How do I stay relaxed through the early stages of new polyamory?

Hi there! My partner and I are in our first truly poly relationships, but emphasis on "first". Firsts are scary. I know I want to do this, I'm just worried about jealousy feels. We have great communication and I feel good about things, I'm just new to this. What can I do to be more relaxed when I know my partner is hanging out with someone they're interested in?

One “thought exercise” I often recommend to people is to imagine yourself in your partner’s situation. You’re out on a date, with a new person. They’re cool and funny and cute! Are you thinking “boy howdy, this person is so great, it’s making me completely question my affection for my current partner! I’m totally dreading going home to this person I used to like but now, after this date, definitely don’t like anymore!”

Probably not. (And if you anticipate this thought pattern in your partner because you see it in yourself, consider that you may not be ready for healthy polyamory right now!) If you have the capacity to like and date other people without your desires for your current partner being threatened, it’s not a very big leap to assume that your partner can also do that!

Other things you can do to be more relaxed: find a distraction! Plan your own movie night with friends, or video-game marathon, or whatever else, when your partner is going out with people. Don’t be sitting at home letting your anxieties run wild about what they’re doing and feeling and thinking, out there, without you, and when are they coming home??? Do something fun and engaging that helps remind that little anxious part of your brain that you are a complete and independent person, capable of finding joy without your partner’s involvement.

One thing I don’t recommend is relying on rigid rules or structure to help yourself relax. If you say “I’ll feel secure if you text me every hour on the hour during your date AND you come home before midnight AND you never go past kissing on a first date,” then you’re setting yourself up to feel stressed out and agonizing over every hour-mark; and you will feel betrayed and unsafe if your partner misses a text or the date goes in a different direction than they expected. If you put out there for yourself that “if XYZ happens, I’ll be BETRAYED,” then you just established a condition under which you can feel let down and betrayed, and now it’s possible that it could happen, and it’ll be a huge mess. People don’t work well under conditions like that; nor do relationships. Don’t set that up for yourself.

My partner's partners say they're okay with our relationship, but I still worry that they're not

So first off I’m really new to the poly world i feel as though it is something that’s right for me but I don’t really know that much about it. I’m in a relationship with a married woman who’s a mom of two kids, to the kids I’m their aunt, and I love that part. But what I do need advice on is how to act around her husband and boyfriend (we’re all friends we hang out at her place as a group pretty often but I’m not into men so I’m not ok with like making it a group thing and they all get that) but I’m always kinda nervous when she kisses me around them or anything like that. I know they don’t mind, every time they see us cuddling they just say we are super cute and make awing noises so i don’t understand the nerves...any advice?

First off, congrats for finding a healthy, sweet, fun polyamorous relationship! The issue here comes down to one of trust. Even though your partner’s husband and boyfriend say that they’re totally fine with your relationship, and even seeing physical affection between you and your partner, it sounds like you don’t entirely trust that they’re being honest here.

And that’s perfectly understandable - lots of us have been in situations where someone says they are “fine” with something, but they really aren’t, and we’re expected to psychically figure that out and address it, and are often emotionally or socially punished for not doing so. If this is a dynamic that has been present in your family, or in previous relationships or friendships, you may be feeling like this is all a trap and eventually the false okay-ness will give way to anger, alienation, and accusations.

But, it’s not! It won’t! It sounds like these people have their act together, and it’s okay to let your guard down and trust them. If they are welcoming, let yourself be welcomed. If they are comfortable, let yourself relax. It’s okay to ask for a little extra validation - check in with your partner and say “hey, since this is all new to me, sometimes I worry that your other partners aren’t okay with me being around.” If she reassures you that everything is fine, trust her! It is okay to trust her.

If there is something that they do or say that makes you feel like their “aww”s and their friendship is less-than-sincere, bring that up. If you feel comfortable, you can also just pull one aside and have an upbeat check-in: “hey, since I’m pretty new at this, I just wanted to check in and make sure everything is going well - you seem like you’re all okay with our dynamic, but sometimes I need to just hear it straight and clear. We good?” And, again, if they reassure you that it’s all good, let yourself believe them.

