Is it better to hide your feelings?

One day, after being monogamous married for 7 years, I found out my husband was in love with his coworker. It felt like cheating to me but he said that he discovered that he was polyamorist his whole life but never act on it before. I accept his new conditions.
We went through many painful conversations and therapy, because communication is the key of successful relationships. I offer my sincere friendship to his girlfriend, but she stopped pretending being my friend when their relationship didn’t work anymore.
We tried swinging in a club once, but my husband didn’t enjoy it as much as I did because for him it is all about emotional connection, and still resentful that I keep in touch for a few months by phone with the guy five year ago. I am free to date too, in theory.
I wanted to explore with women by myself but my husband felt left out, so I decided to not do it. We have threesomes with two of his girlfriends. I really enjoy it. I have been open and supporting of him exploring polyamory. Went to several poly[am] meet up and even hosted one.
He always said that his only interest was the emotional connection. However, after Lidia, Brooklyn, Lana, Gina, Laura, Erin, another Erin, and Diana…he progress from just touching and kissing to sex encounters and texting.
Now, he is dating a girl for only a couple of weeks and felt strongly emotional and physical invested. They went out three days in a row after they meet for the first time this week because their connection is very strong. This is going to fast for me, and for the first time I wasn’t supportive. I let him know that I feel insecure, that I believe she will replace me in his heart. He keeps asking me if it is okay with me if he sees her again.
I told him to follow his heart and to not stop because of me, that I will never veto anyone, I don’t want to carry on the weight of any resentment . He thinks that he is screwed if he dates and screwed if not. I am afraid that this is the beginning of the end of our marriage, even when he keeps telling me that he loves me. I can’t sleep, I can’t concentrate at work, my anxiety levels are very high. I am trying to keep calm, being honest and advocating for myself. Sometimes I think that I should just close my mouth and bite the bullet. What should I do?

There a lot of things going on here so I’ll try and break it down to the key issues.

  • Clear boundaries and definitions
  • Emotional connection vs sexual relationships
  • Hiding your emotions

Clear boundaries and definitions

The first issue with your relationship is that, from the start, you’ve not had some really good boundaries or definitions in what you want to do. The biggest and first definition that people have to decide when they open their relationship is what they get out of polyamory, if this is what they choose.

He might have a very good idea of what he gets out of polyamory, but you don’t seem to have ever really defined what you get out of it. You agreed to it because he kind of cheated and you didn’t want to break up and that is going to be a major source of anxiety throughout.

That is why every single one of your decisions has been navigated by your husband’s emotions. Right now you’re trying to tell him that you refuse to veto relationships he has, and yet you’ve self-vetoed based on his emotions in the past. You enjoyed swinging, but he didn’t.

He’s resentful that you keep in touch with a guy and that’s bothering you enough to mention. You want to explore dating women on your own, but you don’t because your husband feels left out. A lot of your decisions have been based off of either him explicitly telling you not to do these things or you not being able to handle his discomfort.

And I don’t blame you. This is one of the biggest obstacles people face in polyamory and many people struggle with fully actualising their desires and actions and allow their partner’s discomfort to hold them back because they’re afraid of losing them — but it just ends up in a never ending game of chicken that helps nobody. If you had a strong reason to be polyamorous yourself, you wouldn’t be tethered to the whims of your partner. If you are not only free to date who you want but you also are *interested* in this lifestyle, then you need to accept that he has agreed to it.

And while you can be sympathetic and understanding to him having feelings about you dating others, which many people do have those feelings, that doesn’t mean those feelings get to dictate your actions. If your discomfort at the speed of his current relationship should dictate to him how to proceed then why are you letting his discomfort dictate your life?

It’s not surprising he might be confused. You’ve essentially agreed to polyamory because he wanted it and you’ve changed your behaviour based off his before, so what’s to say it’s different now? What will help in that regard is a little self exploration. Is polyamory what you want to do? If so, then you need to both agree that you will support each other in the feelings you may have about dating others, but you will not allow someone else’s discomfort dictate what paths you choose. You should be allowed to swing, date women, etc. do what you’d like even if he feels “left out”. These are your relationships. He’s not necessarily invited to those and he shouldn’t be.

Emotional connection vs. sexual relationships

A lot of people heavily contrast polyamory with swinging because they say that polyamory is about relationships whereas swinging is about sex. I feel sometimes like the way people define what a relationship and emotional connection is is very individual.

For me, it takes me awhile to feel a strong emotional connection to someone. It doesn’t just happen overnight. And that emotional connection to me carries with it a lot of things I want to pursue. Whereas someone else may find it easy to emotionally connect with people and that doesn’t mean they need to be in a relationship.

You’re confused here because your partner has said that it’s all about “emotional connection” but you’re confused as to what this means with regards to sex. You list off the partners that he’s had and how he’s progressed with them and for you it may seem like he’s not had an emotional connection with them as much, but ultimately it’s not really up to you to define that. It could be that he says that but it doesn’t matter as much as he claims it does — either way, it’s not really your concern.

A lot of people new to polyamory make the mistake of holding their partner’s dating habits under a microscope. They don’t mean to be nitpicky, but they don’t have any relationship models to base polyamory from and many people are searching for something to grab ahold of. Because many polyamorous relationships don’t operate the same way a monogamous relationship would in that there are milestones that indicate when a relationship is more ‘serious’, you can often find yourself in polyamory trying to pinpoint those milestones in your partner’s relationships so you know where you stand. This is done out of fear and that’s understandable but when two people have very different definitions of relationships and the way sex or physical contact interplay in them, it can be a masterclass in misread signals and miscommunication.

