5 Tips for Coping with the Fear of Opening Your Relationship

The essence of polyamory is the freedom to create a relationship configuration which suits you, but this also means the freedom from your own standards and expectations. These are often internalized and thus far less visible than those that society puts on us. But the only way you can be happy is to be uncomfortably honest with how you really feel. That means facing fear. Because if reality conflicts with what you think it ought to be, then you will sense fear. We are human. And we are wired to fear the unknown - as a matter of survival. But beyond surviving there is thriving.

I'm not a therapist, but I'm a good listener. And during my tenure as chairwoman of the national polyamory society of Sweden, I discussed these things with others. They've given me permission to print these excerpts anonymously.

After we came out as polyamorous to a severe backlash from society and family, it felt like it would be the worst thing in the world to admit that we'd made a mistake (if we had).

I had to make it work now that I had hurt my family. When problems occurred, as they inevitably do in relationships - open or otherwise - I feared my family's judgment and rejection. So much so that the problems became far worse than they were on paper.

I feared that a philosophy I espoused didn't work for me in practice.  I feared for my newfound freedom. And I saw my partner growing and changing before my eyes. I feared divorce.

Ideals versus Reality

To those who believe in the philosophy of loving many, the idea of bathing in the bliss of new love and connection ~ with permission and even the delight of existing partners ~ day in and day out, sounds like heaven.

But falling in love can knock you sideways. It is thrilling, soul satisfying and spectacularly out of this world. It can also make you thoughtless and selfish. Dull the light of your current relationships (which are not as new and shiny). Bring up comparisons and resentments that you never knew existed. Remind you of parts of yourself you've always wanted to explore. Highlight gaping flaws in your own personal development. And change promises that you thought were forever.

I used to be his confidante and best friend. Now he doesn't tell me what's going on because that would mean a betrayal of his new partner. I loved the idea of loving many, but I didn't realise the enormous impact it would have on my existing relationship.

Change, even positive change, is very stressful

All these things are normal. They are part of life. And no, you can't stop them anymore than you can stop the earth plates from shifting. Nor would you want to because they herald new growth, new life and new love at the same time as new pain, new realizations and new fear. And when you awaken fear, you awaken a monster which can spread its tentacles to all areas of your life unless you have the tools to cope with it. Because fear means that adrenalin kicks in and primes the only responses it believes are necessary...

Fight. Or Flight. Freeze. Or Fawn.

Hardly productive for what you need most--which is to communicate & connect.

He thought polyamory meant an equal amount of time and an equal amount of sex for all partners. And so I forced myself to adhere to a strict standard of equality. Because if sex didn't happen in the 3 days allotted with him, he thought that I was prioritzing my other partner. He was afraid we were losing our relationship.

And after two years of trying to maintain a scheduled sex life, we did.

No One Foolproof Method

So whilst you work on releasing your idea of what should be, you can also work on your handling of fears before they become the monster which turns your dreams into nightmares. Here's some things which worked for me and a few others. There is no one way, but fear feeds on fear. You can therefore work on reducing it.

Be the observer

You are not your fear. Do not let it become you. If it helps, create a character for the fear. Name it (not pennywise). Talk to it as if it were a visitor. Observe it coming. And then observe it when it goes (and comes again). Breathe.

Ask 'What's the worst that could happen?'

Do not deny it. The more you suppress it the more likely it is to become the elephant in the room. The "worst" needs to be neutralized by the harsh exposure to discourse. Then ask, what would I do if it did? (plans, even imaginary ones, help us reduce fear by feeling an illusion of control!)

The worst may still happen, but the fear which makes it appear ten times bigger will be eradicated and the worst may turn out to pretty good if you start thinking out of the box.

Find your way feel love

Love and fear cannot co-exist in the same space. they drown each other out, even if it's only temporary. What makes you connect to your love? Is it cuddling your children? Listening to a song? Or making love... do it.

It's all good.

How much fear you feel, often depends on perspective.

Reframe your idea of fear

That character in the first point. Make him or her a nice one. Instead of running from fear, embrace fear and ask it what it has coome to teach you. Make it a positive experience not a negative. This is your choice.

Avoid externalizing your fear onto other people

No one causes your fear but you. You are the one who holds and feels it. You are the one who can do something about it. Blaming someone else for your fear and worse, taking actions to eradicate them from your life will only be - at best - a temporary measure.

Your fear is your business to solve. No one else is feeling it. And if you don't then the fear will become so scary that you will do anything to stop it. Usually not by solving the actual problem, but removing yourself from the situation (or people) you think is creating it.

Of course there may be legitimate reasons for feeling fear, I'm not trying to say this is all on you. Maybe your partner is really acting badly. But then all the more reason to try to make yourself feel better.