all of the things is that it just makes it seem like you should just become a Vulcan. And just have no emotion and that if you have any emotion then there’s something wrong with you and having any feeling but love and happiness and compersion for what your partner’s doing means that you’re a terrible jealous controlling wench.

It’s very dichotomous. It’s not really helpful. I definitely think you should check out the work of Clementine Morrigan. Clementine writes a lot about trauma and polyamory. In fact, I think Clementine has a workshop about it. And I’ve really appreciated reading what they write, and a lot of things they talk about. The nervous system response. They have an Instagram, which you can check out. They also have a Patreon. I definitely think you should check out — go to their Instagram. Just read through a lot of things that they have.

I don’t have their Patreon, so but there must be more things there on trauma and polyamory that’s super helpful. And I think that would also really, really help you. I think you might want to also think about working out some agreements with your therapist about boundaries, about texting out of hours and things like that. Because I’ve never had a therapist that allowed me to text them out of hours. I have had partners who have had therapists that allowed that.

You know when your partner is going to be having a date and you can plan to have your therapist — just say, “Can I text you during these times just in case I’m going through a lot and I need someone?” And reach out to your friends — hopefully your friends who are polyamory friendly, and have the you know — they should be there for you too. They should be there to help you. So reach out to them.

That is basically my advice in this situation. To kind of sum up, please be kind to yourself. Your feelings are very rational. You’ve gone through a lot. And understandably you wish you didn’t have to feel all these feelings. You said it yourself in your letter about, you know, how you’re kind of— didn’t feel it for a while and now you’re kind of being forced to reckon with some of that. It’s triggering a lot. This kind of trying another polyamorous relationship is triggering a lot for you. And that makes total sense. Be a little bit kinder to yourself. You’re allowed to fuck up. You’re allowed to make mistakes. You’re not a terrible person and you’re not a horrible person for feeling all this.

You’re not irrational. Try to remember all that. I think that there are things that you can do with your partner to help you feel a little bit grounded. Writing love letters or gratitude letters to them, seeing if they can take five minutes out of their date night to give you a call. One thing that I still like my partner to do is even we’re away I’d like for them to say goodnight

to me. That’s a nice thing that I just like. If they’re really busy

and they are out partying or whatever and can’t and that’s fine, but it’s something that I like.

And I think actually Clementine Morrigan literally has a post on Instagram just a few days ago about needs and requests like that, which is really great to check out. But think about things that your partner can do. One call to you for five minutes isn’t going to ruin their night. And it really shouldn’t. I think that you should also remember that your ex does not hold power over you. This is not your ex still controlling you. This is a trauma response to what you’ve been through. And this is your brain trying to help you.

And then also, again, to remind you, one good thing is just to face those fears. Recognise what you can and can’t control, check out that article that I mentioned that is on Non-Monogamy Help dot com. Check those things out to figure out like what your anchors are and how you can deal with that and cope with that.

Last but not least, you’re going to have to sit through some of the pain. And you’re gonna have to go through some of the difficulties and see that your partner is still there for you, in order to basically learn slowly that you can still trust in the situation. And give yourself a little bit of kindness and compassion around that. See if your therapist is available for you to text. Reach out to your friends. Yeah, all of that. I hope that helps and good luck.

Episode 58: Sexual Incompatibility

After more than a decade, your partner wants to open up because he’s not happy, but you think things are going too fast. What do you do?

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

Discussion Topic: How much detail do you want to know?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 58 – Sexual Incompatibility

After more than a decade, your partner wants to open up because he’s not happy, but you think things are going too fast. What do you do? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website.

 

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:

My husband of 5 years, and partner of 11 years, recently came to me and asked to see other people sexually.

He sat down and we had a conversation about it where he hit me with a lot of reasons for wanting this and said he was scared to ask me. He said he felt sexually frustrated because when we got together he was mostly a top and I am also. I have tried to be versatile in many ways, but he is rather large. I have tried to use toys and devices to practice to make it easier or even pleasurable, but I can’t manage to. I just receive no pleasure from it. He said he felt betrayed and lied to. He said ultimately it wasn’t fair.

On top of that we never seem to be “in the mood” at the same time since we work different schedules. When he said these things it hurt to find out this way and that he’s been feeling this. I told him I didn’t like the idea and I was uncomfortable with this, but I would think about it and it’s not an easy decision for me. He said it’s not an ultimatum and that he won’t divorce me over it or anything, but deep down I’m still afraid he might since he brought divorce up.

You see he’s asked me for a divorce in the past and then changed his mind when I started to pack my things to move out, he broke down and said he didn’t want to lose me. He wanted to get a divorce but still live together and be in each others lives romantically and sexually. He told me then that he was feeling we had become friends and grown apart romantically. It hurt to hear him say that since I felt that we had become more than that not less. Ultimately I love him and want to make him happy, so I agreed to the divorce and when he changed his mind I agreed to stay.

I thought about it for a few days and told him I don’t like the idea and I am uncomfortable, but if it’s what he needs and makes things feel fair then we can do what he needs. He said for it to be fair we should both have the option, I said ok but told him I probably never would because of how I feel about it. I did ask him to think about some ground rules and guidelines and get back to me on what he thinks.

Less than a day later he is already “going out” (his way of not telling me he’s going to have sex with someone else) and has not even talked to me again about the subject let alone the ground rules I asked him to think about. The entire time he was gone I was a mess of emotions, I tried to distract myself with tv, video games, music, anything I could think of really. When one hour turned into two then three then four then five it got progressively worse and harder to even find a momentary distraction.

