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Advice – I don’t feel free.

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Anonymous writes…

“My boyfriend [30M] and I [25F] have been together for 6 years. The corner stones of our relationship, from the start, were communication and freedom (to do and feel anything, as long as we talked about it). I consider us in an open relationship. In 6 years, we have never been confronted to a poly situation. It’s always been the two of us, and we were happy this way. We still told each other regularly that we were free, though.

Recently, I fell in love with a mutual friend (let’s call him A). I immediately talked to my boyfriend about it.

Turns out he feels hella insecure, wants to know everything that’s going on at every minute. He doesn’t want me to see A without him being here and/or me telling him everything that’s going on. He even wants to be with us for our first time having sex (I know, right??). His fear of being left out is almost scary to me. I feel smothered. I don’t feel free.

I don’t want to sacrifice my freedom or my right to some privacy. But I also don’t want to do anything to hurt my boyfriend. My friend A is very patient in these trying times, but I know it’s uncomfortable for him too.

I don’t know how much of my boyfriend’s fears I should take into account. I’m lost. It’s all very new to me. I’m angry that all these years, he told me how free I was, but the minute I actually enjoy this freedom, he’s a control freak. It’s not like him. I don’t know what’s true anymore.

Dear Anonymous,

I agree with you that this feels smothering and really controlling. You’ve gotten to know him pretty well in the past six years. So I’ll take your word for it when you say that this is very unlike how he is normally. And I’ll respond with the assumption that this is a unique trigger scenario. I am also going to assume based on what you shared that this might be your first poly scenario, but that you’ve both had many other non-monogamous interactions in the past.

First things first. His insecurity appears to be in total overdrive, and completely overwriting his sense of self. That underlying deep sense of insecurity might have always been there, but it might have gotten missed in your six years together. Sometimes, that kind of underlying insecurity doesn’t get triggered until years or even decades into your relationship. But wherever the source is, it is very important for you to recognize that it is not your responsibility to manage his insecurity; that is his own responsibility. You can establish some personal boundaries in a compassionate way to protect him. But that needs to come from a place of respect and trust that he is not going to disrespect your sense of autonomy.

If you feel safe to do so (either by yourself or in the confines of a couple’s counselor’s office), it might be beneficial for both you and your boyfriend to unpack WHY he feels that insecurity… especially since it hasn’t been a problem in your six year history together. But that is the extent of your responsibility in supporting his recovery. The hard work to reframe his mind around his controlling behavior and weaponizing of insecurity is only something he can work on.

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Another thing that comes to mind is to think about what the word freedom specifically means to you. Does that mean that you want to have a complete sense of autonomy in the people you choose to see? Or does that freedom come with a 15-page Terms & Conditions that you need to first sign off on? Dig deep and come up with why the concept of freedom in the context of relationships is important for you, and write that shit down. That’s going to be your mantra going forward, the very protection spell you are going to cast on yourself to maintain sanity for the work and journey up ahead.

Once you have an idea of what kind of relationships you want to have, your next step is to recognize his patterns and establish some non-negotiable and fluid boundaries that enables you to love the way you want to. They might look really tough and difficult for enforce and dispassionate in relation to your relationship. But some of the behaviors you’ve outlined are really dangerous and incredibly restricting. So boundary setting seems like the only viable option here.

One such boundary you can establish henceforth is “I will not be in a relationship with a person who will not or cannot accept my autonomous sexual and romantic freedom to explore other sexual and/or romantic connections.” You’ll notice that this is a non-negotiable boundary, and not one predicated on the success of your relationship with your mutual friend A. This specific boundary also addresses his request to watch you and A have sex together for the first time (YIKES!). Also notice that this boundary is specific to yourself. It is completely internally-driven, as in the onus of action falls entirely on you even if the data points lie outward.

If you want to take a look at a previous column I wrote regarding setting and establishing boundaries for a similar situation, read this one. I promise that it’ll be worth your time.

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Once you have established your own boundaries, it is time for you and your boyfriend to define and revisit agreements that you have established in regards to non-monogamous encounters. It is a bit time-lorn and overdue. But today is as good as any day to sit down and discuss what some of those basic boundaries should be.

Please keep in mind that you are not doing this specifically for your relationship with A, but for all of your relationships to come in the future. Even if it isn’t specifically for laying down the foundations with your boyfriend, it’ll be good practice for you to have this “agreements & boundaries” discussion for your future relationships as well.

Talk about sexual safety. Talk about managing expectations. Talk about your respective commitments you’ve already made to each other. Really flesh out how he is going to provide space for you to explore your relationship, both physically and emotionally. Lay out what kind of progress and improvements you’ll need to see, and discuss what kind of timeline are we looking at to make sure all our ducks are in a row.

Fire is going to be very hot with this much lighter fluid nearby. So place some contingency fire extinguishers nearby in case there are a lot of really emotionally intense moments and sharp words thrown about without care or compassion. In times of turbulence, remember to breathe deep and be the eye of the storm. Feel free to step away if he is not able to have a calm and collected discussion with you. (As an exercise, you can even establish a boundary such that you will not have a discussion unless each of you can have a civil and collected conversation without namecalling or raised voices.)

Remember. You aren’t having this discussion for him. This discussion might not even be to save your relationship with your boyfriend. It could be for you, and it is definitely for any of the relationships you want to have in the future.

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Whenever I knock an arrow on my arrowrest, I remind myself that I am following a specific process – a process that I’ve gotten very well-acquainted with in the two years I’ve been shooting my arrows. I felt so incredibly nervous about the first arrow I ever shot after purchasing my takedown recurve bow because I was afraid of hurting myself, hurting others, and damaging my bow. But over the past two years, I’ve knocked, drawn, and set loose many an arrows to better finetune my overall process in archery.

In the same way, imagine yourself surrendering to a process, this process of remaining connected with your partner even when your anxiety voice tells you otherwise. You might’ve had this specific bow for six years, and it gathered a lot of dust over the ages. But now is better than any to finally put your back into pulling that string and stay true to your form after release so that the string’s reverberation does not slap your forearm. Even if it does, it is just a bruise. It’ll heal with time.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

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5 replies

  1. Oh, TtwT had I only read this kind of solid advice three years ago, really 25 years ago before I married. It took 22 years to uncover this style of insecurity in my partner. I hope all is not lost but……

    Liked by 1 person

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