“Hi all, what are your tips for coping after a breakup with a secondary without letting it affect your relationship with your primary (too much)?
I broke up with my girlfriend of 10 months about two months ago. Since then I’ve pretty much only been with my husband, aside from one-night stand type things, and for various reasons my husband and I have decided to go mono, at least for the next few months.
I occasionally see my ex-girlfriend because we’re part of the same sports team. She’s now hooking up with someone else on the team, and I have to admit (even though I know ending our relationship was the right call) it’s been a little hard knowing she’s getting the NRE burst to help get over things, while I’m in the same relationship I was in while I was with her. Sometimes, even though I love my husband, it still feels like there’s something missing. It feels like the “get under someone to get over someone” thing isn’t as effective when you were under that someone already…you know?
Really want to get past this so my husband doesn’t have to deal with mopey breakup me any longer. Some days I feel totally fine and other days (especially when I have to see my ex) it’s just really hard. Any advice would be greatly greatly appreciated!!”
Dear Bookish Elisa,
This is one of the most difficult skills to develop in polyamorous relationships because it is a brand new skill. In traditionally monogamous relationships, there are all these common models that you can follow to get over your breakup. Get in your most comfy PJs, dive into the massive backlog of shows and movies you’ve neglected, and settle in with a quart of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked. You have also mentioned another option of “getting under someone to get over someone.” Another common advice following breakups is to go out and reconnect with your friends and family to reinforce the relationships that have survive the breakup. Let’s dive into what each of those have in common.
When you are getting comfortable in your own presence, you end up internalizing some of that pain. While immersed in that pain, you get to selfishly redirect some of that energy to resolve the cards of pain that you are dealt. I think this part of advice could crossover well to poly-side of breakup recovery as well. If that looks like doing more self-care (i.e. getting massages, watching movies in a pillow/blanket fort), then you do you. This is a purely internal process to focus on your own well-being and improving your own emotional & physical health.
When you are sleeping with other people to get over your breakup, you are essentially stitching your wounds shut with the threads of passion. Rebound sex is a rapid-speed recovery process. The theory is that if you can have meaningless sex with someone it could help dissociate and disassemble the loss you feel in death of an intimate relationship with another. I personally feel that this is a terrible advice for two reasons. One. It requires you to “use” another person for sex, and “be used” by another person for sex. It also perpetuates the unhealthy idea to weaponize sex and intimacy against your own pain. You can absolutely apply this in poly scenarios as well, probably to mild extent. Fighting fire with fire, I suppose, could be a valid strategy. This is an external process that you turn internally to cauterize your internal wounds.
When you are focusing on establishing and reinforcing the relationships that did survive, what you are really doing is to kindly remind yourself that you are capable of maintaining healthy and respectful relationships on your own. By seeing what kind of values you bring into others lives, you can better support your own ego during a breakup. This is a purely external process and can definitely be re-purposed in polyamorous relationships, as you have done so a bit through your relationship with your husband. If you are out as poly or if you have a local poly group that you can rely on for support, this would be a great opportunity to leverage your distant connections to connect with others and reinforce the qualities you like in yourself.
I also see two different underlying problems in your post. First is your current exposure level to your ex. It can be really difficult to constantly encounter one of your exes in the same sports team that you both participate in. It is even more difficult to see her hooking up with someone else on the same team. If you are continuing to have such a hard time, it might not be such a bad idea to take a brief break from this sports team to shore up some of your emotional defenses.
Another more important point of discussion is in relying too much on your husband for emotional support. Maybe you can also develop different support network to help you process poly-related feelings. We humans are fundamentally social creatures. Building and maintaining connections is really important to maintain your own sanity. Since you’ve lost an important connection that you had through your former secondary partner, you might need other ways to reinvent that space you once left for her to occupy. Whether that is through a poly-friendly therapist who can help you unpack and resolve the current pains or a poly-minded queerplatonic friend that you can vent to freely about poly-related feelings and shenanigans, try to keep an open mind to connect with others in this regard as well. I saw from your other post that your husband had previous reservations about processing your secondary woes with him. So I can see why he’d also feel exhausted in supporting you through this breakup as well. He is a champ. But he can’t be your everything here either.
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