Guest Columnist Auntie Vice Returns to Advise Partners of Non-Monogamous People Living with Anxiety
Hello Fellow Relationship Revolutionaries!
Andre here. I sure do appreciate your patience these past two months as the column went on temporary hiatus. To celebrate the return of regularly scheduled content — and as a “thank you” for your neverending patience with me — I have a very special treat for you! One of my favorite guest columnists, Auntie Vice, has written a wonderful “pocket guide” for neurotypical non-monogamous folks who find themselves in partnerships with people living with clinical anxiety. She also submitted an accompanying piece addressing how folks living with clinical anxiety can have loving, healthy, successful polyamorous partnerships; I’ll be sharing THAT guide next Wednesday, October 2nd! As someone living with clinical anxiety who also dates partners suffering from the same, I found these guides invaluable. So buckle up and enjoy, and don’t forget to tune in next week for Part II!
About one in five people in the United States live with clinical anxiety. Chances are, if you practice polyamory you will fall in love with one of us. We can be great partners, but we need a little special consideration.
Full disclosure, I live with clinical anxiety. It was undiagnosed during my first marriage and contributed to the end of that relationship. Since then, I have worked diligently to understand anxiety and how it works in relationships.
What is clinical anxiety? Everyone experiences anxiety at some time. Most people have stage fright and experience anxiety before they get on stage to speak. We can experience it over impending tests, paying bills, and our kids. This anxiety is short term, specific, and generally not debilitating.
Clinical anxiety differs in that it is much more constant, can not always be traced to a clear source, and can be debilitating. It is not always controllable with logic, by talking it through, or even medication. The thoughts can be overwhelming and interfere with logical thought and relationships. For some people, the anxiety can prevent going to social events or wanting to engage with others.
Loving People with Anxiety People living with anxiety are just like the rest of us! Some of us are great, some are horror shows, and most of us are somewhere in-between. We are very lovable. However, we need certain considerations and changes in behavior to make polyam relationships work.
We need more reassurance than most folks. Anxiety causes compliments and positive reinforcement to fade faster with us than people who do not live with anxiety. People (including me) who live with anxiety need more frequent and vigorous compliments and reinforcement than most folks.
Our anxious brains erase positive statements quickly. Our inner anxious voice tells us we are awful, undeserving people who are unlovable. That inner anxious voice looks for anything we do wrong and then we focus on that idea and drive ourselves into a dark, depressing hole.
The seemingly constant need for positive reinforcement can be maddening for our partners. If you love someone anxious, try thinking about compliments and positive statements as alka seltzer tabs. You drop them in us, we absorb it and take in the good, but it disappears rather quickly. It is not that we don’t hear you or we don’t believe you. Our brains are just finding ways to destroy the good despite all of our self-care, medicating and yoga.
Behavior is Really Important. The anxious brain is always scanning our environment and looking for behaviors which reveal what is unsaid. This means if you cancel plans multiple weeks in a row with an anxious partner for unclear reasons our brains can quickly jump to the worst assumptions. This means you need to be clear about your reasons for behaviors like cancelling. We all get sick, have family issues to attend to, need down time or other legitimate reasons we can’t make a date. Be clear with your anxious partner about why you have to cancel.
Don’t lie. For the anxious person, catching someone in a lie (even a small one) breaks any trust which is there and can really harm a relationship. It can be hard to be honest about why you do something, but it is important not to lie or be ambiguous with an anxious person. Even when we are really trying not to, our brain assumes the worst.
Avoid Ambiguous Texts and Statements. The anxious brain is constantly looking out for danger and possible harm. Folks living with anxiety can turn a mole hill into a mountain in about three thoughts. This means ambiguous statements are torture for us.
Texting an anxious partner, “Hey! Can we get together Tuesday to talk?” on a Friday creates a living hell for the anxious partner. We will grab the ambiguous “we need to talk” and by Tuesday you have broken us with us, told us we are trash, bad-mouthed us to all our personal acquaintances and we will see a loveless future by Sunday morning. Changing it to “Hey! Can we get together to talk on Tuesday about our metamour’s birthday plans?” is clear and we can just add that date to the calendar.
Managing anxiety with multiple partners is like just about everything in polyam relationships: it requires intense communication. The more those of us living with anxiety can communicate about our needs and experiences, the more our partners have tools to help us.
The more our partners can understand what our needs are and how they differ when our anxiety is high, the better the relationship. It will take time to figure out a balance between the needs of the anxious partner and the others in the polyam group. However, it’s totally worth it!
Auntie Vice is a writer and podcaster. Her BDSM blog, LoveLettersToAUnicorn.com, focuses on the world of kink through the eyes of a lifelong submissive. Her podcast, Fat Chicks On Top, is a body-positive podcast focusing on groups excluded from the lager movement including, LBGTQ, nonbinary, sex workers, super fats, and disabled folks. @AuntieVice (Twitter, IG, Tumblr, Reddit), @FatGirlsOnTop (Twitter), @FatChicksOnTop (IG, Tumblr)