My partner and I have been together for a little over two years and just about a month ago we decided to pursue Polyamory. It came at a time when we were both just starting to get over a huge hump in our relationship and were feeling really good about us. But it was also a time when he started having these feelings for another lady friend. It has been hard to work through some jealousy and fears of abandonment. But I have been working on this because I am also interested in pursuing polyamory.
My assumptions and understanding of what was okay for us to do was completely different than his…and that wasn’t figured out until after I started going on dates with this other person (a male). And I ended up having sex with him (unexpectedly and surprisingly soon) that my partner’s real feelings and fears came out. To make the situation worse, all this is happening while he is traveling. I know where I fucked up. He says he thought he was ready for me to be with other men… but now he doesn’t know. Insecurity, fear, jealousy, and resentment are all emotions that have come up.
My question is,
Where to go from here? How do I work on my primary relationship and rebuild it while also having this other person who I don’t want to lose or scare away? I am a sexual person who is drawn to people based on emotions. While my partner is very social and creates emotional bonds, but has a hard time with intimacy. How do we pursue polyamory when we are at different comfort levels and states of mind?
First, there’s no need to freak out much. Everyone finds themselves blindsided by emotions in relationships –poly or not. It’s part of the human condition.
Second, the fact that you’re willing to look clearly at what you did, where you think you went wrong and are wondering how to fix it is fantastic.
From what you’ve written here, yes, some self-analysis on both of your parts will help out a lot. Was insensitive to have sex with a new partner for the first time when a current partner was on travel and you two newly looking at poly? Well, yeah. Sorry. Then again, you already know that, so there’s no need to reiterate it much. However, what can you learn from that?
One thing that would be useful is to train yourself to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and think before you act. Even better, ask what your partner thinks. Since you can’t read minds, asking is always good. You don’t need to be impatient about it, either. If it doesn’t involve blood or fire, it can wait. That might mean waiting until a work day or a business trip is over. While a reasonable interval for waiting is fluid depending on the situation, unless you’re looking at a deployment issue or something, putting off things for years might be stretching it a bit. But almost anything of a relationship nature can wait a few days or a week!
You mention that you do not want to lose your new love. Understandable. I won’t even say that you should dump him and work on your primary relationship. I mean it’s an option, but I don’t think it’s necessarily setting a great precedent for poly. Your best hope at this point is building trust both with your old boyfriend and your new one. With your new boyfriend, it will help to own up. “Honey, I probably jumped the gun sleeping with you. We’re newly poly, you’re the first other man I’ve been involved with, and my other boyfriend is really zinged by this. Hopefully I’ll learn from this so I don’t do something that’ll zing you in the same way.” Because things are so new, that’ll probably be plenty for him.
With your old boyfriend, there’s going to be some baggage. That’s okay. Relationships can overcome baggage. It’s just (tedious!) work.
That you think communication and boundaries are an important part of this process is a fantastic thing. You are very right; that’s exactly what it will take!
Apologizing for not communicating more clearly, and then following through on being as clear as you can possibly manage is a good first step. But let’s analyze why your partner might be freaked.
I get the sense, and I could be wrong, that of the two of you, you tend to follow impulse a bit more than he tends to. It could be that because you made a quick decision to have sex with a prospective, he’s following that to its (not so logical, but emotionally-easily justified) conclusion that at some point, impulse will take you to leave him for better looking/richer/more physically endowed/whatever.
While his insecurities really are his problem, there’s something big you can do to help: Say what you’ll do, then follow through on it. Never rules lawyer, but always nail down intent and meaning as clearly as you can manage.
This won’t completely fix anything, as we can’t anticipate everything that goes on in our lives. What can and does do is create a precedent of you setting expectations and following through on them as best you can. When (not if) you screw up again, that precedent will allow your boyfriend to have firmly in mind that you do have his best interests at heart and mean to follow through on them. Doing this means you will screw up less often, and at widening intervals. If the screw ups go away completely, you’re better at learning from mistakes than I am, and I’ll want to know your secret!
You ask what you and your boyfriend can do, so I have some advice for him, too.
Forgive the screw up. If it becomes a pattern, yes, it’ll be a problem you have to deal with. It seems like I recommend this article every other column, but check out Franklin Veaux’s How to Become a Secure Person. It’s really good. The man is poly and reasonably sensible. Remember that polyamory is not a contest of “collect the genitals”. In many a long-term poly relationship, some partners might have more than others from time to time. It’s okay. What’s important is making sure you know what your needs are, and you know how to get them met as an individual.
I understand you can’t always predict how you might feel in a given situation, even if you think you know how you’ll feel. That’s okay. It’s part of being a member of the Human Club. But do your best to communicate your own wants, needs and desires as clearly as you can manage, too!
Both of you could benefit from On Civilized Discourse* by Edward Martin, III. He’s another writer wise in the ways of people, and I think you would find his work quite helpful.
Stuff will certainly come up frequently and will continue to. I’ve known my husband nearly 24 years, and it was only this weekend that I could finally fully articulate why an issue that sometimes cropped up between us bothered me so. It was simple, and a little stupid, because all I had to say was that something hurt my feelings. I had been framing it all logically, when the issue had very little to do with logic, but emotions. Since it was clear to him that my logical argument wasn’t very accurate, he wasn’t able to grok. When I was smart enough to realize that, yeah, this was an emotional issue, so deal with it as it really is, there was considerably less problem.
So… yeah, work in progress.
I hope y’all are a happy work in progress for a long time, too!
* Another article I recommend with amazing regularity. Hey, sometimes simple principles really do have powerful effects all down the relationship chain!