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Old 06-16-2013, 08:21 PM
AnotherConfused AnotherConfused is offline
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Default How to have a "secondary"

Hello. It has been a while since I posted. Life has drifted along fairly uneventfully lately for my mono husband and my boyfriend of two years, C. More or less ok, although my marriage has dulled. We are working on that.

Lately I've been struggling with how to be content with the "secondary" type of relationship I have with C. There is, on the one hand, a limit imposed by my husband's discomfort with the entire situation. We get at most a weekend a month together, although from mid April until the beginning of August we are having to be content with occasional brief daytime visits. (C lives several hours away so this is when he happens to pass through town on travels.) C doesn't come to my house. Our sexual intimacy has restrictions.

But aside from that, the relationship between us is severely limited by distance, and by C's propensity to travel (something I love about him). There are periods of days to a couple of weeks when he is home, and we text throughout the day, sharing thoughts on everything from breakfast recipes to the larger events of each other's lives. I feel very close to him. Sometimes I feel off center, because this goes on in the background of my life here as wife, mother, employer. And I want to see him, be with him, and I can't. And then he'll go off on a trip and will either have no cell phone coverage (difficult but manageable for me) or he'll simply be too busy for much communication. It's hard to adjust to the ups and downs of our frequency in contact, especially when I'm having a week with more I want to talk about. (This past week there were several significant things that happened, good and bad, that I couldn't tell him about.)

But most unbearable is when we try to make do with these sporadic talk-later-I'm-busy texts, and then something comes up where feelings get hurt or misunderstandings occur, and we can't talk. He'll be off at some social event all evening and too tired for a phone call before bed, and I'm left feeling bewildered and unsettled. We nearly broke up over this in February, but he kind of woke up to the realization that relationships do come with a certain amount of commitment, and vowed never to leave me hanging if something between us is hurting me. Except last night, when I was full of confusion over a recent exchange, and he said, "Good night, have a good sleep, and enjoy a beautiful Sunday."

I don't know where to go with this. I've never had a "secondary" (hate that term) relationship before. I feel like if I put my whole heart into loving him, I get hurt when he is too busy for me, or pulls away from me. It's like this relationship has no room to grow, but my feelings for him get deeper over time, and I don't know what to do with that. I try not to have expectations or demands, but I end up feeling like a plaything, like he can just get me out when he wants to. He tells me everything, except when he doesn't talk to me at all. We are close, except when he has no time for me.

He's shopping for a house in my city, and in fact zeroed in on a favorite neighborhood 1/2 mile from me. His plan is to use it part time, and rent it out as a vacation rental. This will either make things better or worse. More moments of closeness, followed by disconcerting drops to zero communication in between.

How do people handle the off-again-on-again nature of a relationship that is never destined to follow the traditional path towards partnership (like living together, having real sex, and vowing commitment)? The heartache of this inconsistency isn't feeling worth it right now. I want him to mean less to me, since he can't be more for me.
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Old 06-16-2013, 10:54 PM
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kdt26417 kdt26417 is offline
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Does C know this is how you feel? Maybe he needs a more clear understanding of your needs and expectations? I am hearing indicators of assumptions filling a communication gap. Who knows what C would be willing to do if he knew exactly what you needed, at all times? It might just be a matter of telling him, in great detail and in no uncertain terms.

What are your husband's limitations to this relationship with C? Are you really okay with those limitations? Are you willing to stay with your husband in spite of those limitations?

I take it C doesn't mind being a secondary, however you mind making him a secondary. Have you talked to C about this tilted dynamic? What are his feelings?

I don't know that there is automatically a way to be at peace with having a secondary. It has a lot to do with who you are, how you're wired, and what you can live with.

Those are my initial thoughts.
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Old 06-17-2013, 12:14 AM
AnotherConfused AnotherConfused is offline
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Originally Posted by kdt26417 View Post
Does C know this is how you feel? Maybe he needs a more clear understanding of your needs and expectations? I am hearing indicators of assumptions filling a communication gap. Who knows what C would be willing to do if he knew exactly what you needed, at all times? It might just be a matter of telling him, in great detail and in no uncertain terms.
I did tell C very clearly how I feel about communication, and in February we agreed that if I'm hurting, rather than spill my guts in a text or email and scaring him off, I should say, "I'm hurting. Please call." Last night he texted that he just didn't have the energy to talk on the phone, after I texted him a bunch of questions. This morning I texted, "I'm hurting. Please call." He texted that my urgent need for conversation differed from his desire to let emotions settle, and that he had to go choose some food for a potluck later in the day. Only after I suggested we step back from our relationship a while did he finally offer to call.

