Guest Blog: Acting out of Trust vs. Fear

Fear. 

Outside of our basic survival instincts, fear is perhaps the number one motivator for the human race. Maybe for all sentient life. Acting out of fear rarely gives us the opportunity to show up as our best selves, and this can and will often cause harm in our relationships. This has been true for me and has had dire consequences. 

Fear is pervasive in our society. It’s so common we don’t always notice it when it’s being leveraged or applied. When it’s factored into our decision making process, it often feels like a valid consideration vs. a problematic aspect. Or something that flies under the radar. This creates problems in a number of ways: we take away our partner’s agency, infantilize them, and rob ourselves of our autonomy, opting instead for the decision that appears to limit the perceived harm. Self-preservation is a tricky thing. This is born, at least for me, out of the desire to control the outcome and hopefully mitigate my partner’s bad feelings. Not a healthy move, but it happens.

Fear is a powerful thing. As I write this, I’m dealing with the repercussions of decisions I made out of fear. Looking back, I knew what the right choice was, but opted for the one that I felt would “hurt” my partner less. Doing so led to a host of issues; from unethical behavior to resentment. Doing the right thing would have caused less harm. I probably knew this, but I acted out of fear. 

It’s human nature to seek control when we are scared. In the above example, I was afraid of losing someone important to me. I sought to minimize my fear by controlling their reactions. If I can make them feel safe, I thought, I won’t need to face my fear of them having bad feelings and considering me unworthy as a partner. We can never truly control anything but ourselves, so it’s imperative that we learn to control how we act in response to what happens to us. I’m not talking about the feelings we get when things happen, but rather our behavior in response to those feelings.

The way we do this is by acting out of trust instead of fear. Not only trusting others as I should have in the earlier example, but also out of trust of self. And really, the latter is the most important.

When we act out of trust, we grant ourselves permission to act in our own best interests. We also stop trying to control others since we trust them to act in their own best interests. Both can be done in a way that doesn’t negatively impact others. For me? I was afraid of hurting someone by doing something perfectly normal. Instead I hurt them by acting out of fear.

Psychologists have known a rather complex (and yet oddly simple) truth for decades: external events/people can not MAKE us feel a certain way, even though it seems that way.

We enter into situations with our own expectations and even baggage/trauma. Those expectations directly impact the way we feel about the event or person. Here’s an example Dr. Edelstein provides from Chapter 1 of his book Three Minute Therapy:

Suppose a hundred airplane passengers are unexpectedly given parachutes and instructed to jump from the plane. If a physical situation alone could cause emotions, then all the hundred people would feel the same way. But obviously those who regard skydiving positively are going to have a [reaction] very different from the others.

I made my decisions based on expectations I had of my partner’s reactions instead of giving them the opportunity to have their reactions, own them and show up as their best self.

So what does acting out of trust look like? 

  • Trusting your partner to own their insecurities regarding your actions. 
  • Trusting your partner to share their insecurities without expecting you to alter your behavior. 
  • Trust your decisions and actions are perfectly OK, even if it appears to make your partner feel a certain way. 

In my case, my partner’s feelings were valid and I didn’t trust them to show up as their best self because of those fears. Had I? Things would have gone very differently.

Trust yourself to act with integrity and work to show up that way. Trust your partner(s) to own their struggles and not penalize you for them. Trust that everything will be OK . . . even when it may not feel like it. Trust yourself so that fear won’t control your actions.

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Since mid 2016, Adam (he/him) has been an educator and presenter in the ENM community. He realized he was poly 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.

Image credit: Photo by Scott Web on Unsplash

Imposter Syndrome: I am so bad at poly!!

I suffer from Imposter Syndrome: the phenomenon of feeling like you suck at something regardless of evidence to the contrary. That label rings true for me when it comes to polyamory. People ask me for advice! Support! My opinions!! They read my blog! They come hear me speak! But OMG you guys, I am so bad at this sometimes . . . 

