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I was told to write out what I would say to you if I could tell you how to make a relationship work with someone with BPD, someone like me. For some of you it’s too late. The damage is done. I’ve hurt you irreparably, broken trust, and shattered security. We’ve already reprogrammed our relationship to be what it can despite those things, and I deal with the wave of sadness that hits to think of all the things I lost by not being able to tell you what I needed, by not knowing myself. Each and every one of you has asked me what I need from a partner, but even as much as I’ve grown in the last couple of years, I couldn’t put them into words until they were worded as advice for someone else. If that isn’t just the portrait of BPD, I don’t know what is. My hope is that this can clarify some things, maybe starts some dialogues, and definitely give us some blueprints on how to move forward and forge stronger, healthier bonds.
Sometimes I need reassurance that I’m important, and I have said this over and over again. I don’t need to be your top priority, but I do need to be one of them if you’re going to call me a partner. Sometimes I need a little extra attention. Nothing grandiose. Just a reminder that I’m loved. It’s never that I don’t believe I am, but it’s nice to hear, see, feel it from you. I need random messages and occasional outpourings of emotion from you, not constantly, but I need it not to vanish for weeks at a time.
I need you to hear my words not my tone or body language. I need you to believe my words not take them as passive aggression or sass.
I need to feel secure, and when i ask for clarification on what seemed like a small action to you, I need you to not take it as malice or suspicion. I’m just trying to understand. Sudden changes in tone, behaviour, or levels of interaction will be internalized if I can’t mention them to you and get them out of my head, which is running through every reason why it’s all a sign you’re about to leave me. I’m not saying these changes aren’t natural or understood, especially when something is happening in your life. I’m just saying I might ask.
I need you to talk to me. I need you to let me talk. This all boils down to communication. I’m going to overthink things, and getting it out helps. Weird things cut deep sometimes, and all I need is to mention it so it doesn’t fester. I need to know we can have an open dialogue without you lashing out at me. It helps me stay calm and rational.
I need you to know I worry about pushing you away. I worry about being too complicated. I worry about being misunderstood. I worry. Mostly I worry about whether or not you’re happy with me, whether you’re still happy with me, whether you stay because it’s become routine.
I need honesty, even when I might not like it, because I need to trust that you will tell me the bad things along with the good so I don’t constantly wonder what you’re thinking but not saying.
I need balance. I need you to trust me to handle my issues on my own first before you swipe in to try and fix it, but I also need you to know that if I’m reaching out to you I’m at the end of my rope. I don’t want to add to your stress, and I’m doing what I can and taking steps every day to do it better, but I can’t always do it alone. It took me a long time to be able to ask for help, and if I do it means I trust you with my life and my heart. Please understand this.
I need you to know my triggers. I’ll never ask that you avoid them, because part of learning to cope with them is getting used to processing them, but I do need you to be a little sensitive to the aftercare if you’re going to trigger issues. I need to know I’m safe having a reaction to things with you.
I need you to give me some control. I need to feel competent. I need to feel like you believe I’m competent. I need you to not be condescending. I’m an adult, and I’m fully aware of what’s happening and what I need. When I feel like I’m being coddled, babied, or invalidated it triggers everything, and I forget I’m strong and stop trying. I need to not stop trying.
I need you to be clear, patient, and observant at times. Especially when it comes to your needs and issues.
I need you to trust me to adjust my behaviour when I am wrong. I need you to trust me to understand when you need a little space, but I need you to eventually come back from that space. I need you to trust that nothing I do is malicious, and help me be a better partner. Lastly, I need you to trust me to be doing everything I can to be a better version of me every day. I’m not happy being this difficult to live with. I’m not complacent in it. I’m not making excuses.
This is not a list of things you have to learn to do for me. This is a list of things we can learn to navigate together.
I don’t believe we are stuck. I believe things can be improved even after years of unhealthy habits. No, you can never really start over, and there will always be old wounds, but healing is a powerful thing, and all of my relationships are strong, or we wouldn’t be in them.
I’ve done a lot of my own reading and research, but maybe it’s more helpful from a voice that’s not mine…
Which is why I’m here. I was asked whay advice I would give to a partner of someone with BPD. This is what I said.
Go now, feel.