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What are your husband's limitations to this relationship with C? Are you really okay with those limitations? Are you willing to stay with your husband in spite of those limitations?
My husband would prefer the whole thing just went away, but knows that I am not content with monogamy. We've gone through a lot of trial and error and have a compromise that is working ok. I don't feel like he is the limiting factor in my relationship growth with C.

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Originally Posted by kdt26417 View Post
I take it C doesn't mind being a secondary, however you mind making him a secondary. Have you talked to C about this tilted dynamic? What are his feelings?
C says he occasionally asks himself whether he's happier with what we have than without, and always decides it's worth it. I honestly think he's more suited to this than a full time partnership. His small number of previous relationships, each lasting a few years, seem to mostly have all ended due to a lack of enthusiasm on his part, which surprised me at first because he is so extremely captivated by me -but I think what he doesn't know how to do is really be there for someone when he is needed, rather than just when it suits him. I think he likes knowing I have a husband to fall back on. He has expressed discomfort with being "told" to do something -like call me when I need to communicate, rather than just when he feels like chatting.

I guess I often feel like I am his secondary, even though he has no other woman in his life, but emotionally he is becoming primary (co-primary?) in my heart, but not in my life. I don't think my heart knows how to do secondary.
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Old 06-17-2013, 12:35 AM
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Hi AC, it's good to hear from you again. Yes, been a long time. I am sorry it's been painful and confusing.

I think that the best way to deal with relationships that have limitations like long absences, infrequency, or distance is to really get present and appreciate what is in front of us in THIS moment of now. If we really can't change the parameters, we have to find a way to be happy and feel free within those parameters. I think you've always done this very well, and I've often admired you for it. But everyone veers off track from time to time.

What usually brings people dissatisfaction and frustration is when we resist what is, and build expectations up in our minds about what should be. We want situations to be different than they are; we want people to be different; we wish our lives were different. But indulging in those complaints we have in our heads just takes us out of the here and now and becomes a mindfuck, creating anxiety and unhappiness. The fact is, either we can do something about a problem in the here and now, or we can't. So, when you are going off in your head thinking about what you aren't getting from C., or how difficult it is not to be in touch, for example, and yet there is nothing you can do about it at that moment, you are wasting your energy and will wind up feel drained, frustrated, angry, etc.

Ken Keyes wrote that when we are attached to a specific outcome, we are not present, and then we magnify the hurts and differences between us and another, squash the similarities, stop empathizing, and are no longer loving someone unconditionally. The more present and accepting one can be, from moment to moment, the more emotionally calm one is, and that means then that we can see more clearly whatever situation was troubling us, and be able to come up with a solution if we feel like something has to change.

Often the best ways to snap out of a negative mindset is either to focus on what is front of you (whether it is a task, another person, or the scenery), or do something that brings your energy and awareness more into your body, like a physical chore, exercise, massage, making something with your hands, etc. I'm not one much for meditation, but you could try that, too.

I'm sorry if this all sounds too philosophical or New Agey, but it's what came to mind when I read your post.
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Old 06-17-2013, 12:44 AM
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Originally Posted by AnotherConfused View Post
I think what he doesn't know how to do is really be there for someone when he is needed, rather than just when it suits him. I think he likes knowing I have a husband to fall back on. He has expressed discomfort with being "told" to do something -like call me when I need to communicate, rather than just when he feels like chatting.
Not everyone responds the same to this kind of pressure. I, for one, don't chat with someone just because they want to chat with me. I will sometimes just to be polite, for a very short period of time, but if I'm not into it I'm not going to pretend that I am.

