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-   -   Polyamory and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (http://www.polyamory.com/forum/showthread.php?t=28931)

persephone 09-18-2012 01:28 PM

Polyamory and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
I am wondering if anyone has symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that can be specifically triggered by a specific polyamorous situation. I do.

Almost five years ago my primary, D, and I went through a very difficult period together. In his pursuit of another relationship, his first poly one, he committed a very specific betrayal of me and our relationship that potentially put me in harm's way. It was the kind of thing that would have ended most relationships. I didn't leave him though, I stayed. We had young children at the time and I couldn't even begin to figure out the logistics of splitting up. D greatly resisted doing many things that would have helped me heal, so the process of healing was long and hard. Yes, we saw a couples' counselor for about a year, and I think even she was frustrated with his defensiveness and glamorizing of the person who caused trouble between us. I saw an individual therapist for over two years afterward as well. She helped me realize that I had PTSD, and tried to help me through it.

Perhaps the crux of the issue, for me, was D's utter lack of any protective impulses towards me during the difficult situation and the aftermath of it. He had gotten involved with a supposedly poly woman in a bad marriage who claimed to fall madly in love with him during their first (and in the end, only) meeting and then freaked out when I had issues with that. I grew alarmed at her very obvious mental instability in conversations I had with her and from things that D told me, and told D that I did not want him in a relationship with her. The betrayal between D and I began when the woman started trashing my character, to him, and he did not make any attempt to defend me, and then escalated when she threatened my life, to him. He not only didn't tell me about that, but he actively hid that information from me. I found out. I insisted he take what she had said seriously and take action to protect my personal safety. We had known her online barely a month, I'd never met her, and he had only met her once. He did not want to take her threat against me seriously. He did not even want to get information about a restraining order. He desperately wanted to believe that his friend was just upset and that I was overreacting. He spent months afterward, in and out of counseling, arguing with me that she was really a good person. I spend months afterwards terrified that she would show up at our house with a gun. He had even shown her pictures of our children, so I worried for their safety too.

D slowly began to accept that NRE, at least in that situation, was a toxic cocktail for him that compromised his ability to see things rationally. It was at least six months before the effects of that even started to recede. It was a horrible ordeal. It felt like deprogramming a cult member. Time passed. D healed. I tried to. It has been a huge struggle for me to get comfortable with the idea of D having future poly relationships, and for a long time he did not.

Now D and I just had an incident with a new romantic interest, R, that had some disturbing parallels, for me, with the one I just described. (I talk more about the rest of the R story here http://www.polyamory.com/forum/showthread.php?t=28432) While he did not get involved this time with someone who threatened violence, R did seek to cause discord in our relationship, under the guise of "helping us," and was very disparaging of me, to him. His first romantic interest started off that way too. This time, because of our longtime agreement on utter transparency, I was very aware of what was going on.

D gave the appearance of commiserating with R about what she saw as my deficiencies of character. I reacted badly to that. He quickly shifted gears and wrote a rousing email to R where he took her to task for attempting to manipulate him into her desired relationship outcome, for disparaging me, for trying to interfere in our relationship and seek to change our agreements despite D not having asked her for any advice or input there. It was a very meaningful thing for me, that he finally defended us, and me, against someone who sought to cause trouble between us. I praised him, said that I felt that what he had done was going to be very healing, for me, in the long run. But D seemed uncomfortable with my praise, then started trying to parse what he had meant in his email versus what I was indicating I thought he meant, and gave the appearance of backpedaling away from his defense of me, and us, and, well, I had what probably looked like a psychotic episode of rage and grief and betrayal for about 24 hours. I Googled divorce lawyers. I tried to figure out finances and moving out and what it would mean for our children. I told D our 28-year relationship was over. I could not even hear him when he tried to explain what he had actually meant. I did not even know that I could get that angry.

I eventually calmed down, started to hear D out, and realized that he hadn't been backpedaling, just had a different view of what was important about what he had written than I did. D feels like an idiot now because none of it had to happen, he could have just accepted my thanks and left it at there.

So, I have PTSD. I knew that years ago, and I did try to address it in years of therapy. It apparently didn't work. But my PTSD only seems to be triggered by the specific situation of D giving the appearance of aligning and commiserating with a manipulative romantic interest, against me. A friend tells me that the psychological term for this is triangulation.