There are all sorts of ways folks measure success in relationships, but most of those are based on monogamous ideology. In non-monogamy we hold up concepts like autonomy, compersion, kitchen-table poly, egalitarianism, owning your shit, and being “out” as holy grails of doing things right. I’m not here to tell you any of those things are right or wrong, or that if you aspire to them, you should not . . . but I would like you to know that if you’re trying, and you’re not perfect, that that’s okay, too.

All of these things challenge the dominant narrative in the culture I hail from, and there are not a ton of viable role models or support networks readily available to reinforce my positive attitude towards non-monogamy.

Sometimes I find dark places in which it seems like it would be so much easier to give up my hard-won autonomy and submit to rules I don’t believe in just to feel like I’m at least doing something right.

I mean, I won’t do that – I know myself well enough to know that while I was able to function that way for nearly a decade and a half, I don’t ever want to do it again. I do, however, miss the security of following the path of greatest acceptance – that all my socially reinforced expectations of my partner were justified. I miss not second-guessing my wants and needs, and I miss not wondering if I’m just a shitty partner half the time.

At times, I feel overwhelmed spending large amounts of energy unlearning all the ways in which society taught me to experience love. Talking myself out of wanting to be prioritized above other people my partner is close to. Accepting family holidays don’t belong to just me and a partner alone. Dismantling ownership in close relationships. Relearning “special.” Relearning what it means to be sexually partnered. Relearning what love looks like. Relearning what safe looks like. Weighing how important it really is that other people approve of my life. Making sure I let that go. Thinking of the children!! Being brave. Being strong. No, not like that. Doing things I’ve never been taught and perhaps have to make up as I go. Being okay while I do it, or . . . faking it ‘til I make it.

But I also know this: it takes a lot of courage to live authentically, regardless of how others perceive you. And, to commit to doing “the work” when struggling, even when you don’t have anyone with experience to lean on. Challenging the status quo is totally worth it, but we do ourselves a disservice when we pretend it’s a cake walk.

I’m much better at finding compassion for folks at various points in their emotional journey than I am for finding that grace with my own self. 

What seems to help me the most is being transparent with others about my struggles. There is a tendency to feel shame and embarrassment when we don’t live up to our own expectations, but it can be cathartic to use our worst moments to make others feel like they aren’t monsters themselves. Especially anytime anyone seems to be under the impression I walk through this life with anything resembling ease. While it’s true I’m far better (by my own standards) than I used to be, my journey has been fraught with manifestations of my character defects, for sure. Whenever I get the chance, I share what I can about the times I’ve shown up in my relationships as less-than-my-best-self. Insecurity can be an asshole! What’s most important is learning from mistakes, and showing up better the next chance you get.

I’ve heard it recommended that we focus on progress and not perfection. Being transparent with others about my struggles helps reinforce to myself that I’ve made progress, and it gives others permission to struggle, too. At least that’s my hope, because misery thrives in isolation and we all deserve room to grow.

Image credit: Photo by Kolar.io on Unsplash

Guest Blog: Chemistry vs. Compatibility

Chemistry and compatibility are tricky things in relationships. Whether you’re mono or non-mono, you’ll likely come across someone you are super compatible with, but the connection just lacks that “va-va-voom”. Or someone that gives you the most intense case of being twitterpated . . . only to find out there are some massive compatibility issues.

Imagine going on a date and ending the night feeling all of the happy good feels. The chemistry is off the charts amazing! All you can think about is them. Naturally, you continue dating them. However, over time you discover attributes that make compatibility challenging. 

I’m not talking about them being an overt racist, but things we’re told “Love can conquer”. For example, you like a 40 hour work week while they are happy working 70+ and travel a lot for it. They have children and you don’t want them. They place the toilet roll on backwards (I’m looking at you, Red). All certainly reasonable and valid, but may present future conflict. And now you’re now faced with a decision to continue on this path or not.

