How to: Support your Poly Friends

TL;DR: (Yeah, I had a lot to say here, #sorrynotsorry ) Be kind. To all of us. About our relationship. We like pizza and laughing so… less drama and more pizza please.

When we came out we knew the news would be a surprise for a lot of our friends and we were prepared to be patient while they processed this change in our lives.  We couldn’t have fully explained then exactly what we needed or wanted from them that was any different from before – we were in the midst of understanding this ourselves.  However, now that we’ve had some time to live this life and experience what it’s changed and what it hasn’t I have some thoughts I want to share.

In most ways being a supportive friend to any of the four of us hasn’t really changed. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that what we need from our friends didn’t change, just the number of people supporting us did. We’ve all been blessed with friends who included our married partners in the friendships and made sure they always recognized loving us meant loving our marriages.  Well there’s more to love now.  If you loved us and our marriages before please remember we have more partners we want to involve now.  Maybe it won’t be everyone together all the time – we don’t always travel as a group. However, we do travel as a group a lot of the time and it’s awkward and disheartening to think there are spaces where we aren’t welcome to be all of us.

Maybe I should note here that if there’s a real reason you want to invite one or two of us in to a space but not invite all of us, just talk to us! We’re pretty understanding about circumstances.  But if the limitation is being placed just because the plural nature of our relationship makes you uncomfortable, why are you inviting any of us to anything? This is a huge part of who we are.

Think of how you generally show support to your friends: spending time with them, keeping up to date with their lives, listening when they need an ear, offering advice when they need it, and yes, having some sort of friendship with their partner – even if its only because they’re dating and not because you would choose that partner as a friend for yourself.

I think maybe that last bit has been the most complicated for people in our lives, but we’ll get to that.

I want to stress here that I’m writing this with the greatest affection for everyone in all our lives and the deepest gratitude that they want to support us and be a part of our lives. Our friends aren’t the only ones figuring out “how this works” exactly, so we’re here to support them supporting us.

Spend Time with Us: We all have our own lives. Don’t worry – we didn’t become like a single-minded entity that can’t function unless we’re together. We still have our own friends and our own interests.  However, we love our time with all of our partners and we are protective of that time – we only have so much time with each person in a week – so maybe we’re a little picky about how we prioritize, especially when it means less time for our relationships. Try not to hold it against us if we can’t make a certain day or certain something work because we need to be home that night.  If we say we want to make plans work with you, we mean it.

Stay Up to Date with Us: Just ask us what’s up, what’s new, what’s happening.  We are busy, busy people and we’d love to share all the little things that bring us joy, stress us out, drive us crazy and make us laugh in a week. We have stories about the quirks of dating each other, about the side effects of living under one roof, about our various jobs and of course our hobbies.  We want to catch up – let’s pick a time. I think people hesitate to ask us what’s new because they just don’t know what to expect so let me reassure you – it hasn’t changed that much. It includes more people now. But if you’re afraid we’re going to bombard you with awkward amounts of detail about our sex lives or something you can stop worrying.

Let us Talk: You’re our friends – we’ve always been able to vent and rant and just talk with you.  We really highly value being able to speak freely about our lives without holding back when we want to switch from a story about one partner to a story about another.  We crave the ability to and the space to express ourselves without hiding any part of ourselves and our happiness.  But this is pretty well tied in to the next piece…

Give us Advice when Asked for or Needed: Except… don’t discount our relationships. I think it’s easy to assume poly is the root of all problems in our lives but we all have people at work that cause us stress, frustrations with our hobbies or other activities, and generally a whole lot of life that isn’t defined by our relationships.
We live together. We love each other. If we’ve come to you for advice on any topic, just know the recommending a break up is never the answer.

It feels like any time one of us expresses stress it’s easy for people to question if we should rethink our relationships. This gets frustrating because our relationships are a source of comfort, confidence and strength in our lives. Think of your own happy and healthy relationships – regardless of how they’re configured or defined – what do they bring to your life? I hope they bring you happiness, laughter, inspiration and that they feed your soul, feed your fire and enable you to be all that you are outside of those relationships. That’s what our relationships do in our lives.

When people suggest that our relationship structure is the reason we’re stressed about one thing or another I think it just kind of saddens us that maybe that person isn’t seeing how happy we are.