I know that this won't happen with a woman I can trust. D is in a relationship with C and she is fine, and I know she wants the best for both of us and would never try to stir up trouble to further her own ends, as R tried to do. Future partners of his? Who knows. He's attempted four serious relationships since we opened our relationship six years ago, and two of the women tried to cause trouble between us. I don't see that as a great track record, for either of us.

How can we go forward as polyamorists when I have this issue? I don't feel I can depend on D to make good choices all the time and only pick women like C for partners. I also am fairly certain that my relationship with D won't survive another incident like we just had. He's still the love of my life, and I am his.

We will likely seek more counseling now together as a couple, and D might also go on his own, which he has been promising to do for a long while anyway.

If anyone has been through something similar, I'd appreciate stories and insight. Thanks.

LovingRadiance 09-18-2012 06:24 PM

No PTSD diagnosis.
But, severe anxiety attacks that require medication and isolation-yes.
Definitely triggered by specific issues that arise when partner and NRE mix.
Deadly mix with him-he's freaking brainless during NRE.
Better to hold a tight reign when he meets someone new-cause otherwise, he creates so much havoc in our lives its unbearable for the whole family.

persephone 09-18-2012 06:48 PM

Thanks for sharing, LovingRadiance. How do you hold "a tight rein" on your partner?

One thing we did just do was add this to our list of relationship rules: "If another partner or potential partner causes significant discord in our relationship, defined by multiple arguments about the questionable motivations, possible manipulative behavior, or ethics of said person, that connection will be severed. NO outside person is allowed to persist in a connection with us once they start to come between us."

D doesn't like this rule and argued that it is unfair, because someone who is not actually bad news could still be vetoed under this rule, if his reaction to the person triggered me in some way. I told him I didn't care, that him accepting the rule was nonnegotiable. He signed the amended copy of it, but was not happy about it.

I hate conducting my relationships this way, with ultimatums about things that even I know are not fair, but I know that one more incident like we just had, will finish us.

LovingRadiance 09-18-2012 07:38 PM

Our boundaries uphold significant limitations in time spent alone together for the first year of a relationship. Also, limits on topics of discussion with me (time and place to discuss other people). Most importantly, very specific no contact rules during dates, bedtimes, mealtimes and family time. Which ensure ' safe times'.

The intent isn't to limit him from. Onding with others. But to limit the 'everything revolves around new shiny' issues that crop up with NRE. Because, that results in failure to uphold responsibilities at home. Also-the rules go for both of us ( all 3 of us actually).
I will send you a copy when im not on my phone. Its too hard to type out here.

LovingRadiance 09-18-2012 09:16 PM

So, here is a list of our current boundaries. The one which is not in the list (not really sure why-maybe because it was a family agreement and we simply carried it over) is the phone/cell/interruption thing. The agreement was designed to ensure that we are fully present during our family time-but we've carried over regarding date times as well. When I was struggling with intense anxiety attacks, the sound of the cell phone ringing was one of the triggers. So we also added our bedtime as one we don't keep the phones in our room OR we ensure they are silenced if they are in there.

It should be noted-we do ensure that we each ahve time to text/call others before and after dates and before bed so that those people aren't "left out in the cold".

Ok, for clarification-we defined certain terms for our benefit. Other people use other definitions-which is fine. But, for OUR relationship, these terms have the following definitions:

Acquaintance-a person whom you have met but don't know very well.

Friend-someone you know well who has already met us and is accepted as a friend by the rest of us.

Potential-someone you are interested in pursuing a romantic or sexual relationship with.

FWB-someone who has been established as a friend whom you now will add a romantic or sexual relationship with on a part time basis. (there are other details but not really pertinent for anyone but us)

BF/GF-committed, established dating relationship.

OSO/life partner-someone whose been a bf/gf for at least a year and whom you have agreed (with them) on a desire for a long term, committed relationship and being "part of the family".

Romantic date-anything that includes romantic overtures (flowers, sex, other details we've personally established include specific venues we reserve for romantic dates)

Boundaries based upon relationship type:

Only communicate through the venue that you met through & email/text.
Talk with SO before extending to meeting in another venue.