For many, compromise is seen as the best solution

But what if we allowed ourselves to invest in the parts of the relationship that work, enjoy them, and not partake in the parts that don’t? Some areas are easier than others. For instance, I have a partner who has children and I am child free by choice. For this reason, we had specific conversations/negotiations around my level of involvement with her children. After a few years (and they were largely grown), I became comfortable with the idea of co-parenting. We were able to carry on a heavily enmeshed relationship without having to let an incompatibility interfere too much. And in a way that doesn’t compromise things that are deeply important to us.

One of the benefits of non-monogamy is the plethora of options available to you when compatibility and chemistry don’t line up. Just because those options are available to you doesn’t mean they’re going to work, however. 

This summer I met a woman with whom I have a high level of chemistry. It didn’t take long to realize there were a number of things that made us pretty incompatible in a conventional relationship model. We have different viewpoints on work/life balance, I’m non-mono and she’s mono, we live 1500 miles apart now, etc. For these reasons and more, I don’t think we’d have been very successful in a traditional relationship. At least not without large sacrifices on behalf of one or both of us. Instead, we negotiated a relationship that works for us. It’s fluid in its form and largely boils down to this: let’s stay in touch, see each other when it makes sense, and enjoy the relationship in ways that feel natural at that time. What’s happened in the past may not work in the future and things that may have been off the table in the past may work next time we see each other. We’re both very busy and eight hours of flights is not ideal, but we stay in contact and enjoy each other’s company when we have the opportunity.

When working to find balance it’s important to have strong boundaries and a clear idea of what you want/need out of that relationship, so you can better advocate for yourself. Without that, we may agree to things we don’t want just to get a piece of the whole. Unfortunately, that becomes a breeding ground for future resentments.

So what about when there’s compatibility but no chemistry? In my experience, good compatibility sans chemistry happens in two different ways:

The first one, I simply call friendship! With so much focus on “finding the one” for many, it’s easy to lose sight of this super important relationship. I once had a date that was SO MUCH FUN. We had over five hours of great conversation, to be exact. It felt natural for us to end this experience with a kiss . . . because date, duh. But when that kiss happened? Nothing. Literally nothing. We looked at each other in a bit of disbelief because we had just spent an entire evening having a great time! ON A DATE! We were so caught up in the idea of it being a date that we lost track of the notion that maybe we just get along well. After a good laugh, we confirmed with each other there wasn’t much there and said, “how about we give friends a try?” We took that path and had a good time.

The second is in long term relationships. I know multiple people who had long term relationships end in the last few years, but they’ve made it work as close friends since then. Compatibility wasn’t an issue, but the romantic and/or sexual chemistry no longer existed in that relationship for one reason or another. Thankfully, they saw value in what worked between them. Many see this as the end of a relationship, or worse: a failure. But what if we just saw it as a transition of the relationship? From a model that no longer works to one that does.

Regardless of which situation presents itself, you have options! A narrow or even singular focus strips us of different opportunities. If you’re too focused on finding one specific plant for one specific area of your yard, you’re going to miss out on a variety of amazing flora that could enhance your landscape in other ways! So stop to smell the rose bushes, lilac trees, fruit bearing shrubs, and perhaps a venus fly-trap here and there. They’ve all got something to offer.

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Since mid 2016, Adam (he/him) has been an educator and presenter in the ENM community. He realized he was poly 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.

New Relationship Energy

First in a two-part series covering both New Relationship Energy and Established Relationship Energy, this blog will focus on the former.

New relationship energy, or NRE, is the feeling of limerence associated with a new, chemistry-heavy connection between folks in the beginning of their relationship. It is borne of a combination of brain chemicals that feel extra amazing, and an absence of the baggage that comes with knowing someone long enough to have developed things like pet peeves.

I’ll be perfectly honest: I have an intense dislike of NRE.

I am comfortable in the driver’s seat, in control at all times, cool as a cucumber and preferably a little intimidating. NRE renders me silly. Oh god, it’s the worst. When there is actual chemistry I will feel all the dumb feelings and hate myself every step of the way. 

