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Polyamory / Relationships

7 Steps To Healthy Polyamory (When You Have Anxiety)

"When my anxiety is triggered, I recognize that I cannot believe every thought in my head."

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Written by Cleopatra Tatabele.

Art by Ayja Washington.

As a relationship anarchist who wants to change the white-supremacist capitalist cis-hetero-patriarchy, I acknowledge that western ideology of individualism and toxic mainstream monogamy often isolates people. It is our individual responsibility to work through our emotions, but we don’t have to do it alone. We heal better together.

My body is on high-alert a lot of the time, signaling feelings of distress, worry, fear, even when the situation doesn’t necessarily call for that response.

I fumbled upon polyamoury while in my teenage years, during my first queer relationships. The conflicts I had in these relationships caused my heart to race, and panic often overwhelmed me. Despite this, I knew I wanted healthy relationships, so I needed to develop skills to balance my anxiety and communication practices.

One of the first lessons I learned was to speak my needs, even if I feel panicked, because if I am not clear and honest with my needs and wants in a relationship, then there’s no way I’ll have the relationship I need or want. Later in life, when I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety, I finally had a framework to identify the pattern through which my disability could be impacting my ability to communicate my needs. I recognized that advocating for myself might always feel difficult, even in safe relationships with good people.  My body is on high-alert a lot of the time, signaling feelings of distress, worry, fear, even when the situation doesn’t necessarily call for that response.

I find that when it’s time to talk to my partner(s) about something I need, it’s important that I check in with what I feel in my body. Am I sleep deprived? Have I taken alone time or time with a friend to reflect on what I’d like to advocate for? Taking time to rest, drink water, and eat before entering any situation that could feel particularly difficult, has been the most effective way I’ve found to take proactive measures. When I take care of my body, the mind’s wellness follows.

Collaborating with your partner(s) to become co-conspirators in love is key.

It can help to check that your partner(s) take care of their bodily needs before big conversations, too! Collaborating with your partner(s) to become co-conspirators in love is key.  Reflect on what you’re already doing that helps you feel secure and how your partner(s) can amplify that sense of security. Could we ask our friends/community for support? Can we do some of our reassurance work with a therapist?  Taking initiative by asking friends or (chosen) family for support, choosing therapy, and/or other healing modalities can aid in healing trauma and soothing anxiety.

When it’s time to talk to your partner(s) about something you need, what do you feel in your brain? Are you scared? Worried? Why? When my anxiety is triggered, I recognize that I cannot believe every thought in my head.  Just because I think a thought doesn't make it unequivocally true. I use self-talk to calm my fears so I can avoid negative assumptions. I start by reminding myself, “I may feel worried that my partner will react badly, but that doesn’t mean I can predict my partner’s feelings.”  

I allow my partner(s) to feel included in supporting me instead of feeling attacked by a surprise serious talk..

Sometimes all I have to do to feel less anxious about a potentially difficult conversation is to ask for their availability.  I directly ask for consent to have a deeper conversation before jumping right in.  Just by saying something like “I’m having a really hard time processing X, do you think you’d have time to talk with me sometime soon about it? I really would love your support,” I allow my partner(s) to feel included in supporting me instead of feeling attacked by a surprise serious talk.  

One of the worst things you can do when practicing self-advocacy is telling your partner “I feel hurt – so you’re not allowed to (*insert action to prevent you from feeling hurt ever again*)!” The fact is, hurt is inevitable. Controlling what my partner can and can’t do isn’t going to make me feel more in control. In order to state your wants or needs, they should be framed as boundaries and not rules. Rules are telling your partner(s) what to do “or else” there will be consequences (such as losing the relationship). Not all rules are unreasonable, but generally everyone who is impacted by a rule, should have a say in the rule. As people change over time, rules, and relationship(s) can change too. My boundaries are about my body, time, and space. Boundaries are about bringing agency over your mental and physical health. You are the only one who has a say over your boundaries.

Example:


Rule: You cannot have unprotected sex with anyone but me.

Boundary: I will not have unprotected sex with someone who is having unprotected sex with others.

In sharing my boundaries, I focus less on controlling exactly
how my partner(s) meet my needs and instead, I try to open up space to allow them to step up as I step back. We brainstorm together. “I need to feel supported and reassured to feel safe in a relationship” is a boundary, and you and your partner(s) have endless ways of providing that for each other. Be real and vulnerable with each other.  

Happy polyamorous love building!


About the Author

Cleopatra Tatabele (They/She pronouns) is a two spirit Black and Indigenous educator. They are a polyamorous kinky top and healer. They have persisted in their study of desire and communication in an effort to develop their keen awareness of the future they want to build with multiple co-conspirators in love. They currently live in Brooklyn with their puppy, and loving proofreader and nesting partner.

Follow on IG: @AfroBrujx | Follow on Twitter: @


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