How to deal with negative feelings
I saw your website and am hoping you can help. My partner and I have been monogamously together for 6 years. Recently, they have fallen for another person but they want to stay together, effectively opening up our relationship. I understand intellectually that people change and how this is brave and healthy for my partner but I am so deeply sad, angry and jealous. It’s been a month and I’ve seen no progress on these unwelcome emotions of mine. Do you have any tips for correcting these feelings?
Thank you for your help!
Hurt and Not Healing
Dear Hurt: It’s interesting that you say you want to “correct” your feelings because I don’t think feelings are ever “wrong” per se. They are simply the result of our natural reactions to changes, shaped by our past experiences. So my first suggestion is to not beat yourself up about having negative feelings – they are natural and simply the response you’re having to the current situation based on what you’ve believed and learned in the past.
With that in mind, the way to deal with such feelings is to examine the root of the beliefs that cause them. Let’s take them one at a time.
If you’re sad, is it because you see an open relationship as a downgrade to a closed one? Do you equate your partner’s request as a sign that they don’t love you any more? Open relationships can be just as fulfilling as closed ones, and are often more honest and authentic. And the fact your partner wants to stay together in the face of New Relationship Energy (NRE) is proof that they do indeed love you and want to be with you, difficulties notwithstanding. They’re leaving a six-year bubble of monogamy to try something new with you – that should tell you a lot about their commitment.
Let’s think about where your anger comes from. Is it directed at the new person for encroaching on your perceived territory? Is it directed at your partner for their wandering eye? Or are you angry because you’re afraid of change, of doing more work in your relationship? I think most times in these situations, anger can be traced back to the idea that one “owns” their partner, that they have claims on their time and anger comes from someone else “stealing” that property. Some people genuinely believe that relationships are based on mutual ownership. But in order to create a successful open relationship, one must let go of that idea of ownership and embrace the idea of individual agency, that each person in a relationship is a free and separate individual with the right to engage with others however they judge best. This engagement might include commitments to other individuals, but ultimately each person is responsible for their own actions in pursuit of happiness.
Jealousy – that’s the tough one, isn’t it? I think jealousy occurs when you covet something (e.g. your partner’s time) that you believe you have a claim to. This is different from envy, where you covet something you have no claim to (e.g. someone else’s musical talent). So once again, adjusting your idea that your partner’s time and/or sexual fidelity somehow belongs to you is the first step in dealing with jealous feelings.
Leon, what’s your take?
Hurt – I’m sorry you’re dealing with lots of feels triggered by this situation, but I’m glad you’re reaching out to understand them better.
While Mischa’s advice focuses on how to move forward, I want to look backwards and address the history of your relationship. I’m understanding from your original letter that you feel betrayed or blindsided by your partner’s actions, and if so I would start THERE, rather than jumping ahead to the future.
Trust is a crucial component of any healthy relationship. If you can’t fully trust someone, you can’t fully love them. Since you describe a six-year monogamous relationship “effectively opening up” by your partner’s falling for someone else, it doesn’t sound like you had much if any input or even advance notice of such a thing happening – and it would be more than within your rights to be furious and deeply hurt by your mono partner going behind your back to date and develop feelings for someone else. I wouldn’t try to pretend those powerful emotions don’t exist (or downplay them) if they do. You’d be justified in breaking up with your partner, regardless of whether or not you still loved them, if you felt this represented too large a betrayal of the monogamous relationship you shared.
This puts the ball in your court. Now, knowing all that transpired, if you still wish to continue/rebuild a healthy relationship with your long-term partner knowing it would no longer be monogamous, you’ll need to 1) re-establish trust with your partner, and 2) get yourself into the right mindset for an open relationship. Mischa’s advice addresses #2 by including some good tips for understanding and processing your emotions, but I think you’d first need to sit down with your partner and hammer out the issues surrounding #1 using open and honest communication techniques. Why did they go behind your back? Was there something they needed but weren’t getting? Why didn’t they come to you earlier? Do you each feel you can move forward in a healthy way? What would a healthy relationship now look like? What do each of you need to get from the other now, to feel safe again?
I have a feeling that once these and similar questions are discussed with your partner, and you start feeling like you’re on the same page again, you’ll naturally feel much better about moving forward with your partner – and those negative emotions will quickly be replaced with positive feelings like compersion and happiness.