You want to be non-monogamous but you can’t stop feeling a way about your partner commenting or liking pictures of others. How do you deal?
That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.
How do you deal with comparing yourself to others?
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I have been dealing with the little bit of insecurity when it comes to my boyfriend liking or commenting on other women's provocative pictures on the lifestyle websites. I know that the relationship is open and he said [it] doesn't doesn't mean anything but [I’m] coming from a Christian home and [have been] in monogamous relationships [in] my life. I really love my boyfriend and I want to make this work but [I’m] just trying to figure out how to not [be] angry or upset when it comes to other women. We have been dating over 9 months now. He has been in the lifestyle several years but I am a total rookie. Thanks for your help and understanding.
The first thing that I have to say is just a little bit of a clarification. Because it does kind of feel like — you know you said you've had monogamous relationships all your life and your total rookie. Is this something you want? That you actually want? And you're not doing this just to keep this relationship? That is the first really important thing to establish.
And one of the first questions that I usually tell people, if they're curious about non-monogamy, and they think they want to try it but they're not sure or if they're in your situation where they're dating someone who has long since been non-monogamous and they want to try it is can you deal with or would you want a relationship where the person that you're with does not spend the vast majority of their time with you?
The general comparison I tend to make with this is that sometimes people who are in monogamous relationships have relationships with people who have very intensive careers, like doctors or lawyers, people who go away for long periods. And sometimes that isn't something that some monogamous people want. Two people can be monogamous, but they may not want their partner to be away for that long. People who have spouses in the military, that is something that some people cannot deal with. So is that something that you feel like you can deal with or that you feel isn't a deal breaker?
Because I feel like if you can deal with that, that is kind of the first step. The second step I feel like is finding your anchor and that is your personal reason to be interested in polyamory that doesn't have anything to do with saving your current relationship. Because the thing is, is that when you decide that you want to be polyamorous because you want to save a relationship, what you're actually saving is an idea of a relationship that isn't there. Because like I said, being non-monogamous, or polyamorous means that you're committing to a situation where your partner does not spend 100% of their time with you.
To me that's like agreeing to stay in a relationship where someone's moving and that relationship is going to be long distance and believing that that relationship will be exactly the same as it was when they're moved away. It's not. It’s a different type of way of doing things. So is there something about polyamory that interests you? Are you interested in dating other people? Are you interested in having more casual sex or more, you know, established long term multiple romantic relationships? Are you just interested in having the bed to yourself?
There's all sorts of reasons and there are monogamous people who date and exclusively date polyamorous people and are just fine with that. There's lots of reasons why you might be able to be fine with that. But that has to come from you. That can't come from a desperate desire to save a relationship that you're [in]. That can be the start of why you get into polyamory and why you're interested in it and it can be in the beginning something that motivates you to try it, but it shouldn't be the only thing that you want.
And it shouldn't be the only thing— because that needs to be your anchor and that's what you keep coming back to. So even when I've had difficult times in relationships, in the past I've chosen polyamory because I wanted it to be something where I would have multiple parent figures for lots of children. I wanted to have lots of children. That is kind of changed a little bit in my life. So polyamory became more about wanting kind of the freedom to, if I met somebody that I was interested in — because I'm not interested in many, many people, and even less likely is that the people that I'm interested in are interested in me. It just doesn't happen very often.
So I wanted the chance when that does happen to see where that went. And that freedom was something that kept me on whenever I was having a difficult time with something I'd go, “Okay. Yeah, but I have this freedom and that is what I want for my life and I'm sure of that”. And that didn't have anything to do with saving a relationship. I mean, I've been lucky in that I kind of found polyamory before I was ever in a relationship.
And I didn't ever have that experience of being with someone and then finding it and then having to open but I feel like if you want to have that, if you're interested in it, you need to be interested in it for yourself. So can you find that if you can find that? If it takes you a little bit but you're like, “Okay, I'm a person who likes being by myself. I like having alone time”. That could be a big reason. You may not actually be super interested in dating other people, but you like your alone time. If you find that reason, then that's kind of the first step.
The second thing I would say is I don't think it's necessarily insecurity to feel threatened by your partner liking or commenting on other women's pictures. That's not necessarily insecurity all the time. Now it can be a function of insecurity, but it's also kind of a understandable response for your brain to have and I don't necessarily feel like it helps for you to kind of make this out to be a personal failing or something that that happens because it's a result of you not feeling confident in yourself.
Yes, having confidence in yourself will mean that when you are approaching something like this, it won't feel threatening but that doesn't mean that it doesn't feel threatening sometimes. It just means that having the confidence and security makes that threat not as big. It makes sense when you are not only from a Christian household, as you said, but you have been in monogamous relationships your whole life. You you know have been raised within a monogamous society. You have been given very clear, consistent messaging about relationships and how they should operate and what you should expect.
