My wife [married for 11 years] and I have been ethically non monogamous for a while, mostly swingers. We’ve never had issues about being sexually open but those activities were always together, we never really looked separately, while it helped sort through some feelings that come with going off script(monogamy), I don’t think we really dealt with core issues. About 4 years ago we met a couple(J & C) that we really clicked with and we had several good times with them, but a few months into it, for life reasons they moved away. J and I stayed in touch and we bonded very strongly over the years, mostly over text and a couple visits.
J and C tried to recreate the 4 way connection we had but they were unsuccessful so they moved more towards polyamory and eventually became polyamorous. I’ve learned a lot through her about polyamory and for the longest time, I struggled with a lot of the concepts from an emotional standpoint, I have anxiety and I and have some autistic traits that can make some things more difficult, my biggest fear has always been losing my wife and at the time we didn’t realized we were very codependent. Through the years my wife and I discussed plenty about polyamory but my fear always kept things closed, she always stated it isn’t something she needed but something she is interested, specially exploring her bisexual side, I’ve done my best to check in regularly to make sure she isn’t becoming resentful of my relationship with J, which doesn’t take much time away from us since it’s mostly text, she says that it’s opposite as it lightens the burden of supporting me entirely by herself.
At some point I confessed to my wife that I have very strong feelings for J, she said she was happy that I was able to be open and honest and that she knew already but was waiting for me to feel comfortable communicating that, nothing really changed between me and J.
A few months ago I met someone I connected with pretty quickly, my wife and I talked and we agreed that I could explore this new relationship. This lead to miscommunication and an incident that caused a massive feelings event for me, all my fears and anxiety got triggered simultaneously.
[In terms of the incident], my wife and I get along really well with the person I’ve been exploring with, let’s call her S. She comes and watch movies with us and we hang out together. She invited us to go to a bar, and stay over at her house since we were driving out of town next day and it would save time for our next day trip.
We go to the bar and through the entire time, I’m reaching out to my wife without verbal language, in retrospect I was feeling insecure and I didn’t communicate well, this was before I’ve read the articles you have and listened to many of your episodes. I’ve seen her flirt before, and it hasn’t been a problem. But that day I’ve felt insecure and I was trying to get reassurance, I wasn’t asking directly for it, so I’m starting to get anxiety and I’m starting to feel like the beginning of a panic attack. A guy asked for her number and when she was about to give it, I intervened and I told her I wasn’t comfortable and that I was getting a lot of feelings, she then stopped and asked me if I wanted to go outside.
I felt so much shame, guilt, and pain. I told her I was really sorry, and that a lot of things piled up and that I wasn’t prepared for it and everything was sudden and I felt like I was losing control of everything (I have control issues, and abandonment issues, but I’m working on them), for the longest time I thought I was ready but that night was a punch in the gut.
She didn’t have any resentment towards me stopping getting the number, she said she didn’t really care, she was just being nice, and she didn’t have any problems. I know that I can’t predict my feelings next time it happens, but I have more tools and feel more ready than last time, specially since I’ve seen it at least once, I feel more secure in my relationship also and I know where my insecurities come from, plus I’m actually getting therapy, I just feel extremely guilty and ashamed about it.
We’ve read more than two and we have been practicing the philosophies it states, because we believe they are applicable for all relationships so even though I thought I was ready, that day I felt so not ready.
We had really long conversations about polyamory after the incident and for a moment I asked to close and drop all my relationships to address my issues and build tools, which after listening to the podcast I knew I was trying to control things I really can’t and just putting unnecessary pressure on my wife, she told me it was dumb to drop my relationships but she was ok with closing. I offered a plan to address my issues and to get therapy to address my anxiety, which I have been attending and it’s been very helpful, I’ve also been working really hard towards being as sympathetic as possible especially with language, I’ve always done my best to be tactful but polyamory shakes things up a bit and you need to relearn how to navigate certain situations.
I discovered this podcast recently and I have been learning more and feeling more validated about certain feelings I have, reddit has been a pretty unwelcoming platform since people seem to be super judgy and not helpful, they just say get over your feelings.
Our current arrangement is we’re back to open, and we’ve been finding new ways to connect and communicate, my fears and anxiety are more manageable and I feel very secure in my relationship. I’ve been reassuring my wife that I am doing my best to address my feelings and that I’m building the tools to cope with the issues that polyamory might bring. Worth mentioning we have a kid so our time is already pretty limited, and our life is very hectic.
She says she’s not ready to start dating, and I know that one of the reasons is me, in her own words she wants to feel that I am ready, despite my reassuring language.