New relationships give us all sorts of opportunities. A new partner means all these new frontiers to explore, don’t they? Suddenly we’re interested in couples Wii bowling tournaments and Faberge egg painting, and we make all these plans like they’re blueprints for this new relationship. Then reality sets in. Wii bowling happens on a work night, and neither of you can paint a fence let alone a hollowed out egg. Instantly there are all these unmet expectations. Now throw in the fact that this is a new person you’re learning, and no matter how many times you’ve dreamily cooed the phrase “it feels like I’ve known you forever” it’s been two months, and you’re still learning to communicate and exist on this planet together. This is where hopes get let down, miscommunication runs rampant, and because NRE has the happy gauge turned up to High Octane, these small disappointments feel world ending. Sometimes they feel relationship ending.
This is where real life has to interfere for the relationship to survive, and as comfort levels are established we must be willing to let some of those expectations be set aside for a rainy day, reshaped a little, ot even just released back into the wild. Maybe you buy a Wii and bowl at home. Maybe you take a Vino and Van Gogh class one weekend, get smashed, and paint nothing put stick figures and butts. Maybe you find something else that excites you. The key is to adapt, because at some point the letdowns get bigger; it’s a fact of life that no relationship, yes even yours, is perfect. If you can’t handle the reality that your partner hated the recipe you learned because she said she likes lasagna, how are you going to survive when you find out she whistles in her sleep and keeps you awake, when the perfect night out you planned in your head ends up on the couch in pj’s because one of you had an awful day, when tears are in her eyes because you weren’t even aware you’d done something hurtful? These things will happen, and these little compromises on expectations build the foundation for a relationship that can sustain them.
I’ve said it before. NRE is a roller-coaster, friends, and sometimes one partner gets off the ride before the other. What then? You will never survive this blow if you’ve let every other changed expectation tear at you. This is where the true strength of a relationship is tested. This is where you find out what you can do together, and once again you adapt. This is where love and compassion can mean everything. This is where reaching out and the little things that define your relationship are imperative, because they’re so easily left behind when the ride is over.
There is no other message here. Just let that one sink in a bit.
Go now. Hold on tight.
We are taught as a society that anger is bad. Angry children are punished instead of taught to process, angry men are destructive, and angry women are irrational. We learn to ignore it, to bottle it up, to fear it, and this leads to a breakdown in communication and emotional presence. But anger is not the enemy. Anger, like any other emotion, is defined by how we respond to it and process it.
Even just a year ago I would have turned the first time I got angry as a new partner into fear that if I expressed it at all he’s walk, and past experience has taught me that anger makes me a monster, a selfish bitch. Crazy. Both of my parents got very quiet when they were angry, and I have inherited that behaviour. When I’m frustrated I get snappy, but when I’m genuinely angry I shut down.
Our challenge as adults in relationships is to deal with anger instead of letting it push us apart, right? How do we do this without the emotional toolbox we should have been given decades ago? How do I process and communicate my anger without getting passive aggressive, hurtful, or adversely, detached? How do I help my partner not feel like he needs to be on his defense? These are not questions I have answers for, and they stir up the fear that I’ll merely succeed in pushing him away from me, but staying angry doesn’t help anyone.
Go now, use your anger
This past weekend was a hard lesson for me in healing. I let anxiety win, and it was……quite the spectacle. What happened behind the scenes was even worse. I convinced myself I was a fraud. I convinced myself I was worthless. I convinced myself there never had been hope for me. I looked back at the work I’ve done over the past two years and felt like I’d been lying to myself. Then I removed myself from the situation and remembered what it felt like standing on that stage by myself without anyone there to help me. The power I felt in telling a part of my story. The shift I felt inside me when I stopped fearing the unforeseeable and took hold of what’s mine. My life. That was not a lie. That could not have been false.
I’ve written a lot about healing and the way my life has changed since my experience with Good Girl. What I have not written about is the backsliding. What I haven’t written about is the doubt and the fear that the healing was some delusional fantasy that anything has changed. What I haven’t written about are the mistakes we make, because after decades of making the same ones over and over again, these are new, terrifying mistakes. It’s so easy to wonder if the change was worth it, because the demons we’re accustomed too are much easier to quell than new ones that might try to manifest in our lives. The answer is yes, it’s worth it. All of it, and the mistakes don’t unravel a single bit of it.