This is the kind of thing that gets easier with practice - the longer you’re around, the more opportunities they’ll have to prove to you that you are welcome, that you’re not under some kind of emotional microscope, and that you won’t be punished for letting your guard down and taking them at their word. If this is the kind of thing you have an especially hard time with because of previous unhealthy experiences, it’s also worth considering therapy to work out some of that internalized sense that you’re always responsible for other people’s feelings even if they aren’t being clear about what that means.

I met this guy on OKC and we had a very intense emotional connection and messaged every day and talked about really deep stuff but when we finally met in person I found that I wasn’t attracted to him. I felt awful. I knew he was still attracted to me and all i ended up feeling was anxious. I had a 2 day long anxiety attack and am riddled with guilt because even though he is a great person I just am not attracted to him romantically and I feel awful about it. got any advice or encouragement? Of course I admitted to him that I wasn’t attracted to him but I was really into him before we met so I know even though he was understanding he was also confused. I feel so shallow but I just wasn’t attracted to him physically when we met and I tried to deny it but in the end I know how I feel and despite our deep emotional connection I am just not attracted to him and I just feel so guilty about it. I’m not sure how to calm down. My guilt based anxiety keeps coming in waves because of it.

You are not obligated to be sexually or romantically interested in anyone. Ever. No matter how you met. No matter how well you connect in other areas. Period. End of story.

It can be really frustrating to connect emotionally with someone over messages, then realize that you aren’t physically or sexually into them. I think it’s unfair that our culture conflates those feelings - there are people I have spectacular sexual chemistry with who I don’t click with emotionally; and there are people who meet my emotional and intellectual needs on a deep level, but I don’t want to sleep with them. One thing polyamory and relationship anarchy have helped me do is find the space and the language for different kinds of relationships.

It’s okay to tell this guy that you really enjoy your conversations and would love the opportunity to pursue a friendship based on your connection, but that you aren’t interested in a sexual or romantic relationship. It’s okay for him to say no - he might see online dating exclusively as a way to meet people for sexual/romantic connections. But he might say yes! Either way, neither of you have done anything morally or ethically wrong, you’re just being honest about what you want and whether you can provide what the other person wants.

If this is creating a serious issue for you, it’s okay to take steps to mitigate this in the future. You can take a break from online dating while you work through the underlying causes of this severe anxiety (more on that below). Or, you can add a note to your OKC profile saying that it’s possible for you to meet someone there and discover that you’re better suited to be friends, and that you don’t expect or demand that every OKC connection turns into a sexual/romantic connection. We don’t assume that everyone we get along with well who we meet through work or mutual friends must become a sexual/romantic connection, so we don’t have to make that assumption about OKC as a way to meet people either.

Finally: a two-day-long anxiety attack and continued waves of guilt and anxiety over a social situation like this is not normal, and you deserve help for this. You can get help learning how to set boundaries, identify and meet your own needs, and say no. I don’t know if you identify as female and/or were socialized female, but this is a really common source of pressure and guilt for women and people socialized as women. The world likes to act like we owe men our attention and affection, and like we’re shallow and cruel if we don’t return their sexual interest. That’s garbage, and it’s a lie designed to control us. It can be really hard to find healing and learn to let go of this shame that’s been pressured into us for our entire lives, but there are lots of therapists who specialize in issues like this. Please consider reaching out to a mental health professional for help.

So I’m in a relationship with 2 people. A guy and a girl, and I’ve been having trouble. I can’t help but feel like they both might leave me for each other or fall out of love with me all together. I have anxiety and I know they don’t like it and they want to help me, and I care for them both deeply but I’m still afraid that they’re just gonna get sick of me and leave. This is the first poly relationship I’ve had and it’s been giving me anxiety. I saw the advice and thought I might ask for help.

