NRE and communicating about emotional needs
I've had years of experience in open relationships but not as much in true poly relationships. I've been in one of those with a wonderful poly woman for the last three years but we haven't really tapped the poly potential until recently.
I've done a lot of reading on NRE and communication. This has led to some breakthroughs in understanding myself and polyamory better. However, I'm still puzzling over some parts of it. One thing that doesn't get talked about much in the poly world is that people experiencing strong emotions tend to be a bit disassociated. What I mean is that people INTEND to act a certain way but act differently in the grip of strong emotions AND DON'T REALIZE WHAT THEY ARE DOING. Later they think up reasons for why they acted this way that have little to do with their actions. When actions and words don't match up, it's hard to trust your partner, even if you realize she has great intentions.
It's even harder when you talk to your partner about her actions and feelings she doesn't agree that she's that caught up in NRE and that it is affecting her actions. I really don't want to get into a fruitless argument with my partner about the emotions SHE is experiencing. And what do you do when you both have completely different memories of the facts?
For instance, I tell her that I saw her so distracted by her new connection that she spent most of the evening talking to him at the party and was distracted even to the point of turning around and intently focusing on him flirting with another girl while she and I were walking to our tent to have sex. I tell her that when I saw this, I felt distant from herand lost my sexual energy because my need for connection, need to be present with my lovers, and my need to be desired were not met.
She denied that she was distracted by her new connection, claimed she was focused on me, claimed that when she did talk to him it was because she felt bad that he didn't know anyone, asserted that she barely spent any time with him that night, and said that she was very hot for me that night. Some weeks later, she admits that she maybe was more distracted than she realized. But she's still disassociated. She told me during a discussion that she was surprised that this new connection fulfilled her on all the levels I did. When I calmly referred to this comment in another discussion a week later, she denied saying this and apologized that I got that impression, claiming it's not true. This is a VERY self-aware, compassionate and experienced poly woman but also a person with a very healthy emotional life. I love emotional people and accept that disassociation comes with the territory. I also understand NRE better now but it's still hard to navigate.
So disassociation is problem 1. Seems like a communication impasse when you have different memories of the same events.
Problem 2 is the last step in non-violent communication in this situation: asking for what you want. I'm totally cool with sharing my lover if my lover continues to be present when she's with me, continues to be emotionally stimulated by me, and continues to desire me. If these needs are not met with my partner, then I feel disconnected from her and the sexual/romantic energy is not there. I feel like I'd be better off spending time with someone else and letting her chase her emotions. I can totally go get my basic needs met with other lovers and friends. But that defeats the purpose of polyamory imo. Then it's just serial monogamy, where you just bounce from person to person, chasing the NRE.
Before I deal with it like I would in the wider monogamous world (withdrawing, investing a lot less energy in our connection, and focusing on others), I want to give our primary relationship a shot by asserting my needs. I truly believe my partner INTENDS to be present with me and intends to desire me. It's just that her emotions for the new shiny cause her to act differently. And that impacts my feelings and sexual energy with her. So it's not about just going about business as usual until NRE dies down.
Bottom line is that I want something emotional. How do I ask for that in concrete specific ways? Just saying that I need her to not be distracted or I need her to be present is too vague, especially when she feels she WAS focusing quite a bit on me. When I asked her to spend a little more time in conversation focused on me before turning back to her lover, it just felt tedious and micro-managing. How do you communicate to someone how to fulfill your emotional needs?
The other part is that my emotional needs are for emotional engagement with other people. In other words, I need something emotional FROM her. My need to feel desired implies that the other person desires me. It's impossible to logically ask for someone to feel something for you and for this to cause them to feel something for you. Logic doesn't affect emotions like that. Attraction isn't a choice. I want her to authentically feel desire for me. I don't want her just to tell me she desires me in order to give me assurance. That feels like going through the motions. That feels like her going to fuck me because I'm her comfy primary and we planned to spend the night together but her body language and attention says she'd rather be emotionally engaging with someone else. I'd rather not spend time with her when she's distracted because the quality of the time together sucks.
I realize that interpreting her actions as going through the motions is a terrible double bind for her so I keep showing appreciation for her efforts even if they aren't completely what I want. I know that the way to affect people's emotions is by engaging with them emotionally, not with logic. But how do I do this in the face of NRE without competing with the other guy by tearing him down OR without stimulating fear in her by withdrawing? She said that if I would've just come over and flirted with her, she would've been totally seduced by that. The problem is that whenever I did engage with her when she was with her new friend, she didn't respond emotionally but rather turned back to him. That part of communication has me stumped and I'd appreciate any thoughts.
Wow. I just wrote a post in my personal blog on this exact issue. I don't know how to tell him/them that I NEED them to be emotionally, spiritually, lovingly, intellectually in tune with me when we're together, or I'm not interested in being there.
In my case, there isn't "a new friend" (though that has been an issue in the past). It seems to be work that is keeping both of them distant and preoccupied. But, nothing I say seems to help or make any sense.
