Your partner comes home from a date and needs reassurance, but you can’t give it in that moment. Is this something to overcome?

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

Discussion Topic:

What is something you do to calm yourself down?

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Non-Monogamy Help

Non-Monogamy Help is a relationship advice podcast for people in non-monogamous or polyamorous relationships. With the help of a therapist with over a decade of experience, your host Lola Phoenix, answers the questions your questions about rules, hierarchies, unicorns and more.

 

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use my affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

As a woman who struggles with CPTSD, while also practicing non-monogamy with my partner, I find your podcast incredibly helpful. In general but also in relation to our open relationship I have learned to identify my triggers, boundaries, and find ways to try to calm myself when things get rough. 

I am not very jealous or insecure, but due to being abandoned multiple times in childhood my nervous system just goes haywire if my partner has a third or fourth date with someone, and things become more serious. [At the moment] I’m not dating anyone as I’m in therapy and need some space to heal, however, I’m very excited to explore whenever I feel happy and ready. 

One thing I struggle with specifically, is that whenever I am triggered, and my partner comes home and wants to connect with me, I cannot help but feeling distant and like pushing him away. I literally need distance to calm down, and that can take up to several hours. I feel really guilty about this because I love him to bits and I know it isn’t rational, yet every cell in my body yells “stay away from him cause he hurts you!”

Have you experienced this and if so, how did you deal with it? 

Response:

First thing is first, your fear is rational and I totally understand the desire to handle overwhelming anxiety by labelling it irrational by being really angry at your brain for what seems like attempts to sabotage your relationships. However, I personally feel like in my experience, this is kind of self attack and doesn’t really help me because it just means that I dislike myself. 

I see my brain as my enemy and everything is a constant battle. It’s actually quite rational for your brain to want space. It’s quite rational for you too after having experienced abandonment, especially if you’re not in a position where you feel like you are secure even though you say you’re not insecure. I feel like yeah, personally you may not be insecure but this situation creates insecurity which makes sense. 

And it makes sense for your brain to have a little bit of a freakout. In a way it’s very rational. Your brain is trying to prevent you from experiencing pain. So there is a very rational reason for why you’re doing what you’re doing. So firstly, I would not try to solve this by criticising it in such a way. Another thing that kind of jumps out at me is your expectations of yourself. And that’s kind of in two different ways here.

The first is that you are not dating anyone, because you need some space to heal, which is fine, but you are holding yourself off it seems like for this ideal period of time when you’re happy and ready. And I feel like this is kind of similar to when people open up their relationship and it doesn’t go and specifically the way that they think it will go so they close it in order to solve it. And I don’t know is that that is the solution in every case because sometimes you have to work through the problems while you’re actually in the problem in order to solve it. 

And sometimes these relational issues that we have, can only be fixed whilst we are in the relationship because we need to actually face them. I do kind of worry here a little bit that you’re telling yourself a story that is kind of trapping you a little bit because there’s a really good person that I really like to follow on Instagram, called Todd Baratz, and it’s at yourdiagnonsense on Instagram. And I love what he has to say about attachment theory and about how it’s understandable that we notice that we have attachment wounds, but at the same time it’s also really important for us to understand that childhood attachment is very different to adult attachment. 

And that adult attachment is inherently insecure because our parents have a responsibility to take care of us, our parents should not abandon us, our parents should be providing for us, but our partners are not our parents and our partners can leave and should leave when they are not satisfied with the relationship and obviously there’s nuances to that. But it’s going to be an inherently insecure partnership that shouldn’t necessarily be compared to or have the expectations of a parental relationship. 

So I do kind of share his kind of anxieties when people start talking about attachment and expectations because I do wonder if there’s a little bit of telling yourself this story that you know you are stuck in this constant helpless cycle of a child that seeking someone who will always be around instead of trying to find the attachment within yourself and security within yourself. And maybe that’s something you’re working on in therapy and maybe that’s what you mean by you’re waiting until you’re happy and ready. 

I don’t want you to give yourself the expectation that you should be perfect before you enter into a relationship. And that’s the second part of this that I’m referring to. You are expecting yourself to connect with your partner as soon as they come back. And if you can’t, then there’s a problem. And that it’s a problem that you need distance. It’s a problem that you need and you know possibly have to take a couple of hours. And this is an expectation you’re putting on yourself to just get over this and that you having this need is inherently a problem. 