That’s why this is so scary for you. You’ve witnessed your partner do relationships. He’s said that it’s about “emotional connection” and you’re trying to gauge that against his behaviour. Now he’s dating someone who he seems to have a stronger pull for in that he’s physically spending more time with her and this seems to be “fast” for you because you’re trying to find stability by comparing it to his other relationships and it’s scaring you. All of that is understandable.

But at the end of the day, examining your partner’s behaviours like this will only appease your anxiety for so long and in the end, it may actually cause more anxiety than it’s worth. What you should focus on are your needs in this relationship. Things can and will change in polyamory and that is something that you have to adjust to, but as long as you’re getting the things that you need out of your relationship, that’s what you need to be concerned with. So is him going out for three days in a row, if that has stopped him from seeing you, a problem?

A change is going to shake you because you’re not sure how to cope with it. But what can anchor you here is not only what you personally get out of polyamory but accepting that change is likely to happen and also knowing what you need. If you had more of an explicit discussion about definitions and boundaries with your partner, other than a vague idea that he needs “emotional connection”, whatever that means, you would have a better idea of what the change is going to look like.

In that regard, you both need to think about and talk with each other about what your ideal relationship structure looks like. When you have a strong idea of what you want out of polyamory and he has an idea and you come together and you decide what you want from each other and what other relationships will look like when you do have them, you will feel more confident in your choices. I’m not saying you won’t be anxious, but you likely won’t be anywhere near as anxious as you are now.

So, for example, let’s say your ideal scenario is one live-in partner whom you spend the majority of the time with and maybe two or three other partners. Maybe he wants the same or maybe his ideal situation is two live-in partners. Neither of you can control if you find other partners but you can decide, are you okay with having another live-in partner?

If he wants to be with you and be your live-in partner and you likewise, maybe you either have to be okay with another live-in partner or he has to be okay giving up on that. And maybe the compromise is that he spends alternate weeks with the other partner. Or he has 2–3 date nights a week, etc. You don’t always have to define it so rigidly, but having a good idea of what you both are trying to get out of this will make it a lot less scary when changes happen.

Work out that and speak together about what it is you both want out of this. You both need to stop allowing the fear of losing each other controlling your actions and you have to form a better understanding of the role that polyamory plays in your relationship and in your life.

Hiding your emotions

Last but certainly not least, I want to address the last bit of your letter which is another thing I think many, many people do in polyamory — not communicating or hiding their emotions and pretending to be okay when they aren’t. Sometimes we do this without even thinking. This is why I continuously and explicitly tell people who are opening their relationship never to put their partner in the position to give permission for them to go out on dates. At the end of the day, if you both agree to being polyamorous, that is all the permission you need.

When you create a situation where one partner has to give permission, it puts an enormous amount of stress on both parties. One is worried their partner will say no and the other is worried about what happens if they say yes. It sounds like a contract that one signs and cannot go back on. You are ultimately agreeing to be “okay” which usually means being silent. Giving permission tends to mean that you feel like you cannot say anything later down the line once it’s been given. And that is an absolutely horrible thing to feel.

I can understand why people do this. Your partner here wants to be sure you’re okay and wants to make sure the actions he takes aren’t against any agreements. He doesn’t want to do something knowingly that would cause you to break up with him. But there is a difference between violating a basic agreement and doing something that may cause your partner stress. No one wants to willingly cause stress to someone that they love, but all relationships come with stress.

We envision an added stress on polyamory because we are going against the basic treaty of what we we’re told relationships should have — exclusivity. But let’s be real, you can go through a monogamous relationship and never cheat and follow all of the agreements and still end up in a situation where your partner and you split up. Even if it seems more dangerous to date other people, there are ultimately no guarantees in any relationship.

And you should know this and this might be why you’re so stressed. You were monogamous for seven years and then this sudden change slapped you in the face. But what you should take from that is that being monogamous will not save you from sudden changes. You kept your mouth shut for seven years — did it stop your partner from having feelings for someone else? No. So why would that change now?

Do not hide your feelings for the sake of thinking something will go over smoothly. Do not ‘bite the bullet’ because you’re afraid to be afraid. Fear is very normal throughout life and there will always be a risk. The way we cope with it is by acknowledging it, talking about it and supporting each other in it. Many people assume that polyamory will always be happy and perfect and so when they encounter such difficult feelings, they think the solution is to keep it to themselves and “deal with it” on their own. But that’s not going to help you. You’re allowed to have feelings. And finding a safe and clear way to express them with your partner and have them acknowledged is important.

Sometimes there isn’t a way to get out of feeling anxiety that your partner will leave you. Sometimes you just have to experience it, see that they are still there, and know you survived it. But it’s much more difficult to do that if you’re denying it to yourself. Recognise and see your feelings. Validate them but don’t let them dictate your partner or your behaviours. Work with another polyamory friendly therapist on this if you need to. But avoid the temptation to suck it up because that will not help you in the long run.

To summarise, you both need to figure out what it is out of polyamory that you want, what you want your relationship to look like, make an agreement, don’t let one another’s fears dictate your behaviours but be willing to witness and support one another in how you feel without pretending you’re okay when you’re not.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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