Comparing relationships in polyamorous couples part 2


Of course, where this actually seems to come up a lot in polyamory. I mean, sure it could be a hobby like that or some arranged activity but a lot of the time this can come up in slightly more nuanced areas such as how much time a person spends with each person. So maybe your partner tells you I’m sorry, I don’t really have time to spend with you more than one or two nights a week. But then they meet someone new, and they see this person three or four times a week or something like oh, I’m not out about being polyamorous, so I can’t take you to meet my parents. But then they meet someone new and a year down the road they take them to meet their parents. These experiences can be tremendously painful and very invalidating, and it feels like a kind of rejection. And sometimes it is.
In a case like this I would never say to this person oh, comparison is the thief of joy. Don’t compare your relationships because the comparison is not the problem here. The problem in this case is that the partner said one thing and did something else with someone else. And of course, maybe there are perfectly benign, reasonable reasons for this that they simply haven’t communicated to the person who’s feeling hurt and feeling betrayed, and they need to have a conversation about it. This can also come up when people have mismatched expectations or understandings about the relationship that they’re in if they’re not on the same page. For example, let’s say you’re dating someone, and they’re also dating someone else or with someone else, and they won’t introduce you to their parents, but they have introduced this other person.
They won’t spend a certain amount of time with you, but they will with this other person. They’ve told you they’ll never live with you, but they will with this other person. And maybe that confusion that you’re feeling is because they communicated to you that they are non-hierarchical, that they are egalitarian in their polyamory, and yet they seem to be behaving in a way that is hierarchical. They seem to be treating one partner as their primary and another partner as their secondary. In my opinion, the problem here is not that they’re practicing hierarchy. It’s that they have not communicated that they are practicing hierarchy, or they’ve even actively misled someone into thinking they’re not practicing hierarchy. The important part is that everyone is on the same page. If you’re not on the same page, you cannot consent to the dynamic in the relationship.
And polyamory has to revolve around consent. There’s another dynamic within polyamory that can engender the impulse to compare relationships and that is NRE or New Relationship energy. And that refers to this very excited, very intense experience emotionally that you can have when you’re with someone new. Often, in my opinion, this tips over into limerence this sort of very obsessive preoccupation with someone that you’re newly dating, be it sheer excitement or be it obsession or anything in between, NRE new relationship energy can sometimes destabilize the emotions and the sense of security that the already established partner might have. And of course, this partner who’s dating the new person. Perhaps they’ve said things to their already existing partner like, oh, I’m just very tired lately, so I don’t want to be physically intimate with you. Or I have too.
Much going on at work, so I don’t really have a lot of time to go out on dates or any other number of things that very well may be absolutely true at the time that they said them. And then they meet this new person, and they’re very excited, and that sheer excitement bubbles up within them and sort of gives them a new wellspring of energy to do all the things that they already said they couldn’t do. Suddenly, they make time for this new person. Suddenly they’re very physically intimate frequently with this new person. These are things that the already existing partner had been asking for, and now suddenly someone else gets them. That’s really painful.

Again, this is another situation where I would never say comparison is the thief of joy, because this person who is doing the comparing, they didn’t have joy. They felt like there were things missing. They wanted more time with their partner. They wanted more intimacy with their partner. And the things that they asked for that they said they weren’t able to give are being given to someone else. There are a number of different ways to approach resolving this kind of situation. The person who’s dating the new person could opt to stop dating that new person, to focus on rebuilding the connection between their already existing partner.
That’s one option. They can continue dating that new person while simultaneously working on the relationship with the already established partner and being more mindful of the places in which they’ve been hypocritical or been inconsistent and tried to help engender a greater sense of stability and security in the partner who very reasonably isn’t really feeling that way right now. Ultimately, the question I would encourage you to ask yourself is, am I comparing just to compare? And am I sort of making myself miserable, trying to make everything as even and equal as possible? Even when I don’t technically even want the things that my partner is giving this other person? I want the things that I want. I want completely different things. And if I can have those things in a certain amount of time, a kind of attention, a kind of activity, a kind of intimacy, I’ll be perfectly happy.
And then it doesn’t really matter how much they’re giving to another person or what kinds of activities they’re engaging in, because all the things that I have, the structure and the nature of the relationship we share is solid, and I’m content and everything’s great. Or is your partner being very inconsistent, saying one thing, doing another, possibly even actually gaslighting you. If these kinds of situations are arising, a very honest conversation needs to happen, possibly with third party intervention like a psychiatric or other therapeutic professional who’s polyamory friendly or a friend or a clergy member. Whoever you trust to be an impartial third party to help you work through these issues. If you have any questions about this or anything else about polyamory or relationships, please feel free to leave them down in the comments below.

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