Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On Trust (and Really Bad Automotive Analogies)

Sometimes, even as things get easier, I find myself getting wrapped around the axle from time to time. A new date can lead to worries about the future... about who this person will become in my partner's life... about where that may leave us if he wants to spend more time with them.

It certainly gets frustrating for the Poly partner at times, especially if you've been down this road before.

Why don't you trust me?

If you're like me, you struggle for words here.

If you're like me, you DO trust your partner. You know that they love you and that they want to be in this relationship with you. You've seen that they enjoy your presence in their life and they enjoy being a part of yours. But there's something, though, that rung the warning bell, and it's causing you worry. It's not distrust, but what IS it?

My car.

No, not really, but bear with me.

I trust my car to get me from Point A to Point B. We all do. Yet we all also know that someday, our cars won't be able to do it anymore. Knowing that it will one day drive its last doesn't make me trust my car any less... I know that my car doesn't WANT to conk out on the side of the road. It's built to drive. That's what it does.

So I trust it, until something changes. A light goes on. A funny smell. An odd noise or a shimmy or a weirdness in how it shifts. Maybe it starts burning through oil. Maybe the mileage goes down. Either way, something changes, either immediately or over time, and you notice. Sometimes the change is even enough to cause serious discomfort (okay, perhaps the bad thermostat in my van while the temperatures are in the teens prompted this analogy) and you want to fix it NOW.

It's not time to give up the car, though, is it? It's time for maintenance. A tune-up, or an oil change, or maybe just running over to AutoZone and seeing what that Check Engine code really means. I still trust my car, but I know it needs attention. I need to take action and do something, or its lifespan will be impacted.

Some of us have pretty low tolerances. A light goes on, and we're at the mechanic to diagnose it. Others may give it enough time to know that when the "Service Engine Soon" light comes on, it's usually after it rains, and it'll go out once the engine dries out (ever get overly emotional while PMS'ing and then wonder what the hell THAT was all about two days later? Yeah. Me too).

Others have the faith and trust in their experiences, knowing that this behavior probably means that that part needs to be replaced, and oh, here's how to do that. Some don't have that level of experience, but are willing to learn. Some don't want to deal with the innards of their own cars at all.

I think you get where I'm going with this.

When things are running smoothly, then it's very easy to trust. There's reliability. There's comfort. Monogamous relationships by nature, don't change circumstances all that often, so it's easy to happily cruise along. When circumstances do change, it's often traumatic. The change itself is unexpected, never mind the circumstances behind the change.

Many Poly relationships regularly involve elements of change. A new date. A schedule change. A change in a Partner's partner's life that impacts you. More people means more complexity. More moving parts to break down or begin to wear against each other. Without a lot of experience, every change is a cause for taking that car to the mechanic.

It's not a lack of trust. It's not doubt over how much your partner cares about you. It's fear that this circumstance - this thing you hit in the road - may change your relationship, and you need to dig into it and diagnose it before you feel comfortable again.

Blind trust has its own set of problems anyway. Many a monogamous relationship has ended because the people in it have missed (or ignored) indications of a problem, or failed to maintain the relationship. I thought my marriage of 17 years was fine, until my Ex and I realized it wasn't, and we'd been ignoring (or not understanding) the warning lights for some time. Trust twists itself into complacency - "My car will never let me down," which is unrealistic when there's no upkeep being done.

Maybe, after all, it isn't a bad thing when a change causes your Mono partner (or ANY partner for that matter) to have cause for concern. It's not necessarily a lack of trust in their Poly partner. It could very well be more of a warning that some good maintenance needs to be done here. Hopefully after enough visits to the shop, some good quality work, and enough familiarity with how this particular car drives, it becomes more preventive maintenance rather than reactive. After all, nobody keeps up a car they've given up on.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Resolution 2015: Balance

New Year's Resolution time. A little late...

Yeah, I hate them too. It's nice to have all these grand ideas that fall by the wayside in practice because we don't know how to implement them. Hence, my resolution.

That "New Year's Resolution" mode? The one where we take on all sorts of things that we want to do for ourselves, or need to do, in addition to the things going on in our lives already? The mode that is doomed to failure after we either get caught up in life and don't have the time we thought we would, or we fall into old patterns? Welcome to my life.

This holiday season was another rough one. Two years now of a crazy, overwhelming whirlwind. I think after a couple years of this, I have a bit better perspective of what's going wrong here. Let's take a stab at it...

Historically, I have always loved the holidays. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and I enjoy just spending the time with loved ones without all the shopping/gift-giving hullabaloo. I love decorating for Christmas. I love taking pictures of the kids in front of the Christmas tree. I love baking. I love the parties and the people and the lights and yes - the music (after November, thank you very much!).

