• Sarah M. Neal

Relationship Shapeshifting: Navigating Through Polyamorous Relationship Transitions

... what happens if there are different ideas about how a relationship should grow or what it should look like? What happens if everyone had the same vision at the beginning and then those visions changed?



One of the things I love about my polyamory structure is the freedom to explore relationships as they appear.


There is no need to write off people I may be interested in because I am married and have a boyfriend. It also doesn’t necessarily mean I am looking for anything else, but I have the freedom to if I want.


Sometimes when we are trying to “unlearn” the conditioning of monogamous relationships the transition can get a little tricky and messy.


As my marriage navigated through these polyamorous waters, we developed this sense of ease when it comes to one of us meeting someone new and showing an interest. There are still gremlins whispering in ears, but we continue to learn and grow in our communications with each other.


We both have enough trust in our relationship that we know we will work through our insecurities and communication fuck-up’s and come back to center - to each other.


We have had to work through some shit. And we will constantly have to work through our shit. Growth is a continuous process. But we have committed to growing together.


Because of the way John and I are built and how we feel about others and about relationships, polyamory comes “easy” for us (I threw up those quotes because no relationship is ever always easy). Polyamory makes sense to us and it feels right for us, so we made the commitment to go through this journey together and we work through our shit.


But:

  • What happens when a relationship starts out one way and then no longer fits for one person?

  • What happens if someone in the relationship decides that they want to date others?

  • What happens if someone feels like the walls are closing in on them in the relationship?

  • What happens when someone wants to look at spreading their wings and find things and people outside of their relationship?


Monogamous culture tells us that romantic love is finite. It tells us that if we want to be with someone other than our partners, we must no longer love that partner or want to be with that partner.


This toxic culture says that if our partners want to date others then we aren’t enough for our partners, that something must be wrong with us.


We are told that if our partners have needs we can’t take care of, then we aren’t good partners.


We are told that if things start to mellow out in our relationships and our partners get excited over someone else that our partners must be bored with us.


This conditioning takes a lot of work to push through and past.


We were born to grow and to evolve. Whatever your spiritual beliefs, I strongly feel that we are put on this earth to develop as individuals and grow. What or how we are supposed to evolve and grow varies based on your individual beliefs.


If we believe that we are supposed to grow and evolve, it seems only natural for our relationships to follow suit. How they grow and evolves will remain up to the beliefs of the people involved.


So, what happens if there are different ideas about how a relationship should grow or what it should look like? What happens if everyone had the same vision at the beginning and then those visions changed?


It is easy to get swept up in NRE (New Relationship Energy) and have the same vision. That energy may even carry on for a couple of years and then…


BOOM, things change. Well, maybe they didn’t exactly change. Maybe our true beliefs on what we want our relationships to look like finally breaks through all of those delicious NRE chemicals.


Whatever the reasoning behind the change things must begin down the hard road to transition.


One of the nice things about polyamorous relationships is that a transition doesn’t always mean it is the end of the relationship, it just means it is changing shape.


Unfortunately, because of our societal conditioning, it isn’t always easy to see that. We are conditioned to think that if partners no longer share the same vision that the relationship must end.


Changing and growing are never easy (hence growing pains) and transitions can absolutely be painful but having a light at the end of the tunnel can really help to ease the fears and pains.


One of the bigger and more common transitions polyamourous relationships go through is the addition of another relationship.


This can be tricky and messy. You are in your groove with your partner. Everything is going well. You have been with each other for a while, you are integrated in each other’s lives. You are comfortable. You have your set schedules. You have plans for the future. You are perfectly fine with the way things are going.


Then…


BAM! Your partner tells you they want to start seeing other people. Your partner starts encouraging you to see other people. Your partner needs to shift the relationship to allow for other people and other activities outside of your relationship. Your partner expresses attraction towards others. Your partner feels like it is time to push you even more past your comfort zone.


You know the polyamorous logic. You know that because your partner wants to see others it doesn’t mean they no longer love you or no longer want to be with you. You know there isn’t anything wrong with you or you aren’t enough or that they like someone better than you. Yet your gremlins are having a fucking field day.


All of the past trauma with breakups and that toxic, monogamous conditioning as well as all of your insecurities come rushing forward and start eating at your insides.