Nothing worked and all I could do was think about how I wasn’t enough for him. Would he want anything more from me than to take care of the house and clean up and cook and help pay bills? Would he be asking for that ever looming divorce when he realises he no longer wants or needs me for anything or falls for someone he’s with? Have I failed in this relationship? Have I not done enough, or shown enough affection over the years? By the time he came home over seven hours later I was emotionally exhausted and unable to sleep in our bed so I was trying to sleep elsewhere.

He wanted to talk and cuddle and tell me about it. By this time trying to sleep where I was was causing my back to hurt and I told him I was tired and hurting and needed to alone for a while. He went to his office and waited for me start to fall asleep then came back and tried to cuddle, when that woke me up he tried to talk to me again about his night out. I couldn’t emotionally process anything at the time so I again told him I needed some time and to let me come to terms with the new situation and we could talk later. He wound up getting mad at me and stormed off to bed.

I can only imagine that most of this is due to the fact that he’s asked for a divorce in the past and it feels like a guillotine hanging over me waiting to fall at any point in an argument. I want to make him happy and give him everything he needs to be happy and satisfied and feel fulfilled in his life. I have made many sacrifices over the years both in and out of our relationship. So if a sacrifice is what’s necessary from me I can do that with ease. I guess my questions come down to, does it get easier? What can I do to support him while not destroying myself? How do I learn to cope with this new situation?

Extra information:

When we got together and got to the point of discussing sex he said he was a bottom that occasionally liked to top, and I said I was a top and I had tried bottoming before and didn’t really like it but I would try for him. So throughout the years he was bottom and I was top, and I would try to bottom for him occasionally but it never really worked out, it was too painful for me or I didn’t seem to enjoy it so he couldn’t stay aroused. I have tried to use dildos and plugs to work up to it, but ultimately if I could I didn’t receive any pleasure from it.

Yes, he has accommodated my topness. When we got together, at least to me, I thought I was clear I was a top and it sounded to me that he was mostly a bottom. It seems to me that over the years he has become more top than bottom in desires than when we met, or didn’t want to “mess things up” by saying the wrong thing in the beginning of the relationship. That was part of the reason I was hurt to find out this way and that he had apparently (since he said he was always mostly a top) been holding onto this feeling for so long.

He says he loves me and wants to come home to me and enjoys our sex and doesn’t want any of it to change, but he just needs to be able to top more than bottom.

Response:

So the biggest issue that is coming out for me here first and foremost is that when you did when he did ask for a divorce. You both had such different perspectives of the relationship and that is a really really really huge red flag. Before we even get into all of the details about whether or not you should, or how you should be comfortable with him sleeping with other people, the fact that you’re on such different pages is a huge red flag. And that really really needs to be addressed.

If one person in a relationship feels like you’re just friends and another person feels like you’re even closer than you were before, that is a big problem. So you’re not really on the other page. The second problem here, and this is going to get in the way, not just of, if you both decide to open your relationship up a little bit more and it sounds like you kind of already have, and it’s already becoming a problem. There is a really huge lack of communication here and that is kind of what leads to the first problem.

But if he failed to communicate from the beginning and you’ve been together for 15 years. And he’s failed to communicate all of this time that this isn’t sexually what he wants, that doesn’t really bode well. And the fact that you know you open the relationship and you wanted to set some ground rules — and I’ll get to the concept of rules in a second — but you communicated that you’re going to try it but you wanted to have a little bit more discussion and his first reaction is to immediately go out for a very very long period of time.

And not only do that but then come home, and then you are emotionally distraught. You ask to just be given some space, and he doesn’t give you that space and then gets mad at you when you are expressing that you are uncomfortable. That is a huge, huge problem. That to me doesn’t bode well. And he has to be able to not only communicate his wants and his needs but he also has to be able to respect your space, and he has not really shown that here. And that’s what really really worries me about the situation.

I think that it’s understandable for him to feel like the situation has been unfair. I don’t think it’s fair to say that you’ve been unfair because you communicated from the very beginning what your preferences are. You have attempted to do your best to accommodate him. It hasn’t really worked for you. I don’t think it’s necessarily fair for you to sit there and do something which is not pleasurable at all for you. I think that that’s a bit much to ask. But you have always tried to be extremely clear in your communication. He has hidden his preference it seems like.

And then he doesn’t really communicate very well with you so that is a huge problem. Let me address first before I go on to anything else the concept of “ground rules”. Now, you are understandably worried and scared that you’re going to be replaced by someone who is more of his sexual preference and that is a valid fear, and there’s all sorts of these other things like, you know, is he going to fall for somebody else? This that and the other, have I not been enough? These are all very typical feelings that people have.

And usually when people have these feelings, the first thing that they try to do is address them by making what you called “ground rules” and boundaries. I do think that there are important boundaries and things to discuss about opening up your relationship, especially because that isn’t one thing. And sometimes you need to establish, you know, what time are you going to spend with other people? What time are you going to spend with me? What do you want this open relationship to look like? There’s a lot to discuss.

And I do also think that sometimes when people have all these fears they want to create rules like “You’re only going to love me and nobody else” and I don’t think that’s helpful. I think that’s reassuring in the moment, but at the end of the day, whether you’re open or closed, he can fall in love with somebody else and you can’t prevent that with a rule. You can’t prevent that with the rule of monogamy let alone with any rule that you set up within the standard of an open relationship. So I think that, your first instinct to say, “let’s create some rules” is probably founded in that fear, which is very understandable.

When you open your relationship, it isn’t an upgrade. It is a complete change to how you do the relationship. And not only is it a complete change but he’s basically told you that he’s been unhappy for a very very long time. And so there’s a whole lot of processing that you have to go through in terms of why did I not see it? There’s a lot there that needs to be addressed. Essentially, this has been an issue for a long time and he hasn’t communicated that so it’s almost like you have to rebuild foundations of trust with one another.