We’re told healing is hard. We’re told it’s a process. We’re told it’s painful. We’re never told how much maintenance it requires and how much of an adjustment it is to our daily lives. We have this idea that healing makes everything better, filling our lives with sunshine and rainbows and cute little kittens. What we don’t realize is that healing is NOT a panacea. It doesn’t make anything go away, it just gives us the resources to deal with it and to navigate new challenges that arise in a healthy manner. It doesn’t change learned behaviours. It doesn’t erase anxiety, depression, PTSD, or physical illness. It merely gives us better moves with which to fight and an understanding of how to fix what we break. Healing is not curing. Healing is taking something we once let run our lives into the ground and use it instead to fuel us to keep thriving.
The reality is that while healing is an internal process it requires external maintenance in ways we never experience when the stakes are low. My lesson wasn’t just painful for me; I hurt someone I love. It’s up to me to face that, do what I can to repair it, and do the internal work to ensure it doesn’t happen again. In the past it either wouldn’t have been healthy enough to matter or I would have just logged it with the other good things I let myself ruin. In the past few months it’s become more apparent where the healing could not help me because the problems I have are biological, so I’ve had to bite the bullet and admit there are things I can’t fix without medical help…then actually seek it. These things are no longer buried under me. They’re out in the open, they’re manageable, and they’re in the way of the life I want to live. Lastly, I have recognized things in my life that I was once passionate about but no longer serve that quick fix need in my life. There’s been a twinge of nostalgic panic as I begin to let those things go to focus on what’s really important in my life, but I’m decluttering and setting new goals.
You see, healing is a battle cry that screams “you no longer have power over me”. You won’t win the battle just because you’ve healed, but it will give you a fighting chance.
My husband has a new girlfriend. She’s young, she’s cute, she’s skinny, she’s bendy, and she has a pretty high pain threshold. She has the long hair he always tells me he wishes I could grow, and they click like kin. I’m happy he’s happy, but as I’ve mentioned before, poly will draw every insecurity, every self-doubt, every self conceived blight you have ever had, and I am not known for my high self-esteem. This is not the reason we have issues, honest. Really that’s because she lied to me, and I hold grudges, which is something else I’m working on. It’s something I’m constantly working on, but occasionally old habits rear their bitter heads.
Feelings of physical inadequacy can tear down any relationship if you let them, but this has the potential to be detrimental to a poly relationship. It would be easy for me to think this girl is Hubby’s trophy girl, but it’d be all my own internal baggage. He has not stopped looking at me or telling me he thinks I’m beautiful. Our intimacy has not waned or changed in any way.
I have no reason to let these fears creep back up inside me, but I admit I sometimes when new partners enter the equation. When Hubby met his first girlfriend, Emmy, I had just started to be sick with what would later be diagnosed as fibromyalgia. I was sick, I was weak, and it hurt just to be touched. For a very long time sex was out of the question. Emmy, on the other hand, was just starting to explore herself and was loving the new experiences Hubby was able to offer. Hubby never told me he was disappointed, but it was palpable every time he tried to touch me and my body just couldn’t take the pain. I felt like a failure as a wife and lover, and while I was happy he was taking this new step in our poly life I also felt a tinge of inadequacy. It was a very trying time in our marriage, and there were times I listened to the voice that told me he could only stand to stay with his invalid of a wife because he could still get his rocks off somewhere else. It was an extremely negative thought process that only lead to more negativity. I grew bitter, resentful, and depressed, and eventually I took it out on him.
The further decline and eventual improvement of my health forced a huge change in attitude and perspective. I decided that if my marriage was going to survive I needed to stop looking at it as a need for him to find something more desirable. Instead I learned to celebrate my strengths and experience and know that I am just as desirable to him as I always have been. He may have someone young and sexy to have fun with, but he still comes home to me with the same heated fervor. While there is the new shiny factor that comes with all NRE we have a passionate bond that only time and knowing each other’s ins and outs can bring. I still see the want and need in his eyes, and he lets me know all the time that he thinks I’m beautiful.
