Mike wrote in to ask:
I’ve been in an open relationship for almost two years now. We’re very much in love and have, generally, good and open communication. I have been monogamous but philosophically open to poly before I met my current partner. She and I have worked through a lot of my jealousy to the point where I can be okay with her going out on dates or having sex with other people. But I still get a very strong and visceral reaction when she first tells me about the possibility of that happening – to the point where I sometimes get very upset, worried I can’t handle the relationship, and get panicked. However, as time goes on, I find that I can manage it. I wonder if and when this reaction will subside. Also, we don’t have anything in the relationship like veto power or prior approval or anything, just a general “keep me informed” guideline. I wonder if having more explicit guidelines might help, although I certainly don’t want to rely on them (nor abuse veto power to avoid working through my own emotions). Does this pattern mean I’m not cut out for polyamory? Or am I being too hard on myself? (I have a history of my family evoking strong feelings of abandonment in me, so I’m suspicious this is related.)
Insecurity issues are not unusual in polyamory. Well, let’s be a bit more honest. Insecurity issues are not unusual in human beings! While I’d be the last person on Earth to say you should make yourself miserable to be poly, you’re not coming across as necessarily miserable, but concerned about emotional reactions. The fact that you’re saying that as time goes on, you can manage your reaction says to me that you are dealing with what I call “Lizard Brain” stuff.
You’re not coming across as someone who needs more than a “just keep me informed” guideline, either. How I’m seeing it, and I’m working from about 200 words of text in explanation, is that you have a History and you’re reacting to that as much as you’re reacting to your present situation. Hey, welcome to the Human Club. People do that.
You might want to try asking yourself some questions.
Am I reacting to real, verifiable actions, or am I making up Worst Case Scenarios?
This is probably the biggest issue you need to look at. We often feel anxiety when we play the “Make it worse” game unconsciously. i.e. “My partner will like that other person better and will leave me and take all my money and shame me publicly and make it difficult for me to get another job and I’ll freeze to death alone under a bridge drinking sterno and being spit on by passers-by.”
In reality? Chances are slim anything will be that bad. In reality your partner loves you, right? If you’re worried about that, there are some questions to ask there, too! Yes, yes, yes, people do get hurt in relationships sometimes. It sucks when it happens, but it’s utterly survivable, no matter what romantic fiction and movies try to say.
Does my partner tell me the truth?
This is the biggie. If you ask a question, will your partner tell the truth? If you ask, “Do you want to stay with me?” and your partner is habitually truthful with you, then when your partner says, “Yes, I want to stay with you,” you’re all good. Problem solved. You just need to trust that. Remind yourself as often as necessary that your partner is trustworthy.
If your partner doesn’t tell you the truth, you have a different problem, mind. If there are gross differences between behavior and words, explore that, and do ask questions. Notice I say, “Ask questions” rather than “Accuse” or “Interrogate” or any other of a number of similar words. I mean “ask” because it’s okay to presume a miscommunication at first. It’s when there is the constant repetition of inconsistencies that you might have an issue. If you genuinely can’t resolve that, you probably need not to be in a relationship with that particular person.
For my own part, I think one thing that’s very useful to work on is not only feeling secure in a relationship, but whether or not a relationship exists at all. This is not to say that you shouldn’t care. Losing someone you love does hurt and it does suck. But cultivating the idea that you can have a good and happy life whether or not you have that specific relationship is actually really helpful to having good and happy relationships, as it removes a lot of anxiety and need.
You ask if you’re cut out for polyamory. I don’t know that that’s the real question you need to ask. I think the real question is, “Am I happy in polyamorous relationships?” That may take some soul-searching, but it’s the important answer, and it’s really individual. You might say, “Given my druthers, not really. But in this situation, I’m so happy with my partner that it’s a small thing to agree to.” You might say, “Yeah, I really prefer polyamory. Not only am I using this as a tool to get over insecurity, I’m just plain happier and more relaxed in more open situations. I like the other relationships I personally have and look forward to the challenge of dealing with my lizard brain.”
I hope this is helpful and that you find your relationships happy and fulfilling.