A couple weeks ago, I was perusing my Twitter feed and noticed that Minx (of Polyamory Weekly fame) had posted a link to the latest PW podcast, related to Mono/Poly relationships (Podcast #398). Naturally, I had to check it out, and ended up stifling a laugh as I saw "avoid 'shoulding' on yourself" mentioned there, too. Clearly, I'm not as original as I thought. <cue sad trombone music>
Wounded pride notwithstanding, I gave the podcast a listen. This is big for me. I don't really listen to podcasts in general; I'm not a 'talk-radio' kind of girl. Plus, although I'd known about Minx's podcast for a while, I figured that despite my relationship configuration, I'm not Poly, have no interest in being Poly, so what benefit would I gain from listening to a poly podcast? This one, though, had my situation written all over it, and my curiosity got the better of me.
Before I continue, I want to stress that the letter-writer to whom Minx was replying (ChasingJoy) is in a very specific place - not only researching polyamory for her husband's benefit (as he was the one who "came out" as Poly), but because she was also interested in it as a potential relationship style for herself, even though she was struggling. Minx and Lusty Guy's responses should be considered with that point of view in mind. Some of the wording used may make some mono folks cringe. I know that I cringed (heck, my partner cringed!) when I heard the advice, "don't expect to change quickly," because I personally don't want to change. I like monogamous me the way I am, and I don't like the implication that change is required. However, there is definite acknowledgment from both Minx and Lusty Guy that you don't have to try to be Poly just because your spouse is, and hearing that validation helped calm my initial knee-jerk reaction enough to remind me that they're responding to ChasingJoy, and not my own situation.
Sometimes the world doesn't revolve around me. Who knew?
That aside, Minx and LG spend some time discussing how to take care of yourself when you're anxious about this transition, especially when your partner is out with other partners/dates of their own, and I think much of it is extremely good advice: quit with the "shoulds" (I've said enough about this already), do some positive reinforcement (take credit for the good things), and stand up for what you need in your relationship, outside of whatever other relationships your partner has. All good stuff. Self-care is extremely important, especially when you're struggling. Asking for the things you need, while keeping your partner's other partners/dates/activities out of it is a means of taking that focus and putting it back on you and your relationship, where it belongs. If I'm happy in my relationship, then I'm less stressed about what my partner's doing with other people.
There were, however, a couple pieces of advice that gave me pause, and I'll explain why, at least from my experience. Obviously, your mileage may vary.
"Fake it 'Til You Make It"
I've seen this echoed elsewhere, and I'm really not a fan of this approach. It just doesn't work for me. I find it to be too tangled up in the "shoulds". I don't like how I'm acting/feeling, so I'm going to put on an outward appearance of acting like I feel I should in order to get by.
In my case, it turned into burying the negative emotions I was feeling, and thinking that things were going to be great if I could only accept this, or do that. I put on the smile and faked it. Right up 'til the volcano popped and the eruption occurred. "Fake it 'til you explode" was my reality.
I don't fake it anymore. If I'm upset, I talk about it. If I'm worried about something, I bring it up. If I ever find myself in another relationship, I am going to be that man's worst nightmare, since at this point, I'm accustomed to not even saying that we need to talk - I just drop it all out on the table so we can talk about it and work it out. And we do. I lucked out with a partner (and metamours) who are good with communicating and coming to resolution, but faking my way through never gave us that opportunity.
"Distract, Distract, Distract"
"What do I do when my partner goes out and I'm home alone?"
I've seen this question so many places, and it really is a difficult answer.
Minx and LG talk about a three-step process, which I think is a good one overall:
- Check in with your partner beforehand
- Distract yourself during the event
- Reconnect afterward
But, boy... to a struggling Mono partner, "Distract yourself" can sound extremely dismissive. At first glance, it sounds remarkably like your older sibling trying to get rid of you after mom made you hang out. Here's five bucks. Go do something. Get lost.
It feels like busy work, and to someone who's used to being joined at the hip to their partner, used to sharing your lives with each other, being told to now "go find something to do" can be just plain hurtful and dismissive of your feelings.
Except, when you boil it down and examine its intent, it's really not.
This is where I think the wording does us a disservice; distracting yourself only goes so far. If there is something nagging at you, making you anxious, then if your focus is only on distracting yourself, it isn't going to work. See that pink elephant? Don't look at it! You can't look at it! The stress will just hover like a cloud over whatever it is you're doing, and you won't be able to help but think about it. So no... for me, distracting yourself isn't the only answer, but it's part of it.
Here's my reinterpretation of "distract, distract, distract":
- Find something to do that enriches you
- Continue to work on the underlying anxiety
If you're really struggling, this is not something that can be accomplished in one night, and Minx acknowledges that this kind of thing is a process that takes time.
Finding an activity that enriches you is more than going out and kvetching with the girls, or watching some bad TV. Those things may work in the moment, but chances are, if the stress level is high, you're going to have a hard time focusing on the activity, rather than on avoiding the pink elephant. Instead, try to find something you really, truly enjoy. Something that uplifts and enriches you. Something you can get lost in, to the point where you pick your head up and wonder where the time has gone. Gardening and yard work is my medicine - I can lose all track of time, even when I'm in a particularly craptacular mood, and I end up coming out the other side feeling much happier in my own skin. What is it for you? Making music? Writing? Home improvements? Church or spiritual activities? Video games? Cooking? It may take time to try on various things before you find one that fits (heck, it may even take some training - photography class, anyone?), but when you find it, you'll know it, and you'll want to do it because you love it, not because you've been driven to it.
Working on the underlying issues will help to lift that anxiety from the source. Minx discusses confronting your problems and not avoiding them by establishing rules that only serve to bury them. You can't fix the source of the stress if you avoid finding out what it is. Are you envious that your partner goes out on dates while you stay at home with the house and children? Are you feeling pushed aside and forgotten when they go out? Are you feeling as though you're no longer special because he's sharing special moments with other people now? Any of these would lead to feelings of jealousy, but they may not all have the same "fix".
Overall, I found it nice to see mono/poly relationships discussed in a healthy, inclusive way, and I'd love to see more. I think Minx and LG hit the nail on the head many times, and genuinely, compassionately, cared about ChasingJoy's well-being and emotional health, without invalidating monogamy as a valid option for her own identity. I encourage you to give it a listen and see what you think. As for me, I think I'll be changing my mind about podcasts... at least, for this one.