You were content (or you felt like you were) with the way things were. There was room for growth, but that growth didn’t have to include other people did it?


If they really loved you, or cared about your feelings, they would know you aren’t ready for this and they would stop. Brakes would be applied, and things would go back to the way they were.


Or.


You’re on the other side of this particular coin.


You’ve met someone you are attracted to; you feel the energetic tug of wanting to go outside of your box to see what and who else might be out there; you’re feeling a little claustrophobic; you are feeling too spread out and want your partner to date other because you know you can’t give them EVERYTHING they need or want; or maybe it is a combination of several or all of these things, maybe it is more. Whatever your reasoning, you know in your heart and soul that it is time for a shift.


You know that the relationship is no longer fitting your skin the way it used to, or you need it to. It has nothing to do with your feelings towards the other partner. In fact, you very much want to stay with your partners. You can’t imagine life without them. But there is this sense of needing something MORE. You know that it is too much to ask one person to fulfill all your needs, so it has nothing to do with your partner not being enough for you.


It is because you feel like you are bursting at the seams and that has nothing to do with anyone else but yourself. It is how you are made. It is how you navigate through your life. It is how you feel the most comfortable showing up – even when things aren’t always comfortable or easy.


Your relationship skin is too tight, and it has to shift if you are going to be able to remain in it.


If you have read any of my stuff, then you know I am not a one-size-fits-all kind of coach. Every situation and every individual in that situation is different.


Transitions can be both terrifying and exciting. When it comes to dealing with matters of our hearts, they can be especially terrifying.


Tyler and I have started a transition and it has been FAR from easy.


I can feel my wings unfurling and ready to start exploring new things and relationships outside of my current box. I am ready to dive head-first into unchartered territory – alone…ish.


I want to transition my relationship with Tyler into something that looks more like what John and I have. Not the same of course, but closer to it than it is currently. I want to tether an energetic rope around both of our waists and then fly off in separate directions, yet still be able to come back to center, to each other.


I want to feel the freedom to explore however I want while knowing that I can always come home to Tyler. I want him to have the freedom to explore whatever he wishes while knowing he can always come home to me.


I want us to be able to talk, flirt, go out, develop relationships with other people without being plagued by that toxic, monogamous conditioning that tells us that something must be wrong with our relationship if we want to explore things without each other; or that if we are good, committed partners who truly love each other and want to make this relationship work, we shouldn’t need anything else.


Tyler on the other hand is having a much more difficult time.


Where I have had almost 10 years of a partner exploring outside of our relationship, Tyler has had me “to himself” for 4 and ½ years. For 4 and ½ years it was just him and me (and John of course).


We had numerous conversations about what it “may” look like if there were other people we wanted to date. We set up the boundary that we would talk with each other if there was someone else we wanted to start dating. We talked about trying to navigate through time schedules and not wanting to take time away from our relationship.


Conversations about hypotheticals are one thing, actual situations are another.


It is easy to say if this, then this. We often under-estimate the power of our emotions; insecurities; past traumas; and social conditioning.


We can know the logic of situations. We can know how things are supposed to work, how we are SUPPOSED to feel. But what we know and what we actually feel can be two, three, even four separate things especially when it comes to other people and our relationships.


The need for growth in our relationship is apparent. Growth is far from comfortable. There is a myriad of uncomfortable feelings like fear, hurt, guilt, sadness, anger, and frustration. Faith, trust, and logic are trying to fight their way to the top of the emotional vomit pile. There is excitement and anticipation over new possibilities.


Did I mention there is fear, hurt, guilt, sadness, anger, and frustration on both sides?


So, what happens now?

  • What does someone do in this situation?

  • What do we (as in anyone in this situation) do?

  • How do we get our visions for our relationship realigned?

  • How do we get to a place where we are both happy with the direction our relationship is going?

  • How are we able to grow without feeling like our emotions, needs, and desires aren’t being ignored or made irrelevant?

  • Can we do it?


Here is where I take us back to, “it depends on the situation and it depends on the people involved” line.


I feel that if you are committed to your partner (s) and the relationship(s), then you have to at least try.


What does that look like?


Giving each other the space to process and then communicate what they are feeling. We all process a little differently and we all feel different emotions for every situation. Everyone needs a space where they can express their thoughts and feelings pertaining to the situation. Some of us will get everything all out at once, some of us will take several days to process and communicate as we process so we need to have multiple discussions.


