These are some things I've learned over the last year. They might not apply to everyone, but they are things that caught us by surprise. Think of this as a list of where we went wrong and what I learned.
When we were monogamous, we fell into this trap of believing that our commitment to each other was the only thing holding us back from relationships with others. My husband had his crushes. I had feelings toward male friends that I just knew would be reciprocated if things were different. I had it in my head that me and my choice to be married was the only thing keeping me from exploring other relationships and my sexuality. This was a silly fallacy that was quickly disproven. My husband was shot down by crush after crush. I was gently let down by my friend. We had to remember that there are other factors outside of our relationship that we cannot control and that, as obvious as it should have been, there was not an army of potential lovers just waiting for permission to fuck us or love us. Surely every new open couple goes into this with some level of unrealistic expectations, at least the ones that, like us, have been in a monogamous microcosm with strict guards against the outside world and a stunted emotional maturity when it comes to dating. We had a lot to learn and one of them was the following bullet point.
Preparation for Outside Influences
Opening your relationship means more than sex and acceptance of emotions for others, it means opening yourself up to rejection. Your relationship may be damaged by the unpredictable actions of others. We were unprepared to weather this storm. For my poly experiences, my emotions were not very negatively affected. I have had mostly positive experiences. My husband, however, has experienced a fair amount of rejection and one devastating break up that eventually resolved into a not-dramatic FWB relationship. Again, being in a monogamous microcosm of two, you forget that other people can have a devastating effect on your confidence. Just being emotionally available puts you at risk for rejection and you will get rejected in some form or another. Other people are wildcards and they may turn out to be well adjusted, kind and not-crazy. They may also turn out to be uncontrollable forces of destruction and ping about your life causing damage you never knew you were vulnerable to. Sometimes you can pick these people out right away and avoid a lot of drama. If your partner lets them in, you have to weather the storm and be there for the one you love. You also have to accept that you can't fix everything for your partner when something goes wrong. This is going to sound really depressing, but your love might not be enough any more. Or, as my boyfriend approximately said on this subject, it can be hard to accept that you are no longer the emotional center of your partner's life.
Coping with the Initial Excitement
We are warned about the potential consequences of NRE. We are not necessarily warned about the NPE: New Poly Energy. We both went a little crazy with our new freedom and excitement over a new lifestyle. We told a lot of people. We didn't always tell them the right way. We told a lot of coworkers and we were lucky that this didn't backfire.
Becoming poly opened up the world for me in a new way, but I moved faster than my skills developed. I felt like a teenager again and, at times, acted like one. I made selfish moves. I got swept up in the excitement of a new venture. I was overconfident in some ways, and especially vulnerable in others. I was emotionally immature and I've learned a lot about myself, other people, relationships (new and old) and dating.
This is an issue specific to our relationship. I'm an open book. I'm probably too open at times, as evidenced by this blog. I'm certain that behind my back, I have been described as an over-sharer. My husband keeps his cards close to his chest. Busting open our Monogamous Microcosm (I'm coining that. It's a phrase now. I capitalized it, see?) made us feel vulnerable to outside criticism in a way that we hadn't dealt with before. We both felt a certain amount of pressure to be a part of a fringe community that is critical of newcomers. Yes, you are, Poly Community. There's a lot of criticism of new poly people and how we handle things out there in the blog-o-sphere and the literature. There's a lot of "you're doing it wrong" and we didn't want to be labeled as volatile new people and risky dates. This is still a thing we're working on. In fact, as I typed this paragraph, he walked in the door, noticed I was blogging and commented that he prefers to pretend this blog doesn't exist.
On the Subject of the Poly Community...
