Doing a pretty straightforward Q&A session this week, with questions about polyamory, how to deal with family issues due to having bipolar disorder, and advice on living with a disability. Thanks for checking out Hardcore Self Help! You can find transcripts of the episode below.
Here are this week’s questions:
- My husband and I want to explore polyamory, but how can I get over my anxiety about him liking someone else more than me?
- How can I get my family to stop abandoning me due to my bipolar?
- What can I do now that my disability prevents me from doing the things that I used to love?
So my husband and I are exploring polyamory. He’s straight and I’m bisexual. The hard thing for me in this (dating mostly) is that every time I think of my husband potentially liking anyone we date is that he will like them or want to be with them more than me, and it causes some serious anxiety with me. He has reassured me that this isn’t and won’t ever be the case (he says “I put a ring on your finger for a reason”) – but I can’t get past this absurd anxiety issue. I have a past of childhood sexual abuse and childhood emotional trauma, and I can’t help but think this is something to do with that. How do I get past this, as I really want to explore this part of our relationship – how can I let go of that anxiety and work through this?
First off, I am not an expert in polyamory. I think it’s a totally valid approach to sexuality and I’m very interested in it, but I don’t actively participate in a polyamorous relationship, so my information is second hand. Before I answer the question, if you haven’t already, go check out the Sexplanations YouTube channel with Dr. Lindsey Doe – she has some really great videos about sex, sexuality, and relationships.
Now, to get to your question. The very first sentence in your question is really important: “my husband and I are exploring polyamory.” The keyword there is exploring. When you are exploring something, it is common for one partner to be more “signed on” or into it than the other. I’ll take your word for it that this is something that you want to explore with your relationship and that you’re not just feeling pressured into it. Either feeling is totally valid.
One of the MOST important things in a poyamorous relationship is communication. Neither partner should put the exploration above the other partner. It’s something that you are looking into together. Therefore you need to take it slow if that’s necessary. Check in. And talk about your feelings. This isn’t the type of scenario where you have one talk about jealousy and it’s done and everything is good and you can go fuck whoever you want. It’s a conversation that you are likely going to have multiple times. You may also need to process feelings of jealousy, confusion, resentment along with the exciting things of being turned on, feeling romantic love, etc.
Even though it’s not a monogamous relationship, there are still boundaries within a polyamorous relationship, and that is something that you should talk through together, if not write out. For one – polyamorous does not just mean one thing. It’s important to agree on a definition and what it means for the two of you. Are you dating other people together? ONLY together? Are you allowed to date separately? What about sex? Is this ONLY related to sex or are you looking for a mutual romantic partner? If it’s a romantic partner, is this a unicorn situation where you two will always be the primary relationship and this person is added into the equation in a secondary roll or are you looking to form a true triad and be equal among partners? I would encourage you to not get too bogged down in the terminology and just hash out exactly what both of you want.
It’s okay if what you guys want is not exactly the same. That’s the point of talking it out. You come to a middle ground and to a starting place that you are both comfortable with and continuously communicate and check in from there.
Your anxiety issue is not absurd as you put it. Your history of childhood sexual abuse and emotional trauma is not stupid. It’s certainly a factor here. It can make you more distrusting and paranoid because those are aspects of yourself that kept you safe and alive before. It need to be taken into account with all of the other variables in the equation.
I don’t think that it’s a rule out, though. In some cases a loving, trusting relationship that does not fit into the normal monogamy box can be a great avenue for building trust and communication and even having a corrective emotional experience that allows you to move past some of this trauma. So again, the main points here are:
- Communicate. Overcommunicate.
- Establish definitions, rules, and boundaries.
- Take it slow and feel it out as you go.
I’ve been suffering from bipolar disorder for the last ten years and for the last five years I’ve had a very rocky relationship with all of my family members..they cut me out last year and then started contacting me in April (10 months of no contact) when I got out of impatient hospitalization..now once again they decided to “wash their hands of me” including my own sibling because I’m too “negative” I’ve been in and out of mania episodes because of med changes so it’s difficult for me to keep my moods in check plus I’ve been suicidal so it’s been extra difficult and every time they do this it’s like throwing salt back into the wound..all I want is a good stable support system and for my family to be there..I feel that I need to come to grips that might not ever happen
So how do stop them from doing this to me? How do you know when it’s time to completely cut ties?
This is a tough question. It’s the nature of the beast that with bipolar, you will be more intense when you’re manic. You’ll have altered judgment and impulsivity. That can obviously interfere with daily life and put you at odds with family members due to what happens. However, that’s going to be a constant in your life. You will continue to find the best ways to cope with it and continue trying to pursue the best balance of medications to help you not fluctuate as hard.
