When reassurance means denial

My wife and I sat down after our one year anniversary, and she advised me that she has always been polyamorous and wanted to experience this part of herself. I am a monogamist, and even though I do not fully understand this, I told her that I was willing to be understanding and trusting while she does this. She has met someone, and they have a good connection, and a lot in common.
I guess I have this stupid fear that I am not good enough anymore and she can find someone that is on the “same wavelength” that she is. It has been very hard on me, I feel okay for a little bit, and then some negative feeling gnaws at me and makes me sad, angry and jealous all over again. I am finally going to seek therapy to assist me in dealing with my demons.
My wife has told me that this is not something that she wants to do for the rest of her life (as we have decided to have children soon), and that this part of her will only make us stronger. We will be able to communicate better, and have a stronger bond. She has always been honest with me, and I know that we have been through so much in the two years that we have been together. I want her to be who she is, and I accept all of her, because I love and do not want to lose her.
Also to note, my wife has never made me doubt her love for me. She said that she married me because i am her life partner, and I am her life and that she loves me a lot. I just cannot understand why I am constantly seeking unnecessary reassurance from her all the time and causing a rift between us.
Can you please give me some advice that may just give me some ease while i deal with this? How long until it gets easier? What recommendations do you have for someone that is really trying to make this work? Your input would be greatly appreciated.

There are a couple things here I want to address:

  • Polyamory as an identity
  • Misconception of monogamy as ‘stable’
  • Not being ‘good enough’ in non-monogamy

Polyamory as an identity

The thing I find as slightly odd here is that your wife has said that she has ‘always been polyamorous’ but yet she knows that ‘this is not something that she wants to do for the rest of her life’. This strikes me as odd.

Polyamory, from what I’ve gathered, can be a core aspect of someone’s identity. They can feel like it’s part of who they are. I’m not one of those people. I could theoretically do monogamy, I just really don’t want to. And certain aspects of monogamous culture which aren’t necessarily inherent in monogamy (such as not being able to flirt or show interest in other people) would feel ridiculous to me.

I don’t want to assume that your wife can’t be the type of person who feels naturally inclined towards polyamory while at the same time feeling like monogamy is do-able for her, but she can’t do it if she never gets the chance to do polyamory. It’s possible that her expression of wanting to try polyamory at this point does really reflect the fact that she wants to spend the rest of her life with you in a monogamous partnership because she’s keen to try something new and doesn’t want to end up resentful or regretful that she didn’t.

However, in her attempt to reassure you, I feel like she’s not really being honest with herself about the uncertainty that lies ahead. She may think that she’s just going to try polyamory and she can go back to monogamy when you’re ready to have kids, but she cannot guarantee that. She cannot guarantee that she will want to return to monogamy. She can feel like that is likely, but I do feel like she’s over-reassuring you to the point where she’s giving you reassurance about things which she cannot possibly predict or know.

Part of being honest is also being honest about what you don’t know or predict. It’s really important within non-monogamy, and within life in general, for us to be honest about what we don’t know and what is unpredictable. So many people avoid doing this because it’s scary. Right now, your relationship is changing and you want to feel stable and your partner is trying to provide that to you but the reality is that she can’t.

But the good news brings me to my next point.

Misconception of monogamy as ‘stable’

People assume quite often that monogamy is ‘stable’, which makes sense. It’s culturally reinforced and encouraged. We believe that when we’ve married someone and committed our life to them and they are committed to us that things are ‘stable’ and ensured. The truth is though that just because we’ve committed to someone and they’ve committed to us doesn’t mean things can’t change.

The only thing constant and for sure is change. Your partner could change her mind today about trying polyamory and then in a year, she could still meet someone new, fall in love, and then decide to end your relationship. People can meet new people and fall in love at any time, monogamous or not. Nothing can really stop that. So I would challenge you to re-examine what assumptions you may have accidentally made about monogamy.

Yes, things are changing now with regards to your relationship, but things are going to change anyway. That is guaranteed. Children will most certainly change your life in ways you can’t understand right now. Regardless of the strength of the bond you hold, one of you could pass away or become disabled and need more care. Nothing is guaranteed. And I think that sometimes we get caught up in seeing polyamory as such a threat because it means our partner is dating other people and therefore might leave us, that we don’t realise that just because your partner isn’t dating or looking for other people, doesn’t mean they won’t find anyone and leave you.

Along with recognising that nothing is certain, you also need to embrace the idea that this change is going to scare you — and that is okay. You mention getting therapy to ‘deal with your demons’ but these are not demons. These are completely logical and understandable feelings that come with a change in your life and trying something new. You’re going to be sad, angry and jealous. There is nothing wrong with you.

