Hello dear ones,
Thank you for your patience on Episode #3 of OPENINGS: a monthly advice podcast where I answer your questions. COVID + weird tech issues kept me from getting this baby out when I’d hoped, but she is here now! This month I had two questions, both of which spoke to the challenges we can face when it comes to trusting that our relationships are actually doing okay — especially after something happens that shakes them up.
A reminder that this offering is available to all subscribers, as paywalls don’t really align with my values. It’s my hope that folks who can do so will become paid subscribers and help sustain me and this project.
I’d love for you to submit your questions for episode 4, and you can do so by sending me an email at email@example.com with the subject line OPENINGS SUBMISSION. You have until Friday April 29th at 11:59pm MST.
You’ll find the transcript of the episode below.
Do you have any advice for closing out fights/conflicts with my partner? Even when we come to a consensus and everything is “ok” again on the surface, my residual upset gets focused inward and I still feel awful that nothing is “fixed.”
I have a few different responses to this question. One is focused on things you can do; and the other on things you can both do together. I’ll start with the latter.
I’m curious about what, if any, little rituals you have for reconnecting after conflict. I know that one thing that I really need is some contact (cuddling, hand holding, a hug), verbal affirmation (thank you for moving through that hard convo with me. I love you), and sometimes a connecting activity that we both enjoy (like watching an episode of Drag Race together, or reading side by side on the couch).
Growing up, conflict always equalled disconnection. And so I need a few different supports that enable us to reconnect. Jessica Fern calls this “turning towards after conflict” in her book Polysecure. Talking with your partner before conflict happens and coming up with an aftercare plan is something I highly recommend.
Given that your residual upset gets turned inwards, that you feel awful after conflict, and like nothing is fixed, my guess is that there is a younger part of you that is scarred and needs soothing. Maybe some of that comes from your partner, and it is also something that we can give to ourselves. The reality is that people are imperfect and they can’t always show up for us in the ways we need exactly when we need them. The good news is that we can show up for ourselves.
Kekuni Minton, one of the founders of the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy School calls this “the missing experience.” The amazing thing about reparenting ourselves is that we can give ourselves the experiences that we missed out on. But first we have to figure out what those experiences are.
I’d start by getting curious about whether or not there are earlier experiences of conflict that are being triggered here. How old were you when you remember experiencing that feeling of “nothing is fixed”? What might you have needed at that time in order to feel secure after conflict? For so many of us, it’s the reassurance that the relationship is secure, and that we will repair the rupture. For others it’s being reminded that we’re loved and that the conflict didn’t change how the other person feels about us.
Can you turn towards yourself, and towards that younger version of you, and visualize holding their hand? Or perhaps you can offer them some words of reassurance: “I know that was scary. You did such a good job moving through that. No matter what happens, I’m not going anywhere.” I hope that those suggestions help.
My boyfriend and I have been dating "officially" for about 6 months now, and he recently asked me my thoughts on an open relationship. I told him that because our relationship is so new, I’m not open to that right now, but perhaps at some point in the future. He understood that, and said it made him feel better to know I was even slightly open to the possibility. Now I'm ruminating on this, wondering if I'm somehow not "enough." And even though he has told me that he is happy and fulfilled now as things are, I'm having trouble believing that and already feeling anxiety for the possibility of this change in the future. How can I manage these feelings while strengthening my relationship with him and also taking care of myself?
First I just want to validate those anxious feelings that are coming up. Given that this is a new relationship, you likely haven’t established the secure attachment that is needed to make nonmonogamy feel safe enough to explore. My first foray into nonmonogamy didn’t happen until I’d be in a secure partnership for over a year. And it can take much longer than that for many folks. I believe the average for building secure relationships is 3 years.
I also totally understand why this would be activating a fear of not being enough. First, the stories that we get from cishetmonogamy culture is that your partner should be all of the things you could ever needed and more. And so if you wanted to explore things with other people, that is a sign that something is missing from the relationship. My therapist recently told me that she’s been thinking about the difference between loving someone (e.g. secure attachment) and looking for all of the boxes to be checked. When we’re trying to check all the boxes, we inevitably get caught up in comparisons and that moves us away from connection and towards protection.
No one person is ever going to meet all of our needs and thank goodness! I know that it feels like a whole lot of pressure gets alleviated from me when I don’t have to worry about being “enough” for my partner(s). All of that cultural programming aside, I want to get to your question about how you can manage these feelings while strengthening your relationship with him and taking care of yourself.
Similarly to my response to the last question, it sounds like there is some reparenting or self-tending that would be supportive here. I’m not a huge fan of the language of “managing” feelings because that often looks like repressing them. What I want to encourage is for you to welcome that fear of not being enough, and the anxiety that you’re feeling, to sit beside you so to speak. The other piece I’d like to share is that you have the power to show yourself that you are enough. What I’ve learnt is that no amount of verbal affirmation from my loved ones has made me feel 100% enough. I’ve had to learn how to give myself the affirmation I needed and never received. One thing you could do is make a list of the things that you love about yourself and that make you a great human to be in relationships with. Then place that list somewhere where you can see it regularly. I’m also a huge fan of making affirmation cards, and so maybe spending some time making a card that reads “you are more than enough.” Cheesy, but it really does work for me.
I also want to offer the reminder that playing it too cool for school and pretending that we’re not anxious when we are is not the way that we build secure attachment. I’ve had to develop practices with partners where I can name my insecurities and ask them for affirmation. I really love this line from Brene Brown: “The story I’m telling myself is….” and then I ask the other person if that’s true for them. Another strategy I developed with a partner was “tell me a nice thing.” This was my way of asking him for some affirmation (about me, our relationship, the time we were spending together). Now of course if I were to be constantly asking him for affirmation, that would be a lot and he would have started to feel like nothing he was doing was enough. And so here’s where we come back to giving ourselves the affirmation we need.
By being honest with him and with yourself about what you’re feeling and what you need, you’re strengthening the relationship and taking care of yourself simultaneously.