My partner and I disagree about how to manage almost everything so we fight a lot. Everything about being non-monogamous gets me worked up, so even stuff like asking how my partner's date went becomes a fight. The problem is that I can't have a fight without yelling because I get too worked up and then I am "blowing everything out of proportion" (her words). I have a lot of past family trauma but I'm happy with her, even though we fight, so I don't want to split up. I have tried yoga and deep breathing and talking to a friend who is also NM. Help?
Dear Worked Up,
I hear that you are struggling to navigate these conversations with your partner in a way that feels authentic and manageable to you both. I love that you are reaching out to friends with shared experiences for support, and I want to suggest adding individual therapy to your toolbox. We all deserve a safe space to navigate healing from traumatic experiences. Having a couple’s therapist can also be very beneficial—especially if one or more individuals have experienced trauma in their past.
You mentioned that you find yourself getting frustrated with your partner after asking about their dates. I would suggest finding a routine for yourself on date nights that will help you to feel grounded. This might include deep breathing, making plans for a simultaneous date, or scheduling a phone call with a close friend.
As an experiment, I want you to try waiting to ask for details until you’ve had a full night of rest. We are often so eager to rip the bandaid off that we don’t allow ourselves to come to difficult conversations with emotional resources. When a time crunch is not an issue, sit down with your partner and share that you are going to try this strategy; then schedule a time when you are going to talk about it. Commit to holding each other accountable to this—even if you are both dying to divulge the night-of!
If you find yourself struggling to keep this goal, take 15 minutes alone to journal. I give you full permission to write down whatever terrible stories your mind is making up about the situation at hand. Perhaps you’ve created a world in which your partner is going to run away with her date and the postman to form a triad commune in the Black Hills! It doesn’t matter how silly it sounds, just write it out. In the morning, revisit your notes. Looking over the stories you’ve created, pick out any that still feel true, and circle them. Look for themes. Do they all center around fears of sexual inadequacy? Are you worried about being replaced? Look for this emotional thread and ask yourself, “Has my partner done anything to contribute to this feeling?” Gather this data without judgment, and follow-up with requests for reassurance where you need it.
One side effect of trauma can be an inability to disentangle what feels uncomfortable and what is unsafe. I believe this pause-and-reflect strategy will give you space to see what is harmful to you and identify what discomfort you want to ask for support on.
One last thing, Worked Up: even if you do find you’ve behaved disproportionately to a situation, it’s okay to ask for her to speak differently to you. You have a right to feel validated in the intensity of your feelings, even if they feel foreign to your partner.