Managing your partner’s emotions

A few months ago my partner and I decided to open our monogamous relationship. It’s something that we had talked about since we met and something that both of us had tried or were interested in long before meeting. We both read your column and have done a lot of what you recommend including establishing why we want to do this and what it’ll look like for us (we’ll remain primary partners and have occasionally friends that we have sex with).
Despite some bumps in the road, after a while everything kind of regulated and we each had flings, came back to each other and realized that this is something we can really do.
A week ago I met someone that I have really great chemistry with and because I don’t often get this excited about new people, I think my partner got scared. Since then, I’ve tried to be really gentle with them but I feel like I can’t get anything right. We each have lists that we exchanged with ideas of things that could help us when we’re struggling with an aspect of our open relationship and I’ve tried many things on the list but they’ll tell me after that I didn’t execute it how they had in mind or something.
I’ve been on that side of things too: worried that my partner will leave me for someone ~better~ or feeling like a second fiddle, so I think I understand how they feel. I’m starting to struggle with being patient though. I feel stuck between continuing to get to know this new person (even at this glacial pace of once a week) and completely aborting that adventure. If I continue, what if it breaks my partner or my patience? And if I abort, what if that complicates thing for us long term?
One of the things on their list is “show that you still lust for me (even if I don’t want to have sex right then)” so last week after a date with my new friend, after chatting and before bed, I whispered in their ear that I was horny and started kissing on them. They told me they weren’t into it so I stopped and we went to sleep. In the morning they told me that I should have more tact because it made them feel like I was horny from my date and since I didn’t have sex on my date, I came home to them. They felt like I wasn’t horny *for them* in particular, just using them to get off. What kinds of considerations should we take? Any advice for handling difficult balancing situations like this?

There’s a few things going on here: managing relationships as well as working towards communication.

Managing relationships

What I’m struggling to understand from your letter is what your partner’s emotions have to do with what you’re doing in other relationships. While your partner’s anxiety is totally understandable, it doesn’t mean their anxiety should have any bearing on what you do in your other relationships. These are two separate relationships independent of each other, or they should be. It seems you are struggling in your relationship with your current partner, but unless you are sacrificing time spent with your partner for another person unfairly, these relationships have nothing to do with one another.

It’s not clear whether you are hesitating to get to know a new person because of your own emotional capacity to manage two relationships or if your partner is somehow telling you that developing a new relationship is a threat to your current relationship. If it is the latter, that’s a bit of a red flag. Your partner is allowed to have feelings about who you date, but they are not allowed to control your relationships with other people. And if that’s what they’re doing, I’d be very wary of that.

However, it’s possible you just meant the former, which is really on your shoulders. You need to accept the fact that your partner is going to feel anxious about things and that your relationship will have bumps in the road. That’s just how things go and that’s how things will go in any relationship. I understand being hesitant to pursue anything while your current ‘primary’ relationship isn’t feeling secure, but sometimes relationships don’t feel secure. I don’t think you should try to inhibit what you’re doing to solve your partner’s anxiety because you’re not actually treating the problem.

Communication and polyamory

You titled your email to me asking what to do when you’re the adventurous one, but I don’t feel like your partner is not adventurous necessarily, it just sounds like they’ve asked you for reassurance through different means and things haven’t necessarily gone well. That doesn’t mean that you should give up on that, but I think you need to communicate better about the list you mentioned. But also, maybe your partner needs to communicate things as and when they happen, if it’s possible.

Sit down with the list and go through their ideals in each of those ways to reassure them. Sometimes you might not know what the ideal is or sometimes when stuff comes up like in the example you’ve given, you don’t realise you’re not into it until it’s too late. Ideally, your partner would be able to tell you this type of stuff in the moment, rather than next morning. I feel like you’re seeing your attempt here as a failure, but really you learned that showing your desire for them in that circumstance doesn’t make them feel desired, so try something else.

Either way, this shouldn’t necessarily impact what you’re doing in another relationship. The reassurance your partner needs is understandable and might be triggered by this other potential relationship, but it’s something you need to manage separately. I’m not sure how long you have been together and if you’ve done enough within your relationship to establish security there, but you should really focus on that, allow your other relationship to flourish as and when, and try not to put things on a halt just because things are shaky in your current relationship.

Because at the end of the day, your relationship could be shaky for any number of reasons. What if your partner gets a serious illness? What if your current ‘new friend’ has an illness or a death in the family and asks for your support? We can’t control what goes on as much as we’d like to think. The security you have with your current partner is going to be built between you but it can easily be shaken by any number of things, so I wouldn’t try and only pursue what you want to pursue just while things seem ‘safe’ because that safety isn’t necessarily always going to last.

To sum up, I think you should speak more in depth with your partner about the list you have between the two of you and try to avoid putting other relationships on ice while things might seem a bit shaky with your current partner.

I hope that helps and good luck!

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