The devil’s in the details

About three years ago, I approached my husband with the idea of being non-monogamous. I had several situations pop up where sexual encounters could have happened, but did not due to my loyalty to my marriage. One of them, I kissed someone and then immediately left the situation in horror. My husband, let’s name him Noah, is my best friend and most trusted confidant. I wanted to be honest about these encounters without hurting him. After some convincing, he agreed to be open. I started seeing the person I kissed, let’s call him Daniel, and began a relationship with him.
It was incredibly intense and I was open with my husband about it. Although I never admitted until recently that my relationship with Daniel went beyond sex, we had a crazy intense emotional connection. Long story short, it lasted about 18 months and then crashed and burned. Daniel completely broke my heart into 5 trillion pieces. Noah, as amazing as he is, helped me emotionally and mentally pick up the pieces and gave me back a sense of stability in my life.
I think I was truly afraid of telling my husband about my emotional connection with Daniel, in fear of losing Noah. I truly see myself spending the rest of my life with him and we have two really amazing kids. I quickly realized that I could not have sex with someone who I had no established emotional connection with. I thought this would complicate things for my marriage, but Noah is actually completely fine with it and is willing to let me explore the waters.
My dilemma is this, I have not been able to find anyone to compare to Daniel, and in a way I’m not truly over it. It ended about 8 months ago. I also want to mention that my husband has been completely monogamous throughout our entire relationship until maybe a few weeks ago. He said he truly did not find the need to be with anyone else and only wanted to be with me for comfort reasons.
A few weeks ago, he was on a business trip and a colleague of his hooked him up with a friend of his. They were only together for one night and my husband waited to tell me until he got back in town, several days later. Even a few days of him being home, he said nothing and acted super strange. Eventually, I made a joke about him hooking up with someone else and he spilled the beans. This seriously changed our entire relationship. I asked him in detail about what happened.
He also would ask me to go into grave details about Daniel. We were very honest with one another but my heart sunk into my stomach. The more he described this other woman to me, how beautiful she was, how small she was, etc… the more I wanted to throw up. I had a complete emotional breakdown. I keep checking his messages on his phone, and wondering where he is when he comes in late. I looked her up on Facebook and scrolled through about 500 pictures of her. I really did not think I would react this way but I am so incredibly mentally unstable after he’s told me. I know this is jealousy.
After this news, I immediately tried to convince my husband to become monogamous again. He agreed he wouldn’t see anyone until I felt okay with it, and even suggested that we ask another partner into our bedroom to make me feel more at ease about him sleeping with other people. I think I am in some shock because he has never expressed any interest in other women. I also know monogamy is not realistic for either of us, because I know eventually, one day, another situation will most likely arise where we sleep with other people. I just know it will happen to him before it happens to me.
I know I am being selfish, but I really can’t kick this feeling of jealousy. I am a complete wreck and I’m deeply afraid of losing my husband. This obviously bothers me more than it bothers him, and the whole thing was my idea. How do I not get jealous when he’s sleeping with others? How can I slowly accept that I am no longer the only woman he wants? I need advice and none of my friends have non-monogamous relationships. I’m finding it hard to find someone to turn to.

There are a few things going on here I’d like to address:

  • Anxiety is not a death sentence
  • Details aren’t helpful
  • Establishing boundaries and trust

Anxiety is not a death sentence

Although this looks like jealousy, I don’t actually think this is what you’re experiencing. I might be being a bit pedantic in how I define jealousy, but I really believe that the trademark of jealousy is wanting something that someone else has and being bitter about not having it. You aren’t bitter about not having partners. You’re having a very logical, very understandable bout of anxiety and fear of being replaced.

It feels absolutely horrible, I know. But it’s actually quite normal and it also isn’t a death sentence. You can survive it and you can outlast it. But the first thing to do is to understand it better, recognise your triggers for it, and develop better coping mechanisms when it rears its head again.

The first thing you should try and recognise is that just because someone doesn’t look like they’re afraid or nervous, doesn’t mean they are. Especially when a person is socialised to repress their emotions and not show them or share them. I’ve noticed a trend in people read as men to experience just as much fear and worry, but not really tell their partners about it or show it much. Your partner has likely been encouraged his entire life to suppress and not show his emotions — but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have them.

Secondly, give yourself a bit of slack here. You have a society around you that has sent you a lot of strong messages both about you needing to go to the sky and beyond to attract or keep partners but also about your physical appearance and how important this is above anything else. Even if you move towards a relationship style that is unconventional, it doesn’t mean you immediately shed the influences you’ve grown up with your entire life. It’s very understandable to be terrified of the idea of being replaced by someone else. It’s going to be very hard for you to cope with anxiety if you’re busy beating yourself up for having it.

Overall, your feelings, even if they seem ridiculous and overblown, are very understandable. This is a change in your relationship and your life and that always causes stress. It’s very well-known that moving, a death in the family, a new child and other big life events cause relationship stress — and so does opening it up. It’s very understandable to be worried and scared when the threat is knocking at your door. So give yourself a break. Because once you do that, it will be easy for you to identify your triggers.

Details aren’t helpful

Honesty is important in all relationships, but the details are not. Sometimes the details aren’t helpful or even really necessary. I can tell you that probably the most awkward thing about being in an open relationship for me is figuring out how my partner tells me that they’ve slept with someone else and to be honest… I’ve not worked out a way that’s not weird. On the one hand, we don’t want to lie to each other but on the other hand, it feels weird to “report” to each other that we’ve had sex with someone else.

