With Thanksgiving’s arrival, I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a roof over my head, food on the table and a life partner who truly loves me. Yet, it has certainly been one of the most challenging years of my life and not just because of the obvious pandemic stuff. Yes, that has definitely added to my strife, but it is almost beside the point.
No more rainbows and unicorns
So much of what I have experienced and endured over the past months has been censored from this site because I was afraid to share what I was feeling knowing that metamours and others were privy to my thoughts and feelings. I didn’t want to share these raw, vulnerable emotions with them, nor permit them to feel superior to me as I admitted my faults. In some ways, I still don’t — my pain and suffering is none of their business and yet I feel compelled to share my story; I want people to know that it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. Accordingly, this is a bit of a mashup of unpublished posts and notes from February through November in an attempt to make sense of all that has happened over the past year and how we’ve come to this important juncture in our journey.
Open relationships and polyamory are not for everyone and it is especially not for the faint of heart. Relationships are hard and multiple relationships are exponentially harder. Plus, there are unseen consequences that these circumstances push to the surface. It is no secret that I have dealt with jealousy (there are numerous related posts on this blog), but there is so much more to this than simple jealousy and, of course, jealousy is never simple — it is a complex emotion that is usually a mask for other emotions such as fear, insecurity and other dark feelings.
Yet for me, it has been about so much more than jealousy and while I tried to express my pain and suffering with Viktor I felt that, at least initially, he didn’t truly understand or get the immensity of what I was feeling. We talked, fought, made up and moved on and everything was fine for awhile… Until it wasn’t. Each time I found myself in a dark place; there was fear of loss, jealousy, envy, suicidal thoughts and a real quandary as to who I was anymore.
I struggled with these emotions as we ended 2019 and rolled into 2020. I was hopeful that Viktor and I would make sense of this chaos, but February found me plunged into the darkness yet again and while I found equilibrium for a brief moment, it was again short lived.
Around this time, Viktor noted that he had called Justina to have “another shoulder to cry on.” It really hurt to know that he was reaching out to her in his time of need (he had several emotional issues he was dealing with at the time). Reaching out to her for advice made sense to me, but knowing that he needed her comfort and support made me feel really uncomfortable. That’s supposed to be my role, not hers. And, if she can provide that for him, what is my purpose anymore? I sincerely wondered: Does he even need me or want me anymore?
So much of who I am and my identity is as Viktor’s wife. I had wanted to be married and to be a wife for so long and I so cherish this role. Plus, I truly believe that Viktor and I are soulmates destined to be together as my one true love. So, if he can find love, connection and comfort with Justina (and others), where does that leave me? Who am I? What is my role? Of course, our love and connection are more important than my identity, but it has been a challenge none-the-less.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
I finished out February on a high, but March was another low point . We were supposed to go to a ropes conference with Justina and all I wanted to do was die — to simply fade from the picture and cede Viktor to her. I couldn’t go on. Moreover, I kept thinking we could end things, but each time I felt Viktor’s reluctance to say goodbye to Justina. Their love was too enmeshed; he loved her too much to live without her and he resisted my pleas. I could sense that I was truly between a rock and a hard place.
Our repeated discussions on closing our marriage left me confused and scared. From the very beginning of opening up our marriage, we had always said that if one of us wanted to end our open status, we would immediately do so. Previous conversations had given me the feeling that if things went south, we could always go back to the way things were.
Yet, this time, as we proceeded in these discussions, Viktor said that while he would abide by my potential decision to close our marriage, he would be left with resentment and anger. This was completely unexpected. Additionally, he asked to continue to be friends with Justina and even possibly continue their BDSM relationship, which didn’t really change things since it was the intensity of their connection that was the source of my struggle.
As I reflected on what had been said, it seemed like the two options were: Jeannie being unhappy OR Viktor being unhappy. And, I didn’t know how to reconcile these two things. I felt that if I committed to us having a poly relationship, I was condemning myself to more misery, but if I made the decision to return to monogamy, I could very well lose my husband due to anger, resentment and continued attachments to outsiders. I was damned if I do, damned if I don’t.
I did know that I didn’t want to lose Viktor and I didn’t want to jeopardize our marriage. So, I relinquished control and continued to go on with the status quo despite my pain. I martyred myself in service to Viktor and Justina, suffering in silence.
The Trouble with Trauma
By early spring, the cracks began to show as I saw what all of this dating had been doing to me — making me anxious, unhappy, feeling used and abused, etc. I was so thankful and grateful for the sexual awakening that this journey had brought me, but I was so fucking fed up with all of the angst, anxiety, depression and other negative emotions that it had brought as well.
In sharing my pain with our friend T at the time, she listened closely and noted that it very much sounded like I had abandonment issues and asked some questions about my mom. As I reflected on what she said, I was in full agreement that my narcissistic mother had indeed been a source of early trauma that was likely being triggered now with all of the dating departures — especially ghosting. I read several articles online that resonated very strongly and reinforced what T had suggested.