Additional note about the "your doing it wrong" vibe often directed at new poly people: If you are a new poly person reading this, screw that. Do what is right for your relationship. I made some definite mistakes because I felt like I had to strive for this ideal put forth in poly circles. That's crazy. As my favorite nursing instructor used to say, "There are many roads to China." Find one that works for you, don't feel pressured to follow the one that everyone says is right. If something is making your partner uncomfortable, pull back and focus on that until they are comfortable again. If you need a hierarchy to organize your relationships and make them function, then use a hierarchy. If you need rules to feel safe, then use rules, just don't use rules to shut down communication. If your partner tells you they need something and the new-poly-pressure tells you they shouldn't need that... what the hell are you doing? Give your partner what they need. Don't get sucked into this idea that people are poly or they aren't. Do what needs to be done to make it work for you. I was skeptical of new-poly criticisms in the beginning and I still allowed for their influence to sneak into my psyche and I made mistakes that hurt my partner. Don't get caught up in the idealism. Find what works for you. And it's okay to admit that things aren't perfect. Guess what? All relationships have problems. Poly or not. This is okay.
All this said, the individuals that I've met in my local poly community do not inflict this kind of pressured idealism. This is more of a general feel on the Internet that we both became sensitive to. In fact, the people I've spent time with in the local community have been nothing but warm and welcoming and supportive. However, that's something I think we can all do a little better with.
Handling Jealousy: Your Mileage May Vary
Jealousy and insecurity are big ugly monsters when you are new to this lifestyle. They are usually easily banished from the Monogamous Microcosm by following a few simple rules. When you open your defenses and let them in, you have to cope. We assumed that I would be the one to have a more difficult time with jealousy as I was the one of the two of us that had jealous upsets in the realm of monogamy. My husband never felt jealous, but perhaps this is because he was never challenged to feel jealous. Both of us were completely emotionally unprepared for how destructive this would be for us. Poly literature acknowledges this difficulty, and gives you tools to deal with it, but nothing can really prepare you to be open to a new and terrifying emotion you probably haven't felt for years, if you've ever felt it at all. From my first nuclear meltdown, I realized I could not predict how I would react. Not only was I dealing with jealousy when my husband was sleeping with others, I had so quickly gotten involved in another relationship, I was also dealing with jealousy and insecurity in the new relationship. This was new territory and it took time to navigate. For the most part, my experiences with jealousy have become less intense over time. I still have a weird little hang up about new sexual partners of my partners that I haven't completely unpacked, but as my security has grown and I've experienced this over and over, my negative responses have become easier to cope with.
Another important lesson that I've mentioned in a previous post is that jealousy cannot be banished with compersion. You can feel compersion and jealousy at the the same time. Compersion does become stronger as jealousy fades, but the two emotions can coexist. You can feel happy for your partner and still hurt and feel insecure. Don't expect to handle jealousy by making yourself feel more compersive. It didn't work for me.
Know Your Resources
Know your resources. Things are likely to get tough at times, as they will be in any relationship. Don't wait for them to get bad. Seek out your resources for emotional help. Know your friends that will be accepting. Know how you can obtain counseling and don't be afraid to use it. We could have saved ourselves a lot of fighting and broken household objects if we had sought out counseling sooner. We happen to have a limited number of free sessions available through our employers. So far, counseling has cost us nothing monetarily. If you have a similar program available to you, be aware of it and don't be afraid to use it. If your family is a source of strength in your life, use them when you need to. As I mentioned in my previous post, my dad's myriad of bad relationships lead to him giving me solid advice to fix mine.
Be Honest About the Flaws in Your Relationship
We started out thinking we were so very awesome. I mean, we had a great marriage. We talked things out, we rarely fought and when we did we worked it out. We enjoy spending time together. When I think back to our wedding, I get nothing but happy feelings. When I look at the pictures of our wedding, I see how much we love each other and how excited we were to show that to the world. We knew we could do this. We could weather any storm. We had easily survived things that makes other couples crumble. We went into it with the right attitude, we wanted the other to have a richer and fuller life and the freedom to explore other people, emotionally and physically.
Instead of patting ourselves on the back for how awesome we were, we should have sat down and seriously analyzed what wasn't perfect about our marriage. Becoming poly opened up a whole new emotional minefield that blew up some hidden and ugly truths that we were unprepared to deal with. I didn't exactly realize this until we started seeing the marriage counselor. We were happy, but we were not the epitome of perfect marriage and conflict resolution that we thought we were. It turns out that our Monogamous Microcosm was protecting us from a lot of emotional work that we needed to be successfully poly. Going forward, I will be more aware of this and focus on fixing things inside first.