Anxiety can often become so overwhelming that you begin thinking non-monogamy just isn’t for you.
That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.
Discussion Topic: What is your ideal living situation? With or without partners? How would you organise your space?
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I identify as queer and genderfluid, am in my thirties and recently married my partner. They are from the UK, we live in Berlin and think about having a child. So this has been a practical decision mostly. However, this process was also very emotional. We had a really lovely weekend celebrating with many different people in our lives. I felt really out and open and vulnerable doing this. They are the first person my mum met.
I came out as queer when I was 16 and my mothers reaction was just generally horrible. So horrible in fact I did not involve her in my life beyond talking about weather, work and studies. I have been living non-monogamous since I am 19 and started being part of queer, kinky and sex-positive spaces in my 20s. This was a very important part of my life, discovering the possibilities of queer bonds, love and intimacy. Last year, I was finally able to start therapy and starting to deal with childhood trauma – mostly emotional neglect and abuse from my mum.
This is a very intense process, bringing up a lot and I come to see more and more how panic attacks, dysfunctional behaviour and self harm affect me and my intimate relationships. I moved in with my partner last year – we have separate rooms and live together with another fab roomie – but I feel like the closeness can be a really big strain on us when I start spiralling again. In addition, they started a relationship with another person right after our wedding – for the first time since our relationship began.
I am really not coping well with this situation, in the first couple of weeks after they told me I broke down a lot and hurt myself. They are really loving and caring, showing me how much they love me and that in fact they want to include me, want me to get to know their lover and build a connection of my own. A really loving and great base to built a non-mongamous relationship on.
However, I constantly feel triggered, I am dealing with jealousy I seldomly have felt in my poly[am]-past before and I am really wondering if for the sake of my mental health I need to open myself up to the possibility that I might not want to live non-monogamous right now. That would mean though, that our relationship might end.
I feel so guilty, I can’t possibly tell my partner to end a relationship with someone they love. My partner themselves is not sure they would want to end that relationship. Understandable, none of us wants to suffer and resent each other, but I feel so sad! We recently started couple’s therapy and decided that it might be more healthy for boundaries and our intimacy if we don’t live together and I have my own space to live in -> where ultimately we also have space for the two of us (living with a roomie had a big effect on our sex lives). This is good.
It all boils down to: Am I monogamous? What happens next? How can I continue with this person I love so much?
I find it really hard to find helpful resources beyond: Poly[am] is superior or mono is superior. Are there any queer people moving from non-monogamy to monogamy and dealing with the complexity of this development?
The first thing I would say here is I’m really glad that you are doing individual therapy. I think that that is really really really important. I think that you need to work something out with your therapist, about strategies for addressing self harm. If you are self harming, and you know that you are kind of slipping back into that, there are quite a lot of good resources online about how to not self harm but like, how to relieve that anxiety.
Because generally speaking self harm comes from a place of being overwhelmed by feelings and wanting to get them out, or control. There’s lots of different reasons why people self harm, but there are other things that you can do that aren’t as harming. Like one thing that I’ve read about is holding ice or things like that. You need to work on a kind of emergency plan for that, so that you can, the next time you sort of feel yourself going down that road, you don’t have to call up your therapist and say, “Ahh help me”. You have the sort of tools in your toolbox, as it were, to actually address it and actually do something in the moment.
And that way you don’t necessarily need to lean on your partner for emotional support. It’s not bad to lean on your partner for emotional support. I think that a lot of polyamory resources are really shitty in that they’re very Western bootstraps mentality and sort of encourage the idea that if you need your partner at all, you’re being controlling or manipulative or whatever. That’s not the case. We need other people, as much as I— I’m like the biggest introvert. I’m the biggest recluse like, you know, I don’t like people at all. And yet, I know that I need people.
So, this is a situation where you need to, yes, lean on people but also give them— you know, figure out what works for them in terms of how much emotional support that they can provide you. I think that you also need to think about what is triggering this. I have a feeling that what is triggering all of this upset — because you said you never felt this way before in other polyamory situations. I feel like what is probably triggering this is the fact that you have married this person.
