Episode 132 - Mind Reading

If you feel too uncomfortable to ask for what you want from your partner then holding resentment towards them for not meeting your needs may not be fair.

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

Episode 132 - Mind Reading

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Podcast transcript

Any advice on how to deal/cope with a partner's NRE while dealing with your own major life upheaval? Around the time my domestic partner (she/her) started seeing her boyfriend, I found out some extremely traumatic information about sexual abuse in my childhood.

While I was in the throes of dealing with losing family members, comforting my child self, and reconciling this information with the black voids of my memory, my domestic partner was reeling from intense NRE and falling in love. I felt a little abandoned by her and like I didn't have the right to ask for comfort or take up space with my intense/heavy issues while she was in such a happy space.

We've had issues in the past where my emotions are very big and a little hard for her to deal with. A part of me feels resentful about these parallels, but I understand NRE and the way it can affect your brain, so I have been trying to be very empathetic and understanding. My partner is also empathetic with her words, but she has a hard time showing affection the way I need it based on her own trauma and background.

To make things a little more complicated, she recently had a breakup with this person because she found out he had lied and misled her. They are working it out, but I cannot stand this man (I am actively trying to work through this as it's not my business, but it's tough!) and I have so much built up resentment for their relationship at this point.

My partner and I also majorly struggle with sexual intimacy, which we are seeking a couples counsellor for, but this just creates another unstable avenue for my anxiety to breed fears. When they are together, they look and act like a straight couple which grants them ease and privilege's which we don't experience together since we both read as women in the world (we've faced harassment and hardships because of this).

I am seeking individual therapy and we are seeking couples/sex counselling together, but I value your advice so much that I felt I needed to turn to my community for some help. Thank you for reading!

The audiobook of The Anxious Person's Guide to Non-Monogamy is available in the UK and is coming out in the US on May 28th!


So the thing that I'm wondering first and foremost is when you say that you felt like you didn't have the right to ask for comfort or take up space with your intense/heavy issues and you're also talking about your partner having a problem dealing with your big emotions — And I think that there's two things with that.

The first thing is that I wonder if — what exactly you mean by your partner “dealing with your emotions, because what are your expectations from your partner about your feelings? And I wonder about this because sometimes I feel like when people talk about their partner “dealing with their emotions”, it really depends on what that means. Right?

So some people like to process their emotions with other people. Some people like to have long drawn out discussions about things. For other people that doesn't work and other people don't need to do that with other people. And I've dealt with a lot of podcasts and columns where people feel like their partner isn't emotionally supportive, but it's just that their partner doesn't process their emotions in the exact same way.

So they feel really challenged when they're with a partner who is like a verbal processor versus someone who processes things more in their head. And there's also the element of emotional reactivity. Right? Okay. There's a wonderful quote which says “There is a space and that space is our power to choose our response in our response lies our growth and our freedom”.

It's been my experience in queer communities, and in a lot of communities, that people are encouraged to believe that this space doesn't exist, and that the biggest kind of response that you have to a stimulus sometimes means that you care more, and that we have no control over our feelings and things like this. And I think that this is encouraged in a lot of communities. And I actually very much disagree with it.

And this concept that I actually have control — that I actually you know, am a participant in my response, which is not really something that I think a lot of people in queer communities, at least the ones that I've been in — really like. There's kind of an unwillingness to engage with the idea that you can actually control your own response.

It takes practice and it's not easy. But the reason why I bring this up is because sometimes when people say “my partner struggles to deal with my emotions”, what they mean is that they have these massive sort of anxiety reactions — and I know that because I was very much the same. I would go into fight or flight. I'd have these massive anxiety reactions to things and that would involve me being super physically upset and I had partners in the past who responded that by shutting down.

Their physiological nervous system response to that was freeze and mine was flight. So I wonder if this is a situation where when you say your partner struggles to deal with your big emotions— is that the response? What are you expecting your partner to do? What is their role there?