And so while you’re doing this, you can’t really do that if he is unwilling to at least discuss things with you first or give you a little bit of time or give you a little bit of space. Those are really really big things and the fact— the thing that really worries me about this, is the fact that when you clearly — and I don’t know how clearly. Maybe you were more upset at the time, understandably. The first night is honestly always a shitty night. I would have told you if you asked me before that night, how should I prepare? I would have said, “You’re gonna feel terrible” because it’s sort of— that is pretty much going to happen.

I think it’s very rare that somebody doesn’t feel terrible when this sort of thing happens so I would have told you to be ready for that. I just think that even so he could have, the second you said “Hey, I need some time, I need some space. Please give me some space”, he should have been like, “Okay, I’ll give you that space”. And the fact that he got angry and stormed off because you asked for space is really really concerning and that is the thing that worries me.

Now, the other thing and the last thing before I kind of will get into summarising my advice here that you also need to worry about is you are saying, “I’ve given the sacrifices. I’ve done this. I’ve done that”. You need to make sure that you are taking care of yourself. Because here’s the thing about sacrifices. A lot of times and all relationships, typically, you know will often require some type of sacrifice in some points depending on how long they are. Maybe they won’t.

It’s not completely unusual for there to be some sacrifice in a relationship. However, you need to be able to have that in a way that doesn’t create resentment. And the problem with this kind of attitude of like, “Okay, I’ve sacrificed so much. I can do one more sacrifice”, is that if you feel like you’re always giving and giving and giving to someone who doesn’t give back to you, that will create resentment. That will become a problem.

As much as you want to give a gift, and have it be a gift, the thing of it is is that if it is a situation where you feel like “Okay, I’ll give up this. Okay, I’ll give up that” and you really don’t want to, you’re just doing it to keep this person. Inevitably, you’re going to want basically repayment in kind for the things that you’ve sacrificed, even if you don’t think so now, it does have a way of creating this resentment.

And the thing that I worry about here is that you are so focused on his happiness that you aren’t really focusing on your happiness. I mean in a way you have had your topness needs filled by him and a lot of ways so that’s not an issue. But that doesn’t mean that you know you have no other needs, and that he should be able to behave the way that he’s behaved. So just make sure that you’re actually taking care of yourself. And that you’re finding ways to support yourself because even if he hadn’t behaved this way, even if he had been giving you space and been more receptive and understanding to your situation, you are still going to need that ability to take care of yourself because it’s going to be difficult.

You’re going to go through a lot of stuff in terms of being afraid of loss, all that sorts of things so you need that ability to take care of yourself. And you also need the ability to understand like… they call it in the UK they call it an MOT when you kind of like get your car checked up. But I don’t know if that’s what they call it in other places. I don’t drive so…. Can you do a check up on your relationship?

Are you satisfied with your relationship or are you in a sunk cost fallacy where basically you feel like you’ve given so much to this relationship that  you would kind of essentially lose all of your investments in the sacrifices you’ve made? And you don’t want to lose that so that’s why you’re staying in it. That’s never really good reason to stay in a relationship.

So it’s really important that you ask yourself, “Am I really happy in this relationship? Are things really going well for me in this relationship?” That’s really important to— even though there is a bit of a mismatch in terms of your wants and desires. That doesn’t mean that you get, you know, because you’re getting your needs filled as a top that you don’t have any other needs or that you’re completely satisfied,

With all that in mind, I think that the thing that you should do in terms of how you approach this—  I’m willing to understand if his reaction to you needing space, and his sort of jumping at the chance to go sleep with somebody else. I’m willing to understand that as a first timer error, and just you know him being excited because he has been with you for a long time. He’s really been unsatisfied for a long time, which isn’t your fault.

So maybe he did get a little bit too excited. I think that first thing you need to do is find a polyamory friendly couples therapist and talk about first and foremost, the issue with the divorce, and you two being on completely separate pages, when it comes to how you thought your relationship was going because that is really a problem and that is going to be a source of anxiety and fear for a long time.

I don’t necessarily think that it’s the divorce that sort of hanging over your head like a guillotine. I think it’s the fact that when he did ask for divorce you were on such different pages, and that created understandably a heck of a lot of anxiety for you. Because essentially it came out of nowhere, so what you’re afraid of is not necessarily a divorce. It’s that it will come out of nowhere. So you have to kind of address that first and foremost with each other.

Work on your communication issues. Have that discussion about… not necessarily ground rules. And always question your rules. Is this about preventing emotion? Preventing loss? Does this rule actually address the situation that it’s meant to address? Thinking about what your ideal relationship looks like— how will he go out and meet people? Is that something where he is actually going to develop relationships with other people?

What will you do if he starts to have emotions for somebody else? You know all this stuff are things that you both need to have a talk about, and he needs to be able to do that without, you know, getting frustrated and upset and having a therapist there can sometimes help with that. Also, maybe he needs to come to a better understanding of how to give you a little bit of space when you need it. I understand that it’s frustrating. You know when you want to tell your partner — maybe what he wanted to tell you, was that “Hey this can actually work!”.

And he is actually relieved because he was afraid you would have to break up but then it’s like, oh no I can go out. I can do this and then I can still come home and my partner still here and I’m really happy about that. It’s cool. It’s great that he’s happy but you’ve just sat there for like seven hours and understandably been freaked out and you need some space, so you need to work out things like that together.

I would say it does get easier in terms of those kind of raw emotions and that fear. It definitely does get easier when you rebuild that trust together, but you have to be able to communicate well in terms of “this is my boundary” or allowing yourself to sit in the discomfort and see that he’s still there and he’s not going anywhere. But you have to address that ultimate issue of the fact that you didn’t know that divorce was coming because if you didn’t know, if you had no inkling, then that just tells you that something else could be around the corner without you knowing and that is what is going to freak you out the most.

