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The Polyamory Toolkit Blog

Breaking Habitual Patterns

(excerpt from The Polyamory Toolkit)

We mention a few times in this book that there are times when we have had a partner tell us something and we did not respond as our best self.

One of the big ones for me was when I found out one partner had slept with someone new after she and I had been together at a party and although this was expected – they planned to spend the night together – I was out in the parking lot and, via the phone, screaming at them in a rage. 

(Later) I genuinely wondered – why did I react that way? I should not have been surprised. I get being upset or even angry, but in a rage?

It wasn’t until later that I found out about habitual patterns, and a way to escape them. I’ve explored them from both a psychological view (an aspect of cognitive behavioral therapy) but am much more comfortable explaining from the Buddhist perspective and the works of Ken McLeod or Pema Chödrön. It comes down to the same thing. But let me start at the beginning.

A habitual pattern is a mechanism of reacting to life. Sometimes they work, but more often than not, they don’t serve us anymore. Because they happen without thinking based on who we were, instead of who we are.

Have you ever found yourself screaming at a person who cut you off in traffic? Or making a biting remark to someone who shared some news? Or any course of action that you felt like you didn’t have control of…and that you feel doesn’t really reflect who you are. These may well be habitual patterns that are ingrained in you. From a polyamory perspective, I easily identify jealousy as a habitual pattern. Mentally there is no reason for me to be reacting with jealousy. I am polyamorous, I have many partners, and I like it that my partners have partners. Yet, I find out they have a new flame, and my initial reaction is a grumpy “oh great another new person”. This is a pattern that I learned from monogamous days and it no longer serves me.

So, how do you reprogram them? First, understand that hear about new partner to screaming ‘How could you do that to me!’ has many steps between the two. Five steps to be precise. Let’s look at them.

The Polyamory Toolkit

 A book that focuses on specific tools people can use to address the common issues and deeper aspects of a polyamorous relationship. This work includes topics such as: Jealousy, Compersion – finding joy in your partners’ joy, Communication, Mitigating Triggers, Creating a Solid Foundation, and so much more.

Don’t take things personally

(excerpt from The Polyamory Toolkit)

Of course I take things personally. Everything is about me, right? Well, not so much it turns out. Other people’s actions certainly ‘feel’ like i should be taking it personally. My emotions tell me it’s personal. But, it’s really not – not usually anyway.

When one of my partners goes out with another partner and I’m feeling jealous or lonely or fearful, sometimes we don’t want to admit that those are our feelings and we are responsible for them. Instead, it’s easier to put the blame on someone else and to think that they are ‘doing’ something to us, or behaving a certain way because of something we did and we are being punished. But, usually, that has nothing to do with what they are doing.

Realizing that i was blaming my emotions on someone else’s actions and not taking personal responsibility for them, had me looking for another tool. And as the Universe does, it provided me with a book that had a tool that has really helped me out. The book is, ‘The Four Agreements’(1). It has some great wisdom in it, but one of the things I took away from it that has really helped me in my poly experiences is the idea of ‘Not Taking Things Personally’. Easy right? The world doesn’t revolve around us, right? Well, this idea is harder than it sounds. For some reason, most of us think that other people’s actions have something to do with us because we see life through our own eyes, our own filters, our own perceptions. But, most of the time, other people’s actions really don’t have anything to do with us.

The Polyamory Toolkit

 A book that focuses on specific tools people can use to address the common issues and deeper aspects of a polyamorous relationship. This work includes topics such as: Jealousy, Compersion – finding joy in your partners’ joy, Communication, Mitigating Triggers, Creating a Solid Foundation, and so much more.

Anchors

(excerpt from The Polyamory Toolkit)

Sometimes when I’m feeling emotional, I’ll turn to my ancient teddy bear for comfort. I mean, this poor bear is ancient. There are photographs of me just at the age of walking and holding onto this teddy bear at a Christmas tree. So, I’m assuming I’ve had him since I was 1 ½ years old. The poor guy has seen better days, but he has always made me feel safe and comforted.
He is one of my anchors. 

An emotional anchor is an object (usually) that anchors us in the storm. These objects can anchor us to a state of mind, bring us comfort, ground us, remind us that we are in the present.

 

My teddy bear was there through troubled times and made me feel like someone loved me. He was truly my go to for comfort. And now, he sits by my bed on a shelf and if I’m really feeling the need, I curl up in bed with him and am able to fall asleep, usually after crying on his shoulder.