I’ve talked about it with my partner at length and we’ve decided that we just have to accept the awkwardness and go with it. We’ve both agreed that phoning each other directly after having sex with someone new isn’t really necessary, but we do need to tell each other. If either one of us are going through a mentally difficult time, then we might wait a few days until we’re okay again to tell, but other than that, that’s what we’ve agreed on.

I feel a lot of sympathy for your husband because he probably didn’t want to hide it but literally had no idea how to tell you and a lot of people, when they do first try non-monogamy, experience a lot of really complicated feelings internally. A lot of people can’t shake the feeling that they’ve done something wrong. And, oddly enough, for some people it feels better to not say anything than to be honest and say because they really feel like something bad will happen. I’m not saying it was right of him to hide it, but I don’t think he did it intentionally or he did it with malice in mind. It might be good for you all to sit down and figure out what the process is to tell each other about new flings or partners and this might not be an issue.

But the other big thing you need to do, is stop asking for and giving details. Unless one of you is turned on by that sort of thing, there is absolutely no reason to divulge that type of detail to each other. I feel like people do this because they think it will help them ‘get over’ their jealousy or anxiety and… I just don’t think that’s the case or that’s even necessary. You don’t have to enjoy hearing every detail about your partner being with someone else in order to be *truly* polyamorous. And it’s not jealousy to not want to hear those details.

I can say that I’m 100% uninterested in hearing details about my partners being with other people. Because I know full well the way my anxiety works and I know that if I give my anxiety an inch, it will take a mile. If I get the tiniest bit of suggestion that there is someone who is “better” than me, my anxiety will take it and run with it no matter how illogical it sounds — and that’s exactly what your anxiety did.

Looking this person up on Facebook, looking at photos, doing all of this just dug your anxiety deeper. You need to accept that you have these feelings, but that doesn’t mean indulging them. Neither of you need the details, outside of sexual health information, so stop sharing them. It’s not hiding anything, it’s just realising what does and doesn’t help.

Establishing boundaries and trust

Once you realise what your anxiety triggers are and know how to avoid them, you need to work with your partner on re-establishing your trust with one another. It’s not acceptable for you to be going through his messages on his phone and you need to be honest with him about that. I think once you understand why he didn’t tell you right away and you both sit down and have a talk about how you disclose this to one another, you will probably be able to understand that he wasn’t trying to violate a boundary and you can make it clearer for each other on how to operate in this case.

When difficult times like these hit, it can feel comforting for you to ‘return to monogamy’ for a short period of time, but I honestly don’t think this actually helps. In very dire situations, it can create some down time that’s much needed, but ultimately closing a relationship for a short term is only delaying the inevitable and it’s actually caving more into anxiety than actually addressing it. Whenever I had more intense anxiety and I started caving into my thoughts and avoiding the things that were giving me anxiety, my anxiety just grew in response. And it can just grow and grow until you’re trapped in a corner.

What actually helped me overcome my anxiety was honestly accepting that I was going to have it and that I wasn’t a failure for having it. The more I faced my anxiety, the better I got at coping with it. Having anxiety and fear about your partner leaving you is absolutely understandable but accepting that there is ultimately nothing you can do to stop that is probably going to help you more. I think if you really think about it, you’d understand that monogamy does not stop people from leaving their partners for other people.

There really isn’t anything you can do to prevent your partner from leaving you. Becoming smaller, skinnier, or anything else that this other woman is won’t stop your partner from leaving you. On the one hand, that’s scary but on the other hand, it’s a weight off of your shoulders. Because it means you don’t have to compete with anyone that your partner dates or is attracted to in order to keep them. It means you don’t have to keep fighting to interpret messages from your partner that aren’t there. If someone doesn’t see the value in staying with you, then there is absolutely nothing you can do to force them to do that.

You have to accept that, closed or open relationship, this is out of your control. And that will help you cope with some of this anxiety. You’re going to fear being replaced, but realising that all of these things your anxiety is telling you to do to avoid it (looking at photos, hearing details, being paranoid) isn’t actually going to change or prevent that. Your brain is trying to help you really, but it’s not helping — it’s just making it worse.

I would suggest finding a polyamory friendly therapist and talking through what each of you want from polyamory and how you both envision this working out in your life. Figure out if you both want the same type of structure in your life. I think once you and your husband are clear about what polyamory means and is in your life, it will be less terrifying for him to see other people.

Right now you’ve just encouraged him to be open, but it sounds like you haven’t really discussed how having other partners is going to impact your relationship. You can both have strong feelings for other people. That’s totally possible. But the reason you’ve been freaking out about that is because for you strong feelings = huge commitment or a life that looks a certain way, and it doesn’t have to be that way.

Once you work out what your polyamorous relationship will look like and how you will negotiate time with new partners and how to tell each other about other things, it’ll be a lot less terrifying when new people come along. But always give yourself the freedom to feel anxiety. It might just be that you need to re-establish the trust you had before in a new context and that takes a bit of time.

Sometimes the only way to learn how to cope with anxiety is to sit through it, experience the fear and the terror, and come out of it the other side seeing that you didn’t die and everything is okay. I can say that I’m far less anxious about my domestic partner seeing new people than I was when we first got together. Sometimes it takes time.

In summary

It feels like jealousy, but I don’t think it is. It’s perfectly understandable anxiety and fear. It’s your brain trying to protect you and not really knowing how. What you need to do is stop listening to the details, stop caving into the strings your anxiety is trying to pull you along, and identify the things that cause the fear to explode. Reframing your anxiety should help you learn how to cope with it and re-establishing trust and boundaries with your partner, especially exploring how you plan to do polyamory in the future, should help calm your anxiety down loads.

But never, never, ever, ever beat yourself up for being afraid. It’s okay to be afraid. It doesn’t make you a bad person. And it doesn’t mean you can’t do polyamory.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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