*They’ve already met your SO!!
May see 2-3 times a week
Coffee/lunch social times are ok, but no romantic dates.
With SO permission, invites to family times are ok.
SO is ALWAYS welcome to join anytime.
Anytime in a group, we remain coupled with our SO.
NO: kissing, caressing, cuddling, fondling, making out, sex, naked or sexual photos, personalized sex talk, cybersex.
Touching of any kind should be greatly limited.


*Already OK’d by SO!!
May see 1-2 times per week.
Alone time date no more than one per week.
Romantic dates ok
With SO permission, invites to family times ok.
SO always welcome to join anytime!
Anytime in a group, we remain coupled with our SO.
NO: fondling, making out, sex, cybersex.
Ok to kiss, cuddle, caress, hold hands, personalized sex talk.
Physical affection in front of SO is very limited and with discretion.

Friend With Benefits-
*Already ok’d by SO!
May see 2-3 times a week.
Alone time date no more than one per week.
Romantic dates ok.
With SO permission, invite to family time ok.
SO welcome to join anytime.
Anytime in group, we remain coupled with SO.
Physical affection limited in front of SO with discretion.

*Already ok’d by SO
May see 3-4 times a week.
Alone time date no more than one per week.
Romantic dates ok.
With SO permission, invite to family time ok.
SO welcome to join anytime.
Anytime in group, we remain coupled with SO.
Physical affection limited in front of SO with discretion.

OSO-Life Partner-
*Already ok’d by SO
Functions well with household and family.
May see anytime available.
Alone time date no more than one per week.
Romantic dates ok.
Assumed part of family.
SO welcome to join anytime.
Anytime in group, we remain coupled with SO.
Physical affection limited in front of SO with discretion.

*Notice-the tightest restraints are on potentials.


1. Anal sex/play of anytime is reserved for the two of us. Neither of us will participate in this activity with any other partners.

2. Overnights w/others will be limited to bf/gf or OSOs and ONLY for special occasions or when our SO is unavailable AND our SO has agreed to it.

3. Invites to others to participate in family activities/family time with always be discussed with SO in advance until such time as SO agrees that the person is “always welcome” like family.

4. Our relationship takes priority, therefore we will not have romantic dates with others during any week we are unable to have our romantic date.

5. Regardless of relationship type, we will always remain partnered with our SO when in a group situation unless special arrangements were made with SO in advance.

6. Personal info (including sexual preferences, interests, activities, suggestive, sexual or naked pics, etc) about either of us will not be shared with other partners without our EXPLICIT permission. We also will ensure that this information is not given to each other about our other partners without their permission AND our permission to one another (ie don’t tell me if I don’t ask AND they haven’t said it’s ok).

7. Loyalty to one another in our conversations will be kept by claiming all decisions we make as a couple as our own, not allowing our other partners to think that our SO is at “fault” for our joint decisions and agreements.

8. Nudity (or partial nudity beyond what is acceptable in normal public venues) during activities (such as hot tubs, beach, hanging out) will be limited to FWB, BF/GF or OSOs.

9. No other partners will be allowed to use our personal shower or our purple towels. Showering with other partners will be limited to FWB, BF/GF or OSOs AND only when SO is not present.

10. We reserve our personal rooms as our own and will not allow other partners to enter SO’s personal room.

11. Our room is reserved for only us. No other partners will be invited to use it.

12. No sexual activity beyond a kiss is acceptable in our home if both of us are home.

13. STD testing done by self and new person, prior to adding a new sexual partner & every 6 months. Protection will be used with all other partners during sexual activities. Long term, poly-fi relationships can request exception to the protection rule.

14. No new people will be introduced to extended family or friends w/o SO agreeing in advance.

15. We will not use recreational drugs or drink more than “a light buzz” unless we are with SO.

16. We agree to re-address boundaries every 3 months to be sure that they are meeting our needs. We agree to re-address boundaries if an OSO moves into the home.

Anneintherain 09-19-2012 08:29 AM

@LovingRadiance - going to read that list in detail later!

