“I’m a long distance branch off of a kitchen table polycule, my companion and I have been dating for over a year.
Recently it’s become clear that my companion is separating from his primary partner, wife, and nesting partner. She and I have become quite close over the past year, a slow burn of friendship and sharing special time together. I have spent weeks at the group house, and feel close to everyone there.
I’m struggling so much with if I have the ability to remain in a romantic companion relationship as the chaos ensues in the family. My parents went through a very unhealthy divorce 9 years ago, I ended up in the middle, and am still dealing with the emotional fallout and damage from that. I have been feeling certain aspects of that cPTSD triggered over the past week, as communication trickles in.
I feel like this is a cement wall that I’m facing with the poly world, maybe because of my past, maybe because there’s a lot more healing for me to do.
I don’t want to dial back our relationship, but I don’t know if I can handle it any other way. I’m completely caught between playing the supportive companion during this difficult time, and putting myself and my emotional well-being first.
I feel like a bad companion asking for space and pulling back into a platonic friendship. But I feel my heart hardening and my teeth being bared in self-defense, which wouldn’t be good support either.
Has anyone else gone through the split of a primary couple/cule? Any advice on navigating this ENM-specific situation?”
Dear Barefoot Q,
I am so sorry to hear that you and your polycule are going through such a rough transition. I can definitely empathize with the amount of pain and insecurity that can stem from wanting to be present for your partner while also managing your own pain and grief from the loss of this idyllic polyamorous future. I’m also really sorry to hear that this current experience witnessing their fallout is triggering your cPTSD of your parents’ divorce.
It can be really difficult to witness any friend group or couple break up, much less a couple that you are romantically intertwined with. So I think the first things you should be asking is… Are you okay? It is really important to make sure that you take care of yourself first before you opt to take care of others, especially in emotionally draining circumstances such as this one. Intentionally commit time and space to self-care in whatever form that works for you. If you haven’t already done so, checking up with a local poly-friendly therapist to have them reconfirm your reality might not be a bad idea. They might even help you work through your cPTSD in the context of your polyamorous relationships.
Once you feel like you can stay afloat, the next thing to do is to be kinder to yourself. Recognize that their separation and eventual divorce might have happened anyway completely regardless of your involvement in your boyfriend’s life as his secondary partner. It isn’t your fault. And forgiveness of yourself won’t come easy, especially when you aren’t seeing what is happening behind their marital curtains.
Managing your partner’s breakup is never easy, local or long distance. But maybe it is good that you had some physical distance as a buffer to the end of their relationship. The one major advantage that you have due to the circumstances is that you should be able to set some really clear and firm boundaries about what is going on. You said that you have become close friends with your metamour. But that does not mean that you have to hear about exactly everything is going on in their marital fights. You might benefit from establishing a boundary with your partner as well as your metamour that you will not be a venting channel through which they can talk to you about what is going on in their marriage. This will probably trigger some of your cPTSD symptoms. But at least it’ll be a controlled communication rather than the trickling of communication that itches as it drip, drip, drips onto our skins.
De-escalating – as you mentioned – is also a viable option as well. It does not make you a bad partner to say this is not a level of emotional labor you want to commit to your relationships. It is one thing to help and support because you can but another thing entirely to do so at an immense price of self. The first is kindness while the latter is codependency. It is difficult to be vulnerable with each other in general; it is impossible when all the senses are cranked up to eleven. You need not authorize your emotional bandwidth for that which you cannot reasonably budget for yourself. If this price of admission is too high, de-escalation is the kindest thing you can do.
Coming from experience, I’ll also tell you that things will get both a lot easier and a lot harder as time goes on. It’ll get easier because each of you will get better acquainted with the overall process and respectively develop routines that help you better manage the stress that comes with the separation process. But it’ll also get harder because you’ll have to constantly adapt and adjust as new information comes to light. This will put undue and unanticipated stress factors into your life you cannot reasonably allocate bandwidth at this time. You absolutely do not have to consent to what you don’t know, especially if things as they are today is already too much for you to handle.
I’m really sorry that you are going through this. I’m sorry for everyone. It’s hard enough to manage polycule breakups – doubly so if you also have to manage your cPTSD symptoms. As another who is coming from a divorced household, know that I see you and I see how difficult it has been for you.
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