That’s something that your family is going to have to understand. If they don’t already understand how bipolar works and how it is uniquely expressed for YOU. That is a good place to start. If you have a therapist that you are working with, you might ask them for the best way that you can help your family understand, whether that it outside resources that they can point you to or having a family session where you all talk about it together.
Ideally that understanding would help you family take your behavior in context and have some ways of knowing how to help you out better or redirect you as the situation calls for. If they can’t understand and if they are not willing to support you unconditionally, that does not necessarily mean that you need to write them off and not have any contact with them, but you may need to change your expectations for the relationship.
In other words, you may want to adjust the way that you think of your family. You know that you can’t rely on them for certain things, so your relationship may need to be mainly focused on other aspects. Much like the previous question, communication and setting boundaries and expectations can be really helpful here.
Bipolar is naturally a tough thing to deal with for the person that is living with the disorder and for other people in their lives. It’s unpredictable and sneaky and that’s just how it is. BUT if you can establish some guidelines such as: what it looks like when you are manic, and what your family IS and IS NOT allowed to do to intervene, that can really help. Same goes for the depressive periods. You could even go as far as writing these down so that you both have something to refer to in the moment.
If you have trusted friends of advisers, you may also want to check in with them about how you are being treated by your family. There is a big difference between you being manic, maxing out a family members credit card, killing a pet from neglect, and winding up in an entirely different state that requires your family to rescue you and simply having a toxic family that is intolerant of your struggles. Your friends and advisers can give you a more objective opinion about your family’s behavior. If most people seem to think that they are just toxic and are causing you undue distress without truly loving or supporting you, it may be necessary to move them even further back in your priorities or cutting them out altogether.
Either way, the MOST important part, especially with your history of suicidality is to have a well established care team. Are you working with both a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a good primary care doc that are all aware of the situation? If not -that should be a priority.
Family is close to the situation and there are complicated feelings tied up in their treatment of you. Your care professionals are looking at things from the outside and actually have knowledge about what you’re going through, which will allow them to make better suggestions.
So what ever you do – your feelings are valid. I think that it is worth it to check in with some more objective parties before making any final decisions since we know that mania can cause impulsive decision making, but since you have written into this show before taking any actions, that may be an indicator that you are approaching this in the right way and really trying to gather some information first. So I good job and I hope that you can find a good “team”.
Hi Robert, I’ve just finished reading F*ck Depression and I was very impressed. I especially like your use of the vernacular (I’m an ex-soldier). One thing I did pick up on though was the idea of doing what you like to do in order to motivate yourself to do all the crappy stuff that you avoid when depressed. I found this to be ironic and I’ll explain why. I’m a dentist by trade and have been unable to work since a car crash caused nerve damage in my dominant hand. My hobbies are (were) sailing, karate, weight training and DIY all of which require a level of strength and fine motor control that I no longer have. See what I mean about the irony? I feel that my current problems are largely caused by my inability to do the things I used to do and the possible therapeutic effects of doing these things is lost to me. I’d be interested to hear your comments on this situation
My comments on the situation – that sucks. Blows majorly. I think one thing that is often neglected in situations like this is that you likely need to go through a grieving process for something like this.
You lost the version of the life that you thought you’d be able to have. This is a different life. That takes time to accept.
However, just because it’s a different life doesn’t mean that it has to be a bad one. I would challenge you on your statement that you can no longer do all of these things that you used to do. There are people that climb mountains with no legs, there are paralyzed solo sailors, and there are blind martial arts champions. You will likely never to be able to do the things that you used to do in the same way that you did, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do them.
Like I said, it may take some time to come to terms with your “new normal” – therapy can help with that. And there may be some pride to swallow for you in terms of needing to adapt your approach to your prior hobbies. But you also have to realize that there is something bad-ass about the achievement that comes from working WITH your disability and getting back to these things that you used to love. It’s like looking at the universe and going “nice try, asshole”.
SO give yourself a little more credit and don’t take the possibility of returning to your old hobbies off the table. Also, this may provide a great incentive to look into new things. Activities that you see other people doing or considered taking part in before but never got around to. You have the opportunity to create your own meaning for this phase of your life.
You still have a good head on your shoulders and you are still the same person. You are just a modified version of that person and you need to learn how to exist in the context of those changes. I think the internet could really help you out here. Look for inspiration in other disabled people who are able to pursue their passions. Look for ideas and brainstorm adaptations in facebook groups, on reddit, or in forums. Find a community of people that are like you that are making it work. You aren’t alone in this.
Thanks for listening!
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