I get the 'i love you' (well no shit-I KNOW that, we've got 14 and 19 years together respectively).
But I need to FEEL the love and I don't feel it when I'm the only one interested in the moment...
(I also don't feel it when the focus is sex and I can't get off that way. So it's been a month or more of sexual frustration too because I can't GET THERE when I feel so UNCONNECTED)
Sigh-sympathy going your way.
I can be guilty of something like this, as can both MC and TGIB (different triggers, but anyway). Instead of, "You did this, I felt this" what about a more immediate, "You're doing this right now!" I understand it can be difficult to wade through all the emotional waves and figure out what the problem is that quickly, but if it's a persistent or ongoing problem perhaps you can recognize it as soon as it starts. That's what I need, and what I try to do. MC or TGIB coming to me later is never as effective as calling me on something in the middle of it, because it forces me to look at my thought process and actions right in that moment and look at what I can do to change them. It means my response is less, "This is what I'll try to do next time" and more, "This is what I CAN do and what I need from you to support that change". Helps me cut down on my own bluster and bullshit. I own the fact that I can get caught in rationalization traps, so anything to help me avoid those is good!
Some people just have difficulties with emotions, especially if their childhoods had any emotional irregularities.
The best way for you to get some time focused on you is to get some time when you're the only one physically present, with other forms of communication turned off. If she likes him, it will be unreasonable to expect her not to give him dove eyes. If you're there also, then you're going to see it. It's not inconceivable that she won't even realize she's doing it, such is love. So when you're all together, you'll just have to learn to cope with it. If that doesn't work, you can also stop being all together.
Thank you for the empathy LR. I'm sorry you're feeling disconnected too. If I learn more about communicating emotional needs, I'll share it.
TGIG, I'll give that a try! Now that I've read up on things and processed my feelings, I feel more prepared to act in the moment.
SC, it sounds like you're saying that I should compartmentalize my time with my partner if I can't stand seeing her express love for someone else. I have several problems with that. First, her making dove eyes at others doesn't bother me....if she also makes dove eyes at me! It's the feeling of being emotionally replaced that bugs me about NRE and seems anti-poly to boot.
Even more, I'm her primary, a role that I enjoy and that she really wanted. I shouldn't have to compartmentalize life because her actions & emotions aren't congruent with our primary relationship. I'd rather just end the primary relationship and scale back our involvement a bit. I do have compassion for her and she for me. I'm giving communication a shot before dissolving our primary relationship. I DO have compassion for her trying to navigate this and love that she has more love in her life. She has compassion for me too and hates that I felt sidelined. She knows that the shoe will be on the other foot in the future. I think we'll work it out but I'd like to know how to ask for more than vagueness.
Honestly, sometimes you just have to wait it out and be patient. When Wendigo and I first started seeing each other it was supposed to be a strictly FWB thing with very specific benefits that we negotiated for ahead of time. But after the first few times, we got hit with the NRE train hard, me more than him for sure. In less than a month we went from friends who had never really considered more than cuddles, to FWB, to lovers. I didn't see it coming and I certainly didn't realize I was in love until it was pointed out to me. Runic Wolf attempted several times to bring me back down to earth, but even when he pointed out specific things he caught me doing - like going on non-stop about Wendigo or neglecting the house work because I was sleeping all day from having stayed up talking to Wendigo online until the sun came up - I didn't really hear him. I heard him saying he was feeling neglected and thought and often said, but I'm right here with you, we're spending time together. . . . I only see Wendigo once a week or every other week so ofcourse when I see him I want to be all over him those times, but I'm here now. Ofcourse, to Runic Wolf it felt like I wasn't really there at all. Sometimes he was patient with me, sometimes not. Sometimes we fought over my disconnect with reality as he saw it. And then one day, the NRE went away.
I really am sorry that you are struggling, but I really can't tell you how to ask for more than vagueness or even tell you that it will work. I repeatedly got smacked upside the head with my behavior in the moment, after the moment, etc. and it didn't sink in until after the NRE subsided. I was lucky that my husband stuck with me through all 5 or so months of it.
Hmm, well that's disappointing. Seems there are definite limits to verbal communication. I've been impressed by learning new depths to verbal communication which can add impact to actions. But yeah, this whole emphasis on verbal communication is a bit overblown.
I also have a problem with the idea of rooting your security in self talk about how your partner won't leave you because you have value and your partner sees that. What if your partner leaving you isn't the issue? What if being in limbo land (good not great) or your partner's passion leaving you is the issue? And if most people experience NRE this way, then how can you tell yourself that someone leaving you for someone else means they just weren't right for you? What that tells me instead is that passion is temporary and serial affairs are the way of nature. Being highly desired may not be something special or unique. We all may eventually settle into being friends with benefits.
This is a really interesting thread.
One statement that really struck a chord in me was the idea of 'good not great'. Limbo land. For me, it is absolutely worse to be in that middle ground than to actually be left.
I can relate to you, for certain.