I do believe seeking therapy is still always a good option because it’s good to have a third party to help you work through your emotions, but don’t assume you will *get rid* of your emotions. That’s not the same thing. Your emotions are part of you. And they exist to help keep you safe, as silly as they see, now. Pain isn’t weakness leaving the body. Pain is the body making you aware that you might hurt yourself seriously. And in this regard, your brain is helping you realise that this does have the potential to change your life and you may lose your relationship with your partner.

What is important to do is embrace your feelings, don’t beat yourself up for them and be honest with your partner about your fears. Find ways to work through them but allow yourself permission to have them. Being afraid to lose your wife does not mean you don’t accept her. But try to remember that losing her is something you ultimately do not control. Which brings me to my next point.

Not being ‘good enough’ in non-monogamy

One of the major things people don’t understand about polyamory is how jealousy doesn’t happen because they assume there is a ‘competition’ between partners. There is an unhealthy aspect about a monogamous culture that encourages people to see finding a romantic partner as a ‘competition’. I think this has historically been fuelled by capitalism and the very real fact that marriage has been about consolidating power and exchanging property for a good long while. Not to mention, companies can sell more products to you if they make you believe that buying their product will get you a partner and therefore happiness.

But I want you to step outside of this for a second and flip the script. Did you choose your wife because she was the ‘best’ person? Did you choose her because she was ‘better’ at everything than all other people? All people have positive and negative attributes. And, as I said before, the only thing constant is change and that’s true also for people. We should and do continue to change and grow as people. You will not be the exact same person you are now in 5 years.

What makes a relationship constructive isn’t that both people are the best people in the world with the best skills and the best bodies and the best lives, as much as fairy tales would have us believe. What makes a relationship constructive is whether or not people, with their positives and negatives, ultimately create something that benefits them more overall. Relationships should not be stagnant things that are crystallised, perfect and sit under glass glistening and being admired by the world. Relationships should grow, twist, turn, burn, rot, sprout, reach towards the sun and run deep into the soil. They are dirty, twisting, confusing, complicated and imperfect things, as we are people.

Your anxiety is there because it is trying to give you some semblance of control in a world you cannot control. Your relationship is changing, you feel unstable and you feel scared so your animal brain in all of it’s brilliance and complexity, is saying “But if you’re perfect, then your partner won’t leave you”. It’s giving you the false notion that there is a way you can ensure that what you’re afraid of doesn’t happen.

And, in its own fucked up way, it’s trying to help you. If you’re in a terrible, sad situation, having some hope is better than none. If you’re a neglected child whose parents don’t care about you, thinking getting straight As will change your parent’s behaviour gives you hope. If you’re a woman afraid of being raped or abused, thinking that wearing turtlenecks and never going out at night will change the behaviour of rapists gives you hope. There are so many ways that our brains try to make sense of what is a chaotic world to try and help us manage it that sometimes it ‘helps’ in ways that are unhelpful.

This is not going to stop you from feeling afraid or jealous or sad. But when you accept that you are going to have these feelings, and you try and learn how to cope with them rather than get rid of them, you will be a lot happier overall than if you keep thinking you can exorcise these demons. These demons are apart of you and a part of us all.

Embrace the unknown

To sum up, I think that you and your partner should find a polyamory friendly therapist. I think your partner needs to stop reassuring you to the point of trying to predict the future. Both of you need to embrace the unknown here. She may decide polyamory is something she wants to do and she doesn’t want to be monogamous and you all need to think about what you’re going to do if that’s the case. Sometimes people, as much as they love each other and respect each other, grow apart. And that can and does happen with or without the element of polyamory being added to the mix.

Communicating better isn’t a given with polyamory. All being polyamorous is, is dating or trying to date more than one person at a time. No one has to complete a course to be polyamorous. Building better communication is something everyone in partnerships should do and I would not assume that a challenge like changing your relationship will always mean that you will and can rise to the challenge. Setting this as a challenge for you both to ‘complete’ isn’t going to help the pressure of the situation.

Embrace the fact that this is a change to your relationship and it may indeed cause some difficulties and be willing to embrace the emotions come with it. If you both force yourself into a situation where your relationship is not only changing but you have to put on a smile happy face and be okay with it all (or else you don’t accept your wife or want her to be who she is) you’re going to crack from the pressure. Your relationship does not have to be neat and clean. No one is coming to inspect it. Allow yourselves to be honest in a way that allows you to be messy because that’s how people are. As long as you’re not causing harm to one another, you’re allowed to have feelings.

I hope that helps and good luck!

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