So, we don’t— I mean I’m not, I don’t think hierarchies are always bad in polyamory. I am more of a— I would probably define myself more as a relationship anarchist then, I mean— if that’s part of polyamory or not that’s a debate or whatever. I try not to operate on hierarchies, because I don’t like them. And people can I think queer marriage and be married. You might be married for immigration reasons which, hey, can understand. However, marriage does, regardless of whether you are actually invested in the institution of marriage or believe that it means anything, it’s still, especially if it’s done for immigration reasons, creates a power imbalance.
And the thing about a hierarchy and this is one of the big reasons why whenever people start polyamory they… So, one of the first rules that they create is like I will never love anyone but you or you are my primary or you are the most important person, and everyone else is not as good. And I understand that. I understand why people do that. However, the problem with that is that once you create a hierarchy, it means that one person is sitting at the top. And when one person is sitting at the top it’s all well and good when you’re that one person but it also means that you can be dethroned basically.
And my guess is that what’s triggering all of this upset in you, is the fact that you are now married. So you’re married. You want to have a kid. Even if you aren’t necessarily hierarchical, you are creating a situation where this is the partner that you want to have kids with. This is the partner that you you are married to and you can be replaced in that sense, and that is going to kick in all of these fears, because you have more to lose now. You have more to lose. Now you could become divorced. Now your whole entire future of, oh I want to have kids with you, can be interrupted. And so that is what I’m guessing is causing all of this panic for you.
And that, you know, what I always advise in terms of this panic when it comes to— because everyone has panic. Don’t believe a lot of the kind of rose tinted bullshitty polyamory resources that will act like “It’s so lovely and yes I did feel jealous once, but I feel so much better now and everything is perfect”. Everyone feels shitty, and you can’t be raised in a society that tells you that monogamy is the only option, and that love is best expressed by being exclusive to one person and not feel a way about your partner being with somebody else. Like you just can’t, it’s, you would have to be…
I mean, unless you were raised in a family where there was non-monogamy and it was sort of normalised to you. You’re going to feel a way. You’re going to feel scared, you’re going to feel you know— you’re raised with all of these messages, you’re going to feel a way about it and that’s okay. It’s okay to have these feelings. It’s okay to freak out. It’s okay to think you’re going to be replaced and your partner’s going to leave you and oh my god… Like, all of that is okay. What I find helps in that situation, and in almost any situation where I’m trying to compare myself to other people, is that I have to realise, like I have with a lot of the anxiety that I’ve had in my life: There is only so much that I can control.
I cannot control everything. And what anxiety is — at least for me and my experience of anxiety — anxiety is a response to the trauma that I’ve been through. Because of things that I have experienced which I could not control my brain has gone “Oh crap, we’re in the situation that we can’t control. We’re constantly having to experience horrible things that we can’t stop. Well, I guess what we’ll do is that we’ll distract this brain into thinking that there are things that they can’t control, so that it doesn’t have to focus on the things that it can’t”. My anxiety has always been a very big distraction and coping mechanism.
It goes, “Actually, instead of, you know, facing the fact that you can’t control that there are people in your life who treat you like shit, we’re going to make you think that if you behave a certain way, then you will. You will unlock the magical key, and you will all of a sudden get all of the things that you should have which is love and care and support”. And in a way, we believe this on a societal level as well, like rape apology is exactly this. People believe this. People believe that “if I don’t go outside wearing a short skirt I won’t be raped”. And we know it’s
just ignorant and foolish and ridiculous, and that is not how sexual assault works, but people believe it because it’s easier for them to cope in a world where all they have to do is not wear a short skirt and they can avoid this thing that can happen to them regardless.
So it’s that kind of a thing, in my experience with anxiety and I think that maybe now that you’re having to all of a sudden — Oh, now you’re married. There’s a new relationship. Ah! You have all this to lose your anxiety is kicking up because it’s like, “Ah, we must do something to prevent the loss of this valuable thing. We must do something.” And, yeah, it’s totally understandable but at the same time like… you can only do so much like really genuinely speaking. There was only so much you can do to prevent someone from falling out of love with you.
