Editors Note: For more on this subject, check out the book Power Circuits: Polyamory in a Power Dynamic by Raven Kaldera
I love being poly. It is intrinsic to who I am- it’s as much a part of my sexual identity as being pansexual or kinky. It’s great, it’s awesome, it’s the best thing since sliced bread (which, admittedly, is not that much of a game-changer in my life). So maybe it’s better than sliced bread.
But. All that said- it’s still really fucking hard. Throw in a D/s dynamic on top of that, and things get real weird in a hurry.
I’ve been struggling with sharing my partner’s time and energy. I’ve really been struggling to be to happy for him when he plays with other people and it takes away from “my” time with him. I’ve felt like I was relegated to the back burner. I’ve been finding it difficult to watch him be eager for other people, when I feel like I don’t get that eagerness, too. There’s so many wonderful people in the community to play with, and sometimes I feel like my partner is the eager puppy in a room full of toys, happily jumping from one ball to the next squeaky toy. It’s an icky feeling, one I’ve sought to run from. I really like the people that my partner plays with and is intimate with; I think they are all amazing and wonderful and so cool and I feel so shitty feeling weirdly about him playing with them. How can I have such complicated feelings about such amazing individuals? This leads me into this spiral of “I’m a terrible person for feeling like this, I shouldn’t feel like this, but I do feel like this and I can’t make the feels go away, but that makes me bad, and I don’t want to be bad…” On forever.
But I’ve been working hard with my partner to break this cycle, because I don’t want to feel bad about myself, and I don’t like feeling envious of other people. It’s not healthy for me. I‘m trying very hard to not judge my feelings as being “bad”, or “wrong”. They’re there, and judging them for existing is judging myself for being human. Who needs that? I have enough other shit I judge myself on- I don’t need one more thing! There’s been a lot of things I’ve learned that have really helped me when I’m feeling insecure and envious and back-burner-ed. I hope that maybe my tools can help you, too.
-Schedule quality time together. What does quality time look like to you? I’ve found a lot of people don’t stop to consider, “what does quality time together look like?” For some people, quality time can be found in group situations- at the club, at the bar, at home hanging out with a bunch of friends. But for some, that time with a partner and 6 friends doesn’t count as quality time. Quality time for them is one-on-one, alone together, focusing on each other or doing something fun together. Is your ideal quality time passive or active? Are you content sitting and watching Netflix together and quietly enjoying each other’s passive company? Or does that leave you mostly cold or “meh”, and quality time for you needs to be more active- going for a walk, having a conversation, having sex or playing, going to a nice dinner? Figure out your quality time style and share it with your partner. What is their style? If you don’t match, can you compromise?
-Consider touch, play, and sex. One of the 5 love languages espoused by Gary Chapman is “physical touch”. I think this is one of the most important things that parters can have with each other (I may be biased, but bear with me here. There’s science!). Non-sexual, physical touch does our bodies and minds a world of good. A study done around 2010 had blindfolded pairs of participants try to convey “prosocial” emotions like love, empathy, and gratitude, along with fear, anger, and disgust, using only touch on appropriate parts of the partner’s body. What followed was fascinating- “Participants were able to convey these discrete emotions successfully most of the time. But what was especially interesting was that the blindfolded partners could not only identify love, gratitude, and sympathy but could differentiate between them, something they had not been able to do as well in studies of facial and vocal communication.” (Castle, 2010). Think about touching your partner within this context- if humans are better able to understand emotions like love and empathy through touch, we should touch each other more for better understanding. If you don’t touch often enough, maybe the message of love is getting missed by your partner. This is so true for me. If I don’t touch my partner enough, I feel so disconnected and sad. I need to cuddle, I need skin-to-skin contact with him, or our relationship doesn’t seem to work as well.
