In my first Poly Q&A post, I was asked whether or not it is normal to feel uncertain, anxious or insecure about your partner dating–or having sex with–someone else. Without presuming to answer for anyone else, I think it’s a safe bet to say that probably most people do have some disquieting feelings about it, at least occasionally, and especially at first. It’s natural to feel anxious about the unknown.
What matters, then, is how you deal with it.
I imagine there are as many effective ways to deal with these unwelcome feelings as there are people that experience them, because we all have different coping mechanisms. What is important is that you and your partner(s) find ways to help you cope with the feelings in a way that allows everyone to feel validated and allows everyone a chance to be heard and understood. Again, I can’t presume to speak for anyone else, or to even know how it’s all done, because lord knows, I have “done it wrong” plenty of times (starting with the aforementioned meltdown with my ex) but in speaking with other polyfolk and poly educators, it seems that there are some useful “universal” steps to managing these feelings, steps that are used for dealing with any uncomfortable or possibly destructive feelings.
The first step to managing these kinds of feelings is to acknowledge–and accept–them. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to share this acknowledgment with your partners–many people find that the best way that they manage their insecurities is not to share them with their partners, in fact. I tend to be the other way: I need to share what I am feeling so that I can hear them tell me all the reasons why my feelings, while valid, are unwarranted. But this is something you will need to discover in discussion (or trial and error) with your partner(s). I will say this, however, a meltdown—such as I had with my ex, and later with Ad—is probably not the best way to communicate this to your partner(s). While I did learn a lot from my original meltdown, it caused a lot of suffering and damage on the way. It is essential to find healthy ways to communicate this information, ways in which both partners feel safe in sharing what can be uncomfortable information to share/hear.
Sometimes the hardest part is to actually admit that we are not feeling okay with everything. I find myself saying this at times: “Jesus, Jade, you’ve been doing this how long? When are you going to get over feeling insecure?” forgetting that we’re all human, with human frailties, and just because I’ve been “doing this” for awhile doesn’t make me immune to these kinds of feelings. Before I can find a method to deal with my feelings, I have to accept that I have them; accept my own imperfections and accept that it’s okay to feel them. Feelings aren’t logical, they just are.
But if we never acknowledge them, if we never bring them to the light of day, we won’t have the opportunity to find a way to mitigate the issue (if there is a way. Sometimes, it’s just something we have to accept as part of our make-up.) If we don’t know why we’re feeling tweaked, there’s no way to avoid getting tweaked in the future.
I’ll give you an example.
Ad and I hadn’t been dating very long when he met someone else and, with my encouragement, started dating her. Quite by accident, I learned that his relationship had become sexual. It wasn’t that I didn’t expect it to (and even want it to go there), and it wasn’t that we had a rule that he couldn’t go there in a relationship without getting some kind of permission from me. We don’t have a lot of rules, and even if we did, permission for sexual interaction would not be one of them. From what I understand, that’s kind of unusual in the poly and swinging community, where many couples have strict sets of rules about their dating behavior. But for Ad and I (and W, although with him there is a D/s element to consider) we tend to work better without many other rules except for common courtesy (tell me when something new starts, be upfront and honest, have respect for our relationship) and sexual health rules. So, technically he had not violated anything by not informing me when it happened.
The reality was that I was, to use a phrase of W’s, blindsided by this information. I felt betrayed somehow, or that he was keeping the seriousness of their relationship from me (an added piece to this that is specific to our relationship is that sex IS a very serious step for Ad, who doesn’t have casual sex.) Once again, I did not react well. Not as bad as I had with my ex, but…not as well as I could have, and as I am learning to. Still, we both learned valuable lessons in it. A main one being that apparently being left out (in this case not knowing what was going on in the relationship) is a big trigger for me.
Several good things resulted from this. One, once I realized it was an issue, I was able to pinpoint why I felt this way and was then able to work on changing that in myself (an ongoing project.) Two, once I knew what the problem was, I was able to address it with Ad (in a healthy, sane manner), and later with W, and to ask for certain things that they could do to help alleviate the issue. I own that it is MY issue, but there are things that can be done to help me manage it, and they are more than willing to do those things—things that have nothing to do with them not getting what they want, or that have to do with curtailing what they need. If I hadn’t acknowledged the problem, though, if I’d done what I see a lot of submissive women do in their relationships and just stuff the feelings down, because they are “submitting,” then we never would have found healthy ways to deal with the problem, and I would have gone on feeling crazy and unhappy, and probably made them the same. As it is, though I still find myself “triggered” by this issue occasionally, just knowing that it is “one of those things” allows me to take a moment to breathe through what I am feeling, to think and live in it for a moment before I react.