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?
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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.
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.