-As far as play goes, I know that if we don’t play often enough, I start to lose the feeling of our dynamic. For me, our play is what makes our relationship so special, so different. If we didn’t beat each other up sometimes, we’d be a simple vanilla couple. Which isn’t satisfying to two people who identify “kink” as their sexual orientation. Something to think about are ways that you can feel your dynamic or that S/M connection outside a “scene”. My favorite thing is something I like to call is “passive D/s”. Passive D/s means things that you can do to/for/with each other that only take a moment or two, or require very little energy from one or both partners that reinforce the magic of our dynamics. Can you change how you dress (or don’t) at home? Even just changing out of your work clothes into designated “sub” clothes can be powerful. What about how you address your partner? What about sitting at your partner’s feet? That’s passive D/s that makes me feel very good. Can you text each other good morning? Can you bring them coffee or an energy drink? Are there small rituals that you can institute that make you feel good? One that we do that I absolutely love is I sleep in a piece of his rope every night. Just a small tie, usually something around a wrist or an ankle. But we’ve created a ritual around it that makes a few moments each night special, and reminds us that our relationship is different. It’s the very best part of my day and the impact that having that touchstone together has been dramatic. Even if we’re sleeping apart or I’m in charge for the night, I still tie myself up. Finding little things that satisfy both of you can be so helpful when you’re both busy and often don’t have the energy or time for big scenes.
-Within a D/s dynamic, I’ve realized lately that play is not always what I’m really needing. I’ve found that I often need times when I can slip deep into the servant persona and really feel my submission and indulge us both in more obvious service and higher protocol behaviours (for lack of better words). This is when I want to sit at his feet (or under his feet), when I want to be silent until spoken to, when I put my phone away and turn off everything else except my partner and his needs. I had a psych textbook once explain (terribly) that BDSM is when couples put on collars and leashes and “play the master/slave game”. D/s is not a game for me, but there are definitely times when I need to feel and see it more than our 24/7 dynamic. I need to “play the game”. Specifying this, and asking for the thing I’m actually needing, is really helpful. I’ve actually found this helps me feel more secure than playing regularly. Are you similar?
-Scheduling sex and play is critical. Vanilla relationship therapists will often recommend scheduling sex as a tool to getting a couple to do it more often, and I’ve found the same advice works SO well for kinksters, too. It’s not unsexy because it’s not spontaneous; actually it ends up being the opposite. I see it on my calendar and I get excited thinking about our upcoming play date. I get to spend time thinking about, revving myself up, anticipating the type of play we’re going to do, imagine how it’s going to feel. It’s like foreplay that I get to enjoy for days, where before there was none. Something that we’ve done too is make it my job to propose dates for play on our calendars. This helps me a lot, because now instead of feeling, “oh, he never proposes play so that means he doesn’t like me/like playing with me”, I can feel empowered to advocate for my needs and asking for and scheduling play is now a service that I give to my Dominant. Having that responsibility, framed within the context of service, is such a sea change in my thinking that has had a dramatic impact.
-Change your thinking. I’ve done a lot of work to change (and continue to do the work) the way I think about my partner and his time. I’ve fallen into the trap that my partner is MINE, and his time is MINE, and I should get ALL of the time he has. This is dangerous. My partner is not my possession, I do not own him (even in a sexy sort of way). He is his own strong individual, with his own life and wants and needs. Being with me hasn’t suddenly made that autonomy go away. I need to work on remembering this, and treating like any other good friend I have; I ask to spend time with them and don’t make assumptions that all of their time is mine. Why is he different? He’s not. To help me remember this, I literally repeat (either out-loud or just in my head): “I do not own my partner”, over and over, until I really realize it and feel it again.
– Build your own thing. Build your own life. Can you find other partners to play with? Can you find other people to have sex with? What hobbies have you been neglecting? How is your relationship with your SELF? I’ve found that while not solving the problem of wanting this particular partner’s energy, find others to do stuff with is so helpful. Remember though, partners are not interchangeable. But I’ve found that when I can get some of my needs met elsewhere, the feeling of needing one person to meet that need becomes significantly less urgent. When I need to get my bottom on, I can call someone else if my other partner is unavailable or already booked. I can booty call my hot friend to have good sex with, or I can take a comfortable afternoon and spend it masturbating and taking care of myself. I don’t necessarily need to wait around for this ONE person to meet my needs. That’s one of the big pluses of being poly! I don’t have to rely on a single individual to meet my needs. I can advocate for myself and figure out what needs can be met by spending time with other people.