Walk away from the idea of “all or nothing; now or never”. I am not okay with telling Tyler that he needs to get the fuck over himself and either be 100% okay with my new vision right now or I walk away. Ultimatums can be destructive. At the same time, I’m not okay with just staying right where we are with no forward direction. I’m not okay with the same hypothetical discussions we started months and months ago. I am not okay with completely freezing. It is important to at least come to the agreement that things need to adjust but they don’t have happen all at once. Growth is a process.


Find some ground to meet on to begin the next leg of the journey. As tempting as it may be to run off in the direction you want to go or dig your heels into where you are, it isn’t productive or healthy. Both Tyler and I can be bullheaded AF. We have had pretty good luck navigating through our stubbornness when it comes to certain things in our relationship and finding compromise, however we have also witnessed each other summon all of our stubbornness like Thor summoning down lightening or Storm summoning a fierce storm and directing all that stubbornness into other situations with other people. Our initial, stubborn, common ground was that yes, something needs to adjust, and we are willing to start working towards that adjustment together and put in the effort. Growth is a process.


Start taking steps at a pace you can both agree to. As with anything in dealing with growth, sometimes we must take large steps and other times we have to take smaller steps; sometimes we are able to run and other times we slow to a crawl. To be conscious of the feelings, needs, and desires of our partners we need to be willing to adjust our steps and paces within that middle ground. I might want to take off running but I know Tyler is not ready for that yet. He knows I’m not going to be able to stand still. So, we find a pace that is neither full boar ahead nor standing in one place. Sometimes I make him jog, sometimes I slow to a walk. There might even be a little resistance to the speed on each side, but we keep at it. Growth is a process.


Take ownership of your feelings and the actions you choose to take as a result. Listen, if your feelings cause you to behave like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum because things are not going your way then that is on you and you have to own that shit and accept the consequences of that behavior. I have said time and time again that while we are entitled to our feelings, we are responsible for our actions. We are not responsible for the behavior of others. Let me repeat that. We are not responsible for the behavior of others. We are adults with free will we choose how we will behave and how we will show up in our relationships.


Figure out what type of support you need from your partner. If your partner asks what they can do to support you and your answer is consistently, “I don’t know” then how are they supposed to support you the way YOU need them to? Take some time to figure out what you need to feel love and supported during the transition and then verbalize it! It is okay to not know what you need all the time. We don’t always know what will help make us feel better, but it is important we take the time to figure it out. It is okay if those needs change as long as they support forward motion. But your partner is NOT a mind reader and is not responsible for figuring out every one of your needs. Your partner can decide if it is a need they can fill, but they can’t decide what those needs are for you.


Take everything I have suggested and put yourself in both roles: roles of communicator; supporter; pace-setter; pace-follower; giver; receiver; speaker; and listener. If I expect Tyler to communicate with me about what he feels, needs, desires then I need to be ready to listen and then speak mine. Boundaries need to be created and respected on all sides. I need to be able to find compromise just as much as I need Tyler to be able to find it. Tyler needs me to give just as much as he needs me to receive. I need Tyler to give just as much as I need him to receive.


I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know what this transition will bring or how much pain it may or may not cause. I don’t know if Tyler and I will come through on the other side still romantically involved with each other.


I hope we do, I know that much. Tyler is incredibly important to me and I love loving him. I want to continue this journey with him for years to come. Life without Tyler is a horrendous concept for me. However, there may come a point where the struggle for growth together is no longer worth the pain, anger, frustrations that it is causing and that is terrifying.


If we get to those dreaded places in our relationships, we need to be kind enough to let each other go, no matter how terrifying or awful it seems without them. Dwelling in those places for long can only lead to more heartache, anger, and resentment.


I know that I am not ready to give up my hopes for our relationship any more than I am ready to give up who I am and what I need as an individual in a relationship; so, I will keep walking towards that vision with Tyler as long as he is willing to keep walking with me


All any of us can do is keep moving forward towards growth for our best and highest good.


“When the pain of standing still becomes greater than the fear of moving on to the unknown then we must move forward.” ~ Ragnar, The Denali Institute of Northern Traditions



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