Being there for someone when they are "in need" is different for me. At least, so long as their being "in need" isn't a regular enough issue that I feel like I'm being held hostage by their fragile emotions.
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Old 06-17-2013, 03:41 AM
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He texted that my urgent need for conversation differed from his desire to let emotions settle
This kind of situation is familiar to me, though as of yet not in my LDR. This is the way me and my husband differ in our communication styles - I want to talk my emotions away, he wants to let them settle first and then talk about the issue behind the emotions. It has been tough for me to learn to cope with my emotions during those times when he needs to be quiet and gather himself. As I learned that he eventually will come back to me when he is ready to communicate, the wait has become tolerable. Not enjoyable, though, but I can do this. In the end he feels respected when I do wait and keep my mouth shut while he is processing things, and the reward is altogether better communication.
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Old 06-17-2013, 11:44 PM
AnotherConfused AnotherConfused is offline
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Originally Posted by nycindie View Post
I think that the best way to deal with relationships that have limitations like long absences, infrequency, or distance is to really get present and appreciate what is in front of us in THIS moment of now...

...Often the best ways to snap out of a negative mindset is either to focus on what is front of you (whether it is a task, another person, or the scenery), or do something that brings your energy and awareness more into your body, like a physical chore, exercise, massage, making something with your hands, etc. I'm not one much for meditation, but you could try that, too..
Thank you for this, NYC! I read this and could just about hear the giant "CLICK" in my brain and I realized that pretty much everything that is difficult in my relationship with C can be traced back to this habit we've created of frequent texting. It's fun: "Here's a picture of my breakfast!" "Look at the view out my window this evening," "Wish you were at this dance with me," but it completely pulls me away from my here and now, and makes me long for him too much. It also has been at the root of every miscommunication.

We've decided that we can better interact by being really together (whenever possible) and then by either talking now and then on the phone, where we can hear each other's voices and clarify misunderstandings from the get go, or through emails, which we write when we have time to think about what we're saying and edit our thoughts to be sure we are clear, and we read when we aren't in the midst of other things. We are both really happy with this decision, although he did confess to being a little sad not to see a text from me first thing this morning. As much as I love the little beep on my phone telling me he's sent another sentence or picture my way, I've also already been feeling more free to connect with my family and the life I'm living right here right now.

So thank you. I think this will have a huge impact.
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Old 06-17-2013, 11:56 PM
AnotherConfused AnotherConfused is offline
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Not everyone responds the same to this kind of pressure. I, for one, don't chat with someone just because they want to chat with me. I will sometimes just to be polite, for a very short period of time, but if I'm not into it I'm not going to pretend that I am.

Being there for someone when they are "in need" is different for me. At least, so long as their being "in need" isn't a regular enough issue that I feel like I'm being held hostage by their fragile emotions.
One thing I asked him recently was if we could have a 30 second phone equivalent of a hug when things are rough but one of us isn't able to devote the time and energy into processing it yet. Somehow to me a text that says, "I don't want to talk about it right now. I love you though. Good night," feels dismissive and frustrating to me, but the exact same words in a phone call seem gentler and fine. Maybe in a text I hear, "I'm too tired to hear your voice," but in a phone call I hear, "I'm tired but it's good to hear your voice."

I think there have been 3 or 4 occasions in 2 years when I've expressed a definite need for communication that wasn't getting met. Hopefully that doesn't qualify as overly needy or fragile, but I suppose everyone has a different level of tolerance. I've stressed to him that I don't care so much whether we are "keeping in touch" (he often sends me more messages than I expect when he is traveling) as whether communication lines are open when there are things we need to talk about.
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Old 06-18-2013, 12:01 AM
AnotherConfused AnotherConfused is offline
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Originally Posted by Nadya View Post
This kind of situation is familiar to me, though as of yet not in my LDR. This is the way me and my husband differ in our communication styles - I want to talk my emotions away, he wants to let them settle first and then talk about the issue behind the emotions. It has been tough for me to learn to cope with my emotions during those times when he needs to be quiet and gather himself. As I learned that he eventually will come back to me when he is ready to communicate, the wait has become tolerable. Not enjoyable, though, but I can do this. In the end he feels respected when I do wait and keep my mouth shut while he is processing things, and the reward is altogether better communication.
You're right; these are both valid ways of processing things. I think I get frustrated when I feel like I don't have all the information I need to be able to process things on my own, because he hasn't talked to me about it yet. Compounded with the fact that when we are almost always at a distance, we can't just enjoy companionable silence in the meantime. I'm hoping my suggestion (in my reply above) for a brief phone hug will work as a compromise.
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