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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

I need my space!


Adding a new partner to the mix can require some changes to existing relationships. A lot of the time people focus on only part of the emotional aspects. How to avoid jealousy, how to abide by rules between relationships, or even on the fear of losing one of their relationships. What they don't focus on a lot of the time are the details.

When you add a new partner your energy levels are probably fairly high. Known as NRE (New Relationship Energy) you are probably devoting a lot of time to your new partner. You are probably putting forth extra effort to ensure needs are exceeded for the new partner and, hopefully, at least met for your existing partner. Though it may be hard to see at the moment do you really think you can maintain that energy level? Probably not. When things calm down with the new partner you will likely settle into a calm routine much like you had with your existing partner before the new partner came along. Will your new partner be okay with the decreased energy level?

Rather than finding out later, why not find out at the beginning? Instead of focusing on the big emotional changes that are probably coming with the addition of a new partner, focus on some of the details.

Adjusting time is a big one. NRE often results in a focus on the new partner, giving them time preference over the existing partner. Now, nobody is saying there doesn't have to be an adjustment. Obviously if you have been spending all your free time with your existing partner and add someone new your available time will change. But giving a new partner a greater proportion of your free time is probably unfair. Your existing partner may feel neglected and become upset, not a big surprise. But even worse, are you setting yourself up for failure? By focusing a large portion of your time on the new partner you could be setting an expectation for that person that you won't be able to maintain in the future. Setting realistic expectations and dividing time somewhat equally, or as needed realistically, may prevent problems down the road.

Scheduling is another problem that seems to pop up. This is different than a time problem. Think of it more like this; You have a standing date with your existing partner every Tuesday night but that is the only night your new partner has free. Obviously cancelling date night to be with your new partner will probably cause problems. What about adjusting date night to a different night? Maybe your existing partner is willing to compromise and would like something of equal quality like a date day or bubble bath instead? And again, if you quickly adjust to spending Tuesday night with your new partner are you setting yourself up for failure? What happens when both of your partners only have Tuesday night free? Will you alternate weeks? Will either partner be happy with that scenario?

Another difficulty a lot of poly folks face is space. It is easy to say you are open to loving more than one person, that you want your partner to have that same experience and freedom, and that you will both go on dates. That sounds great until one of the relationships progresses to the point of physical intimacy. But where exactly do you plan to take the big step? Your partners place? Sorry, they have another partner who is home with the kids. Your place? Nope, your partner is there working on that big presentation for work. Hotels get expensive fast and really aren't very romantic. Back seat of the car? Ok, the last one was a joke but I think you get the idea. Let's say you can get the house to yourself and decide to have your new partner over for some fun. Problem solved! Wrong. Your existing partner may have issues with someone else being in their bed, or even just space issues in general. Again, doing some planning ahead of time can avoid some serious problems. Talk to your existing partner and understand their concerns about private space. Do they feel certain rooms should be off-limits initially? Setting up a spare bedroom may be a possible solution. Or if they don't have space issues the solution could be as simple as promising to always change the sheets, either before or after your new partner visits.

Communication is another hurdle I've heard couples trying to overcome. Specifically the "Goodnight, I love you, sweet dreams baby" that most couples share. How will that work when you spend your first overnight with your new partner? Is it okay for your existing partner to call and interrupt the evening? Will your new partner throw a fit when your phone rings? While I don't suggest doing away with the goodnight phone call I would minimize it. Talk to your existing partner and let them know it is okay to call, that you want them to call. Or even that you will call them if they prefer. But also communicate that you would like the call to be brief and strictly a goodnight call. No discussing the kids, budget, how your date is going, or anything like that. Also let your new partner know that you have an agreement with your existing partner for a goodnight phone call. And let both partners know that whomever you are with on a specific night the other partner will be entitled to a goodnight call.

I like to boil those things down into what I call 'space issues'. That can be physical space, literal space, or emotional space. The point is that regardless of the type of space (or whatever name you want to use for the concept) people often have a few things that are deeply important to them. They may not be logical but are probably very necessary. A bit of planning ahead and respecting the space issues of everyone involved can go a long way toward making the addition of new partners smooth for everyone.

How do you respect your existing partners space concerns when you start a new relationship?

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