NRE is a tricky one. There is a balance as a 'spectator' between riding it out, so that the active partner can enjoy it, guilt free.... and feeling completely neglected and/or disconnected from your partner whilst they experience NRE with someone else.
For me personally, NRE can be time consuming and intoxicating... but it isn't a patch on what I feel for my primary. And I'm always glad if she points out that I have become absorbed in it.
I also know that when I have sex with someone else, even when it is mind-blowing... or when I have a first date that is completely thrilling... I come home and the first thing I want to do is hear my girlfriend's voice. We have described it to each other as a 'swelling of love' feeling.... a sense of intense love and appreciation for each other after being with someone else. To me, that's one of the wonderful things about being poly. Freedom promotes love.
Alongside NRE as an emotion, new relationships can take a lot of maintenance in the early days. Usually involving lots of long conversations online, or other activities that come in intense bursts and take time away from the primary relationship.
I know that my perception is that when my GF starts dating others, she becomes almost obsessed with BDSM (she is a Domme, as am I, and she dates submissive boys). My perception is that her sexual desire for me wanes a little during these times, because this new shiny thing has her attention. However... I worry about it less now and basically ride it out for a few weeks, until she has her 'sub boy fix' ... then she seems to be sated enough in that department and her attention seems to refocus on me. I've told her that she *seems* to do this and she said she wasn't aware of it, but that it was an interesting observation.
However... notice that I said 'my perception'. It could very well be that my GF feel absolutely no change in desire for me; but just seems distracted by all the shiny new stuff.
I know that I desire her just as intensely, if not more, when I'm going through NRE with someone else. Even if this new person makes me hotter than hot. I'd love to say that I always show that - but I bet if you asked her, she might sometimes feel the same way that I do when she's distracted by new toys.
It's the same way if I'm out at a bar with my GF and another girl starts talking to me. I never realised it until my GF pointed it out - but apparently, I have a habit of literally turning my back on my GF and focusing on this new person. I have since tried to be more aware of that behaviour! Even when I talk to these new people - I'm just caught up in the moment, the stimuli around me; I do not desire my GF any less.
Moving onto your other points...
Withdrawing affection. Yes, I completely understand this one. I felt it recently too, in fact.
Again, I think it's a balancing act. Of course I don't want to feel neglected or unimportant. I don't want to feel emotionally or sexually disconnected. However... if my GF is fixated on a new shiny thing until it consummates... well... we're together all the time and will be for a very long time to come. I'm not sure that she can want me with complete intensity 100% of the time. She might have a fine fillet steak at home, but occasionally she might want to lose herself gorging on some fried chicken! ;)
Actually, a prime example of that is that my GF has been intensively dating for the past two months. After a month, I felt neglected and disconnected. I talked to her and she did the best she could. But my needs just could not be met. So I started looking at dating again. And I'm really glad I did. Now I have someone else to talk to, to sleep with... and I'm not emotionally or sexually withdrawing from my GF - but I'm not putting all of my needs on her, either. Rather than pushing us apart, getting some of my needs met elsewhere has kept us strong - because there's more balance and we can empathise with each other more.
The situation with your partner and her new guy is interesting. It's something I've experienced too; so again, I can relate.
There's a slight difference with my experience, though. If this helps:
Whenever we're in a situation where we might start basically 'hitting' on people for the fun of it (i.e. a bar, a play party), or especially if we're meeting up with a new secondary partner, as a group, we actually don't expect to focus a lot of attention on each other. Instead, we experience this strange sort of.... 'ride the NRE together' vibe.
i.e. We once went to a bondage club together. We ended up both talking to completely different women for most of the night. It was great. We both felt completely free, but completely in love with each other.
Another time, I met one of my GF's new secondaries. I made sure that my attention was on him, that I spent time asking him questions. It wasn't because I was attracted and was trying to cultivate something as a group - it was just because it was a new person to get to know.
So there's two issues there... expecting a connection when you two are out in public with a new secondary/people you may flirt with... and expecting a connection in the general relationship.
So... to finalize...
- sometimes the connection takes a dip; but the commitment bond is still there
- sometimes NRE can be endured until it passes
- sometimes NRE can be shared, by going out together and finding new people
- sometimes it's ok to take some 'you time' and have your needs met elsewhere
- sometimes long-term passion is still intense, even with the presence of short-term distraction
- it's always important to communicate your feelings without accusing and hopefully a middle ground can be met
Thanks Sparklepop! I appreciate your nuanced thinking on the situation and especially like the steak-chicken metaphor. You also sound like a cool person in general. I fully agree that addressing this in various ways like getting my needs met elsewhere etc. would help more than focusing as much on trying to ask her to help fulfill my needs. I feel you on NRE not decreasing my heat for my partners but they've complained in the past so maybe i'm deluding myself about its effect on me. Learning about other people's experience with NRE has helped reframe the situation better for myself. You pont on situational vs general expectations was very good too.
Schrodinger, thanks for clarifying. My Gf & I went on vacation together and that helped. She is a very caring and loving person who is doing extra to focus on me and check in with me.
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