In my head I accepted his love and admiration long ago, but I try to keep this perspective in mind whenever the voices of doubt and insecurity, and sometimes a little envy, creep into my heart. All that comes from negativity is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I act on the venomous emotions and thoughts I become ugly and undesirable, somebody no one wants to be around. This is when I lose him. This is when he seeks others not because of his own love and freedom but to be away from me. It’s not my physical baggage that pushes him away, it’s the mental and emotional. Luckily that’s something I can fix.
I feel thankful every day that I have someone who joins me in ogling men and women when we’re out, who is overjoyed when he feels he’s snagged a looker and never minds sharing, and who is proud of me when I manage a fine catch myself. Hubby lets me know constantly that I am his dream woman. Even on my worst days he reminds me that I’m beautiful, capable, sexy, and smart. I still catch his eyes watching me, and he is just as playful and romantic as the day we met. Through ups and downs, problems with other partners, and bad experiences, he has never let me feel ugly or worthless.
So, yes, my husband has a new girlfriend. She’s young, she’s cute, she’s skinny, she’s bendy, and she has a pretty high pain threshold. She has the long hair he always tells me he wishes I could grow, and they click like kin. I am happy he’s happy, and I am learning to forgive and let go of past indiscretions. I also hear she’s quite fond of me and my body, and I am determined not to let my tainted self-esteem close that door to me. After all, she’s young, she’s cute, she’s skinny, she’s bendy, and she has a pretty high pain tolerance.
So, in 2012 I wrote this, and wasn’t I cute. Go ahead. Read it. It’s still valuable information, but it merely skimmed the juvenile surface of a much more mature problem. Also, note my almost defiant optimism that what we now know as The Vanishing Act would not, in fact, be a disaster. Ok, so Hubby may have been right on that one, but now this is the evidence he needs every time he thinks a new relationship is a bad idea. I’m surprised there’s not a commemorative plaque on the wall to mark the day in history.
This started out as a post about the balance between having compassion for the growing pains my existing partners experience when a new partner is added without letting it completely destroy my NRE. Then it morphed, as I began to have more and more conversations about compersion, not only with my partners but with friends. Here’s the Quick Guide to Compersion. Or at least what I understand of it.
Compersion is unconditional. It can’t only exist when you’re being doted on just as much as the new partner. It can’t only exist if my NRE is exactly like it was with you. It can’t only exist if you’re in some other way occupied. It compersion isn’t there even when you’re having a hard time processing the new relationship you’re lying to everyone, including yourself.
Compersion doesn’t mean not questioning. If you have concerns you still have to voice them rationally. If you have disagreements you still have to work through them. You’re allowed to ask for compromise or whatever you need to process, but compersion requires you to handle it like two adults who love each other. Isn’t this what it’s all about? Aren’t you together because you love each other?
Compersion doesn’t invalidate growing pains. You can still have your process, you just can’t use it to be a shyte to everyone else. You’re more likely, in fact, to get the extra attention and compassion you need if you’re not. Compersion means understanding and putting the happiness of your partner in the forefront, but it does not mean sacrificing your own well-being. It’s your responsibility to address it before it becomes a big scary issue, a fight, or resentment, not your partner’s.
What this all boils down to is love, respect, compassion, and balance. In a relationship, shouldn’t those things exist already?
Go now. Demand your balance.
This year I got a rainbow tattoo. It has other things on it, but I decided on a rainbow to represent my pansexuality in a tattoo about freedom. I know, I know, there are debates about whether or not those of us who are bi, pansexual, and all other kinds of ridiculous queer nomenclature are allowed to use the rainbow, but I do. Why? I like rainbows, and I hate pink.
I give this disclaimer because I have been repeatedly told that I am not allowed to be in the queer club because of my lifestyle, which makes me cringe every time I have to defend myself in a community that preaches acceptance and diversity. I have had women walk out of dates when they find out I not only continue to sleep with men, but am married to one and not opposed to others. As a pansexual male who by appearance is very masculine and seemingly heterosexual until you get to know him, my husband gets it worse. Most people simply don’t believe bi men exist, and he has been lectured by gay men, lesbians, and even bi women. This has made both our dating lives a little more complicated than I feel they need to be despite it being the reason we chose polyamory in the first place.