 

He’s been brought down off the shelf more than once during my journey into polyamory. And I’m sure he’ll be my comfort again in the future.

 

Another anchor I used to use is a beautiful rose quartz Kwan Yin pendant. She started out as a necklace and then when the chain broke, she hung out in my pocket or my purse. Now, she sits on my altar in my meditation room.

 

And it can also be an animal. We used to have a cat, Dusty. He was a beautiful, soft fluffy Blue Persian. When I came home from a hard appointment with my therapist, Dusty would be waiting for me at the door. And as soon as I would sit on the couch, he’d be in my lap, purring and snuggling with me. He didn’t do this too often, but he certainly did it if he knew I was upset, which was usually after one of those appointments. He was absolutely an anchor that was very grounding.

The Polyamory Toolkit

 A book that focuses on specific tools people can use to address the common issues and deeper aspects of a polyamorous relationship. This work includes topics such as: Jealousy, Compersion – finding joy in your partners’ joy, Communication, Mitigating Triggers, Creating a Solid Foundation, and so much more.

Managing Surprises

(excerpt from The Polyamory Toolkit)

I once started a relationship and, not wanting my current partner to be worried about it, I told her we are just dating but it wouldn’t go anywhere. Fast forward twelve years and we all own a house together….

One of the polyamory mistakes I made allot in the beginning was being protective of my partners. That doesn’t sound like a mistake, it sounds like a kind and generous way to be. But the way I did it was problematic. Specifically, I didn’t want anyone to have hurt feelings so I would minimize or not share small details that I didn’t think mattered. But of course those small details make up part of the story, so one day your partner hears you are ‘occasionally dating for sexy time’ and then to them suddenly you are planning a 4 day romantic cruise.

We call this tool Managing Surprises. That means we do our best to limit those moments that suddenly our partners are faced with something they had no expectation was coming. Now, life is fluid and changes in the blink of an eye and surprises will happen. But often we can take steps to avoid unnecessary surprises.

The Polyamory Toolkit

 A book that focuses on specific tools people can use to address the common issues and deeper aspects of a polyamorous relationship. This work includes topics such as: Jealousy, Compersion – finding joy in your partners’ joy, Communication, Mitigating Triggers, Creating a Solid Foundation, and so much more.

Breaking Up When Poly

(excerpt from The Polyamory Toolkit)

Being broken up with sucks for monogamous people. I’m sorry to say it sucks for polyamory people as well.

artwork by katie

Now, there can be some benefits to poly in this regard – a partner might break up with me, but I may have other partners to help me through the transition. Although it still sucks, at least the lonely part can be abated. But that isn’t always the case, and even when it is, some aspects of poly breakups are different – and some would contend, worse – than typical monogamous breakups. This section deals with the turmoil of being with someone and then having a break up that results in that person (or if breaking up with a couple, triad, etc, people) no longer part of our life.

When relationships end, either at our choice or at our partners, we not only lose that person/people in our life, but we lose a number of other relationships as well.

  • We lose the presence of the specific person/people.
  • We lose the “Us”. This is what I call that energy or entity that occurs when you and they are together. I’ve noticed that when I am with Karen I have a different view and perspective than, for example, when I am with Dawn. And vice versa. One isn’t better than the other, but when I am visiting a furniture store with Karen we might come across a couch and think ‘that would be perfect for Saturday afternoon cuddling’. With Dawn, seeing the same couch might lead me to think ‘that would be perfect to tie you down to for kinky stuff’. Both reflect aspects of my authentic self. But just like my focus and presence at work is different than it is at home, the same is true when I am interacting with my friends that have a lot of spirituality interest vs my friends that have a lot of sports interest. And with my loving partners.
  • We often lose metamors. I try to develop relationships with the other people in my partner’s life, and often these become friendships on their own legs.  But if Karen were to break up with me, it would be uncomfortable to go to her boyfriend’s house and hang out.

That is a lot of loss. And it doesn’t include all the logistics, friends, and many other details that can come up when you lose a significant relationship.

The Polyamory Toolkit

 A book that focuses on specific tools people can use to address the common issues and deeper aspects of a polyamorous relationship. This work includes topics such as: Jealousy, Compersion – finding joy in your partners’ joy, Communication, Mitigating Triggers, Creating a Solid Foundation, and so much more.

