Anchors are not trust

I am a 28 year old female and I've been dating my boyfriend for more than 3 years. When we met, he was about to move to another country in months, but we still started dating and fell in love with each other very quickly and in a very intense way. I was not expecting this at the time, I was enjoying being single and I was dating multiple people and I was already interested in having non-monogamous relationships.

So, about 1 month into the relationship he moved away and we kept talking all the time and continued to develop our relationship. I told him I did not want to stop seeing other people, so we agreed to some boundaries. However I think he didn't feel strong about having an open relationship (we agreed on being emotionally exclusive and I also never slept with anyone else, I was very focused on him and did not have any Interesse for other people at that time, but I wanted to nurture other platonic and emotional connections I had).

The problem was that I think that not only having an open relationship bothered him, but also some other flings I had prior we started dating really bothered him, even though he was not mature enough to acknowledge those feelings. I feel guilty because I made him be in this situation, even though he is an adult and he agreed, I knew in my heart that that wasn't exactly what he wanted.

We had really good experiences dating other people together right before the pandemic started and I thought he was getting more comfortable. But when the pandemic hit, we basically moved in together, which I think was a rushed decision and we were not ready for it, but no one knew how long that would last. So, I ended up moving to the same continent as him (still different countries), but with many months into lockdown, I ended up spending several months with him at his place. We were both very vulnerable. I got very depressed during this time and I started taking antidepressants.

All the stress of the pandemic, the excess of time we spend together having our relationship not being mature enough, the stress of both of us working from home with little space for alone time, we built up a lot of frustration towards each other. Besides, the depression and the meds I was taking (still am) affected a lot my libido and he got very insecure with my decreasing interest in sex.

We started couple therapy at the end of last year, to try to deal with all the issues we had. We both felt very emotionally dependent on each other and I couldn't imagine my life without him, since I had no family and friends where I was living, I felt very vulnerable and even the thought of breaking up was unbearable.

I do think we made a lot of improvement on many of the issues we had since we started therapy. For many months, he has been bringing up the matter of having an open relationship again, this time because he has realized he wants to explore himself sexually, which initially made me feel he was blaming me for not engaging too much in sex with him. After lots of conversations, I understood his side and started accepting the idea. As I said, I also felt guilty for "forcing" him into an open relationship in the beginning knowing it was probably what he wanted, so I felt compelled to accept his wishes.

I've done a lot of work on myself since we decided to open the relationship a few months ago. It took me a lot of energy to accept when he met someone for the first time. I felt extremely jealous, but he also put a lot of effort in reassuring me, so I continued to insist. I read books, I listened to loads of podcasts, talked to friends that had similar experiences, and found my anchor for wanting the non-monogamous relationship again, which I already knew I had - which is being able to feel free and open with people I meet, So, i started to feel more positive about our relationship in general, specially because I felt we were getting better in other aspects as well.

I had many conversations about our boundaries. For him, one boundary was sex, i could develop emotional connection, kiss, and have other phisical contact with other people, but sex was still of the table. I was fine with this boundary, i had no intention of having sex with other people and i know that he still feels emasculated and threatened by other experiences I had in the past. I think he is still very insecure when it comes to sex, he compares our sex with all other experiences I told him I had before, to the point that I am afraid to tell him anything because I kind of expect he will use it somehow against me. But I continue to be honest with him whenever he asks, but he doesn't seem to feel reassured that I desire him, I feel it's never enough. aHe tells me he would want me to feel as much desire for him as he thinks I had for other people. This is an ongoing issue that never gets resolved.

So, last week I went out with friends to a party. I met a person that I had met previously through friends in common and we clicked. I felt very attracted towards them, we kissed, I felt alive, free, which is the main reason I've always been interested in having an open relationship in the first place. I also felt a lot of desire towards this person, I wanted to have sex with them, but I didn't because os the stabilished boundary.

