When things go wrong in polyamory, just how far do the ripples travel?
I have been reflecting this week on a recent major hiccup. After a bumpy start to embracing Ethical Non-Monogamy, I found myself in a period of calm. I’d been on two dates and made what I felt were two very special connections. I felt relatively secure that I could get what I want and need from a poly lifestyle. Things weren’t perfect, but they felt good.
Until one date cancelled on the last minute (after two previous cancellations) because of entering into a crisis about being poly and what they want in life.
Then in the space of a few hours things crumbled like a wet digestive biscuit, and suddenly the panic set in. Old doubts and questions arose – why am I doing this to myself? Am I just going to continue to feel frustrated and hurt? Can this work for me? Am I secure enough to cope with a poly lifestyle? Is there anyone out there who I can really make this work with?
I have ridden a similar roller coaster of emotions when partner’s have been going through chaotic times in other relationships. Somehow I have felt the fall out.
The past 18 months of exploring the world of Ethical Non-Monogamy have taken me to some deep corners of my soul, and challenged some of the fundamental elements of my Self Concept. I can’t speak for the entire poly community, but I imagine that something similar happens for everyone at some point along the journey.
It hasn’t escaped my notice that there is an invisible chain that runs between me, my lovers and their lovers, to their lovers’ lovers – and on and on. No matter what your approach to polyamory, one person’s actions, words and feelings have the potential to affect everyone in the chain somehow. Ripples through the chain can feel very unsettling and, for me, shake the foundations of how I identify myself.
So how do we keep ourselves sane and emotionally safe from the ripples?
It is still a work in progress, but 18 months in I feel I’ve learned a crucial lesson. For me, the key is coming back to myself. Who am I in all of this? What are my wants and needs? Taking some time out, and often switching my phone off for a few hours. Talking to understanding friends helps too. So does writing down how I feel. I am lucky enough to afford to work with a private therapist, but have used free telephone and email services, like Samaritans, when I’ve needed someone to just listen to me without giving advice or judgement (a common misconception of listening services is that we have to be feeling absolute desperation to justify accessing them. This is not the case!).
The more grounded and stable I can feel in my Sense of Self, the more in control I can begin to feel when there are ripples. Being in relationships can take us away from our Selves sometimes, especially when there is drama and chaos. Coming back to my heart and what it needs to feel safe is a life raft when there are stormy seas.