So someone sent me this question on Instagram, and I am so excited to respond to it here. I’ve been wanting to start some type of advice column for yeeeeears but I’ve always hesitated, because something about it felt really…arrogant, you know?
Yet here we are! I lay no claim to any credentials nor any superior knowledge whatsoever. What I do have, however, is a vast and colourful dating history, a heartfelt desire to heal and love well (which has translated into much research and therapy), and a network of weird, brave friends who will hopefully contribute their voices here as well.
If you’d like to send a question – I’d love to respond to it! Find my details in the contact section.
I have so many things going through my head right now with polyamory. We opened our marriage to polyamory just over a year now, and overall it’s been working great; I really resonate with the philosophy of it and the idea of loving who you want to love, not feeling like you’re trapped, or that you’re not allowed to love more than one person. But I’m having so much trouble connecting, just finding people who understand what polyamory means, and actually looking for connection – they always think that it’s something to do with sex, and multiple sexual partners.
I have a husband and a second partner, my boyfriend. And I get very protective over my boyfriend, but not with my husband having other partners. I just found some items of an ex-girlfriend at my boyfriend’s house, and I felt so uncomfortable. I thought he was maybe cheating on me, but he explained in detail why his ex’s belongings were still there, and I don’t think he was lying at all. But the rage I felt was something else. I thought I would never get jealous of any partners because I’m absolutely fine with my husband having partners, so I’m a bit shocked about my reaction. The amount of feelings and emotions that this person triggers in me, it’s absolutely insane – I never thought I was going to go through the things that I am going through right now, because I was in a very stable marriage: we’ve been together for nearly ten years, everything was very set…and now this person comes and he came completely out of nowhere, and we really connected…
And I would love to have somebody to talk to about this, because I don’t have many friends who understand the concept of polyamory.
Thank you so much for writing to me – I feel so honoured that you reached out. A lot of what you wrote really reminded me of my own experiences, and of others I know who are braving the world of non-monogamy too. I’m going to answer from my own life lessons and experiences, but I know that there are others out there who also have a lot to contribute, for instance people who were already married (which I have never been) and who then opened their relationship – so this is an invitation to everyone out there who resonates with the letter writer: please share your experiences in the comment section!
First of all: there’s nothing wrong with you.
If you’re judging your own feelings, or feeling ashamed of your reaction, please don’t. Your emotions are valid, they’re always valid, however illogical they might seem to you. We have ideas of fairness ingrained within us, for instance the idea that we shouldn’t feel jealous or threatened when our partners have other partners if we ourselves have multiple partners. But just because your heart agrees with the concept of polyamory doesn’t mean that you’re exempt from feeling insecure or triggered. So start by lovingly holding your own vulnerable heart close, and accepting every feeling as a valid part of you.
There are many reasons why you might feel triggered about your boyfriend potentially having other partners, yet not be anxious about your husband seeing other people: You and your husband have been married for a long time. You’ve built trust and safety with each other over time, you’ve settled into a rhythm, you most likely communicate quite well. You know he’s not just going to leave you when the next interesting person appears.
And also, quite simply, every relationship has its own dynamic. While we can definitely transfer the skills we’ve acquired from one relationship to another, there is a different kind of energy between any two people. Different wounds will be triggered, or lessons we thought we’d learned long ago might be tested in new ways.
This is a whole new human being you’re getting to know; and we are never fully prepared, however mature we thought we were, for the upheaval that a new relationship brings.
Because falling in love: that’s one of the most intense experiences we get to have on this earth (at least for most people). You’ve been married a long time and you’ve likely settled into what Page Turner calls “old relationship energy” with your husband, which is that wonderful feeling of being at home with somebody, of looking fondly at their quirks and habits and feeling known in return.
In comparison, what is often described as New Relationship Energy (NRE) – that initial feeling of intensity and longing: that’s a LOT. On a physical level, there are heightened levels of adrenaline, oxytocin, and dopamine coursing through your system, which make you crave being with this person all the time. On an emotional level, everything feels achingly poignant.
And so in my experience, however non-monogamous my heart and intentions might be, at the start of a new relationship my entire body wants to be monogamous with that person. I want them to be ALL MINE.
Imagining this person being with someone else can feel like actual death.
And let me repeat myself: It’s okay to feel like this. Discomfort is not necessarily a sign that something is terribly wrong, and intense emotions are part of life.
So these are some of the possible explanations for why you’re having these feelings. You could still be in the NRE phase with your new partner, you’re not yet securely attached, your dynamic is simply different than with your husband, and you may have forgotten how intense those initial feelings can get. It could also be that different insecurities are being triggered for you with your boyfriend, things you haven’t had to deal with or investigate for a long time.
Here’s what I would do (and have done) with these feelings: I would find myself a quiet spot (or go for a long walk, if that’s available) and take a few deep breaths. I’d put my hand on my heart and acknowledge my courage, because this is courageous work. I would extend love to myself, to my heart, to my body, to my insecurities and wounds and splendid wholeness. I would tell myself that everything I feel is valid. I would sit and breathe, and probably cry, and NOT try to find a solution immediately. And I would do this frequently, as often as these feelings come up, reminding myself again and again that I am safe with me.
Because the most important thing is to cultivate safety within yourself. When your heart can really trust that it will be seen and heard by you, then much of that intense panic can slowly dissipate. And then it becomes easier to feel safe around other people too. And when the fear comes up again – remind your heart again that she is safe.
And then you might think of actions to take. Perhaps the action will simply be to share with your partners how you’re feeling. Try to do this from a place of openness, without making them responsible for ‘fixing’ things; do it in the spirit of creating more intimacy, not imposing more rules.
But you might also ask your boyfriend to adjust his behaviour, if that feels right for you. For instance, you might ask him to ‘over-communicate’ for a while, telling you beforehand about situations you might find triggering. You might ask him to reassure you of his love more often. You might ask him to ease gently into non-monogamy. However, be prepared with any request you make for his answer to possibly be “no”. Be prepared to negotiate, and to have this conversation many times as the situation and your needs change.
You don’t have to always power through your discomfort.
You don’t have to grit your teeth and force yourself to be cool when you’re simply not feeling cool. Being polyamorous doesn’t mean you stop being scared and vulnerable, and you’re allowed to be those things. Over time you’ll learn the balance: when it’s time to push yourself past your comfort zone, and when it’s time to take a breath and say “ouch, can we hold back for a moment?” And you will achieve this balance by being very patient and compassionate with yourself.
Know that you are busy with the most beautiful and worthwhile work you will ever do: you’re grappling with what it means to be human, to love, to exist. The complexities, aches, and joys of human relationships – this is where the magic happens.
I am sending you all my support and empathy. You are not alone on this journey.