Guest Blog: Finite Resources in Relationships

Love is abundant and not a zero sum game. That is, loving others will never reduce what’s available for others. We experience this all the time with friends, children, siblings, etc. It truly is an infinite resource. 

But while love is an infinite resource, our lives are full of others that are. Regardless of your relationship structure, you’re going to have to decide how to allocate them in a way that works for you and those you care about. Time, money and energy are three of the most common ones people struggle with.

Society tells us that once you find “The One,” your resources should largely go to them. Different people have different needs. For instance, I put the extra in extravert and enjoy giving my time freely to others; by contrast, an introvert may want to devote more time to themselves, or a parent to their children. The dominant narrative would have us sacrificing things that enrich our lives in order to allocate these resources to a romantic partner as a demonstration of our love. But love shouldn’t require you to suffer. Healthy relationships lead you to feel fulfilled, not stifled.

Divvying up finite resources can be a challenge. Obviously, multiple non-platonic relationships present unique challenges. It’s natural to want to commit much of your time, energy, and/or money to each of them. Sometimes this division will come easily, other times it may stretch you so thin that you snap. Ask me how I know!

Time is the resource I struggle with the most. When I have people in my life I enjoy giving time to, I do so without stopping to think if I should or even can. Spending time with people literally fills my cup but I need me time now and then. I used to book myself solid months in advance, but would grow frustrated at the complete lack of time and flexibility for me. Since the pandemic forced me into a more relaxed social schedule, I’ve discovered a newfound appreciation for time spent playing narrative-rich video games, doing side projects for work, riding my motorcycles, catching up on miscellaneous household projects, and much more. I’d let much of that slip over the years and the pandemic actually helped me realize that. As restrictions have loosened, I’ve done a solid job of keeping my schedule a touch lighter.

At one point in my life, hardly a day went by when I didn’t spend most of it with at least one of my two very enmeshed partners. While I loved my time with them, I resisted carving out time for myself because I felt obligated (personal and social pressure) to give them whatever I had to give. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but eventually with their encouragement and my recognition of my own struggles with codependency, I grew more comfortable doing just that.

Money is another finite resource that can get tricky. Some people have none while others have more than they could spend in one hundred lifetimes. Like many of you, I had a partner with whom I shared finances and assets. As we developed other relationships the need to have our finances separate grew. We found a method that worked well for us: a monthly allowance from our pooled funds combined with anything above and beyond that coming from our individual accounts. Eventually we separated our finances completely. Whether you’re working on de-tangling finances after decades or discussing who pays for dinner on a first date, a direct conversation with your partner is always a best practice.

Energy is perhaps the most difficult resource of all. In a world that idolizes self-sufficiency at all costs, we often find ourselves running low. The more enmeshed relationships you have in your life, the more energy you’re prone to spending. People have a tendency to put so much of themselves into relationships where they don’t get much back largely because of the romanticization of self-sacrifice in relationships. We can’t pour from an empty cup; make sure that you’re replenishing yours in ways that work for you. For instance, I find it important to find relationships that have a relatively even exchange. I’m a giver by nature. And if a new relationship doesn’t give back at a level that feels good to me? I’m going to modify my effort to a level that feels more equitable. It doesn’t need to be the same level, just one that feels more equitable to me.

Personal agency is paramount in finding a good balance to your finite resource allocation and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Having a solid grasp on your wants and needs as well as the courage to advocate for yourself is also important. Understand that they can and likely will change over time. Trust your partners to handle changes in your wants and needs like adults. Whether you’re talking about time, money, or energy, budgeting is in your best interest . . . we all have a finite amount of each.

Since mid 2016, Adam (he/him) has been an educator and presenter in the ENM community. He realized he was polyamorous in high school and has practiced various forms of non-monogamy ever since. With a primary goal of normalizing a variety of relationship structures, he shows up as his authentic self: an egalitarian polyamorist who practices relationship anarchy.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Scarcity and Abundance Mindsets

I reference mindsets in non-monogamy a lot. In particular, the effect a scarcity mindset can have on how one approaches relationships, both in seeking and maintaining, and what it looks like to do those things with an abundance mindset.

This concept was first introduced to me in an episode of Poly In The Cities, a local podcast no longer being produced, but that has an archive online I recommend to anyone looking for more resources on non-monogamy. Listening to that, I learned a new-to-me way of thinking about my motivations in relationships. It encouraged me to consider why I settled for less than I wanted at times, and why I found it easier to walk away from those situations at other times.

I’ve been returning to those thoughts a lot over the last year as I’ve ended and started relationships, been fortunate enough to address some brain chemistry issues through access to mental health care, and I’ve taken on a large-scale project with one of my partners that focuses on autonomy as a guiding principle. In all of that, I’ve landed on a bit of an epiphany regarding scarcity and abundance: it’s not so much a mindset as it is a state of being.

And that state of being isn’t necessarily a choice.

For example, there have been times in the last five or so years in which I felt incredibly lonely and like the only thing that could fill that void was the presence of a particular person who was not always available to me when I felt that way. There have also been times when I felt completely fulfilled and I still desired the presence of this person, but didn’t feel a desperate need for it outside of missing them when they weren’t around. The primary difference between those two experiences was my mental state. It didn’t have anything to do with how many partners I had or how often I saw them, it had to do with how true I was remaining to what kept me mentally stable. 

In a state of scarcity with my mental and emotional well-being, I had a tendency to focus on filling those voids with external feel-goods. When my emotional well-being felt abundant, I did not.

I have had multiple relationships that probably went on longer than they should when I was younger and less aware of how critical my boundaries were to my mental health. And what I’ve come to understand about those situations is that they created a vicious cycle in which I was compromising my boundaries to hold on to a relationship that contributed to my emotional instability which in turn bred fear and insecurity which manifested as scarcity, rendering me fearful of losing that relationship. And that’s a lot. It’s a lot to read, it’s a lot to live through, and it’s a lot to acknowledge is still possible if I don’t hold true to what’s best for me. Time and again I have had the universe show me how relying on the outside world to do my work for me puts my emotional well-being firmly in the care of things I cannot control.

My life now looks very different, and once I shifted my focus to internal restructuring as opposed to external validation, I felt a shift in how I approached everything from resource allocation to boundaries. No longer was I willing to make myself miserable in order to attain small bits of things I thought would make me happy. So now when I reference scarcity, I’m careful to focus on what’s scarce on the inside instead of what looks to be external. Because you don’t fill a well by pouring water in; you dig deep enough and allow it to fill itself.