I also did some reading on how such abandonment issues might impact someone in a polyamorous relationship, wondering if such trauma and polyamory can co-exist. The short answer is: No.
As Maria Merloni, MSW notes on her blog, “To keep it really simple: abandonment issues + polyamory = disaster.” Yes, of course, it’s an oversimplification, but as Roan Coughtry writes, “Fears of abandonment are real and very common – especially when you’ve been abandoned in the past by someone you love. This fear can be so deeply wired that no matter how much reassurance or affirmation you get from your partners, lovers and comets, you may still find yourself waiting for the other shoe to drop. Polyamory can especially bring up fears of being replaced, although these fears can exist in monogamous relationships too.”
This knowledge, and subsequent self-diagnosis, was quite startling, yet very revealing, as my anxiety and fears suddenly made much more sense. This didn’t (and doesn’t) make it any easier to cope in the short-term, but I was acknowledging and owning my past trauma and recognizing how it was/is impacting me today.
In this vein, I started to take responsibility for my self-healing and investigated various treatment modalities and options to get well in the hope that this path toward better mental health would help me become more comfortable with the poly lifestyle and alleviate some of the pain it was causing me. I knew it was a long road ahead, but I was hopeful.
Concurrently, we also began to consider couples counseling, but then the world fell apart and there was no money for therapy on a joint or individual basis. Plus, social distancing limited our interactions with other partners, so there was a reprieve to some degree.
Also, in early March, I met Alex, which helped buoy my spirit and gave me further hope. Our nontraditional courtship thrilled me and delighted me. He truly got me. I felt seen and wanted in ways that I hadn’t been by other outside partners. As things with Alex continued to blossom and grow, I was so grateful to have him in my life and to see what we were developing together. But, despite the beautiful relationship that we were co-creating, I was still deeply unhappy.
By early fall, I was once again mourning the loss even more acutely as Justina and Viktor had been physically reunited after months of socially distant meet ups and video chat-based movie dates. During those months, the threat had been temporarily removed, but their spending the full Labor Day Weekend together and then making plans for future holiday weekend dates had me tied up in knots, thrust back on that rollercoaster of deep, dark, dangerous emotions. I was severely struggling to stay sane as suicidal thoughts once again flooded my mind.
In one way, nothing Viktor had done (by loving Justina) was wrong and yet I felt the shift in our bond so viscerally in body, namely in my chest, like tiny daggers digging their way into my heart; wounds from which I slowly bled. I tolerated the pain; I tolerated his love for her; I tolerated the situation, but at what cost to me and our marriage? This wasn’t what I had anticipated when we opened up our marriage in search of a sexual awakening. For me, it had all been about lust, not love.
After the initial pain of Fall 2019, I felt the guilt of cutting things off when Viktor had just gotten started and promised him that he and Justina could have six months together. That half year came and went and here we were a year older, but perhaps no wiser on how best to move forward. But we did so anyway.
Yet, I felt him slipping away as his attention and interest in me waned, instead transferred from me to Justina and others. He no longer sought to explore sexual activities with me; he would forget to use my love language; he didn’t capture our experiences in photos as he did with the others. All cues that left me feeling abandoned and bereft; I felt as if I was being replaced in pieces over time. It was a rocky autumn for sure.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease
Then, in mid-October, I spent the weekend with my sister in Virginia, while Viktor spent the full weekend with Justina. It was already an emotionally tough situation for me due to the length of time he would be with her, some challenges that had occurred with scheduling and the anxiety I felt in anticipating time with my sister. Then, figuring out when we would be able to connect with one another during our absence became a challenge as well, adding to my angst.
Coincidentally, during my visit, my sister and I listened to a podcast featuring Jess Fern, author of PolySecure and it was as if she were speaking directly to me. Yes, it was suddenly, abundantly clear that my anxious/preoccupied attachment style was at the heart of my pain and suffering with regard to our open relationship. Was there jealousy – yes, but jealousy was only one piece of this vast puzzle. It was my abandonment trauma, my insecure attachment style, a lack of self-love and yes, some jealousy and envy, all conspiring against me in this situation.
I spent a nearly sleepless night and then returned to New York on Monday afternoon, ready to confront Viktor with my new-found revelations. After months of suffering, I finally made the decision to put myself first, finding self-love and prioritizing my happiness and well-being. It was scary, but I told Viktor that I was choosing me. While the upshot was that it was monogamy or polyamory, I wanted him to determine what he truly needed. But, I knew what was best for my mental health and emotional state; I needed the stability and security of monogamy…at least for now.
We tried a few more weeks of the status quo, but it was still more than I could handle; I needed things to end. After many tear-filled conversations, we agreed to part ways with our other partners. Viktor spoke with Justina and I had a very jumbled conversation with Alex, breaking up with him for the sake of my sanity and for the sake of our marriage.
Yes, it was painful and dramatic and I felt like shit, but I know in my heart of hearts that it was the right decision for me and for our marriage – if we are to save our marriage. We might not (although I truly hope we do), but at least we’ll know that we put in the time and effort and really tried.