Also, last but certainly not least, just as a reminder, you have to be able to support and take care of yourself and maybe you should see a therapist on your own about your willingness to sacrifice things. I’m not saying that no one should sacrifice anything in a relationship at all. I do think that sometimes you know we make compromises and that’s okay. But you can’t be the person that’s always sacrificing, always sacrificing because as much as you might think now, “Oh I’m absolutely fine with this. I just want to make my partner happy,” if you are not being satisfied or if it’s not mutual, resent will build.

And that isn’t necessarily about you being a bad person. I’m a sacrificer too. So I totally understand. And it can feel really hard because later on you’re like, “Shit I gave up all this stuff and I’ve been trying so hard and working so hard and nothing is coming of it”. And then you almost feel like, “Am I secretly manipulative and passive aggressive? Did I only just give this person or did I only just work this hard to get something in return?” It can be really hard. It can be really difficult.

There’s lots of fucked up ness about it. I do think people can be naturally giving and naturally sacrificing and I don’t think that just because you end up in a situation where someone isn’t giving you the support that you need, it doesn’t mean you gave with the expectation that they were going to return— I mean everyone should have that returned to them by someone that they care about. It’s not manipulative to give something in a relationship and expect that that person will also be there to support you and be sad when they’re not.

But that sacrifice thing is a doozy and you need to be able to be really introspective about, “I’m going to sacrifice this with the caveat and know that okay— at what point am I going to say I’m done giving. I am not being supported in this relationship— And this isn’t necessarily about how much I’ve given—“ although that will absolutely frustrate you. But, “I am not being supported in this relationship so I need to start giving to myself”. And that’s really important for you to remember and for you to work on.

Right, yeah. I think I’ve summarised all the points. I don’t think it’s completely lost. I do think that if your partner continues on this path of just doing whatever, not talking to you about it and also getting mad at you for wanting to have your space, that is really not a good sign and then you really need to think about whether this is going to work. Because I think if everything was perfect and you had a partner who got angry at you for putting down a boundary and saying that “I need space and I need time,” that’s just a bad sign overall.

And not a good sign. Even if he were like, “Okay, fine I’ll never sleep with anybody else. We’re closing this up”, the fact that he got mad when you said, “I need space” is a huge problem and so if that happens again, you definitely need to think about other options unfortunately.

I hope that helps and good luck.

Episode 57: Begging For Time

You’ve started in a new triad but you’re feeling like the third wheel and no one is spending time with you. What do you do?

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

Discussion Topic: What is a gift you’ve been given that’s made you cry?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 57 – Begging For Time

You’ve started in a new triad but you’re feeling like the third wheel and no one is spending time with you. What do you do? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website.

 

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:

Hello. I’m a 27 year old bisexual female who has been in a monogamous relationship for almost 2 years and we have been close for almost 5 years.

We both are Aquariuses and born the same year 2 days apart. We have been traveling homeless together for years and finally got together. We bonded right away because we are so much alike.

After almost 2 years, we recently met a girl who is really cute and down to earth. Me being bisexual, I want to have sex with a woman and the way I see it if I’m in a relationship with a man, if i have sex with a woman so does he.

So I met a girl who accepts both of us who we both like a lot but she had a boyfriend at the time. She is now single so recently we fooled around one time.

Two days later they decided they want her in our relationship. I instantly felt hurt. I agreed out of my love for him and out of curiosity because I have never been in a polyamorous relationship.

But I also told them I don’t know how it will go or how I will feel being that I’m very insecure and emotionally unpredictable. I believe that I have borderline personality disorder. So I constantly am either very mad, very sad, or very happy.

This has been going on for a month now and they are constantly in each-other’s space always making out or loving on each-other or finding ways to be alone but I am not getting the same love or affection. It feels that me and her are sharing him.

I am fine when we are all together or when me and him or me and her are together but when they are alone which is a lot of times they are constantly running to the store together or going to take a nap together or finding any way they can to be alone and it leaves me sitting in the living room alone.

Every time I feel very upset and often lash out or cry. I try to vocalise my feelings to them and somehow I’m selfish or I need to get over it. That I’m just insecure and need to calm down.

The last 3 days I’ve been asking him to have alone time with just me. Alone time with my partner that I have had for the last 2 years! And we work at home, so when she’s at work we are working.

The second she gets home he spends the entire time following her all around (we live at her house until we find our own place). So I’ve been trying to get him alone for 3 days. I’ve been on shark week for about 4 days so they have been having sex without me since I started. Also we switch off who sleeps at night together.

Day 1

I asked if we could have some time he said yes after work. She’s at work. Then once we got work done she requested he spends time with her. So he does…. I am left sitting alone. I got upset they told me I’m being irrational and need to stop. I cry. I’m still alone. We all go to bed together.

Day 2

She’s at work. I ask again. He says after work. So we work till 7 pm. We finally are done she asks him if he will go drive with her to a friends. He does. Again I’m on the back burner sitting here alone… He tells me we when he gets back we will. He promised me the 2nd day that we would. We never did. Me and him go to bed and I try to have sex. He lays there like a dead fish. No effort. I got upset and told him to at least pretend he is enjoying this. He said she’s sleeping. He doesn’t wanna be loud. He told me to get off of him. We went to bed.

Day 3

I ask to spend some time just us. He says yes. We finish working and fall asleep. When we wake up I ask again. He gets irritated and says I’m bothering him. At 2am they go to bed together, I asked them not to have sex until he keeps his promise. They get irritated but agree.

Today is Day 4.

Me and him slept in until she got home. I didn’t ask again today. Yesterday he mentioned in front of her that I’m bothering him about it and she chimed in that if I leave him alone he might try harder.  We woke up. He instantly went to the living room to give her attention didn’t even say good morning to me. She took a nap after work.