I just thought I'd throw in - anybody who I didn't have a close relationship to who talked badly about my partner/s is not a viable dating candidate for me, that would be an early (hopefully never to happen veto -if the person involved with the shit talker didn't run like hell) end to any relationship, and that goes in both directions, I'd never want somebody in my life who would disrespect other relationships I had. However, if it happened the WHY of talking shit would be of paramount interest to me.

I hope when I meet somebody new I talk more about the positives of a current partner than the struggles - but if I neglected to do that, and a new person latched onto our "issues" and thought they had some permission to start giving unasked for advice about our dynamic (whether it be in a cowboy/girl intent or not) no way I'd be dating them ... One thing I look for in partners is that they say nice things about their current partners. The jist of this thread is I get the impression D is not giving you rave reviews during initial dates with a new person, and that would be the crux of the issue for me - if somebody who lives with me doesn't think I'm awesome enough to tell everybody how awesome I am, what the hell is going on with that? If he thinks I am awesome, why the fuck is he giving some stranger personal information about me that would cause them to say negative things about me?

so you asked for relevant advice...
1. D needs that individual counseling.

2. My husband has agreed to things, then broken them, all of them pretty minor in the scheme of things, but major to me because of my history AND the fact that because of my history, I try to pin down agreements specifically to avoid having broken agreements happen. His behavior has still been kinda crappy at times - defending a new partner's spiritual beliefs when I was giggling while he told me about them - I was giggling that HE of all people was discussing spiritual beliefs at all, not about her - but he assumed I was insulting her, and didn't give me the benefit of the doubt, which spoke volumes about something WE had to work on between us, not the other relationship. No matter how big or small, its important to me my partners think I'm a good person and have my back (unless I've gone off the reservation and lost my sanity)

3. D's reluctance to agree that somebody who caused discord between you should not be a potential partner would be VERY scary to me, especially as he's defending a hypothetical unknown person, and it wasn't about somebody he likes that you have differing opinions on the intent of. He seems to be defending his desire to choose what he wants, and isn't so much of a "primary relationship comes first" person. That attitude has more cons when a primary relationship happens to already be in place, not so much a problem when you enter into a relationship knowing that is what to expect, but it'd be a deal breaker for me to have a husband/fiance/agreed to lifelong partner take that attitude. As you state clearly you don't think you can handle one more episode like this, but D doesn't seem to care enough to actively want to avoid an episode like that from happening, I'll be really pessimistic and suggest you start planning for the likelihood it will happen again.

persephone 09-19-2012 06:42 PM

LovingRadiance, very impressive list! I LOVE rule number 7. So simple, and I don't know why I never thought of it. I am certain that D doesn't always present us to partners and potential partners as a united front, which may be at the root of our problems.

Anneintherain, thanks so much for your post. I plan to show it to D and think it will give him some food for thought. I don't believe that D ever said anything bad about me to R. Whether he gave me "good press" is unclear. I know he spoke about the past difficulties we had surrounding the incident with the psychotic woman who threatened my life. R took this information and used it to suggest to him that I had capitalized on these difficulties and used them as a means to limit and control D in his poly practice. I was utterly outraged when I found that out. That one thing, on its own, made me realize that even if she hadn't been vetoed for sexual safety reasons, she and I never could have coexisted happily as metamours anyway.

D really does believe in primary and secondary. We have been married for almost 25 years and he does not want that to change.

I wonder how to plan for another episode like the one we had.

MusicalRose 09-19-2012 07:10 PM

Perhaps the best way is to lay down some ground rules for any future potential partners he may have. Some that I can think of that might help this situation is.

1) He does not pursue romance with anyone without them meeting you first and with him laying out to them that he is in a committed marriage of 25 years, that he loves you dearly, that he WILL NOT, under any circumstances, leave you for another person, and that he will not tolerate any disrespect toward you. They don't have to like you, but they do have to respect you.

2) He fully discloses any conversations or actions from his partners that could be perceived as malicious or threatening as soon as humanly possible to you so that you can take steps to keep yourself and your family safe.

3) He immediately cuts all ties with anyone who behaves in a threatening manner toward you, him, or your children. He will help you to file a restraining order if necessary. He will NEVER see or speak to or contact this person again.