And the pretty big thing you've been told is that if your partner starts being interested in other people, that is a bad thing. That is a threat. Of course your brain is freaking out about it. Of course, you're having the response of “Oh my god, this is happening”. Because your brain has told you your entire life that it's a bad sign. You know, if you grew up in tornado valley, and you know that the air smelling a certain way means there might be a tornado and you move out of tornado valley and you still smell the same air even if tornadoes are not likely to happen there at all, you might still feel scared.
So accept that like yes, you're going to feel a little bit scared. Probably the best thing that I have ever done when it comes to my anxiety and when it comes to all of that is learning about my nervous system. And I really recommend that as many people as possible learn about their nervous system. I have personally found learning about my nervous system way, way, way more useful than learning about attachment styles. Attachment styles— if you've ever heard of like, secure attachment or like insecure, avoidant and all that sorts of stuff that never really fit with me. It didn't make a lot of sense to me, but nervous system stuff I did.
There is a great Instagram account called repairing_the_nervous_system. There's plenty of resources online about your nervous system. Learning about my nervous system has helped me in so many different ways and has made it so much easier for me to deal with anxiety. When I understand that me being scared is my brain trying to protect me. It stops me from self attacking because my problem was that I would get anxious about something and then I would be like, “Oh great. I'm doing it again. What's wrong with me? Ugh! God, why can't you get over it?” and I would start on this cycle of self attack.
And I do kind of feel like describing this as insecurity and it's like your problem that you have to deal with because you're at fault is a little bit of that self attack stuff. But if you understand that, like “Hey, I've grown up in a monogamous society. I grew up in a Christian home, probably a very strict home, and then I'm suddenly coming into this new thing and it's new and my brain is trying to protect me”, then you'll have a lot more space.
It doesn't mean that those feelings go away. Like you might still be like “UGH threat!”, but you don't react.
You're able to sit with that and experience that and challenge that and be curious about it, instead of just reacting to it. And that's why sometimes self confidence helps because generally if you have a lot of self confidence, then you know your boyfriend liking or commenting on other pictures you'd be like “Yeah, but you know what? I'm still great. And you know, if he likes other people, he can go find other people and if he doesn't want to be with me, then that's fine and that's his loss” and you can have that. That is just a way to soothe yourself when you encounter a threat or when you encounter something that could be threatening.
You will learn how to deal with this over time. If you're interested in polyamory— This could also — the reason why I said this isn't just about insecurity is that this could also be a sign that you don't want polyamory. If you are doing this just so that you can keep this person in your life and he is not dating anyone right now and he's pretty much spending all his time with you and you are kind of living in a little bit of denial and you're kind of being like, “Yeah, I guess we're open but I don't really— you know, it's out of sight out of mind”.
And then all of a sudden you see him commenting and this is a reminder that this is actually what he's interested in and then all of a sudden you're like, “Oh, crap, this is actually happening. This is where the rubber meets the road. This is where theory becomes practice, and I don't want this”. It could be a sign that you don't want this. I can't tell you whether or not you want it. You're going to have to figure that out yourself. But I can tell you that having that reaction to it doesn't necessarily mean that you're insecure.
And it doesn't necessarily mean that you don't want it. You just have to figure out why you want it and what you want and the reasons why and how it's going to fit in your life. The other thing that I think will help with this is figuring out not only what you're interested in when it comes to polyamory or non-monogamy, but what is your partner's ideal? Yes, he's in the lifestyle for several years and you're a total rookie. So what?
He has feelings too, and anyone who tries to make you feel like someone who's done polyamory for years has no emotions and is able to do everything just fine is lying to you. I have been polyamorous for more than a decade. I still have fears. I still have anxieties. I've just encountered those before so I know how to deal with them. It's not that I'm much— It's not that I'm like some sort of frickin Vulcan, who's better than anybody else. Nobody else is better than you just because they've been doing it for a while.
And actually if you've done it for a while, what is his ideal? Because two people can be non-monogamous and still not compatible in terms of what they want out of life. So what does he want out of life? Does he want— how does he want his his situation to look? Does he want a partner, another partner to live with you two? Does he want— does he see like a swinger style type of thing where he maybe has other people that he sleeps with?
But he has one kind of major committed emotional relationship? He says that this doesn't mean anything. But it clearly means something because he's doing it. Like so, what? What do you mean? What do you mean to him? And what what does this relationship mean? If your relationship means something, and the things that he's doing doesn't mean anything then what does that meaning mean? And that's the thing that you have to work out.
Within monogamy you have the relationship escalator. You have the cultural script. You have a “we're dating and then we're moving in and then we're getting married and then we're doing” — and not every monogamous relationship follows that script. But when you don't have that cultural script, it's very, very hard for you to sometimes to deal with the kind of anxiety that naturally comes from being like, “oh shit, I'm supposed to… we're supposed to get married. But wait a minute, we're—
how does this work?”