Is your partner your only form of emotional support? Is your partner the only person that is having to “deal with these emotional responses” or do you have other forms of emotional support? It may be that you're not necessarily wrong for having emotional support needs, but that your partner isn't necessarily someone who — and it doesn't have to be because of trauma.

People are different, and sometimes people just aren't like I say this as you know, an autistic person who has in the past really struggled with how to comfort people. And I have put forward the boundary to my friends that I'm not someone who's good at talking someone down, for example from suicide. I'm not good at that. I don't do that well. That's not in my skill set. And that's not— you know, there are connections there with people using that as a means to manipulate me, of course, but also maybe it's just not within my wheelhouse and that's okay.

And it doesn't necessarily have to be that she's— I kind of want to reframe this concept that she's unable to support you because of her trauma. Like maybe she just isn't like — you have different needs and she isn't — that's just not how she supports people. That's not what she does. That's not her method of support.

And that's okay, like you're not invalid for, you know, wanting this type of support and you know, it's the same thing where like, you know, I live in Sweden now, and a lot of people make the stereotype that Swedish people are unfriendly and cold and I couldn't disagree more. The concept of letting people have their social privacy is actually something which I really love, and a lot of people interpret that as rudeness and it's not — to them, like the overbearing kind of like super friendly American stuff, which I dislike very much is not friendly to them.

And it's not necessarily that the American way of being overly friendly and overly chatty is wrong, but it's also that like the Swedish way of being more reserved and respecting other people's privacy is wrong either. So it's just different ways of doing things. And it doesn't always have to be that someone's traumatised and can't — you know what I mean?

Like, I really that's another thing that is like really, really endemic in queer communities is the sort of I feel like constant self-identification with trauma in a way that I feel like is really not helpful in a way that I feel like just, you know, not to be a jock and make a sports analogy, but like, I think that it's useful in this case, like if you if I start off like — I do strength training, I do strongman training, I do a lot of sporty stuff. And maybe you're not a sporty person, that's fine.

But you never start off an exercise or you know if you can imagine — it doesn't even matter. What the sport is ice skating, like no one starts off that going, “I can't do it”, or “I'm going to fail”. You have to start off believing in yourself. The story that you tell yourself is incredibly important. And I just think sometimes in the queer community, like I understand that we're all dealing with stuff and we're healing and everything like that, but to define ourselves so much all the time as like traumatised, and broken and damaged goods and all this stuff. I just think that it's so unhelpful.

And it spells out, spells out things — you know it dooms us before even began. So those are the two things that I think are worth pointing out first is like, in what way are you expecting your partner to “deal with your emotions”? What is your expectation of her? Have you asked for that? Because that's another big thing in your letter. You say you don't have the right to ask for comfort and take up space and at the end of the day, all due respect, nobody is a mind reader. And you have to ask for what you want.

And this whole concept like gets carried over from monogamy and gets carried over — this idea that your partner should be able to intuit what you want, and intuit what you need is unrealistic. And I'm not saying that that's what you're saying. But you literally say that you feel like you don't have the right to ask which suggests that you're not asking for what you need, and then you feel abandoned. So you're ultimately self sabotaging yourself here and that's not really her fault. So you need to ask for what it is that you need. You need to be clear about what your expectations are for her.

Are you are you expecting something that you're not asking and then being disappointed when you don't get it? And also, are you comfortable with the fact that maybe what you want from her is just not something that she can give? And maybe you need to diversify your emotional support sources or maybe you're not compatible because you need a partner that is more verbally supportive, or however like different people love in different ways.

And sometimes as much as two people can care and love for one another, if they if they don't show love in the same ways or one person doesn't show love in the way that they the other person needs then you're just incompatible and that's not a fault of anybody. And it's not because of trauma. It's just because people are you know, people are different.

The thing that I want to address here — because if I were your partner, I would actually be really upset by what you said. I respect the fact and I think that your partner also respects the fact that when you to go out together, you face a specific set of obstacles that she doesn't face when she's with her other partner. However, I'm going to assume that she's bisexual or queer or identifies in that way, in some ways.