Including the Partner(s): Hey – you didn’t pick them. Your friend might think this person can do no wrong and you might think they’re all sorts of wrong.  That doesn’t change the fact. Friendships, in my experience, work best when friends respect and include a serious partner regardless of if they would pick that partner as a friend for themselves.  In case us living together isn’t the hint you’re looking for: We’re serious about this relationship and each other. You don’t get to pick your monogamous friends partners, and you don’t get to pick which one of us is coming to dinner.  If you message me saying we should get together for dinner and the invite is open to my partners – then it’s open to my partners. When you specify which partner or partners are invited and which aren’t it leaves me with the feeling I’m not really accepted by you. There’s a whole part of my life, a whole person who makes me crazy, insanely happy that you’re trying to ignore just because there are other partners you can focus on and really, that just doesn’t work. Maybe sometimes you want one on one time with me and that’s great but if this is an open invite for partners, it’s open to all of mine, or none of us.

Stop waiting fo the Break Up: Seriously. How much more do I need to say? Regardless of if a relationship is monogamous or not, holding your breath for us to break up because you’re not sold on the relationship is one of the absolute rudest behaviours I’ve ever witnessed in a friendship. You want me to be happy, yeah? Even if it’s not the exact happily ever after you imagined for me? (Otherwise, why are we friends?) Well then, start breathing because this relationship is built to last and friendships that don’t accept us can’t.

We’ve all gotten less tolerant of “friends” who add stress and drama to our busy lives

There might not be a super cute way to say this one. People who add stress instead of relieving it, people who make us cry instead of laugh, people who manipulate, spread doubt instead of encouragement, and who generally can’t bring themselves to be a positive part of our day… we’ve got less and less time or patience for those people.

And if our attitude shifting in a way that makes us okay with those friendships fading is a problem – if it’s a problem that we’re really over negativity and negative people – well, then our attitude changing really isn’t the reason the friendship is ending.

Carmen

Emotional Responsibility in Polyamory

Sharing emotional responsibility was easy in a monogamous marriage.  I could ask my husband to take some of the burdens if I was feeling less than peachy, and I could do the same for him.  It felt like a normal part of a partnership and truly, there was nothing wrong with it.

But in polyamory that just doesn’t work.  With three partners to balance I can’t expect them to take on my emotional baggage or take on all of theirs myself.

It’s not such a bad thing.  In one-on-one romantic relationships as well as friendships its normal to exchange emotional responsibility.  We always want to lighten the emotional load for those we love (as partners and friends), and we truly do appreciate how they do the same for us.  As I said, there’s nothing actually wrong with this.  As a common practice, it’s a tango we’re all pretty good at.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t value to changing the tempo a bit and taking more responsibility for ourselves.

Let’s start with the big one, shall we:

Jealousy

When I explain to people that I’m in a relationship with multiple people one of the most common questions is how we can love without jealousy.  There’s a couple points that I want to address on that front.

First of all,  we didn’t eliminate jealousy from our range of emotions when we chose this relationship.  However, we did make a commitment to manage all of our emotions, including jealousy, appropriately.

In our language, we tend to attribute jealousy we feel to other peoples actions.  For example: “He was flirty with her all night just to make me jealous.”  We talk about how other peoples actions are the cause of our jealousy and therefore we see it as their responsibility to relieve the jealousy with reassurance.

We might experience jealousy when we witness someone else’s actions but it isn’t something they actually created.  When you see your partner interact with someone else and feel jealous it’s an expression of fear and insecurity. Try this on: “He was flirty with her all night and I was scared he’d like her better than me.” 

Let’s be clear – it’s not inherently bad to have these fears and insecurities in our relationships.  Some people feel them more often or more strongly than others but they’re pretty normal.  My point here isn’t that you should or shouldn’t feel this way – just that you have to own that insecurity and address it.

Think of it this way: “If he chooses her over me – that’s his choice, and not a fault of mine.”

He can appreciate her beauty and still love me just the same.” 

I’m worth loving and we’re happy together. I trust him and don’t hold
his actions against him; I’m not looking for any reason to retract my
trust.”

Taking ownership of the jealousy means we have more power than we originally thought.  We can ease our own emotions and reassure ourselves.  We aren’t relying on someone else to remind us of our value.

It also ties in a way to my post on maintaining your own identity within your relationships – just like having your own hobbies and interests, you should know your worth and that it exists independent of your relationship, even when experiencing jealousy.

To be fair here we’re also humans and we don’t always handle our jealousy as appropriately as we wish we did. It’s hard for everyone but as much as we try to practice owning our jealousy and coping with it effectively we also practice forgiveness when we throw each other off balance.

