The following piece is transcribed from personal counselling sessions. General examples are given for the benefit of readers. Only take the information that resonates and simply discard the rest. Respect for sharing this material and my style of writing is expected.
Through my journey of transition from a monogamous to polyamorous relationship, struggles of jealousy, insecurity and cracks within my relationship began to show. I sought counselling from a poly friendly life coach and sexologist, Olivia Bryant.
This is a continuation of our first session, understanding some of the fundamentals of open-relationships.
“Sharing Impact”- Communication Strategy
Communication between my partner and I has always been open and honest, however we were still lacking constructive and positive communication skills. We would usually discuss an issue as it arose (which is better than holding onto it), but used our emotions to guide the discussion. I would blame him for my feelings by saying “you do (insert behaviour) and it makes me feel pressured/angry/unheard etc” and he would retaliate to my finger pointing by expressing his own hurt feelings. So neither of us would feel heard or validated.
Olivia taught us about “sharing impact.” To express to my partner the things he may do that upset me, I would say “the impact of you accidentally crossing one of my boundaries, is that I get anxiety and when I get anxiety I cannot be free, I shut down and I feel I cannot trust you”. Or “When I see you with another woman and we haven’t made the effort to connect with each other beforehand, the impact of this is that I feel unwanted, devalued, rejected and that I am being ignored because you have found someone better to connect with.” This is a much better method than ‘attacking’ him with “you went and did (insert behaviour) without discussing it with me first, I would never do that to you and now I can’t trust you!”.
Even if you believe your feelings seem unjustified or not in accordance with reality (if your emotions are heightened through jealousy for example) it’s still important to express them in this healthy manner. The wording is important as it’s to ensure you do not place blame on your partner for YOUR feelings. Once you’ve expressed “the impact of x on y is…,” the next step is for your partner to say how hearing that makes them feel. My partner would respond with something like “hearing the impact of me accidentally crossing one your boundaries upsets me. I feel guilty because I would never want to do anything to hurt you like that.” If my partner usually retaliates to my finger pointing with anger, I would never know that he’s actually quite hurt and sad.
It’s then the other person’s turn to share their impact and my partner might say “the impact of when you shut down emotionally is that I feel like I have hurt you, I have failed and I can’t seem to do anything right.” My response would then be something like “hearing the impact of when I shut down on you emotionally makes me feel quite guilty and sad. I will try my hardest to work on this because you don’t deserve that kind of treatment.”
Speaking to each other in this way might seem a bit weird at first, but it helped us both feel heard. Rather than pointing the finger, blaming, demanding an apology or whatever it is that we both felt we needed, this created a lot of healing in our relationship and helped us move forward with issues we may have been holding onto.
Agreements are important in any non-monogamous relationship, to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that all involved feel heard and respected. But everyone has different boundaries and expectations, so navigating this can prove somewhat challenging. The most important thing is being clear on what you are and are not ok with. My (mis)understanding of poly when I first started exploring it, was that my partner was now free to do as they liked and if I’m dealing with difficult emotions, they’re my own problem to work out. Obviously this is not true and I wish we were educated on the importance of creating an agreement before we started.
An example of miscommunication and creating mistrust in your relationship, would be if your partner disclosed they were going on a date and the intention being to eat a meal or have a drink out in public to get to know them. If you’re starting out (like we were) and struggle with feelings of insecurity and anxiety (like myself), this may be a big deal in your relationship. When your partner comes home from the date and reveals that they actually never made it out for that dinner, but rather stayed in and had sex, this can have very negative consequences for your relationship. Some people may not have an issue with this, but before a tricky situation like this occurs, make sure you clearly state your intentions and clarify any boundaries with your partner/s.
The broken trust is often not around the activity that occurred, but the fact that the one whose feelings were hurt was not able to give their consent for that activity beforehand. When someone is unable to give consent, they then become a “victim.” Olivia explained the importance of discussing the following points to help avoid issues like this:
•If any kind of intimacy or sex is a possibility, are you ok with this?
•What are you NOT ok with?
•What do you need from me in order to feel safe and loved?
•Do we need to set a time limit? Or what time would you like me to be home/call you by?
•How would you like us to reconnect when I return/we see each other again?
•How much would you like to hear about my date?
•Is there anything you do not want to hear?
•If you are experiencing any negative feelings throughout this, what can I do to help?
These were questions relatable to my own relationship. As all relationships are different, you can create your own variations that suit your own relationship dynamics. Olivia also helped us create a dialogue of things I need to hear if my partner has spent time with someone else. Different phrases work for different people, but if I’m feeling jealous or unsafe, I ask my partner to say some of the following: “I’m not going anywhere/ I love coming home to you/ You’re not losing me/ I really appreciate your courage in letting me do this/ I really value the time we get to spend together, etc.” As someone with significant abandonment issues (and I’m not alone in that), discussing boundaries and after-care to help me feel safe is paramount.
TO TAKE HOME
Communicating through sharing impact and creating agreements can be scary. You’re allowing yourself to be vulnerable, sharing your needs, desires and boundaries and you may fear judgement or rejection from your partner/s. But you’re not alone in that fear. Make sure you stand in your own power and realise that you deserve all that you want and you are entitled to your boundaries. If you’re in the right relationship, you will both work towards agreements that are fair and respectful of one another. And think of the bond and connection that will grow in your relationships when you are this honest and understanding of each other. Communicating in this way bought my partner and I closer together, healed some pre-existing wounds and helped us both feel safer.
Moreover, something I really love about Olivia, is that she always sees both sides of the story. She makes sure that both people take responsibility for the part they play in any situation. Even if communication between my partner and I broke down, my boundaries were crossed and my feelings became hurt, I am not allowed to purely point blame on him and play the victim. I really appreciate someone who can bring forth that level of ownership and making sure all involved feel heard and respected.
Olivia finished our session by reiterating that our relationship is a “safe container”. This means that we create a safe space within our relationship, where we both go out into the world together, but when one of us doesn’t feel safe, we both come back in. She also stated “you are the source of your own love and validation. It is not outside of you, but it is all within you”.
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