Hello. I am a male in a polyamorous relationship with my mate, who is female. The problem I am having in my relationship is that I have been feeling significantly less important to her than her other partners seem to be. When I bring up my feelings to her, she denies that I am any less important to her and tells me that I am overreacting. I still struggle with these feelings, so I would be grateful to any help or insight that you might be able to provide.
Received via Telegram (name withheld)
Thanks much for your question! This issue touches on one of the most common insecurities that tend to come up when opening up and existing closed relationship and becoming polyamorous: You fear that your mate is more in love with her other partners, or that they have replaced you in some way. If you are relatively new to polyamory — or even if you are experienced but your primary partner suddenly gains a new partner he or she is totally enamored with — it can be a struggle not to feel forgotten, or like your primary relationship has lost some of its value, significance, or specialness in your mate’s eyes. But don’t despair! Your fears are most likely unfounded, and there is a good chance you are indeed overreacting.
Your mate defensively telling you that you are overreacting certainly isn’t helping anything, but I think you would benefit from trying to empathize with her for a minute. She's defensive because she doesn't want to face the fact that she might be doing something that is hurtful to you, and there is a veiled accusation buried in your insecurity — that she's neglecting you in some way. So it is understandable you'd get a defensive reaction. Another tactic you might try is to own the fact that you ARE being irrational before you bring up your feelings to her.
You might say something like the following:
“Hey, I know this is totally irrational, and I am just being insecure right now and having difficulty with my feelings, but it would really help me if you could reassure me that I am important to you and that I am not inferior to your other partners. Would you be willing to help me with my feelings and make an extra effort to make me feel important and valued right now, even though you are already doing so much for me? I know it is a lot to ask, but it would mean a lot to me if you could."
Now let’s analyze what communicating in such a way with your mate accomplishes. Firstly, you are taking responsibility for your feelings, and not blaming her for how you feel. That will really help encourage her to respond to you compassionately and empathetically, rather than defensively and aggressively. Secondly, you are being careful not to accuse her of any wrongdoing, and are in fact expressing gratitude towards her, which again should help encourage a warm and reassuring response. Thirdly, when it comes time to express your needs, you do so by making a request rather than making a demand or simply whining at her without offering her something she could do to help you feel better.
It is incredibly important that you own your shit and emphasize to your mate that your feelings are yours to deal with, and not her fault. Emphasize also that you are asking for help not because she did something wrong, but because you need empathy, love, and support, and you might need more of those things while grappling with an insecurity. You can also remind her that you are grappling with this insecurity for her benefit, enabling her to have multiple romantic and sexual partners. Give her a chance to feel gratitude towards you as well, and she may be more willing to go out of her way for you.
Hopefully, after having this kind of non-violent conversation with your mate, your feelings begin to subside. However, it is also important to remind yourself that the simple passage of time will help out too. It's common to feel like you're in the backseat when your mate is experiencing New Relationship Energy (NRE) with someone she has only recently fallen for — not a fun feeling, but it will pass.
Try to focus on being happy that she's happy. If she shares information with you about how much she is loving her new partner, she's sharing that stuff with you not to make you feel bad, but because she is trying to share her joy with you. That's actually a really good thing! It means your mate values connection with you and wants to share her life with you still, even though she is enjoying the company of a new individual.
If you let yourself be happy with her, and demonstrate your capacity for compersion, she's going to be drawn to you and you are likely to get more of what you want. Right now, she is feeling judged and attacked every time she's happy with someone in front of you, and that drives her away.
It is worth noting that sometimes with compersion, it is kind of fake it till you make it. I generally advocate that people be entirely open and honest about their feelings, but in the circumstance where your mate is primed to receive a negative reaction from you and is ready to be defensive, leading with your negative feelings is going to derail the conversation. If instead you focus on how happy you are for your mate, even if you are also feeling insecure, the conversation will go much better because you will have disarmed your mate’s impulse towards defensiveness.
Finally, remember to be compassionate towards yourself and not to shame yourself for feeling insecure. I am an experienced polyamorist, but even I have bad days when I crack and feel selfish and just want my mates to focus all their attention on me. It’s okay to feel like that sometimes; just be honest with yourself about how you are feeling, try to put it into words, and then you can grapple with it rationally. Trying to suppress your feelings because you supposedly shouldn’t be having them just keeps them from being resolved. Paradoxically, it is by accepting your emotions that you are able to let them go and return to living your life happily.
Hope that helps! If you have any follow-up questions or comments, feel free to use the comments section below or to get in touch with us via our contact page.