Poly Pitfalls: Flattening the Layers, Mixing Up the Emotions of One Relationship with Another

a selection of rainbow dots
Image by Evil Erin / CC BY

Page, are you awake? the IM reads.

I only opened the message window because it was flashing at me. I had been about to go to bed, but now the software marks it as read. And it’s someone I don’t hear from often.

Yeah, I’m here, I write back.

I don’t know what to do. I think I really screwed up, they write.

What’s up? 

They start to recount a story about how hard they’ve been coming down on one of their partners. No matter what they did, it ticked them off.

I wait while they type. What they describe is all very familiar to me — I’ve heard their partner’s side of things. None of what they’re telling me is a surprise, really. What’s more surprising, in some ways, is how well their two accounts line up (since this isn’t always the case when two people each tell you their side of the same story).

You there? they type.

Yeah.

What do you think? they write.

How’s your other relationship going? I ask.

They send me a frown emoji. Even worse, they tell me. Not only are things rocky, but that partner isn’t even trying to make things right. If anything, it seems like they’re playing games. Punishing with the silent treatment.

Oh God, they write. Do you think that could be affecting my other relationship? 

Hard to tell, I write. But it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve seen it happen. 

*

One of the most interesting things I noticed when I started dating multiple people at the same time as a polyamorous person was how complicated the emotional layers could become. Sometimes this means you have multiple stressors in your love life at the same time. Sometimes this means multiple joys.

And other times, it’s a mixed bag. Some relationships are going well, others aren’t. And it can be very difficult when you have stress in one relationship to learn to leave it there. To effectively shift gears and not confuse the emotional environment of one relationship with another.

It’s a very common pitfall to essentially flatten the individual emotional layers down into a single impression, a snapshot of how things are going that oversimplifies what’s going on. And mixes up the emotions in one relationship with another.

Thankfully, I’ve found that just knowing that this is a potential problem seems to go a long way in mitigating its effects and making it less likely to happen.

Or as GI Joe put it, “Knowing is half the battle.”

*

Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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