And I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. I think that you are kind of pushing yourself into an unfair expectation here. It’s okay if you want some distance. In fact, if you didn’t live with your partner, you may just have that distance by the fact that you don’t live with your partner. They may go to their own house after a date and may not connect with you until the next day. And maybe that’s okay. 

So your partner— maybe the previous partner that you had had this need as soon as they come back came back to connect with you, but that might be a need from their own anxiety. They may have a lot of anxiety about non-monogamy in general and feel really scared that if they’re going out with somebody that you’re going to leave them and then when they come home from a date, they want to connect with you right away so that they’re reassured and that’s fine. 

That’s their anxiety, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that that is something you have to do or you have to be prepared to do for every single partner. You may have a partner next time where you say like “Look, I get a little freaked out sometimes when I have a partner that’s been on two or three years, four or five dates with somebody and after I need a little bit of space and a little bit of time to myself”. And you may have a partner that goes, “Okay, that’s absolutely fine”. 

So why is it that you are forcing yourself to immediately connect after a date? What is the reason for that? You don’t have to do that. If your partner is experiencing anxiety after going out with somebody else and want some reassurance, you can find a way to negotiate both of your needs in order to you know, calm both of yourselves or your partner could easily have that anxiety and figure out how to comfort and soothe themselves. as well. 

They don’t necessarily have to rely on you for that reassurance. So yeah, a big question here is: is there a reason to not take your time? Is there a reason to force yourself to connect when you’re not wanting to connect? And is this actually a problem? Now, the thing that I want to know when it comes to this time— these hours that you need apart? I would you know— are you spending those hours in a fight or flight state? Are you spending those hours freaking out? 

Are you spending those hours you know, calming yourself? Are you capable of spending those hours doing something fun with someone else and then coming back to it or are you like literally panicking? Those are things that you might want to address with a therapist and work towards and maybe that is what you’re doing at this point because yeah, it’s okay to need a little bit of time, but I don’t want you to be suffering during that time. 

I want you to be able to, you know— maybe you do experience this anxiety and maybe this will eventually go away. Especially the more you sit with it and the more you realise even after the fourth and fifth, fifth, sixth and seventh and whatever dates that your partner has with somebody else, they’re still not going to abandon you necessarily just out of the blue. 

They may do. Somebody may do that to you. I can’t guarantee that. Nobody can guarantee that. But you can have a reasonable level of discomfort and manage that and that discomfort will go down and down over time. Once you build a level of trust with your partner— I think that is typical of a lot of people in non-monogamy, regardless of whether you have PTSD or C PTSD, that is very common, actually. I think because understandably, people have been raised within a monogamous centric society. 

And you’ve been told that they need to worry about their partner leaving them and obviously the more dates they have with somebody else, the more your brain is going to freak out. So this is very typical and very normal. So I would think about, like what it is that you’re doing during that hour? Are you suffering? Is there a way that you can work with your therapist? You might still need that period of distance, and that’s okay. 

Just make sure that you’re, you know, addressing a fear not running from it, not trying to create rules to prevent some of these anxious feelings because you’re going to have them and just allow yourself to be a little bit flawed in that way. That’s okay. There’s there’s no shortage of situations that we find ourselves in, monogamous or not, PTSD or not, C PTSD or not, that we might need a little bit of understanding from our partners.

You’re kind of putting yourself in a position where you need to be perfect. And you really don’t. You really don’t need to be perfect. It’s okay if you have this, you know— people have quirks. Like some people really need the toilet paper to face a certain way or say, you know, like, you just need a little bit of time on your own when your partner comes back from a date to like address some of your anxieties and chill out. 

Some people have that when they get home from work sometimes like, you can easily find this within monogamy. One partner really wants to like talk to their partner a lot during when they come back from work and go through their day and just chat and chat and chat and the partner is like, “I’ve just been so busy. I need time alone”. And that’s fine. That’s absolutely fine. 

You can manage and negotiate those differences and what you need, and the next person you might date might not want to live with you or might also want time on their own to decompress and disconnect from the previous engagement and get their mind in order. And there’s all sorts of reasons even outside of anxiety, why after a date, you may not want to immediately reconnect with your partner. So maybe you know dial back a little bit of this like intense expectations on yourself to be like perfect about this. 

Allow yourself to experience some of the things. Accept that you have it. Maybe think about the story that you’re telling yourself in terms of like abandonment and like, you know, you are creating this archetype in your head of this person who was traumatised, and I’m not saying it’s not true and in terms of your experience, but I do think that it’s really important what we tell ourselves and little things that we tell ourselves all the time can have a big impact on how we digest information, what information we pay attention to, and the expectations we set for ourselves. 