I’ve been putting myself mentally through potential scenarios to “feel” ahead, which has made me experience emotional burnout but I’ve been slowly getting better and over stuff. She tells me that I shouldn’t be driving myself hard to get all the feelings out because when she starts dating she’ll ease me into things. I trust her language but I feel guilty about the imbalance, I know some of my issues make it hard but I’m addressing them.
What else can I do, should do to make her feel reassured that I will be as supportive and thoughtful as possible.
The first thing I want to say is that you should stop being so hard on yourself. When you mentioned “the incident” in your letter, I had assumed that this was a huge boundary violation, but it was a time of difficult emotions when you basically tried to tap out of non-monogamy because you were struggling with your feelings. Your partner doesn’t seem to hold a grudge over you for this, so you need to stop holding a grudge against yourself about it.
The biggest reason you are having so much trouble is because of the impossible, grueling standard you are holding yourself to. I agree with your wife in many cases. Stopping all of your relationships to “focus” on your problems doesn’t help you learn how to navigate emotions while being in relationships, it just delays it. Though I wouldn’t call it “stupid”. It’s more you trying to tap out of overwhelm. And you replaying the worst scenarios in your head to “prepare”, leading yourself to emotional burnout is also just exhausting yourself. It will not make you more emotionally prepared than you already are. Whitney Goodman has a good post on Instagram about this.
You expect too much of yourself. You think you should be able to navigate polyamory with no feelings of fear, or at least you want that for yourself, partly so that you can reassure your partner — who doesn’t really seem to need your reassurance. She needs to decide for herself when she is ready to date. If she makes that decision based on you, that is still her decision to make. It is not you who holds the responsibility to reassure her enough so that she feels comfortable. Part of polyamory (just as with some monogamous relationships where partners spend lengths of time apart) is dealing with the fact that your partner may not be 100% happy all of the time but you have to trust that you’re both making the decisions you want to make and you’re both being honest with each other so that resentment isn’t building. If you have a partner who is not honest with you and allows resentment to build, you cannot control that. That is a decision they are making.
It is understandable to feel guilty if you feel like you are feeling all of these emotions and your wife isn’t and you feel like you need more reassurance than she does. But this is also part of the ebb and flow of a lot of relationships. I’m sure if you’ve been together for 11 years, you understand that sometimes you have times where one person helps the other. Some people may naturally or because of some of the work they’ve already done, acclimate to polyamory a bit easier than others. Or it may be that because you’re so anxious, your wife feels a bit more able to be calmer. Either way, it is what it is, and kicking yourself down for it won’t change the current state of affairs.
So the first thing you need to do is accept you’re going to have these feelings and also recognise them as a natural reaction to being afraid to lose a partner you have had for 11 years and with whom you have a child with. When you had your child, did you expect parenting to be something that would always make you happy? No. But when you are feeling tired and fed up, none of that represents a lack of love for your child. All of the emotions you’re feeling don’t represent distrust you have for your partner or a weakness in yourself. It’s just a reasonable reaction to being in a society which has taught you that monogamy is the only valid option and a fear of losing something precious to you.
The second thing is to give yourself a little bit of leeway in terms of emotional reactions. It’s great that you have a wife who does not take your emotions personally and doesn’t hold resentment over you for missed opportunities — but you may be holding resentment towards yourself. You do not have to be perfect. Polyamory is not emotional bootcamp and there are times where I, even after a decade of being polyamorous, am still scared. That’s normal. That isn’t a flaw or something that you have to “address”. It’s just emotions that are. Instead of seeing your emotions as pests to get rid of, recognise that they are there to help you. Your fear is there, as much as it’s hard to believe it if you have anxiety, to help you. Learning how to calm it takes a while, but that doesn’t mean you never have any fear.
Lastly, it might help to review my 101 article, particularly on the subject of finding your anchor and facing your fears. A good deal of anxiety can come from trying to control what cannot be controlled. You are terrified of losing your partner and as much as that fear is understandable, there is only so much you can do as a person to control that, and recognising that and letting go of the responsibility to prevent that will definitely help you manage some of this anxiety. I would also recommend looking into understanding your nervous system a little bit more. Clementine Morrigan writes very well about this and she has some specific workshops about trauma informed polyamory. I don’t know your background but anyone with anxiety would benefit from understanding how their nervous system works.
Give yourself a break here. You’re not broken or a big bundle of mistakes. You’re just a person having a perfectly understandable reaction to the fear of losing someone you care deeply about. It’s going to take some time to manage, but you absolutely will get there. But it will be difficult to get there if you’re beating yourself up the entire way.
I hope this helps and good luck!