My nesting partner and boyfriend are both monogamous, in that they’re not currently interested in pursuing anyone else. Neither wants to maintain multiple relationships and they don’t crave anything beyond their connection with me for now (of course that might change in the future).Gooseberry Muffins, /r/polyamory
We’re all fairly new to polyamory and trying our best to balance time and energy. I stress about giving enough to both relationships and worry about burnout. Any tips on navigating this guilt and anxiety?
Dear Gooseberry Muffins,
I think you have a very legitimate concern here, and it is twofold. The first fear is in experiencing relationship burnout. And the second fear is in not being able to provide enough for your boyfriend and your nesting partner. Let’s take some time with each of those fears before we talk about how those fears and anxiety points can be better managed.
Relationship burnout is generally defined as the feelings of exhaustion and detachment folks feel as they are increasingly disengaged and emotionally disconnected from their partners. There are several factors that contribute to feeling burnt out in your relationships. Prolonged conflict is one of the major causes of relationship burnout. Extended cycles of conflict forcibly elevate and hold couples at a high stress level, which then depletes the emotional capital that folks have invested in their relationships. As the emotional reserves run out over the highly intense cycles of conflict, exhaustion and relationship pessimism will set in as the lack of emotional payoff gets associated through repeated conflicts.
I’ll also mention that relationship burnout is different from dating burnout. While they are both burnouts, dating burnout stems from the consistent high stress cycle that come with going on new dates and forging new connections. This is especially true for polyfolks who might be dating for longer cycles. Based on what you have shared, you are more worried about feeling burnt out from your two relationships rather than the burnout you’d feel in dating new partners.
Causes of relationship burnouts aren’t all that different between monogamous and polyamorous relationships. Both types of burnouts come from conflict escalation and resolution exhaustion.
The next step is to figure out how you can address burnout before it happens.
If relationship burnout is correlated with consistent high stress cycles, then the best way to manage it is by managing conflicts in a productive and healthy way so that you may avoid those high stress cycles.
This means finding rhythm to manage and address struggles together as a team rather than on your own. One of the tools I think every polyamorous folks should utilize is a monthly check in. In my monthly check ins, my partners and I sit down for a deep discussion on how things have been going, what fractures have we noticed, and what action plans we need to implement to address those fractures. Multiamory’s RADAR model works really well for this.
Another way to proactive manage burnouts is to allow for neutral “padding” in your relationships. By this, I mean to create some extra fluff in your life so that your entire identity doesn’t dissolve down to who you are as a partner. It’s easy to get caught up in the relationship spark and lose track of your own interests and other platonic connections. So keep in touch with yourself outside of these relationships by staying true to your interests and hobbies that are independent from your partners.
Now let’s talk about the second fear: the fear of not being able to provide enough.
With two monogamous partners who are committed and dedicated to you, it’ll fall heavily on your shoulders to manage and meet their needs. This can seem like a big ask and is a very valid fear.
Similar to above, this too is not a fear that is unique to polyamorous relationships. Folks in monogamous relationships also ask themselves the same questions when they get into very ambitious and promising relationships. At its core, this fear is about what you assess your partners need from an external perspective, and how it compares to what your partners actually need from their respective internal perspectives.
Our perspectives are limited to what we can immediately perceive through our senses, our intuition, and communication through our trusted channels. What you see, what you hear, and what you can project is a strict internal process about external factors. In the same way, it is important for you to acknowledge that what you think that your partners will need is strictly your own internal assessment of what your partners need, not what your partners actually need. I feel a bit like a broken record here, but communicating with your partners and letting your partners dictate what they need is essential to bridging that gap between what you assess as their needs and what they assess as their needs. Only then can you actually sit back and assess whether or not you can actually meet their needs.
I’ve talked about proactive consent in my column a bit in the past. Your partners are proactively consenting to being in this relationship with you when they communicate their needs with you and subsequently give you space to meet their needs with your resources.
If they communicate a need that you might not be able to meet at this moment, then you have the ability to also assess and analyze your consent status. But until that happens where their needs are mismatching what you can (realistically) provide, recognize this fear as a voice of anxiety. Give it room to breathe and kindly remind the voice that it is simply an irrational result to an irrational process.
I’ve personally found meditation and self-care to be immensely helpful in creating some distance from my ego, in order to have those rational discussions with my own irrational sides. Your method of conversing with yourself to keep yourself in check might look more kinetic or more metaphysical.
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