And in the same way that I feel like people who walk around and call themselves garbage and say that they’re a failure, or say that the world’s garbage. I feel like the diet of words that you feed your mind has a huge impact on everything. And if you call yourself garbage all the time, I think you will feel like garbage all the time. If you treat yourself in such a way. And I’m not saying that saying you have C PTSD is the same as saying your garbage. 

But if you tell yourself that, “Oh my gosh, I’m traumatised and I have all these problems and oh” and I mean, you’ve said that you’re not— you don’t feel like you’re insecure, which is great. But if you kind of construct this narrative of “I am the person with attachment issues”, I think that kind of reinforces your brain to go “Okay,

I have attachment issues, therefore, I know that I’m definitely going to be freaked out”. 

You’re kind of almost stabbing yourself in the foot a little bit. Maybe allow yourself to be a little bit less stuck on this idea. Maybe, you don’t have as many attachment issues as you thought. Maybe you won’t feel this way. And if you do, you can deal with it. So being committed to this narrative whilst understanding and identifying this narrative was helpful for you at the start to figure out why it is you were having these feelings. 

Don’t become trapped in it to the point where now you’re predicting your behaviour, where you may not have that behaviour or it may not be that big of a deal. This may just be you know, over time I used to think I used to think that my natural sort of, I’m a little bit on the asexual spectrum, I wouldn’t fully class myself as an asexual person kind of on demisexual— whatever. I used to believe that my asexuality or or my responsive desire, should I say, was a sign that I was a prude. 

I used to believe that I needed to overcome my you know, Christian southern programming and then I would suddenly experience attraction to all kinds of people. And it was wrong. You might be a person who is a little bit introverted, maybe. And there might be just you wanting to be alone after your partner gets back from a date or maybe there’s all sorts of different reasons why you want might want to be alone or might need some space. 

That doesn’t necessarily have to immediately translate to such intensity, right? So make sure that the story that you’re telling yourself isn’t also reinforcing this idea that you needing time alone is a problem, and that this is a thing to solve and that you must overcome this, whatever it is, in order to become this great person who has no problem with anything and is a you know, brilliant at polyamory and “Aren’t I amazing? And I —“ you know. Just let go of that. 

Let go of the idea that there is this place of perfection that you can reach where you are never bothered by anything. Because putting yourself in that position is going to make you way more anxious than letting go. So yeah, to sum up, I think that your brain is very rational and you should give it a little bit of credit. You know, we’ve survived for a very, very long time, our brains were one of the major things keeping us alive. It’s a tool that has, you know, a lot of evolution behind it. 

So give it credit where it’s due. It’s rational, it’s trying to help you survive. Allow yourself to take some time and don’t consider this a problem. This is part of how you’re dealing with a situation that could change in the future. Release yourself from this kind of intense labelling that you’re doing to yourself and allow, you know, a little bit of messiness, a little bit of nuance here without it having to be that you’re traumatised or that you are, you know, good or bad, like let go of that kind of distinction when it comes to this. 

Depending on what you’re doing with that hour, the time that you’re stepping away, definitely work with the therapist to see like how you can address your nervous system and I think you talked about things like that. So I’m pretty confident you’re doing that. But you know, as long as you’re not spending that time berating yourself, allow yourself to have that time give yourself that freedom. And also consider if you have a partner that you don’t live together with you may already get that time regardless. 

So, you know or your partner may not consider that to be such a big deal. So don’t be so panicky about it because it, it may not be a big deal to anyone and you might find as you develop trust with somebody over time. You may need less and less alone time afterwards, but allow yourself to have it and allow yourself to be flawed and be okay. Like don’t wait. If you really want to be in a relationship. 

Some of these things I just worry that like a lot of people— you construct this idea of I can’t get into a relationship until I’m perfect and then you’re you think that you’ve solved these problems because you have you can easily solve problems about relationships theoretically and hypothetically in your mind. And then once you actually have to apply it it doesn’t it’s you know, it’s similar— I can’t even say this because I don’t drive but taking a theory test and practicing is very different. 

Sometimes yes, knowing the theory helps, but you still need to practice. You still need to get out there and do things. So some of this stuff you’re gonna like you know, learn how you have coping skills, but you won’t really know how well you can put in those coping skills. Or how, how effectively they serve you until you have something that you need to cope with. So recognise that and step out a little bit more and allow yourself to be a little bit flawed. It’s really okay. I hope that helps and good luck.