After the situation I started talking with my boyfriend about what happened. I told him not only that I had this experience, but I also that it changed how I felt about wanting to have sex with other people, that I felt desire for this other person. He was not upset about what happened but was very upset about how I felt. He brought up again how he feels emasculated and not desired enough by me. I tried to reassure him, but I don't think it's enough and I feel incapable of making him feel the way he wants to, especially because I feel so pressured by him to do so.

So that's where we are, he even said he is considering breaking up with me, that he doesn't feel it makes sense for him anymore. I've done a lot of work on myself, so i don't feel so emotionally dependent anymore, so i started also considering the idea of breaking up. It still breaks my heart to abandon all our history and future, but I am exhausted from trying to convince him how much I appreciate him. I feel judged by him, because he says he doesn't understand how I can want to have sex with someone I barely know, as if I don't value sex the same way he does. Nevertheless, the experience with this other person really opened my eyes for so much of my life I feel I am missing out, not because I am in a relationship, but because I put so much energy in the relationship, energy that I could be using for many other things. I don't intend to pursue anything with this other person for now, but I expect to have feelings in case we see each other again.

The big undercurrent throughout this relationship is a lack of trust in one another. You don’t trust that he’s capable of making a decision to engage in an open relationship and accept the consequences of that decision and feel responsible for the choices he makes. He, in turn, does not trust that you are attracted to him when you say you are.

Anchors are important in non-monogamy because they can help you deal with the natural parts of having anxiety when you’re trying a new relationship style in a society that has given you no cultural scripts for it. But an anchor cannot function as trust in your partner. No relationship, regardless of the style, can function without basic trust. You have to believe he is capable of making his own decisions and, while you may occasionally have anxiety about it, operating as if you are responsible for it is another thing. And he has to believe you’re attracted to him. He may be uncomfortable when he compares himself to people in your past, but he doesn’t have to make it your responsibility to solve that feeling.

Because this has been the thread throughout your relationship, I think some of the other problems you had that could have been worked through (e.g. him taking your libido drop personally, his “boundary” about you not having sex with others) ended up just further driving this wedge between the two of you. Furthermore, it sounds like the work you’re doing on yourself is more along the lines of trying to make yourself more “independent” and less “emotionally dependent” seems like you were actually avoiding intimacy and vulnerability. And… it makes sense you would avoid it especially if when you do tell your partner about things, he uses them to compare himself to other people.

Part of me wonders if the exhilaration you’re feeling with this new relationship isn’t necessarily because it’s about non-monogamy, but because it’s a new connection that’s not laden with all of these expectations and feelings. And you’d don’t feel responsible for this person… yet. A history together is not a good enough reason to stay together and you shouldn’t get stuck in a sunk cost fallacy here. The same part of you that takes responsibility for his emotions feels like the same part that is holding this concept of “spent energy” against you.

The commonality between both of these is wanting control. It makes sense to want control when you feel anxious and perhaps you came from a background where you felt responsible for other people’s feelings or you made yourself feel responsible as a way to give yourself some hope. In a lot of situations where you are a child and are stuck in relationships that you can’t leave because you are a child and you need them, convincing yourself that you have control over others helps you cope mentally with that situation. If you believe that getting straight As will make your parents argue less… that’s a lot of weight off of your shoulders. There is some reason you feel like you need to have complete control over anything and the need to do that is causing more problems.

You don’t need to have complete control over everything and the truth is you can’t have complete control over anything. The energy you’ve spent on this relationship is spent and the only thing you can change now is how you feel about it. I think it might be worth starting anew and, instead of trying to work on “emotional dependance”, instead focus on you taking responsibility for other people’s feelings and trying to control these outcomes. The idea that you are responsible for his decision to engage in an open relationship and are “paying the price” because he is struggling with the concept of you being attracted to someone else is not an accurate reflection of what’s going on.

It doesn’t sound like non-monogamy is something he wants to do and it sounds like it is something you want to do. I would focus on this new relationship and work on what you take responsibility for.

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