If a promise, if a marriage, if saying, “Oh I love you and I’ll only love you” prevented people from leaving then monogamy— there would never be anyone who divorced. Unfortunately, all you can do is just be your best partner, be your best self and treat— you know you can obviously be an asshole to your partners. You can mistreat them and that’s going to make them not want to be around you, but sort of just trying to be a good partner and trying to communicate and trying to give them attention and give them love, there isn’t anything you can do to stop someone from falling out of love with you.
There isn’t anything you can do to prevent being replaced and that’s really really frightening and so your brain is going, “AH! We don’t want to think about that so let’s just do all this other stuff and pretend like if we’re the perfect partner and we never have any problems and we were always happy, then it’ll be all right”. Unfortunately it’s just not the case and even though it seems counterintuitive, when I realized that and when I was like, “Look, I can’t prevent someone from leaving me. I can’t stop someone from no longer being attracted to me. I can’t do any of that. All I can do is try and be the best partner that I can be”. And I know it can be a damn good one. And it is what it is.
There’s nothing else I can do and I have to let go of the idea that I can control that. So, I think, and if you look up — I wrote an article called “13 Mistakes That People Make When They Try Polyamory” which encompasses a lot of this information about dealing with these emotions and how you kind of face your fears a little bit and sort of go, “Okay, what can I actually control?” and that will help you a lot, if you actually go into that article and read through some of the bits about finding an anchor. I don’t want to keep repeating the same things if t hat’s not helpful in the same podcast so yeah.
I think that your change of living situation might be helpful as well. But just keep in mind that I do think that if the core issue is kind of that you’re afraid of being replaced and you haven’t really dealt with that or addressed that then moving apart may not necessarily fix that. So, and also I can’t really tell you if you’re monogamous or not. I do kind of feel like just because you have all these feelings, it doesn’t mean you’re not, you’re monogamous like. It’s so hard for people and that’s one of the reasons why I hate, hate to me use these intro polyamory resources because people start to think that having these negative emotions means they aren’t polyamorous and that’s just not how it works.
Everyone has these emotions. When you having them doesn’t make you less polyamorous, so I can’t tell you if you are or not, that’s up to you, but I do think that if you think about what you can and can’t control — try to remember that. Work with your therapist on some specific strategies against self harm in the moment. You may not have a therapist that you can call right at the time and maybe there’s some help lines you can call but work on specific strategies about countering self harm that can help. Then you can also think about what is triggering this. My notion of what is triggering this is that is the fact that you’re married now, and it’s the fact that you have so much to lose now. I could be wrong.
It’s something you might want to explore with your therapist. I think couples therapy will help, but I also think that you trying to figure out what’s different about this situation— Is there something different about this person? Because you did also mention that living with a roomie have had a big effect on your sex life so has there been something that’s changed within your relationship with this person other than the marriage that might have made you feel like you were disposable or you were going to be replaced or anything like that? Just think about what has changed, and how might that affect your mental state. And then, yes. Last but not least, you know. Don’t beat yourself up for the feelings.
Just because you have them doesn’t mean that you’re monogamous. Plenty of monogamous people may not experience any jealousy if their partner were into someone but they still choose monogamy because it’s something that they want. So, yeah. Basically, don’t beat yourself up for having anxiety. It’s okay to have anxiety doesn’t make you a bad person. Doesn’t make you a bad partner. It’s all just about figuring out how to cope with things and another thing before I finish.
Check out Clementine Morrigan, because Clementine writes specifically about trauma informed polyamory, and that might be really really helpful for you if you have specifically had issues with how you were raised and things like that. I’ve found… their are zines, you can order online there’s a workshop on trauma informed polyamory I’m not sure if Clementine is running that still now when I published this. But, there definitely zines on Clementine’s website, you can you can download or for, and pay to have. Check that out. And yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.