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

Self-Love Languages

Lately, I’ve become enamored with the idea that we have a language we prefer to care for ourselves in.

If you’re not familiar with The 5 Love Languages, take a moment to check them out and maybe even take their short quiz.

Caveat: it’s incredibly mononormative, but many non-monogamous folks have found it useful. Take what you like and leave the rest!

I watch so many folks stop making time for themselves when they add romantic partners – as though their own needs don’t need to be prioritized as well. We have a tendency to spread ourselves terribly thin in non-monogamy at times, (doing all the things! making time for all the people!) but when our needs are not being attended to in our relationship with ourselves, the results can be self-doubt, low self-esteem, apathy, irritability – all things that can bleed into those other relationships and wreak havoc. How are you supposed to pour from an empty cup? Gotta fill the cup. 

Advice from “expert” proponents of self-care range from posting up inspirational quotes around your home, to treating yourself to a nice meal out. Some of their suggestions may resonate with you while some won’t. For example: I can’t imagine having inspirational sayings around my home . . . I would get nothing out of it, yet I have a dear friend who probably can’t survive without a “live, laugh, love” reminder on the kitchen wall. 

But how does one go about loving themselves fluently? 

Well, first of all: carve out time for yourself to do so. Oh, I super mean it . . . you need to take that Google calendar that looks like a color block art experiment and section off some time for you, yourself, and uh, you I guess. And don’t give it away!! Resist the urge!!

Confession: I am super bad at this. As an extravert, my inclination is to see time spent with others as more valuable than time alone and I need to make sure I’m finding a balance for myself with that. Everyone’s ratio of solo time to social time will vary of course, but some type of balance is important.

Second of all: don’t post inspirational quotes around your home if you think they’re dumb. BUT TOTALLY DO IT IF YOU THINK THEY’RE GREAT! To each their own, and that’s my point. You can read about ways to practice self-care all day long, but if what you’re attempting to do for yourself isn’t communicated in the language you understand best, it will fall short of its goal.

Here are some examples of ways to love yourself in your most-fluent language:

Touch

  • Taking a hot bath, using a hot tub, or sauna
  • Snuggling your cat, dog, or a baby raccoon (if you are so lucky)
  • If weather allows, get outside and feel the sunshine
  • Wearing clothes that you feel your best in

Words of Affirmation

  • Inspirational quotes on every surface of your home (or whatever feels good)
  • Writing a letter to your future self and tucking it away for a rainy day
  • Making a gratitude jar, and taking time to review it later

Receiving Gifts

  • Totally buying those boots you saw at DSW that are now on sale and lucky you, they just sent you a birthday coupon with a card for a free tote bag – what are you waiting for?!?
  • Getting the fancy coffee drink
  • If you tend to make things for others, make something for yourself instead (I made myself a wallet and I get compliments on it all the time – it’s so interesting to see people’s faces when I explain I made it for myself! More people should do that.)

Quality Time

  • Working on a pet project
  • Taking yourself out on a date to a movie, favorite place, or planning a vacation
  • Meditating, journaling, or doing something else that brings you peace
  • Exercise (I hear some people like that)

Acts of Service

  • Hiring someone to take care of a chore you dislike or is time consuming, like detailing your car or cleaning your home
  • Treating yourself to a manicure, facial, or massage
  • Making yourself a food that makes you feel good feelings
  • Prepping for the following day at bedtime to make the morning go more smoothly

My primary self love language is quality time. I touched on it last week in my blog about loneliness, sharing how I maximize my free time: by being mindfully productive and intentionally active. For me, wasted alone time feels akin to being with someone who is less-than-enthusiastic to be spending time with me – except that person is me, and we are wasting my time. Rude!

Sometimes I forget to prioritize myself.

When I remember I am just as important as everyone else, and that I have a responsibility to myself to honor that fact, I feel far more balanced and sure of myself. I hope it also makes me a better friend, partner, and all around human!