So you have to figure out how to find your anchor. You have to figure out how to find meaning. You have to figure out what it is that you want. And it may be that you're okay with doing non-monogamy. Maybe it is something you want to try, but maybe he wants to have what's called “kitchen table polyamory” where he wants, everyone to live together and that's not necessarily kitchen table, but like, say he wanted to have one other partner and he was very intent on you all living together.
You may not want that. I don't know if I would necessarily want a partner who is that intent on me living with other partners. I think I would feel uneasy about that. And I've been polyamorous like I said for more than 10 years. So just because you're both non-monogamous doesn't mean that you're actually compatible. So figure out what he wants and what you want, are you actually compatible there?
And then, last thing that I would say is as the sort of joke is, you go to the doctor and you say, “Oh, it hurts when I do this” and doctor says, “Don't do this”. If it hurts you to see that he's commenting on other women's provocative pictures on the lifestyle websites, don't go on those websites. That won't help you if you are— if you actually don't want to be polyamorous and you're doing this out of sight out of mind thing but then looking at this stuff is reminding you of that, but I don't like or want to hear details about my partner's exploits.
I might have feelings if I see my partners commenting on other people's provocative pictures, and I've been polyamorous for a long time. Just because I know the way my brain works. My brain is going to feel a little bit scared about that, especially in a new relationship. Like if I've been with someone for a while and we've built kind of a trust. You've only been together for nine months now. Like you have to build that trust.
Of course, you're going to be scared and nervous. Most people are scared and nervous in the monogamous relationships they have first but you just don't tend to remember that as time goes on. You also tend to learn how to chill a little bit. I bet in your first monogamous relationship even the first dates you want to be like, “Oh, do they like me?” You know, and then you go on more dates and you have more relationships, and then you're less bugged out about that.
But you're going to have sometimes feelings about stuff and it's okay to be like, “Do you know what? I don't need to see that”. I mean, maybe you're on those lifestyle websites because you're trying to find a date for yourself and that's fine, but maybe don't follow each other on that. If there's a way to block him, maybe block him if you need to for a little bit, just so that you don't see this.
If you know for sure that polyamory is what you want and you know for sure that you have a compatible style together and that there is a type of relationship that you both want and a type of lifestyle that you both want and you just have some feel a certain way about seeing these stuff and just don't put yourself in a position to see it. That's okay to do. That isn't Don't Ask Don't Tell. I feel like a lot of people who are new to polyamory think that like the most information is the best and like oh, if I know everything. It'll like it'll inoculate you against future anxiety.
It won't. Sometimes you just feel a way and that's okay. And you just don't want to have to deal with that and that's okay. So just, you know, don't go on those websites. Don't keep track of what he's doing. And then you won't have to worry about that. As long as you're sure that you're both are compatible, is if you do try to put it out of sight out of mind and your brain is still thinking “I’m in a monogamous relationship bla bla bla bla bla”. Then when he does find someone who he's more interested in just commenting on, it will smack you like a ton of bricks in the face.
I will say that in general when the rubber meets more of the road -- when he doesn't just comment on someone's picture, when he starts going out on dates with other people expect that to be a struggle. Expect that to be hard. And if it's not, then great but expect yourself to feel a little bit anxious about it expect to have a lot of anxiety. I write a lot about this in my 101 and 102 articles on the website on NonMonogamyHelp.com which you can go and check out.
You will have some feelings about it even if you are compatible and even if this is what you want. You still might have feelings and that's okay. But don't put yourself through unnecessary stress. There's no reason to do that. So yeah, to recap, find out if this is what you actually want. Find out if you have a compatible, non-monogamous lifestyle that you both want. It's not necessarily insecurity to feel threatened by your partner paying attention to others. Learn about your nervous system. Understand why you're responding in this way and treat yourself kindly so that you can learn how to cope with things and then help your nervous system kind of calm down a little bit.
Another thing that I think is important is to think about what are the things he does to make you feel special? Can he reassure you? Are there ways you can ask for reassurance that isn't like “Oh, I saw you comment on the picture. Do you still think I'm pretty?” I mean sometimes you can jokingly still say that but like if you want a compliment you can ask for one. Figure out if if you are both wanting the same style and if you do, expect that this is okay that you have feelings and that you still will have feelings even if this is what you want.
And don't put yourself in positions to see things that you know are going to upset you. If you are really upset when you watch horror films, you don't force yourself to watch horror films so that you can “get over it”. You just don't watch them. So don't put yourself in positions to see stuff that you feel like will upset you. You might find as you're in this relationship, if this is what you want, and you are together for longer, you might find that you feel less and less scared when you see it later on. But you've only been together for nine months.
So you're still establishing some type of relationship with each other. You're still establishing your comfort zones. So you know, allow yourself to be a little scared. It’s understandable and definitely when he starts going out with other people, you are probably going to feel really scared and that's okay. And just once you figure out how like your nervous system is reacting and why it's reacting that way it will be a lot easier for you to deal with. So yeah. I hope that helps and good luck.