My vanilla friend (non-swinger) Jan (not her real name) called me not too long ago. She was upset about an incident that happened the previous evening. She and her spouse were attending a get together with a large group of friends. A guest in the group (a single woman) and Jan’s husband hit it off. They began talking across the table, getting caught up in the energy generated by their mutual attention. This made my friend increasingly upset, upset to the point that by the end of the evening, she and her partner were in a full blown fight. “Who does he think he is? Oh, he thinks he’s all cute, getting attention from this other woman!”
Okay, aside from the fact that I was completely honored to be a point of contact for my non-swinger friend, I knew part of why she called me was because she knew I would be loving in my response, while also giving her my honest opinion. Being in a swinger/open/poly style relationship affords me an interesting view on relationships, one somewhat detached from the expected societal knee-jerk reaction. This same honor can also be a challenge, as I’m all about self-reflection. What am I doing? Is my reply to a situation learned or is this how I really feel? Is there truth in my fear? These are the tough questions I want my friend to consider. Regardless of who’s at “fault,” it’s important to know when we’re responding and when we’re reacting.
Yes, Jan’s husband had been flirting with this other woman. Yes, he got all caught up in the attention, but I picked up on a few interesting things as my friend was recounting the evening. Instead of saying, “No wonder that woman wanted to be around my husband, he IS hot!,” my friend tore her husband down. Everything became about self.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I get it! I’ve also been guilty of reacting in ways that magnify my insecurities. Besides, this is how fear/jealousy works—it puts us on the defense, and we’re instinctively in attack mode. My point, however, is that when we bring our insecurities into battle as a weapon, we end up hurting ourselves along with our partner in the process.
Most of us have been groomed to immediately side with my friend in this story. “How dare the man talk to anyone else, let alone flirt!” The marriage will be viewed as being in dire straights; it’s only a matter of time before the other shoe falls. But what would’ve happened if instead of Jan immediately viewing herself from a place of fear, she had sauntered up to her husband, put her arm around him and joined in on the conversation. What if she confirmed his good looks, his “cuteness,” all those positive affirmations we like to hear from time to time, right in front of this woman. Not in a haughty or “this is MY man,” kind of mentality, but more of an, “I can see why you appreciate this man, I appreciate him also. How lucky we both are to benefit from his personality!”
You see, even though my friend came face to face with her perceived fear…the fear of losing her husband, it caused her to do the one thing she was afraid was going to happen—she pushed him away! But her response was a result of how we’ve been TAUGHT to behave. It’s actually a counterbalance to what we want to happen. The learned behavior of tearing down our partner doesn’t make us feel any closer to them, it only magnifies our fear, which more often than not turns into panic. Not only are we now steeped in emotional fear, but our own body begins to respond. The adrenaline starts surging through our veins, our breathing quickens, we begin to feel hot as fear pushes anger to the surface and POW! before you know it we’re off to the races. The gates are open and we’re running full speed ahead. All we can think of is being first to the finish line. At this point we’ve lost our focus. Our fear has surfaced and we search out the culprit of our anxiety… our partner. It MUST be their fault. I mean, after all it has to be someone’s fault.
When our fears overtake us, it doesn’t matter whether our partner apologizes for hurting us, or comes home from the party with us or tells us how much s/he love us, because all we see is what we fear. We’re taught to look for the slip ups and failures in our partner. Marriage is supposed to be this titanium strong union, yet it seems that around every turn, the probability for losing the marriage is waiting, lurking, inevitable.
Do I think the husband is without responsibility in this scenario? Absolutely not. He showed little regard for my friend in his actions. Do I believe his intent was to hurt my friend. Again, absolutely not. Does this free him from the consequences? Well, first I think it’s vital to know what the consequences entail.
Because my friend and her husband don’t practice an open relationship, his behavior was outside the boundaries of what defined their relationship. But like with any relationship, communication should always be the go to, especially in these instances. When I say communication, I’m not talking about setting our partner straight through anger, I’m talking about being vulnerable and having a loving, yes loving, conversation. To say, “I love you, but when you talked to that woman and made googly eyes at her, I felt insecure. My fears/ego tried to tell me you might actually like her better.” Most of us would look at this response and say, “There’s no way in hell I would give my partner the satisfaction of knowing I’m in fear of losing them, besides they would use it against me.” Really? Would they really? Think about the times you’ve come across someone who tells you their fears.
Some of the most viewed TED talks you’ll see involve this very subject: Someone is standing on stage revealing a fear, the audience entranced and in most cases moved to tears by the courage it took to expose their vulnerabilities. We don’t see these people as weak, but as heroes. This is no different with our spouse. Try it. The next time you and your partner are in the midst of a conflict, tell them your fear. Give them the opportunity to show you their empathy and affirm the love they have for you. Give yourself the opportunity to be honest.
My friend and her partner truly love each other, they just needed a reminder to shift the focus away from fear towards gratitude, besides, it was okay if others thought her husband was great… he is great!