When in a state of NRE, I consider myself inebriated – because I am. Endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, lord help me . . . how does anyone survive this cocktail with their wits intact? The compulsion to back-burner otherwise very important things in life is a little frightening, and yet it seems so rational in that state of being. I mean, of course I should quit my job and move across the country for someone I’ve spent exactly 24 hours with. It just makes so much sense!!! 

So while it’s feasible to go ahead and abandon your entire life in exchange for this tangible high, it’s really important to put these things into context with an intentionally rational mind to avoid ruining your whole life in the pursuit of endocrine treats. Sweet, delicious, brain chemical pastries, filled with idiot pudding. 

One of my partner’s has this advice: “Just enjoy the ride.” So yeah, let yourself feel the amazing awfulness that is NRE, because there’s just no stopping it. Trying to limit your feelings is an exercise in futility and entirely inauthentic. So enjoy the giant roller-coaster you never agreed to get on – while it climbs the impossibly steep hill and there’s no escape, because you know exactly what’s coming next and it would be super great if you didn’t pee your pants but you MIGHT. You might. . . Is my disdain showing? Oh, apologies.

*Heavy Sigh*

I find the following to be helpful:

Remembering I’m essentially drunk – and resisting the urge to make hugely impactful decisions, like co-signing a car loan or buying a timeshare with the babe I matched with on Tinder last week

Keeping my priorities straight – because I assure you that my kids, friends, and partners will all notice if I no longer seem to be able to keep my plans with them or I’m always focusing on someone else, and that will feel pretty sucky to them. Hand in hand with this is relying on my important people to ask for what they need, and then giving it to them if it’s within my ability to do – sometimes those not experiencing NRE need a little extra TLC from those who are, and that’s okay!

Letting myself be dumb, and being transparent about that – and this is important . . . when I am vulnerable with those closest to me about feeling a bit out of sorts, it’s a lot easier for them to find compassion for me when I stumble around and make a mess of things in my twitterpated haze.

Reality check: if you are indeed experiencing a level of NRE that is making you authentically miserable, perhaps seeking mental healthcare to assess your levels of serotonin makes sense.

And on the flip side . . . 

When your partner is experiencing NRE with someone else, it’s a good time to remember that you’re always better off asking for what you need and want rather than brooding silently and cultivating resentment. Seriously, they are DRUNK. And it’s not just for one day, either. Lol lol lol *cry*

Here are some things you might consider:

Asking for reassurance – this very basic ask can cover a lot of ground. Simply communicating how you feel and asking for some extra emotional support is the least you can do for yourself when you’re feeling the wibbles.

Defining quality time – one of the things that can happen during a partner’s NRE is that it seems like their focus is always on the new person. NRE can absolutely shift a person’s thoughts like that, but asking for things like date nights to be free of texting or your meal times to be phone free are not unreasonable.

Focusing on self-advocacy vs partner management – because as scary as it can be, I assure you that attempting to stifle or limit the experience your partner is having with their NRE will only serve to create a rift between the two of you that need not exist.

Practicing acceptance – I have a not-so-mature phrase I use to get through my pettier moments in this situation and I will share it with you here and cross my fingers you won’t judge me for it. When the going gets tough and I’m in my feels, I remind myself this situation is kind of like letting the goats eat the garbage. Oh, I know, it’s not very charitable of me, but NRE is a bit of a fucker on both ends and some sardonic shade can an effective salve when you’re feeling a bit burnt out with your partner’s new shiny object. Just, you know, keep that shit to yourself – this too, shall pass . . . goats and all. 

It can be a terrifying thing to witness how happy a partner is with their new person while you see your own relationship as a rather mixed bag of bliss, mundane, irritating, and settled. This “established relationship energy” (or ERE) is a treasure trove of valuable assets, and we’ll cover those more in depth next week, but if at any time you’re tempted to compare ERE to NRE and it seems to fall short, just know that the same is true in reverse.

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.