Abundance vs Scarcity

(excerpt from The Polyamory Toolkit)

It’s the idea that love is not in limited supply. That the more love there is, the more we can generate. Therefore, if one of my partners falls in love with someone else, it doesn’t mean that it dries up the supply that is pointed my way.

But, at least for me, i was raised with the idea that there are so many good men out there and you need to grab one and do whatever it takes to keep them. And if they turn their eye to someone else, you’ve lost your supply of love. Scarcity. Not enough resources, not enough love, fight for every scrap you can get.

That’s not true when it comes to polyamory relationships though. There is plenty to share. So, I’ve decided to change my thinking from that that was drilled into me. I want to come from a place of abundant love.

The Polyamory Toolkit

 A book that focuses on specific tools people can use to address the common issues and deeper aspects of a polyamorous relationship. This work includes topics such as: Jealousy, Compersion – finding joy in your partners’ joy, Communication, Mitigating Triggers, Creating a Solid Foundation, and so much more.

48 Hour Tool

(excerpt from The Polyamory Toolkit)

Once when dawn came home from a date and she started to tell me about how great it was, she suddenly stopped and asked “Is everything ok?”. I smiled (or perhaps gritted my teeth) and said “Yep, is fine, go on…” and she went on with her story. And at the end, she again asked me, “Is something wrong?”.

Our most serious, intense, and emotional arguments have come about after we began to try polyamory. I’m not telling you that to scare you off of poly (although let’s face it, it isn’t a selling point). Although dawn and I argued before we started practicing polyamory, we did what many couples do; when a touchy subject came up, we skirted around it and let it pass. With polyamory, that just doesn’t work. You have to face those tough subjects so that you can make progress and move beyond them.

We have a few agreements we hold to so that when we do an argument, they don’t become fights. One of those is the “48 hour rule”. There are a few aspects that make up this tool. First, if you ask me what is wrong, and I say nothing, then you trust me that nothing is wrong. Which means I can’t count on you to read between the lines or guess, and my passive behavior “NOTHING” gets ignored. This is valuable because it forces me to take responsibility for my emotional state and to speak the truth – if something is wrong, I have to say so. And if I say “Nothing”, then you should go on about the day as if nothing is wrong, even if I am lying. This isn’t to be cold or ignore me – it is to set the requirement that we have to learn to speak up when we need to. But for this to work, there is another answer that I can give – instead of nothing, I can say “Yes, but I don’t want to discuss it now”.

Because sometimes something is wrong but I don’t want to talk about it yet. It might be that I am upset and don’t want to speak from anger, or that I need some time because I am an internal processor, maybe that I just don’t feel like dealing with it right then. So it is fine if I say “Yes, something is wrong, but not ready to discuss it”. Now, often dawn will ask “Is it me?” and I’ll say ‘no, just need to chew on it’ and that is the end of the conversation…for now.

This is where the 48 hours part comes in. I have 48 hours to bring it up and address it – and if I don’t, then I have to let it go and it is over. That means we never we don’t get to use something that happened four years ago as ammo for a current argument. Instead, when I ready to talk about it, I let the person I want to talk to know and we grab a chair and have a chat.

The Polyamory Toolkit

 A book that focuses on specific tools people can use to address the common issues and deeper aspects of a polyamorous relationship. This work includes topics such as: Jealousy, Compersion – finding joy in your partners’ joy, Communication, Mitigating Triggers, Creating a Solid Foundation, and so much more.

Can we go back to mono?

(excerpt from The Polyamory Toolkit)

Once you’ve opened the door and walked into polyamory, can you ever go back?

I’ve tried it on occasion but never really with conviction. Only as a reaction to a bad time – “Fine, we will just not see other people, and I won’t have to deal with my (jealousy/fear/lack of trust/etc)”. But it doesn’t stick, at least not for me. For me, being polyamorous is a core aspect of who I am.  And once I tasted it, once I’ve realized that I can love more than one person and that we (a large poly community) are out there, and I am not just weird but instead just wired different than monogamous people, then there is no chance of long term happiness if I deny this aspect of who I am. Loving more than one, sharing myself, being able to be open to new relationships if they come my way, tasting all of life without the limitations of a monogamous society, this is who I am. Facing everything that makes polyamory hard is part of who I am as well. And growing from it. And having partners that support my struggles.

The Polyamory Toolkit

 A book that focuses on specific tools people can use to address the common issues and deeper aspects of a polyamorous relationship. This work includes topics such as: Jealousy, Compersion – finding joy in your partners’ joy, Communication, Mitigating Triggers, Creating a Solid Foundation, and so much more.