Are there specific things these two people do that spike your anxiety or make this fear seem founded? Are they a pre-existing couple who act in ways that privilege their couple-ness and make it clear that they’ll protect their relationship at the expense of what they have with you? If so, you need to talk to them about your position in this relationship, the kind of security you need, and figure out whether this is healthy for you to stay in.

If not - if your fears are unfounded and coming from inside your head rather than rational conclusions based on evidence - then you need to get help for those patterns of anxiety. These kinds of stubborn fears or convictions that you know other people secretly hate you or are planning to leave you are relatively common, especially in people with mental illnesses (though you can suffer from thoughts and feelings like these without having a diagnosable mental illness.)

Fortunately, since they are common as far as mental health issues go, there are lots of methods of treating them. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a great way to learn to recognize and battle unhealthy thoughts. One aspect of CBT that I like is working through evidence for and against a thought. Ask yourself:

  • What thought am I having?
  • What evidence do I have that supports this?
  • What evidence do I have that contradicts this?
  • What would the world be like if this thought was true?
  • Is that a world I want to live in?
  • How can I challenge or let go of this thought?

There are lots of books, workbooks, apps, and other self-help guides out there, and it’s always great to work with a professional who can help you as well. Remember that you are not psychic, and feelings are not facts - whatever your brain is telling you about another person’s thoughts or motives is coming from inside you, and it may not be completely true.

It’s hard, because we’d like to be able to believe our thoughts and assume that our perceptions are based on unbiased observations, but that’s not always the case! Some people find it helpful to personify the ‘bad thoughts’ to get some distance from them - picturing a nasty little monster on your shoulder whispering in your ear they secretly hate you, you mean less to them than they do to each other, you are not secure in this relationship so you can look at it and say “you’re a gross liar, shut up and leave me alone.”

Some resources:

I love my previously mono hubby but he has never been a very emotional/physical person and isn’t very open to changes. My bf however is very emotional and physical. Well recently my H has started to talk to people a little (one girl in particular) just as friends for now but he “might want to date someone in future”. And i admit I am jealous and confused. I am worried he will give this other girl what I wanted from him for a long time but accepted he couldn’t give me and he will leave me. I know it is hypocritical. But it makes me feel inadequate to think that he could give to someone else what i wanted. It makes me feel like saying ok i will be mono so i don’t have to see that happen…but then, i love my bf and he loves me so no. This feels so complicated. I feel like i’m constantly having an anxiety attack and have started taking my panic meds daily instead of like 2x a month like i used to. Please help

The first thing you should do is see the doctor who prescribed your medication for panic attacks. Suddenly increasing your dose like that, and experiencing your symptoms with such a new intensity, is something you deserve help and support with. Even though you know what’s going on in your life to spike your anxiety, mental health issues are nothing to mess around with.

Second, it sounds like there are a few issues here. One is that there is something your husband isn’t giving you, but you never specify what that is. It might be worth taking another crack at explaining to your husband that he’s not meeting your needs, and working with him to figure out a change that works better for both of you.

The other issue is that you’re worried that your husband will suddenly find himself emotionally and physically capable of providing for his new girlfriend what he can’t provide for you, and that he’ll realize he wants to leave you for her. All I can say to that is: you’re not psychic, and you can’t predict the future. All we have is the present, and you’ve always been able to handle that. Try to let yourself “cross that bridge when you come to it,” and not worry about things that haven’t happened yet. 

I know “don’t worry about the future” is easier said than done, especially for someone who deals with anxiety severe enough to be treated with medications. But I’d encourage you to work on it with a therapist, try some CBT strategies, and when all else fails, remember this Welcome to Night Vale quote that really helps me:

The past is gone, and cannot harm you anymore. And while the future is fast coming for you, it always flinches first, and settles in as the gentle present. This now, this us, we can cope with that.