And I can say that as a bisexual person it is incredibly frustrating for people to see me as “straight”. And that is something that I can't control and I've accepted that I can't control that. But the assumption that my life is hunky dory because someone sees me as straight is actually quite frustrating. And I would encourage you to actually do the research on the experiences of bisexual women, both within the queer community and within the straight community.

Because you will find actually that bisexual women have specific struggles that gay women don't face because we're not accepted — and I'm not even a woman but I'm read as a woman — But bisexuals in general are often not accepted in either community and face a lot of really difficult personal issues. Have you ever talked to her about how she feels about being read as straight? Have you ever had that discussion with her? Like you have this seemingly jealousy about this situation where you just kind of are assuming that there is there is some you know — yeah, she doesn't face the same things when she goes out with her other partner as you face.

That doesn't mean that everything is fine. That doesn't mean misogyny doesn't exist. That doesn't mean she doesn't face specific issues in people viewing her as straight. And so I think that that is worth picking apart and really thinking about a little bit more because she doesn't act like a straight person. And I would be actually quite furious with someone who said that, like I would be quite upset and I would probably consider dumping a person who told me that I was acting “straight”.

Because I don't act straight. I'm queer. And that's that and it's very uncool to kind of almost erase your identity in such a way like I get why you feel the way you feel. And I'm not saying that it's invalid, because definitely like, full on 100% I acknowledge that even though I'm non-binary and even though all this stuff is true about me, if I go out with a partner who is read as a man, I'm read as a woman, there are issues that we do not face. 110% I know that but that does not mean that I'm “acting straight”.

And that is a whole can of worms there. So I do think that you need to really think about that perception that you have because it's very much it feels a little rooted and biphobia, like not gonna lie.

The other aspect of the situation that I want to address is like why do you know so much about her relationship with this guy? Like maybe you need to put a lid on that a little bit. You don't need to know details like obviously if she's upset and there's been, like betrayal and the relationship she's not going to be like, “I’m crying for no reason”. Like she's going to talk about why she's upset with you (Not upset with you but upset with you).

But you don't necessarily need to know details about the relationship. So maybe and that's fine to ask for. It'd be like “Hey, I need a little bit of space like I'm going through my own issues around this and can you just like not give me many details about this situation? Like I don't need to know the details”. You know, she could have easily been like “Yeah, there's some issue with my other relationship and I'm upset about it”. ike doesn't need to go into details. Don't need to go into details.

And again, this is about emotional support and processing and how people process things and YouTube shouldn't be your only forms of emotional support. And there should be other ways that that she can process it. You don't have to be the person she processes that with.

And then last but not least, I think to kind of sum up, actually, I definitely am sympathetic to what you're going through, especially as someone who has been through sexual abuse and dealt with that whole weird aspect of like memory and dealing with family members and all of that kind of stuff. I think that though, the issue here mainly is that you need to define what your expectations are and what you want from your partner in terms of what does it mean to deal with your feelings?

What does it mean to emotionally support you? What are you expecting? What do you want? Can you accept the fact that maybe she is not a person who can give that to you for whatever reason, whether it's trauma whether it's just that she's just a different person, and that's not within her personality type.

Can you accept that? Can you meet her where she is at in terms of how she can emotionally support you? Can you diversify your emotional support sources so that you're not reliant on her for this type of emotional support and therefore you don't feel so much resentment and then as well can you like ask directly for what you want? And again, like I know, this is scary.

But when it comes down to it, there's the three C's confront, consent or cut off. So either you confront the situation when you aren't getting what you need and ask for it directly. You can consent to the situation and that is kind of what you're doing a little bit when you don't ask for what you want. You kind of consent to a situation where you don't get what you want, and then that's where the resentment comes from.

That's where the anger comes from. And then last but not least cut off. And I'm not saying you have to cut off the situation but that is kind of like another option, which is like, okay, you ask for what you want. You consent to the situation where you're not getting what you want, or you decide it's not worth asking or maybe you've asked and you're still not getting it and then that's the end of that situation.