When we first opened our marriage it was just for same-sex partners as a way of being able to express our sexuality honestly and completely. Let me start by saying that this was never a requirement. I am perfectly capable and happy having monogamous relationships no matter how my partner identifies. This was simply a way I had never considered or tried before. My husband’s first girlfriend, as I’ve mentioned before, was supposed to be part of a triad situation. However, after our first sexual experience she decided she was not actually bisexual, so I was no longer a part of the equation. This made a lot of our decisions hard, fast, and undefined. Had we opened as two heterosexual adults things may not have gotten such a rocky start…then again, it could have been much worse.
My entire life I’ve had to field the assumption that as a bi woman I should just be ok with the man I’m seeing watching every encounter with a female partner, like my sex life exists purely for his fantasies. Let me tell you right off the bat that I’m not a huge fan of threesomes or being a spectacle. I may be game for the occasional diversion in that direction, but not as standard protocol. I cannot count how many times ex-boyfriends told me “of course you can see girls! As long as I can watch!” This has been a common thread even now that we’re poly. Many times people seem shocked that I don’t sleep with Hubby’s girlfriend or that once I have a girlfriend of my own I don’t just lend her out to the rest of my household. Apparently, nobody’s personal taste or chemistry matters in this scenario as long as the plumbing fits. Hubby and I have shared partners, but that was because we loved the same person not because we wanted to share women.
I really enjoy the fact that I have the freedom to have my marriage and the freedom to put together the family I want to have, regardless of gender or sexuality. Not all of our partners are queer, and I have never viewed any of my same-sex relationships in a different light than any others. What really matters is how we interact and love one another and that there is respect and acceptance for everyone.
It really IS that simple.
I have stressed many times the idea of the group identity of a poly household. Today I’m going to flip that at focus on exactly the opposite. With so much focus on the family unit as a whole sometimes we can forget to focus on what should be our top priority: Ourselves. Recently I planned to go to a poetry reading that I attend monthly, and I mentioned it to my sister-in-law, who I thought would enjoy the event as a fellow writer. I have invited other people in the past, but I intended to go either alone as I usually do or on a date with a woman I’ve been pursuing for some time now. After the event, which I never even went to, it was brought to my attention that A felt left out. Hubby suggested I invite her next time. I had not intended to exclude her from the reading, it’s just something I generally attend on my own time as a personal interest.
This may sound selfish, but it’s a lesson that many have learned the hard way, especially care takers and parents. I must take care of myself before I worry about the others in my family, with my children coming a very close second. If I am sick, stressed, exhausted, or emotionally burnt out I cannot begin to give anyone proper attention or care. If I refuse to take any time for myself and my development it can breed resentment and negativity directed at those I love. Not every minute of my life needs to be spent on my children. Not every minute without my children needs to be spent with one of my partners. Not every waking moment of my life needs company. I need the time and space to continue my personal growth and development. I cannot allow the Google calendar to consume me. Otherwise I would become a useless partner, an absentee wife, and a jaded parent, as well as a stunted human being.
I really enjoy my alone time sometimes. In the case of the aforementioned poetry reading it’s something I really like to go to with no distractions or expectations. I can show up, read if I want, and feel no pressure to leave at a certain time nor stay until the end. Especially on weekdays when I am on my own for work, I have my routines and my regular activities that do not include anyone outside that particular “circle”. It’s not that I’m ashamed of them or my family, and I’d never intentionally separate the two, but I do enjoy having time just for me and my whimsy.
I feel the same way sometimes with activities as a couple. If there’s something Hubby and I enjoy doing together on a regular basis I don’t see any reason to always invite the whole family. It’s our routine, and I feel our relationship needs things once in a while to remind us of a very important thing. While it’s fine that our lives revolve around our family unit we cannot allow our entire lives to become the family unit. Just as the household needs maintenance and bonding time, so does each couple, and so do we as individuals. It doesn’t make us bad parents or spouses to not include everyone in everything we do.
Not taking this personal development time will lead to stagnation. Hubby fell in love with me, and I with him, because of our respective personalities. We took this journey together, and decided to add to it others whose character and interests complimented ours. We did not set out in search of clones. Nor do we expect anyone in our family to give up any hobbies or interests that we don’t all share. What brought us together is who we are as individuals and what we bring to the table to share and teach. We are a unique blend, but if all the components look the same we will never reach our full potential as a family let alone as people. If we do not take the time and opportunity to nurture ourselves we become fallow and colourless.