Except, for the last couple years, I have been completely overwhelmed. So much so, that my enjoyment of the holidays has been replaced with an urge to just detach, period.

What the hell happened? A combination of more demands on my time, the pressure to find/make the time to do the things I *want* to do, and the "quality time"(*)  aspect of both my relationship with my partner and my kids. There just aren't enough days.

The two-days-on / two-days-off schedule with my partner is tenuous at times, anyway. When it's going smoothly, without perturbation, it's usually fine. I've made this work for myself with my "Quality Time" nature by making it so that the time I do spend with him is spent WITH him, engaged with him. I don't like to do housework, etc. when he's here, because our time together is scarce enough as it is. So, the housework and other errands and "need to's" get pushed off for the days he's not here.

I do the same with my kids. I get my kids every weekend and a couple hours one weekday night, and those hours are theirs. I like to spend that time with them, and not off doing something else (okay, so my oldest is a teenager and doesn't want all that time with mom anymore, but I still like to leave it open). If I'm out for any reason when they're home with me, I get anxious about spending too much time away from them. Again, our time together is limited; I really don't like to cut into it.

So, doing the math (because this is where my brain goes), that's an average of 3.5 days/week with my partner. It's maybe about 2.1 with the kids, more or less.

Sometimes, there's overlap, of course. With the most overlap, I basically have 3 days left during the week to do what I need to do... and outside of the holiday season, that's usually plenty. I can occasionally end up feeling like my time with either my partner or the kids suffers, because we don't get the one-on-one time. I either feel distant, or I get all time-hoardy and need more "Quality Time" when we are able to be alone.

With the least overlap, I end up with two days to myself, which is pushing it.

Within that time, not only do I do housework, catch up on reading / TV watching, write (boy, have my blogs suffered), but it's the time I use to get together with friends. I will occasionally attend something on a night with the kids or with my partner, but I try to avoid it as much as possible.

Add the holidays to the mix. Now, there's gift-buying, decorating, card-writing, gift and card-sending, phone calls, parties, baking, and the various travel to/from holiday get-togethers with family: Yule, Christmas Eve with the kids, Christmas Day, post-Christmas/birthdays.

It gets overwhelming, and rather than engaging even more (so I can get everything done), at some point, I just detach. I'm mentally and emotionally exhausted. Sitting down to write is just too much work. Reading? Too much work. I feel distant from my partner. I just get completely steamrolled.

I end up enjoying myself at the various events, at least, but there's always something "not getting done."

This year, I also had some things to wrap up with my mom's estate before the year closed out. And my bathroom renovation remains unfinished. Oy.

So... balance.

Clearly, ignoring all the housework / projects / etc. in favor of "Partner Time" isn't working out so well, and it has an added side-effect: I'm treating him like a Guest, not a Partner. It makes it very, VERY difficult to feel as though he's vested in this relationship, in this home, as a partner when I enshrine my time with him and don't let him BE one, for fear of losing time with him.

The feeling of scarcity in our time together is driving me to separate him from the rest of my daily life - the exact opposite of what I want to do. No wonder I've struggled with the whole "what is a Partner" thing.

We've discussed doing these things together, rather than just parking our asses on the couch together. Or, at least, in addition to doing so. The bathroom reno is restarting, if only because having one bathroom got old months ago. The only good news here is that procrastinating got me the tile I wanted, cheap. (Note to self: this is NOT an excuse to procrastinate.)

Time with the kids isn't going to change in the near future. I want to be there with them until they no longer want that. My youngest is also a Quality Time kinda kid, and enjoys sitting with me, getting back rubs, etc. I plan to hang onto that as long as I can (which may only be another couple of years).

Work. Work will bleed me dry if I let it. I'll need to start considering taking regular vacation time again, just to nip away at the things hanging over my head.

Other? Planning ahead to make time to see friends. Planning ahead so things like the holidays don't hit me all at once.

Making the time to do the things I want to do. Setting aside time each week to just read, write, sort through my mom's photos, etc. Knock something off the "want to do" list, rather than the "have to do" list, since this stuff is important too. Treating my partner as more of a Partner (sharing my life, sharing the load!) and less worry about losing out somehow on the quality of our time together if I do so.

Not easy when our time together *is* limited, and my initial reaction is to hold onto the time we do have together even more tightly.

Yes, for poly folks, love is infinite, but time is not, and when I cherish the time with my partner the way I do (how I feel loved, and communicate love in return), the perceived scarcity of time is a definite, constant hurdle. Awareness and balance will be key here in making it manageable rather than "hoarding" it. A hell of a tall order for a New Year's resolution, but at least it's not "hit the gym."

And hey... look. I got something written. 


(*) Quality time is one of Gary Chapman's "5 Love Languages" - a book I highly recommend, and will be posting a review for once I get back into the swing of things.