Crazies on the other end aren't the problem. Crazies are pretty easy to dispose of most of the time. Your husband needs to get a grasp on his NRE and make these rules a HARD LIMIT for himself. It is not fair to put you or your children in danger, and he will never ultimately have a good or healthy relationship with someone who is trying to sabotage you or the relationship between you two. The onus is on him to wake up when this kind of thing happens and put his foot down firmly and immediately. I've sent potential suitors packing for far less than that (one just insinuated that I could do better/he could make me happier).

If he is serious about you being a primary and your relationship being his first priority then he needs to walk his talk. He never puts you or your children at risk and he doesn't pursue a toxic relationship with someone who obviously doesn't understand what he is looking for.

Anneintherain 09-19-2012 08:29 PM

Well you cant really plan for it. If D set R straight right away about what she said - here are the two plausible outcomes that would work for me.

1. R takes D's word that you weren't capitalizing on it to limit him, agrees it was just an idea she threw out there to see if it is possible, accepts it is not applicable, everybody moves on and R and D keep dating.

2. This does not happen, either because R is only interested in one upping others so she looks kinder, more loving, whatever better by comparison and thinks she D is just deluding himself about what a controlling bitch you are, or because D doesn't say "whoa R, that's just not how it is" and maybe enjoys having somebody else back up his feeling that he's in the right and deserves to do poly his way instead of in a mutually agreed upon way. Either way D stops dating R because he realizes a) she's a bitch or b)he needs to not date people who encourage him to think negatively about you, so dating her isn't healthy.

Regardless, it sounds like he DOES feel you are limiting him, and that is a perspective he needs to be willing to change. Has he put the shoe on the other foot? If you wanted to date somebody who talked about how D is selfish and would he just suck it up? However it is and feels, he probably needs to change how he represents your relationship, or to share less so early. There are things I would like to do that Adam is not OK with, but when I talk to a date I don't say - Man, I really want to do that but Adam wont let me - or I had to agree not to or Adam would be upset with me. If asked I may say I'd like that but my relationship agreements dont allow for it. If I want to complain about an agreement I made but don't like, I'll do it with a friend or the relevant partner, OR an established other relationship where there is already a solid understanding that my husband is awesome and any complaint is just a teeny bit of the big picture of our relationship. It sounds like D forgot to lay the foundation about how awesome you and your relationship is first.

Here is an example of how I tried to plan to avoid repeated issues of the same sort - I'm guessing D is passive like my husband Adam, which means 90% of the effort to change or negotiate will fall on you.

I asked my husband to not ask somebody he meets for the first time out on a second date until he comes home and we discuss it and make sure there weren't things about them that we'd agreed were things we would keep from bringing into our lives. He DOES get excited about people and has wanted to date people that CLEARLY tick some of our "no" list, and there are people are it's questionable if it's on our "no" list or not. Checking one or more of those boxes means he cant date them necessarily, but I want to discuss the date and ask questions before a second one, because he wants to say yes! when he has agreed to say no. Because of this I ask for this agreement so I have the ability to say my piece before a couple of dates have already happened.

He kept asking people out for a second date on the spot ANYWAY. It was a lot of talking and effort to get to the bottom of it - I was very hurt, and worried that if he can't do something as simple as that, how could I trust him to keep his word about anything? We had lots of conversations and for him it wasn't simple at all, he seemed to think if he didn't tell somebody he liked them that moment there would be no second date ever. He did not understand really why I wanted to discuss it first (and isn't good at saying "Hey Anne, this agreement isn't working for me because I don't really know why you want it, can we discuss it?) Also it turned out he actually had no idea how express liking somebody without feeling compelled to make that second date, so I came up with some things he could say - such as.

"Can I email you tomorrow? I really enjoyed spending time with you"
"I had a lot of fun and you made me laugh a lot, I need to check my schedule and hopefully we can talk soon?"

Stuff like that expressed liking, expressed intent and desire, did not break our agreement do discuss first while managing to avoid planning a date that would have to be broken soon after when I said "gosh honey, you know for time and financial reasons we agreed not to date anybody that didn't have their own transportation and lived a 45 minute commute on the other side of town, I have to hold you to that so please cancel the date".