It is not the point of life to be absorbed by a family, to have our free spirits grounded, or to have our hungry minds starved. A household should support each other’s personal endeavors and encourage growth, whether or not why share the interest or understand the motives behind it. I do not exist solely in the hearts and minds of my partners. I also live within my own heart and soul, and I cannot be true to myself nor my family if all those components are not happy and healthy. I cannot give my whole self and my whole heart to something that doesn’t see who I am and love me for it, and I cannot put energy into something that puts none into me. The whole should enrich the one as the one enriches the whole, otherwise both will shrivel up and die.
I’ve written a few times now about coming out as poly, but then what? Once we’ve made this disclosure and asserted who we are, whether as a single person exploring or as a couple, how do we proceed in dealing with non-poly family and friends? Do we let it simply fade into obscurity as an abstract fact or do we keep trying to educate and exemplify the life we’ve chosen to live?
The way we’ve dealt with each of our families has been pretty much the same despite the different situations we face. My family lives 3,000 miles away, so it’s easier for them to be newly surprised every time I mention A or someone new I’m seeing. It’s not a conversation I wish to get involved in every time I visit, so I really have just started mentioning our partners as I would anyone else in our lives. Sometimes they ask who I’m talking about, and that’s when we usually have a discussion about my poly life.
We have done very similar things with Hubby’s family with the additional feature of familiarization. Mouse is an employee for Hubby’s mom. She lives with us. Even so, we’ve experienced more resistance from Mom than from my family. In most cases she has accepted this part of who we are and done what she can with it. She’s always been polite, but there is a part of her that still can’t fully grasp that we are happy this way, mostly that I could be happy this way.
A while back we had a family anniversary dinner. When I asked Mom if she was inviting Mouse she told me no, stating it was just for family and she didn’t want to have to explain it to Hubby’s grandfather, who we’ve since come out to. It wasn’t my place to push, so I let it go and let Hubby take it from there, but it felt to me like an excuse. Pop pop had definitely seen Hubby and Mouse interact. She came to our house often at the time and had spent many special occasions with our family.
When confronted about it she reiterated what I’ve heard her say before, that she is only concerned about her daughter-in-law. It’s not like I don’t talk to Mom about the men in my life, she’s even met a couple of them, but as a woman who has been hurt by men in the past she finds it hard to understand why I would consent willingly to live this way. She wonders if I just accept it as a condition of my marriage to Hubby, and if I left him over it she would not blame me one bit. It’s a sentiment I’ve heard from many people when they find out I’m poly, but it’s very quickly detrimental in a family.
We’ve all talked about it, but we don’t ever make a big deal about it. We simply keep doing what we’re doing. We don’t need her approval. We only require her respect when it comes to out chosen family, and she has gone above and beyond in that regard. For a while she tried to hide it from the men she dated, but eventually it came out as he and Hubby became close and began to spend time together outside of her presence. Again, he may not completely understand it, but he has accepted it as fact, and we don’t dwell on it.
My family has been able to accept this as a very abstract idea. My dad was, until recently, the only one who had experienced it first-hand. He is also the only one who asks questions when they arise. I don’t know where his opinions or concerns lie, but I know if they get strong enough he will tell me. So far he has listened, but I have a feeling his concerns are the same as Mom’s. It may be easier for him to believe that I’m happy merely because he has only talked about it with me, whereas she heard it from Hubby first and foremost. He’s also known me all my life and knows I wouldn’t live a certain way just to please a man. I’d do it for me, for both of us, or not at all.
In my opinion, the only way we are going to help them grasp this is to keep living it and to keep representing ourselves as a solid couple and a solid family. The happier and healthier we look the more they will see that this is not something we rushed into and not something we do to fill voids in our lives. We do this because it’s who we are, and in order to gain that acceptance from our families we need to be open with them about all of who we are. I can’t tell my father I’m poly and not that I’m pansexual, because that means hiding my girlfriends. The same goes for Hubby. So far none of that has come up in the questions, but I know it’s only a matter of time, and when it does we will address it as we have everything else to this point. Openly. Honestly. With love.