Hours later still nothing. I took a shower with him. We tried for a whole 2 minutes. He got soft. We got out of the shower and he said after we get out the shower but she’s sleeping. So she wakes up and she asks him to shower with her. They have sex even tho we have not still! And he tells me its ok. Don’t get mad. This is what you always do. So they fuck and its 3am and we still haven’t.

She’s now going to bed which means he wont want to. They’re talking about how we should try again in the shower and they don’t want a mess on the futon. I don’t know what to do. I feel like I’m being ran over. It was my relationship to begin with. She has made no effort towards me but is infatuated towards him.

Response:

So, okay, there’s a lot going on here.

Honestly, why are you with these people? I want to be delicate about this situation but it’s really really horrible. This is a really horrible situation. Really horrible. You’re being treated terribly here. I know that there is a kind of midway point between you know — people can overreact.

People can have very insecure, very instant emotional reactions to things especially in polyamory. Especially when there’s this attempted triad situation and it feels like there’s not a balance of time being spent between both people. But you don’t respond to that, by gaslighting somebody,

So it can be possible that two types of realities exist where, yes this person is having an intense emotional reaction that maybe they could learn to regulate themselves a little bit more and therefore not react so emotionally to the situation, because they are in a situation where they’re actually safe and they’re thinking that not safe while also — yes maybe we need to have a bit more of a talk about things and work things out.

You could be in a situation where this whole entire situation can be different and he could be spending equal amounts of time with you as you would with this person and you still get very upset. He still would be unjustified in saying that you’re irrational and that you just need to get over it.

That’s not an acceptable response, even if you are being irrational. Because people don’t regulate their nervous systems or learn to calm down or learn to trust or learn to feel safe with people who are basically telling them that they are being ridiculous. That’s not a response that helps anybody come to terms with a situation, and that may be how he feels and it may be frustrating for him, and that’s fine too. But in this situation in particular, you’re not overreacting at all.

You’re basically being ignored. You’re basically being completely rejected constantly and a certain amount of rejection will happen in any relationship. Most people are not going to always match up exactly when it comes to wanting to spend time together, when it comes to having sex. Two people aren’t always going to have matching identical desires so rejection is normal and will happen. That is fine.

However, when you’re constantly being rejected, not only for sexual things but also just for time spent with somebody that is going to impact you. And you’re going to be upset by that. And that is perfectly valid. And I think that the things that you need to ask yourself first and foremost — do you want to be with someone who you have to beg for them to spend time with you?

I feel this so hard, because I don’t know what kind of environment that you grew up in or what kind of situations you were around. But for me, I always felt like, if somebody wasn’t calling me names or beating me up, they were a good partner and that’s what a good partner was, and I always thought that anything that I wanted was an add on. Anything that I wanted wasn’t standard or acceptable.

And so I had, not this situation, but I had a similar situation where I was with somebody that I felt like every time I tried to ask them to spend time with me, or hang out with me or anything they would react with disgust, or frustration, or they just obviously didn’t want to spend any time with me. And because it wasn’t an overt rejection or an overt dumping, I put up with that for a very very long time.

Because I thought maybe if I just ask them right or hit them at the right time or if I— you know. I blamed myself for that reaction instead of realising, hey, do I want to be with somebody who isn’t enthused to spend time with me? No, I don’t. So, really think about that. You’re sitting there and even when it comes to sexual situations, you’re like “he could pretend to enjoy it”. Do you want someone who’s pretending? Do you really really want that?

Do you want someone who is with you out of some type of emotional manipulation or guilt, and who is pretending to like you? Do you really really want that? You don’t want to be around somebody who was only spending time with you because they promised, and all of the rules and situations like when you’re asking them not to have sex because he hasn’t had sex with you and he promised… while I totally get that, You’re not going to be able to fix his shitty behaviour by restricting what they do together.

And it’s not her responsibility or her fault that your boyfriend is behaving in this way, but she’s also not helping by basically contributing to your gaslighting by basically saying, “well maybe if you left him alone he would try harder” bullshit. Obviously, okay it’s fine for him to feel bothered by you if that’s how he feels. Okay he feels that way. But equally you need more time with him and if he doesn’t want to give you that, then he could also do something about that and he’s not.

Instead he’s telling you that you’re a irrational. Oh he keeps promising. Oh, we’ll do that we’ll spend time. This time we’ll spend time. He’s not being a grown up about it and going, “I don’t want to spend this time with you”. You know he could say that overtly to your face, instead he’s just pushing it off and pushing it off and then basically saying that you’re doing it wrong and that’s why he doesn’t want to spend time with you. Bullshit. Bullshit.

Ask yourself if these are the kind of people that you want to be in a relationship with? I know you’ve clicked with this person. You’ve been together for two years. Hopefully he hasn’t spent the entire relationship being this way but even if he hasn’t, he is now showing a side of himself that is really not great. If there’s any side of himself that’s basically going to

ignore you or treat you poorly then, do you really want to be with this person?

I think that there is an element and a part of, you know— you say you think you have borderline personality disorder. There probably is definitely things for you to work on in terms of feeling more secure, but this is like a perfect example of when I talked about how you can be the most secure person in the entire world, and have the best self esteem in the entire world. But if you’re with someone who’s treating you poorly, you’re still going to feel like crap. There’s no amount of self love, and, you know, self care that’s going to make up for being in a situation where someone is completely ignoring everything, and not treating you right which is what is happening here.

Of course there’s an element where you know you have some anxious attachment stuff going on, where you could work on that. But you need to work on that in an environment where you’re with someone who actually wants to be attached to you and someone who actually wants the best for you. You can’t fix that in a situation with people who don’t want the best for you or don’t care about you.