-Talk to your partner about your feelings. Yes. I know how much this sucks. I HATE talking about my feelings and generally try to pretend I don’t have any. But when you try to pretend they don’t exist, they get worse and worse. Pretending something isn’t happening isn’t a good strategy in medicine and nor is it one in relationships. Your partner is with you because they care about you and presumably want good things for you. They will probably be about trying to help you. And if they’re not… I don’t know. Maybe at that point it’s time to assess the relationship. I know if my partner had heard my insecurity and vulnerability and told me to suck it up, Buttercup, I probably would have changed or ended our relationship. A partner who didn’t care about my feelings at all would make me very sad and would make me question what the point of a continued relationship was.
-Don’t go comparing yourself to other people, and comparing what they have with your partner with what you have with them. This was one of my biggest trouble spots: How can he like me when I don’t look like her? When I play different than them? When I don’t have___ or I’m not ____. This was terrible to do to myself. By comparing myself, I cheapened what I DO have and what I DO offer. Franklin Veaux wrote this great article about puppies, and how the puppies in a litter are all his favorite, because they are all wonderful, and yeah, they might look different or act differently, but he loved and appreciated all of them for what they brought as individuals. I need to remember that it’s okay for me to be different than the other people my partner plays with. Just because I look different or act different doesn’t mean he loves me or likes playing with me any less. Do I love my friends less because one has pink hair and one doesn’t? Nope. I love them the same because I love what I have with each of them.
-Keep at it. Yes. This is all work. It’s going to get hard, and you’re going to be tired, and all you’re going to want to do is give up. I implore you, don’t. The work (and you, and your happiness) is important, and I’m finding that everything about being an adult is work. I can love my job and my work, and a lot of the time it doesn’t even feel like work. But there are definitely days I am slogging through. I continue to slog because I think I’m building something bright and wonderful with my partner that I want to have with them very much. I am with them because I have chosen to stay with them, not because I have to. Building relationships is a little like building a dream home. It’s rare that someone commits to building their house, and then starts the construction and says fuck it, this is too hard, I don’t want to do it anymore. Generally people keep pushing through because they know at the end they’re going to have a beautiful home to live in. Building them can be fun, but hard. But you also don’t simply start building a home with whatever bits you have lying around. You need to plan out what your home (your relationship) is going to look like- you think about it, you draw it out, you talk it out with people who know about building homes and with the people who are going to live their with you. What things do you absolutely need to have in your house? What are non-negotiables, and what things are more compromisable? You need to purchase building materials for your house lumber, nails, pipes. For a relationship you need skills- books, education, conversations, intrinsic abilities- these are what you build your relationship with. Nor can you build a house all by yourself. You need other people to help you out with the heavy lifting or the things you don’t know how to do. For relationships, sometimes you need to talk things out with friends, or elders, or parents, or therapists. Homes need to pass city inspections, too. Inspectors point out things you might have missed, or done wrong. Sometimes in relationships you need people to point out to you, “hey. You’re fucking this up by doing this thing. You’d be a lot happier if you did….instead.” It might be YOUR house, where YOU live, but it’s integrity would greatly suffer if you tried to build it completely on your own. And I think relationships are the same. You are better and stronger if you turn to others for help, as painful as it might feel (and PLEASE trust me when I say I know that feel).
Homes need maintenance, too. You have to weed the garden, polish the floors, someone to treat them with love and care. Sometimes, a house can become so broken that it needs major renovation, or to be demolished completely. So too are relationships. They need maintenance, they need work and love. Sometimes they need major changes and work done, and sometimes it’s simply time to move out and get on to something that fits you better.
Has this fixed everything and I’m perfect and great? Nope. I’m still human and I still have bad days and irrational insecurities. I still struggle. But I feel less hopeless and sad, and I feel like I have a box full of tools to try to help myself, and so far, they seem to be working. Our D/s is solid and secure and my life is full of amazing people that I am lucky to get to spend time with. Every day I keep working my tools, working the resources I have and the people I know, and every day I feel happier and stronger and more capable. I’m more self-aware, I’m much better at advocating for my needs and wants (and I’m getting pretty good at actually figuring out what they are!). In some ways, I’m grateful for the not so great times, because it’s taught me so much and I truly believe it’s made me a better person.
What about you? Do you have any particularly helpful tricks or tips or tools that make you feel better when you’re feeling insecure?