So like those are the options. If you are going to continue to be in a relationship where you're not asking directly for what you want, and it's unclear what the expectations are, then it's going to be difficult for your partner to actually meet those needs, let alone even tell you whether or not they can meet them. So I think that that is the main thing here is based off of like what you've written in terms of not feeling like you can ask for what you want.

That is something that you're gonna have to kind of cope with. And again, it's about building trust. It is scary to ask for what you want. I totally have been there. I know it's difficult, but ultimately you have to do that. If you want to get your needs met. It would be great if everyone could read each other's minds, but we can't read each other's minds.

And there's so much especially in relationships — I will say this, like I'm read as a woman and there's a kind of social pressure within women to kind of intuit shit. And that's that's been one of the many, many things where I felt like, this is not me. This is not how I do things. This is not. I don't — I'm not intuitive, and I've never been intuitive and whether that's due to the ‘tism, or it's something else like I'm just not intuitive and it actually — I actually had a situation the other day where someone who was my friend posted a status and it sounded like a question.

So I answered it. And then they commented and then I went to check to see what they said and I couldn't see the post anymore. And then they made a general post saying something like “I don't like unsolicited advice”. And I was like, “If this is about me, like I wasn't trying to give you unsolicited advice, man, I was just answering the question, but like, I'm sorry”.

And, and it ended up that like they were like, “Well, I think it's clear” and I'm like, “Well, it's not clear because if it was clear, then I wouldn't be commenting and being like if like clearly” but I ended up unfriending them because ultimately I feel like if I commit any kind of boundary violation or if I do anything wrong if I make a mistake, I would like someone to be honest with me about it. I want someone to tell me about it.

And I'm sure that you kind of — if you think about it, if your partner is dealing with emotions, and dealing with stuff, you don't want your partner to not ask for help because they don't feel like they have the right to. So like ultimately I want someone who even as a friend who is going to say “Hey, you've hurt my feelings” or “This felt like advice. It wasn't what I wanted”. I would have just deleted the comment. It's 100%fine, but I need to know that it's not cool in my opinion.

And it's not the type of friendship I want, in my opinion where someone just hides the status from me and then makes a general post that I'm not sure — like I want someone to be like, “Hey, you've hurt me”. Give me the opportunity to say I'm sorry give me the opportunity to prepare give me an opportunity to learn and if you never give me that opportunity because you can't handle conflict or whatever then I don't think that we'll be good friends because I need that straightforwardness.

I need that honesty because in my experience, trying to discern and intuit shit just doesn't work for me doesn't work for me. Like yeah, I could have read that status and then like, “oh, I messed up. I won't do that again”. But I prefer things to be extremely straightforward and extremely honest. And I prefer if someone — if I cross a line or if I do something that upsets someone, I prefer that they tell me directly rather than do that kind of thing.

So yeah, I think if you ask for what you want, if you figure out what it is that emotional support means ask for it and talk about that with each other then I think that would help and, you know, to sum up the other bits again, I think you really need to think of and have a discussion with her about the challenges she faces as a bisexual woman, maybe you're bisexual too. Maybe I've got this completely wrong. And I apologise if that's the case. Maybe you do know about the stuff that she's going through. I've just made a massive assumption.

But I think just my vibe from — I don't tend to see them bisexual people accuse other bisexual people of acting like a straight couple and I think that that in and of itself is is really not… I don't like that. Personally, I don't like it and I don't know how your partner feels. I would be really upset with someone who said that. That's how I feel. And then I think also, last but not least, like maybe ask for a little bit less detail about this situation.

That's okay. If you don't like your metamour. It's totally cool. If you don't want to hear about it. You don't have to hear about it. She can find some other people to emotionally support her through it. She can tell you if like she's going through some difficulty but you don't need to know the details especially if the details are not helping you right now.

So yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

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