Compersion is the opposite of jealousy

A word that quickly got added to my vocabulary as Ben and I fell for Maggie and Tom was compersion. This is the feeling of joy and happiness you feel knowing your partner is experiencing joy and satisfaction with someone else (no, it’s not just sexual but a whole and full relationship between two humans!).

Instead of inspiring fear that he’ll choose Maggie over me, I usually lean the other way and feel happy for Ben that he has such happiness in his relationship with Maggie.  It’s the utmost security knowing that his happiness with her does not diminish his happiness with me and so instead of resenting it and feeling jealous, I celebrate it and feel happy.

It helps that I have a relationship with Maggie that is separate from the boys, and have a relationship with Tom that is also unique.  Knowing from personal experience that loving Maggie and loving Tom has not lessened my love for Ben makes it easier to know that Ben can also love Maggie without it taking anything away from me.

When I read posts from others in a polyamorous relationship that are struggling with jealousy they are often struggling in part because their partner has one or more other partners but, for one reason or another, they do not.  I think that balance isn’t necessary – one doesn’t have to have something just because the other does – but it sure helps with an empathetic understanding of the emotional experience.

Take emotional responsibility In all your Relationships

Learning to be more consciously responsible for my emotions in my romantic relationships has opened my eyes to the value of emotional responsibility in general.  As a student in particular over the past 6 years, it’s been almost necessary to lean on each other.  In the high-stress atmosphere of University with half your friends in an identity crisis and the other half confident in who they are but stressed about their future the emotional exchange helped all of us balance out enough to function.

As I age into adulthood, my stress level, identity and relationships are all stabilizing and I see emotional responsibility as a way to maintain more even and balanced control of our own lives.  There will always be circumstances beyond our control and they will inevitably fuck with our plans.  We will also always be surprised by emotions we didn’t expect to feel – jealousy, anger, sadness, even strange amounts of joy that we may or may not know the cause of.  Managing these emotions on our own limits the havoc they may wreak on our daily lives and stabilizes our sense of self.

Developing Emotional Responsibility

So now that I’ve made the case for emotional responsibility, how can someone begin practicing it?

Reflect before you speak.  Before you share your emotions and get caught up in what others did that contributed to them consider what existing emotions allowed others to have an impact on you (ie: existing insecurities that turn in to jealousy, as explored above.) Consider how you can work through those existing emotions with a focus on your own abilities. When you’re approaching someone else it’s beneficial to both of you if you can ask for support handling certain emotions rather than just asking them to calm those emotions for you.

For example – approaching your partner to say “Hey, in this situation I felt really ______. I know that isn’t what you intended and doesn’t really reflect your intentions or behaviour, but it helps me feel better when you _____.”

Be open with those you love.  Owning and taking responsibility for our emotions doesn’t mean they have to be secrets. Share how you’re feeling and what you can do to alleviate any negative emotions. If I do feel a pang of jealousy or sadness I can say to my partners “I felt a bit jealous when —–, so I’m working through that right now.” It lets them know what’s gong on with me without obligating them to take action on my behalf.

Above all, stay calm. It’s easy to jump to conclusions and quickly fall in to old habits but take a deep breath and assess what’s happening as separate from how you’re feeling. Then assess how you’re feeling and look at how the two connect.  Try to be specific in identifying what you would like to change, what you can change yourself and what you need from others to accomplish the change you want.

Last but not least, before you ask for support consider exactly what you’re asking. Taking emotional responsibility is all about being more self sufficient and managing your own emotions. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask your partners, from time to time, to adjust their phrasing on a certain subject or keep an awareness of how a situation impacts you but asking that they completely change an aspect of another relationship or otherwise let your emotions dictate their behaviour may lead to trouble later on.  Keep this in mind.

Your quest for emotional responsibility may surprise or confuse others.

This has been the most unexpected part of this emotional journey. I think it has affected most of us in our little family. It seems natural to let our new found emotional attitude permeate through all the different relationships in our lives.  Since the most outward aspect of this journey is asking less of others the people around us have sometimes felt we isolated ourselves or abandoned them, depending on their perspective.

People are used to feeling needed just as much as they have need for other people in their lives.  We were focused on guarding ourselves and our relationships against negative emotions like unexpected jealousy or the disapproval of others. It was later we realized that needing our friends less for that emotional support meant finding new ways to look after them and show them that they are just as important to us as they always have been.

 

Well – that was a long one! Thanks for reading!

Carmen