Sometimes if a relationship implodes, you finally learn to push past your defense mechanisms in other relationships to stop the pattern in its track.
Growing up in an emotionally abusive family, I have always been conflict avoidant. My sister and I would take turns keeping the peace, and my role as peacekeeper followed me into adulthood. When someone I love is angry, or when I’m angry, it’s easier to just find a way to make the problem and its resulting feelings disappear than it is to face it head on. Except that you can only really sweep so many problems under the rug before underneath the rug is full. And it turns out you can’t really make a problem disappear through the force of sheer will after all.
I’ve made a choice to be brave recently. Rather than talking myself out of my feelings, I’ve expressed them. I think especially in the poly community there’s this idea that jealousy or hurt feelings mean that you’re bad at poly or doing it wrong. I felt that way for a long time. I saw my jealousy or insecurity as a moral failing. As a by-product of being new(ish) to poly and still figuring things out. As a problem that would go away in time. And certainly outbreaks of strong negative feelings lessened over time, but I never reached the nirvana of just never feeling them at all.
But hard feelings are only a problem if your partner sees them as a problem. I think perhaps people who don’t get jealous easily have a hard time understanding those who do. Or perhaps the strength of negative feelings has a relationship to the strength of positive ones. That the more you love someone, the stronger and more overwhelming those negative feelings will be when they finally do surface. Unfortunately, those we love the most have the capacity to hurt us the most.
I recently had my first fight with a partner and their spouse. The three of us have spent time together as a group on several occasions. I have been enjoying the feeling of metamour closeness, but at the end of the day, I am only dating one of them. The fight centered around how my relationship with my partner was manifesting on-line. Obviously since I blog about poly I’ve made a choice to be very open. I understand not everyone can afford to be, which is exactly why I have made the choice to do so, in the hopes that my journey might educate or edify others in a world where not much information is available about how to navigate non-monogamy safely and ethically.
I felt I had set a boundary in saying that if my partner had issue with anything I had tagged them in on-line, they could tell me and I would stop. Then the spouse talked to us both about the issue in group chat, which to me felt like a loss of control over being able to negotiate the parameters of my own relationship with my partner. I’m solo poly and against anything that smacks of hierarchy or veto, which is why I initially was skeptical about even dating someone who was married.
After taking some time to calm down and understand what exactly I was upset about, I outlined my feelings above in the group chat and the spouse apologized. I’m not used to someone being so willing to admit fault and validate my feelings. My normal experience of conflict is invalidation and a lack of empathy for my point of view. So rather than causing a rift, the conflict only brought the three of us closer together and helped to highlight some boundaries which needed to be reaffirmed.
Then, another partner started a D/s relationship with a mutual close friend. The three of us are very close and often spend time together. I found myself again upset, as much as I wanted to be happy for them both. In college, I introduced two of my closest friends to each other, and then they ended up becoming closer friends with each other than I was to either of them, or that was how it felt. I was afraid of the same thing happening again – that D/s would bring them closer and leave me left behind. I was also afraid that power exchange would seep into the group dynamic and cause it to shift. I was afraid we would never all be able to hang out and chat freely the way we used to. That my submissive friend would feel the need to censor themselves in group conversation or that our group friend time would become about their D/s dynamic. In the wake of losing my own D/s relationship, I think there was also some grief about not knowing whether or when I will ever be able to engage in that kind of relationship again.
I messaged one friend to bring up my concerns and was offered reassurance. I was afraid to talk to my partner because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings, having done so in the past when current issues activated past trauma. I talked about the issue in therapy, and couldn’t find an actual reason behind the fear aside from my past experience. So I talked to my partner in person and again was given reassurance and validation of my feelings. I think because our relationship is not sexual and therefore not validated by the larger culture, sometimes I need extra reassurance of our value to each other.
It feels good to be able to bring up my concerns and to have my feelings validated and to be reminded of my importance to the people that I care about. Sometimes avoiding conflict can mean avoiding intimacy. Poly adds more variables to any given relationship, and feelings and connections can get complicated quickly. There’s not a cultural script for how to deal with any of this in a healthy way, and there aren’t yet positive poly role models in the media, showing successful poly relationships. The agreements in any relationship then are solely based on the people within it, meaning everyone needs to be able to be honest with themselves and each other about what is important to us.
Vulnerability is scary. But when vulnerability is met with vulnerability, it can be a beautiful and affirming thing. When a relationship is open, it means your heart needs to be open, too. It means getting rid of the walls you’ve built to protect yourself and allowing yourself to be really seen. But knowing you’re seen and still loved? Being willing to step outside of your comfort zone and meet someone where they are? Being told that your emotions are valid but your partner would never allow anything to get in the way of the love they have for you? It is the kind of thing that makes you want to throw out all the rugs and your broom.