Mental Health Really F*cks Up Polyamory

Wow! These last few weeks have been a mental health whirlwind for me. I’ve officially had 10 sessions with my poly-friendly therapist, and we’ve discovered a lot. As I was writing the series “I’m The Jealous Wife – And I’m Working on It” (Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4), I was questioning everything. Should I be “working on it”? Am I even working on it in the right way? Do I have any right to be writing about this topic when I can’t even figure it out?

I laugh at my article “Trying Parallel Polyamory” because that did not work at all! As one Reddit user told me, “You can’t address jealousy and insecurity by avoiding them.” And they were definitely right. Trying to avoid what I thought was “the problem” (my meta) seemed to squelch my insecurities at first, but they slowly crept back in. But I mean, of course they did. I wasn’t addressing my insecurities; I was hoping that by ignoring what I saw as the trigger of my insecurity that I would feel better. However, for anyone who has done internal work, you know that insecurities are just that, internal, not from external stimuli.

The Crossroads between What I Want and What I Feel I Should Do

Yet, I felt at a crossroads of what to do. Do I keep trying and trying and feeling like I’m getting absolutely nowhere? Or do I give up on having an open relationship/polyamory? Do I continue to try to keep my partner happy by letting him pursue others while I’m terribly unhappy? Or do I finally put my foot down and explain that I can’t do it anymore? I sat there (and still sit here now) feeling like a hypocrite for writing a blog with “poly” in the title when I feel so on the fence sometimes. But then I also put it into perspective and realize that if I feel this way, there are others out there that do too.

As much as there are people on poly forums that present a perfect exterior, as if they know all about non-monogamy and can do no wrong but think everyone else is wrong… As much as there are the people who seem completely clueless about ethics and just want to find someone to fit in their perfect human box… There are those of us who exist in the middle – we understand the ethics; we intellectually know what poly/non-monogamy is supposed to be; we want to feel compersion, or at least feel neutral about our partners having other partners. Yet, here we are: struggling day in and day out. Drowning in our insecurities, our jealousy, our feelings. Unable to take a breath in because of the amount of pressure we put on our own shoulders.

Mental Illness Sucks

The simple answer isn’t always that simple. “Stop putting pressure on yourself.” “Work on your insecurities.” “Accept that jealousy is normal and just sit with it.” If you are like me and struggle with mental health issues, these simple solutions that get tossed around are not that simple. I feel like I’ve constantly tried to find ways to ‘fix’ things over the years. I tried being overly involved (unethically, especially when I was pregnant). I tried being completely uninvolved (parallel poly). I’ve tried ending my primary relationship because maybe I’m not poly, maybe I am monogamous (though my husband doesn’t want our relationship to end so he always hangs on, and I don’t really think I would be happy monogamously because I love having my husband and boyfriend). None of those things have seemed to work. And I think it all has to do with my mental health, my anxious attachment, codependency, low self-esteem, terrible time with guilt, and inability to present and stick to my boundaries for fear of making others upset.

As Clementine Morrigan wrote on Jess Mahler’s blog: “What I realized is that all of the resources I had been reading on polyamory assumed as a starting point that no one involved had mental health issues. Therefore, the suggestions and advice that they shared were not helpful to me as someone with C-PTSD. I was blaming myself for not being able to simply observe and let go of my emotions. I was feeling like a failure at poly because my jealousy was so unmanageable.” Morrigan goes on to say that we need to talk more about how mental illness intersects with polyamory, and that we need to stop shaming people for experiencing emotions in different ways.

Therapists Can Really Rock

Learning to accept and stop feeling shame about my emotions is doing wonders for me. It is something that I am currently focused in on with my therapist. I joke that her constant refrains are, “right now” and “and that’s okay.” “You might not like your husband to have vaginal sex with other women right now…and that’s okay.” “You might not want to be poly right now…and that’s okay.” “You might love being poly but need different boundaries right now…and that’s okay.” The constant reminder that my feelings are valid and ‘okay’ helps tremendously. It keeps me from constantly beating myself up, feeling guilty, and putting immense pressure on myself to feel the way I think I ‘should’ be feeling.

We focus on “for right now, but it could change…and that’s okay.” This has been when talking about what I’m comfortable with in my relationship and with my boundaries. We focus on the fact that boundaries can change over time and that we need to be open to that. It seems that open relationships (and closed relationships to a lesser extent) are always evolving, and the people involved either have to evolve with them or part ways.

I have realized that I am terrible at setting and maintaining boundaries. I get so worried about my partner being happy that I would allow things to happen that I actually was not comfortable with. Then, I would not know how to effectively communicate about it afterwards. Now, in our relationship, we are trying to take a step back and figure out what I actually want in an open relationship. I say ‘we’ trying to figure out what ‘I’ want because my husband is committed to going at my pace (on his own accord). I preserved his autonomy. I offered to step back from our relationship to figure things out on my own while he continued to date. However, he decided to maintain our relationship and step back from his other relationship. Some people may see a problem with this, some may not. Either way, it’s something that was agreed on and talked about with everyone involved (including his girlfriend at the time). As my therapist put it, “Is it happy, healthy, and consensual? Then, everything is okay.”

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