Tomorrow, my wife and I will celebrate our ninth wedding anniversary. NINE YEARS! Would it be cliche to say it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long? (Absolutely, but I’m going to say it anyway.) It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long.
Now for the moment of brutal honesty: when she started dating her first girlfriend in our new poly “married and dating” life, there were moments–brief, emotional moments–when I thought we weren’t going to make it to nine. (She, of course, never had a doubt, but then again she wasn’t the one getting triggered by anything and everything at all moments of the day.)
You see, when we first decided to open our marriage, she immediately jumped onto OKCupid and got started. I was a bit busier at the time, so I was about four days behind her on the OKC bandwagon. Before I could even make my profile, she had (I kid you not) messaged ONE woman, gotten a very positive reply, had started chatting with her multiple times a day, and set up a date. By the end of the week, they had met and she was smitten. By the end of a few weeks, they were in full-blown NRE–messaging and texting all hours of the day, meeting up five times a week, all-consuming preoccupation and inability to talk about anything else–and me? My brain went into full-time nonstop trigger mode.
You learn a lot about yourself and your relationship when you see a partner in NRE. Every trigger you feel has an insecurity or fear or dysfunction behind it, and I felt them ALL. She had a kid too, so they would get together for a play date and I would get jealous. They would spend time together during the day while I was at work–boom! Another trigger. She was a perfume lover. I’d smell it on my wife–trigger! On our son–trigger! On the couch–trigger! Something spontaneous happened–trigger! Something planned happened–trigger! They were getting together four or five times a week, and it was like I couldn’t breathe from one date to the next. Each one taking things a step further, making them more enraptured with each other, and making me sicker to my stomach with the fears and insecurities that lay behind those triggers.
I write about this now because if I have one piece of advice for any person or couple entering poly from a long history of monogamy it is this: get thee some mentors. Some shamans, as Peter put it. (Peter was on of my first poly shamans, come to think of it.) Join a community, find other poly folks and pick their brains (trust me, most of us are used to it and really want to help because we’ve been in your shoes).
The best decision my wife and I ever made (aside from having a child and learning how to bake our own bread) was go to see a couple’s councilor who had previous experience with polyamorous relationships. She truly was a mentor more than anything. She had all the vocabulary, knew of many other people who had been through the same thing, and was able to put everything into perspective. Because she knew what polyamory was already, we never had to go through the steps of educating her (or trying to defend our decision to open our marriage), and she already knew that what we needed was just to normalize things. I think most of the advice I give to other people is taken straight from her mouth.
I remember those first months of being poly were like being in a different country with a different language without an interpreter. Thankfully, our therapist and our new friends in the poly community taught us the native tongue so we could call the new country our home. The normalizing process is not easy, but we were taught we needed to have patience and give our brains time to adjust.
Here are just a few tidbits from those first few months that helped us out, in case others out there are looking for it:
- Sleep. A full-night sleep is the best thing you can give your brain to help process things. Let it do the work for you. It can’t do it without deep sleep.
- NRE is powerful, but it’s not an endurance athlete. Enjoy it while it’s there, but it will run its course. It is dangerous to put too much stock in it–when it has passed (and after you get into your first fight) is when you truly learn how lasting the relationship will be. Partners on both sides of the emotion could do with some reminding of this. This too shall pass.
- Emotions are always valid, but they are not always correct. Emotions and triggers need to be given respect, but just because you have a knee-jerk jealous reaction doesn’t mean that your partner did anything wrong or that your worst fears are coming true or that you made a giant mistake. Focus on what that emotion is truly telling you if you want to stop feeling it.
- Agree to boundaries that help each other through triggers, and know that they can be renegotiated after a trial period or after the need has passed. We instituted a “just us on the weekends” rule when I was at the height of my triggers to give me some time and space to reconnect with my wife and not have to worry about other partners. It got tweaked drastically, but we still ask for reconnection time on an as needed basis and understand the importance if we need reconnection time with other partners as well. We had a “no sex in our bed” rule that quickly got tossed when we realized we didn’t care one bit. I’m afraid that my partners still have to shower after being with anyone who smells strongly of perfume.
Anyone else want to add a tidbit to that list?