Change The Story

(excerpt from The Polyamory Toolkit)

Have you ever had those moments of ‘he didn’t answer my email, maybe he doesn’t like me anymore’ or ‘she’s going out with him again tonight, she must like him more than me’ or a number of other things that we convince ourselves are true….whether from low self-esteem, being raised monogamous, or various other reasons.

 

Sometimes i totally believe what it is that i’m thinking. So much so that it physically hurts. Sometimes, i know that logically these thoughts aren’t true, but emotionally they still feel true. I have had those moments. I have had those moments too many times to count.

‘If he’s taking her on a cruise, she must be a better traveling companion or he’d be taking me again.’ That’s one of my most recent ones.

 Oh wait, no, my most recent one…‘if he really loved me, he’d call me more’.

 At some point in our lives, we all tell ourselves stories that aren’t necessarily true. We experience life through our own filters and our own experiences. And that means that sometimes we make assumptions about other people’s motives based on our own experiences.

 After learning to meditate, which i’ll talk about later, my thinking slowed down enough that i could catch myself telling myself stories during meditation and could stop them. Whoa! What a concept. i could stop thinking about stories that weren’t necessarily true. Not only could i stop stories, but i could change them.

I had already learned that i could think about outcomes, and even if i thought of 100 outcomes that could happen, it was usually the one i hadn’t thought of that really happened. So, why waste time stressing about outcomes that more than likely won’t happen? Just another tool. 

So, once i learned to stop stories during meditation, and learned how to regulate my emotional responses with ‘manual mode’….i was able to start changing the stories that would flit through my head. Ok, sometimes it wasn’t flitting but instead a steel grip of attachment to the story.

Instead of wondering why I didn’t get a text response right away…..’oh, he must be in the middle of sex with her’, or ‘oh, i must not be important enough for him to respond’……i would try to think of the things that are truth instead. What is it that I know? All I know is that a text hasn’t been responded to. And I don’t even have proof of that. Truly all I know is that I don’t see a response. With the basic info in hand, I then picture what is more than likely happening. Maybe he’s driving and shouldn’t be checking his texts. Maybe his phone is in his pocket and not on vibrate. Maybe he left it in the car. Maybe he’s in a meeting. There are so many possibilities, it doesn’t have to be a negative reason.

(exert from the chapter, Change The Story)

The Polyamory Toolkit

 A book that focuses on specific tools people can use to address the common issues and deeper aspects of a polyamorous relationship. This work includes topics such as: Jealousy, Compersion – finding joy in your partners’ joy, Communication, Mitigating Triggers, Creating a Solid Foundation, and so much more.

Polyamory does not require sex

(excerpt from The Polyamory Toolkit)

In some polyamorous relationships, sex isn’t part of the picture at all.

I have had three poly relationships that did not include sex.

So (lets talk) about relationships that the people involved decide that sex isn’t going to be part of it. Some examples are friends of ours that decided on a polyamory relationship style even though some in the ‘pod’ identify as asexual (someone who doesn’t have any sexual desires). Another two people who identify as each other’s ‘primary’ are a male/female coupling but both identify sexually as gay; thus although they don’t have sex with each other, they are intimate with other partners. Others we know have decided to avoid sex due to health – one has a sexually transmitted infection. They want to stay together but chose to avoid sex. And there are other reasons – some as simple as mismatched libidos – that sex may not be part of a poly relationship.

But in all of these situations of people I’ve known, there is a very real level of connection and love. Equal to any other polyamory relationship. 

As I mentioned, I’ve had a few relationships where sex didn’t become part of things. In these cases, they did potentially have sex on the table to start, and an understanding that things might be headed in that direction. But for various reasons, they did not. Each of these relationships did include intimacy of various levels – holding hands, cuddles, or other physical expressions of connection. Just not “penis in vagina”…or penis in anything else.

These were all legitimate polyamorous relationships. The reason sex wasn’t part of it varied but it wasn’t the core of a relationship and thus, not that important. We sometimes hear people joke that “polyamory isn’t all about the sex”, in truth, it really isn’t.  

The Polyamory Toolkit

 A book that focuses on specific tools people can use to address the common issues and deeper aspects of a polyamorous relationship. This work includes topics such as: Jealousy, Compersion – finding joy in your partners’ joy, Communication, Mitigating Triggers, Creating a Solid Foundation, and so much more.

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