There’s a brilliant piece about— I don’t know if you’re familiar with nonviolent communication, but it’s a whole way of phrasing things that’s supposed to be really really helpful, and someone has pointed out how with nonviolent communication you assume that everyone who is communicating doesn’t mean any harm.

And how nonviolent communication can actually help abusive and horrible people because they do mean harm. And when you assume that they don’t mean harm, that is actually giving them a benefit of the doubt you shouldn’t give them. So you could work on all of these parts of yourself but you can’t do that in this environment. This is terrible, like I’m not saying he has to have sex with you every time you asked him to. I’m not saying yes to drop everything to spend time with you, but he needs to be better at communicating that he doesn’t want to and be more honest about that if that’s the case.

So then you can make a decision. “All right, do I really want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be around me?” This is such a bad situation. I feel so bad for you because you’re sitting here, begging for time for someone, and begging for attention from someone who is just like telling you not to get mad because he’s not meeting your needs and he’s also— this is like one of the most painful aspects that you can have in polyamory in my opinion and in my experience is seeing your partner give something to somebody else that you want from them that they refuse to give to you. That hurts so much.

That is so shit. And it’s so painful, and you’re sitting here watching him basically give time to her and give none to you. And that’s — ugh, don’t be in this situation. Honestly that’s my best advice. Leave, both of them. Both of them. This clearly isn’t a triad situation. Y ou didn’t even want to be in it to begin with. They just decided that this was a triad relationship, and no effort has been made on her part to form any kind of bond with you. So, just leave this situation.

It’s such a bad situation in so many ways that you deserve much much better than this. I feel so bad for you. This is horrible. You don’t deserver to be treated this way. This is absolutely terrible. These people— I’m sure that there are obviously positive sides to their personalities and, but this is a truly despicable way to treat somebody.

So to recap, ask yourself if you really want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you and who puts off being with you, who complains about being with you, who responds to your distress with annoyance and with gaslighting behaviour, basically telling you that you’re irrational. You can acknowledge and validate someone’s feelings in the moments even if they aren’t rational. If you feel like, “Oh, I think you’re gonna leave me”. Okay. You can, as a partner go, “It’s okay that you feel that way and I see that you feel that way. Here is why I’m not going to leave you. This is what I feel,” and, you know, that is a helpful response.

Saying you’re irrational and you’re just jealous and you’re just insecure and you just need to get over it. That is not a helpful response, regardless of whether or not someone is actually under threat of their partner leaving them. That’s not helpful regardless. Ask yourself if you want to be with someone who responds to your distress in that way, because that is rubbish.

And then, yeah. Last but not least, you deserve to be in a better situation than this, and you should absolutely leave because you didn’t want to be in a polyamorous relationship. This isn’t really a polyamorous relationship in my opinion. I’m not trying to be all no true Scotsman or anything but this isn’t— If you didn’t consent to it and you felt forced into it— It’s one thing to try polyamory because, and I think that you were open to the concept, but it just doesn’t sound like this was actually polyamory.

It just sounds like he wanted to be with this person, you know. Polyamory isn’t cheating with permission. That’s not what it is. This isn’t a situation that I would describe as polyamorous. This is highly unethical. And it’s hurting you. And you shouldn’t have to deal with that you should find someone who responds to your distress with empathy and compassion, who wants to spend time with you and who is excited to spend time with you. That’s what you deserve. You deserve someone who is ecstatic about spending time with you and you can find that and you will find that, but not with these two people.

So I hope that helps and good luck.

How to ask for reassurance

Much of the advice I have seen about dealing with jealousy in polyamorous relationships involves telling your partner so that you can communicate about it.

When I tell my long term partner I am jealous of him and his girlfriend it makes him very sad, and he begins to avoid me. We have had an open relationship for many years, but only late last year decided to try being poly[am] (he met another women he developed romantic feelings for).

How can I communicate to him that I am jealous and sometimes ask for his reassurance without making him feel bad? If this can’t be done, how else can I seek reassurance and/or learn to deal with my jealousy on my own? I don’t want my jealousy to be the cause of the end of our relationship.

I suppose it comes down to the reasons you’re feeling jealous and what in particular is sparking it. Obviously your partner is going to feel sad that you feel unhappy and feel pressure to end the other relationship to save you from pain, but a lot of times when people say they feel “jealous” this ends up covering a whole range of things that, in my opinion, aren’t actually jealousy.

You can address this by trying to break it down. What is it that you are actually feeling?

Wanting what you don’t have

To me, jealousy would be specifically that you want what he has — meaning that you want to have another relationship but don’t have one. If that is the case, I don’t know as that going to him for reassurance would actually be helpful. It’s sort of like if your partner had a stable, high paying job and you didn’t and you felt jealous of that. You’re allowed to feel things and may very well feel frustrated by that kind of thing, but going to them and saying, “I feel jealous of your luck or ability” might actually not help anything because there is nothing concrete they can really do.

If you wanted a relationship and were jealous of your partner having one in that sense, I would say that you should explore some of the reasons why you feel like you have to be in one, whether there are avenues in your life you may be able to receive more love and attention (even if it’s not romantic) and if you could see a therapist on your own to speak about some of what may be a justified unfairness. Especially if you have a partner who socially may find it easier to fit into many communities where you may be disadvantaged. Those are all things that would probably be more helpful than going to your partner and asking for reassurance.

Fear of being replaced

However, when most people say they “feel jealous” when they are trying polyamory, more often not, they are feeling a fear that their partner will leave them and they are seeking reassurance from their partner. I feel like, if your partner pulling away is exacerbating these feelings, then that might be what you’re actually feeling. Splitting hairs on the definition of “jealousy” aside, if this is what you’re feeling, assurance from your partner can help, but it may also help to identify and face your worst fears.