Anyway I wrote such a long boring example because I get the feeling D might have some of these very tangled things you and he will have to unwind together - as from what you said about his reluctance to agree to certain things - he DOES feel you are limiting him, while you feel you are trying to negotiate something that works for both of you. People have a lot of trouble sticking agreements if they don't agree with you asking for them, or don't really understand WHY you are asking for something. That not asking for a second date immediately is just a LITTLE thing, I can't imagine what shit we'd be in if Adam liked to choose dramatic mean people to date, luckily his taste in personality is pretty stellar.

I just want to warn you to expect more trouble from that issue until you both really understand why you each feel the way you do. That is when he will have the frame of mind where he can agree to things that he would prefer be otherwise because you are important to him instead of doing it reluctantly. Counseling is probably the most useful way to get there.

edit: MusicalRose's suggestions are great, and I agree, the problem is he has to agree they are his limits too, so hopefully he will lose his reluctance to happily compromise at those suggestions.

GalaGirl 09-19-2012 08:56 PM

  • Minimize risks by spreading it out -- risky situations. No need to pile them on top of each other -- try to deal with one at a time.
  • Know triggers that cause the emotional flooding of PTSD.

Growing up with a vet? We all have PTSD. I have anxiety/panic. I try to deal with my own emotional flooding issues. I have not mastered it. Here's where I'm at in journaling on that in case it helps you. There are several entries before that -- those describe me digesting and picking apart a recent emotional flood so I can try to understand it and give him a clue for how to help me. He's willing to help, but I have to be the one figuring it out. He can't do the work FOR me.

It is good D recognizes that he could have accepted the thanks and not kept picking at it. Remember that next time.

It is good you recognize that you blew up and started looking up divorce lawyers in flood. That's the hormones -- the fight/flight response. Do NOTHING for the first 20 min after a flood. Let some of that hormone cocktail dissipate. When you feel it, try to keep track of you body, your mind, your heart, your spirit. Do you grit teeth? Clench fist? Breath fast? Feel your thought racing? Stuff like that. Those are you tells. You and D could learn them so you know when to back off a situations that threatens to go floody on you.

The hormone cocktail of NRE
is similar to the hormone cocktail of emotional flooding -- you get a big shot of adrenalin in each. You get the 'high" on your crush person because that's the reward. It allows for time to build something of substance in the relationship so you have reason to be attached once the NRE drug wears off. If nothing is there, nothing is there. It was just NRE. But we all know we see the world and the crush person thru rose colored glasses in that space. It's the crack of the brain cocktail!

Learn more about that so you can keep both things in perspective:
  • D drunk on NRE with impaired judgement
  • You drink on Emotional Flood with impaired judgement.

Neither should make Big Life Decisions like divorce while "drunk."

As for trustworthy-ness of D in learning to pick sane partners? Well. That can only come by DOING. So both of you have to be open to allowing a space for him to practice those skills, but do it in a way so that the dings you might experience are kept to a minumum so you do not flood too horrible.

Can we be closed to just C for now? What's the polysaturation point? Can we make some kind of agreement on how soon after a flood he can date someone else? How this person is introduced into your life? Pacing matters. If you are anything like me, I cannot STAND the unknown person. It makes me want to hurl, I feel that anxious! I don't know them yet, so I can't tell if they are sane or not. But I can't know if they are sane or not without being open to knowing them. Ugh. In your case WAY more ugh because of the crazy experience you had!

Talk to D about his dating style/pace and where he might be willing to adjust it to be aware of his NRE judgement issues and your flooding issues. Some kind of compromised happy medium.

I think if you see/feel him working with you on dealing with emotional flooding of PTSD you can apply the trust from there, to building more trust in his judgement.

You can remind yourself he does NOT try to hurt you on purpose. He might make mistakes, but he's looking out for your mental health, emotional health, physical health, and spiritual health. He's not sloshing your buckets intentionally or thoughtlessly.

He might be driving under the influence (NRE) but do you have agreements in place where YOU can look out for him when he's on the cocktail?

And will you have agreements in place where HE looks out for you when you are on the cocktail of emotional flood? DH and I are trying to sort those out for ourselves. I'm the flooder.

Then overall I think you could be moving your trust of each other into the "deeper" levels. And overall that's reassuring, right?


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