Unless you grew up in a different society, you were likely given very mono-centric messages growing up that endorse the concept of “the one”. We’re encouraged to see relationships, love and sex as a competitive sport we can only succeed at if we look a certain way or buy certain products. The style of monogamy that society wants us to live that puts romantic love above all else compounds the importance of this competition.

Even when we move away from monogamy, we can still feel like we can be “replaced” by a better model. And sometimes, in an effort to comfort us, people trying out polyamory can reflect these concepts through rules like, “I’ll only ever love anyone but you” or trying to reinforce the value of one relationship by devaluing others.

Recognising you grew up in a society that encourages you to compete with others and that it’s just not as simple as that is part of exposing that fear for what it is. Because, especially if you have gone through any kind trauma in your life, your brain will be wired for survival in such a way where it will encourage you to believe that if you behave in x, y, z ways, your partner will stay with you.

Facing what you can control

Mostly when people are jealous and scared in or out of polyamory, they’re afraid their partner will leave them for someone “better”. Polyamory makes this fear more pronounced because, well, your partner actually sleeping with or developing feelings for other people makes this look like a more likely scenario. But in reality, people fall in and out of love all of the time, regardless of whether they are polyam or not. People dump and leave people they have been with for decades, married to or had children with. There is very little you can do as an individual to completely prevent this.

It seems contradictory to throw your hands up and “give up” in a way and a lot of polyamory advice would encourage you to look inward and see your own inner value and recognise that you are unique and your partner has a good reason to be with you — and while I think there’s no harm in building your self esteem, the fact of the matter is this advice reinforces the idea that someone is with you because of an innate value you have and that, regardless of what it is, must be maintained to keep that person around.

It abates the fear you have that someone will leave you because you aren’t good enough. But instead of saying you’re good enough and great and why would anyone ever leave, maybe flip it on it’s head and ask yourself if you can really control whether or not someone leaves you? Obviously, you could choose to be a mean, cruel or just neglectful partner and someone will leave you — you can control your actions. But your actions aren’t always going to control other people’s emotions. Especially when they cannot always control their emotions.

Your partner can and should generally offer you reassurance that they love you especially on days when you’re feeling down, but also it helps to remind yourself that the responsibility to keep someone around doesn’t depend on what you have to offer them. You’re not a product for sale. You’re a person and you’re complex. And the last thing you want in your life if someone who refuses to see your complexity. When you remove the responsibility to entertain and keep someone around with your value from your shoulders, the anxiety you experience when you fear they may leave lessens.

In summary

So, to sum up, addressing jealousy greatly depends on what it is that you’re feeling. If you are actually craving another relationship and you’re frustrated your partner has one, finding a place to vent that frustration, focusing on the positive aspects of your relationship, and seeking some attention and love in other forms may help address that.

But if you’re feeling something else — such as the fear you will be replaced or your partner may stop loving you — realising what little control you have over that situation will probably help you stop fretting over how you can or can’t stop it. Even when it comes to coming to your partner for reassurance. While you need to be able to give your partner space and also not solely rely on him for all of your emotional reassurance, if he is the kind of person that wants someone who he doesn’t have to give any emotional reassurance to (which is really unrealistic) then you’re not going to be able to change that through your actions.

Figure out what specific things you’re afraid of and ask him to give reassurance based on that. Find other sources of comfort in your life where you can. Absolve yourself of the responsibility to keep people around. Accept that also he may feel sad about you being sad — and unless he’s threatened to leave you for that (in which case… not sure if you’d want to stay with someone who threatens that anyway), feeling sad may just be how he copes and it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to leave you because of it.

If therapy is accessible for you, seek out a polyamory friendly therapist to work on some of the emotional things you go through when you’re feeling at your lowest. Research a bit about nervous system regulation and attachment theory so you can identify things in your past that may be ringing alarm bells now. And last, but definitely not least, being okay with not being okay.

I wrote a bit more about this in detail when I wrote my polyamory introduction article and that might help, but overall it’s okay for you to feel anxious and scared. That doesn’t mean you can’t do polyamory and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.

I hope this helps and good luck.

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Getting over a partner’s sexual history

I am 34 years old, female and since more than 10 years I am in an open relationship with my boyfriend. We follow the concept of a “primary relationship” (so most of our daily life we live like a monogamous couple) but we are free to have external sexual contacts. Most of the time we meet people from our broader circle of friends and sometimes we meet people that have nothing to do with our hobbies or social surroundings.

Our relationship has a very solid ground, but (as you can imagine) the openness keeps us emotionally busy from time to time. Especially I am struggling with the classic feelings of jealousy, fear of loss, conflicts of consensus and so on. But I (and we) managed to conquer most of it and I am much more relaxed compared to our first years.

There are still many “construction sites” we need to work on, but there is not much which deeply makes me feel insecure when it comes to our future. Only this one thing keeps eating me from the inside (if that’s a correct English metaphor): the fact that my boyfriend had (and I assume also will have) a large number of female sex partners, I would say the double of what I experienced. And I am aware that neither will I turn him into a different person (like, a less sexual/attractive person) nor do I want to restrict his openness.

What makes me feel desperate is the simple fact that there are so many people out there in this city, who know how my boyfriend looks naked and what it feels to be in bed with him. It concerns me so much that I already evolved a type of paranoia. Sometimes I even look at people in the metro thinking “who knows, maybe even she was already in bed with him. Who even did not go to bed with him?”. It’s absurd, I know. And I am also aware that there is a notion of sex-negativity coming with it, that I can’t avoid.

Though I am exaggerating a bit, it is still true that many women surrounding us where in bed with him, and it is overwhelming me constantly (even though there is no current case), every time I think about it. It automatically leads to feelings like inferiority, helplessness and anger. It has the power to make me lose my ground, to feel insecure about my role or my place in our relationship until I am no longer able to feel why I am special or not in the place to be compared with others. It’s like I don’t know how to act or to think about that fact. I don’t find my position.

And so many times when I find out about “another name on the list” it just weakens me a lot and I would just like to feel indifferent about it. But the feeling is too strong that I feel beset, and that way too much people are too close to my life and my relationship. I think it’s not the problem that I cannot handle it at all, it just feels like it’s too much, that my patience is always challenged and that I don’t have enough “openness battery” to digest these informations.

In a way I feel so dumb and also “poor” being on his side, having to arrange myself with his quantity of intimate contacts. I think one big factor of the whole story is my strong strive for justice, balance and equality. In my head and heart it feels impossible to perceive our roles as equal when I have to face so many more people around us that have been sexually involved with him. In my ratio I know it has nothing to do with a number, but more with the way how we treat each other and so on. If I could make a wish I would like to have a recipe how to not take it personally that my boyfriend does what he does and how to feel unimpressed by all these women.

Long story short, until now I didn’t find any articles or podcasts referring to that problem. The question of not feeling devalued just because your partner has a large number of sexual contacts, that most of the time are part of our circle of friends. And let’s imagine the future will be different. Let’s imagine my partner will calm down a bit because of changing life circumstances (which truly is the current perspective), how can I arrange myself with his past?

How can I evolve a relaxed feeling about many people out there knowing my boyfriend in a sexual way? I simply don’t know how to find peace with this fact and I just want to be aware of it without getting deeply desperate every time I think about it for some minutes 🙁 I am talking to my therapist about it since some time and still we don’t find a way out. And also we are seeing a couple therapist since two months now and it’s great, he is great. But still, I was just asking him about my problem today and he didn’t have concrete ideas of how to help me out.

I hope I managed to make my point.. there is much more I could describe and tell you about, but I suppose in the core you know what I am talking about. Also it’s not that easy for me to express myself in English..

I would be really happy if you have some ideas or suggestions for me and maybe some reading advices. Because, being honest, until now your writings gave me the most satisfying perspectives. Because you seem to take everything into account, while being authentic and very close to the emotional reality of many people, without idealising anything. I like that 🙂

There are a variety of issues that are going on here. First, I want to say that it’s not necessarily completely unreasonable to feel insecure about the number of sexual partners your partner has had. There are a lot of cultural factors that would encourage you to feel this way in addition to some of the issues going on in your current relationship.

It’s worth remembering that, unless where you are located is wildly different, we are encouraged to see partnership as a competition where we consume to be “the best”. Even if you don’t logically believe this, you’ve likely had a lot of messages throughout your life telling you that you need to be X, Y, or Z in order to be attractive and gain a partner. For women in particular, there is a lot of pressure to somehow be both sexually experienced but not have sexual experience.

Even if you are a woman who doesn’t buy into those ideals, it can be hard to escape that pressure. Women are also encouraged to believe that their true value is what they can add to a man’s life and that their primary goal in life, beyond careers and anything else, is attracting and keeping a man. And that’s just for starters.

You have a relationship where you are a “primary” and while there may be many upsides to this way of doing this, it does mean that there is essentially an MVP slot in his life that only one person can fill. When you create this type of hierarchy, with it comes the fear that you will replaced by someone else and it does compound your fears.

When you’re coming from a monogamous-centric culture, you have to remember as well that it’s taught you that exclusivity is the ultimate sign of devotion and meaning. Given that, we can feel like we are only special with someone if they are exclusive to us in some way. I think this has a knock on effect when it comes to sexual partners.

Without a doubt there is an aspect of sex negativity and even some slut shaming that is impacting how you feel about the number of people he has slept with but it seems less motivated by shaming him or seeing him as disgusting and more of a concern about what it means for the meaningful times you have with each other.

Something that might be helpful is reminding yourself of your own experiences. It doesn’t take away from your experience with your partner when you have sex with other people. He doesn’t mean less when you have other experiences. And it might be helpful to remind yourself of that. I wrote a polyamory intro article that might help you figure out how to reframe your fears and find an anchor that can bring you back when you’re afraid.

It might also be helpful for you to remember that there is an aspect of your brain that is trying to prevent you from hurting or feeling pain. Especially when you are out and about and your brain decides to go into a bit of a spiral wondering about who he has or hasn’t slept with. While I can’t say what’s true for everyone’s anxiety, I can say that my anxiety is usually trying to help in a sort of weird backwards way. It might be that your brain thinks worrying about this is going to change something. It’s less about stopping yourself from having these thoughts or feelings and more about recognising what their goal is and realising that worrying about this isn’t going to change anything.

In addition to working with your own personal therapist about these issues, I think what might be helpful for you is to reframe your fears and think about them within the context of the world you’re living in, the pressures you might be facing, and the culture you’re around. Your partner could also provide you some reassurance about how important you are to them and what your relationship means.

Lastly, give yourself a bit of a break, especially since it doesn’t sound like you’re using these emotions as a reason to control your partner’s behaviour. You’re aware it’s an issue and you’re trying to work on it. That’s the best you can do. Having these feelings doesn’t mean you’re a bad person and it’ll be harder to work through these feelings if you’re punishing yourself for having them.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Comments from the therapist

A reframe that occurred to me: Look how desirable my partner is! I must be hot stuff for him to choose me as his primary!
I focus on the power of being consciously chosen by partners as way to help soothe anxiety with some of my clients. I wonder if her thoughts tend towards comparing herself to these other partners and thinking she’s lacking, rather than thinking how magical she must be for him to prioritize her.

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