Hopeless mismatch of needs? Or?? Need advice please.

jenlou

New member
Hi everyone,

A lot has happened in the past couple of weeks, and my mind/heart is spinning trying to digest it all. It’s been a fruitful, painful, exciting, sad time. This post is very long; I’m a bit self-conscious about that. For those of you who do choose to read the whole think, thank you. I do have some questions at the end, but a lot of this I’m sharing in the hopes that it might help someone else…

I had mentioned Steve and I were going away; we ended up doing an improvised DIY couples retreat. I printed out a bunch of stuff I found on the web on communication, and other relationship issues. It went well; hard as hell, and I wish I’d initiated this months ago—but at least we did it. It was loving, honest, we were both very present and committed to the process despite how hard it was. I learned a lot, about myself and him and us. Some of it surprising, some of it humbling. We had a big breakthrough about his frustration blow-ups/stonewalling behavior when he’s feeling overwhelmed (wow, time-outs REALLY work—who knew J) It was a sweet, deeply connected, heartbreaking experience. I have a lot of clarity (as does he) about where we are.

I’ll divide this post up into parts, as it’s so long.
My part in it:
First off, one of the humbling realizations: I saw my part in the date cancellation incident. Now, this happened against a background of many cancelled dates (due to scheduling mishaps on his part, his overcommitted life, and other stuff). And months-running discontent on my part with not feeling taken into account enough by him. So in a sense, I was primed for another cancellation when he first mentioned he was having discomfort around that date and wanting to change things. I went to a place of immediate anxiety and mistrust. Also, fear of abandonment and loss is a pretty big issue of mine, and while I try to not let that run the show, it does influence it.

We scheduled this talk about the date; the intention was to state needs and then compromise so we both got some of what we needed. I felt pretty hopeful going into that conversation, but also nervous & not fully trusting. He went first, and he described feelings of wanting to be a free agent at the concert, and to flirt freely, and to not feel attached to anyone in particular, and anxiety about hurting people’s feelings by accidentally doing the “wrong thing” (his wife was going to be at the concert too). He said he wanted to be free to play with the out-of-town guest.

He and I have had miscommunications in the past where he’s used the words “want” and “need” interchangeably; where he was just expressing a feeling, and I heard him stating a decision. Sometimes I get confused about this differentiation too. I’m trying to learn more. So, neither of us is super skilled with that (although he is much newer to the concepts than I).

So when I heard him stating these wants and needs, I did this thing I do, that I kind of knew I did, but am now much more conscious of. It goes like this: 1) I sense a loss, a betrayal, an abandonment. I get scared and assume the worst. I don’t want to be in the discomfort of not fully knowing the story. Not knowing exactly what’s going on when I sense a threat can be extremely difficult for me to tolerate (perhaps those with alcoholic parents can relate). I want it all just to be over and know the dreadful truth. Then I can protect myself (by withdrawing, usually).

So, 2) I “push” things a bit (again this is a largely unconscious behavior on my part—until now). I push the person into articulating precisely what it is they’re saying, telling me what they’re going to do. If they don’t articulate it, I will, and ask them if that’s what they’re saying. If the other person is pretty verbal and self aware, this isn’t a problem because they’ll just come back at me with “No, that’s not what I’m saying. Slow down and listen.”

But if the other person is not so skilled in the language of feelings, and has a harder time figuring out what’s going on inside them and what they need, they might just say “yes” because my summary seems close and sounds reasonable. And also maybe because they feel pressured.

This is what I did with Steve. When I heard him say “I want to feel like a free agent, I need to not be tied to any one person, I want to play with this person in the evening”, I immediately went to “He’s canceling on me. That’s what this all means. Put two and two together. The fact that he’s not just coming out and saying it is just him not wanting to deal.” This mental process has a feeling of “rush to the end, get this over with.” Hurt and anger propel it. So I said to him “So what I hear you saying is that you want to cancel your date with me. I mean you’re saying you want to be a free agent, and you want to play with this girl in the evening, so yes that is effectively canceling our date. Please just come out and say it and don’t beat around the bush. Right?” I was upset. And I remember him looking a little…confused?…and saying something like “yeah, I guess” in a not-totally-sure tone. Or at least that was the feeling of it.

As it turns out, that wasn’t what he was saying at all. He was describing his feelings, and truly wanted to negotiate with me around the evening. And it turns out that when we’d each been mentally planning for the conversation, we’d each had the same idea for compromise--which is that we’d keep the portion of the date that was the performance; and for the second half of the date, he’d go off and play. Which both of us felt truly okay with.

He told me at the retreat that he had felt at the time like I was putting words in his mouth, trying to get him to say a certain something that he didn’t want to say because it wasn’t right. But at the time he wasn’t quite sure, and it was a very loaded conversation, and figuring out what he needs is hard for him, so he just went along with me because it all sounded logical, I guess…

I kind of feel like I steamrolled him. Ugh, it’s like I know I have an advantage over him in this area and I kind of used it? I think I used to do that with people when I was young, not so much anymore…I don’t know…none of this was conscious. Anyway, I’m not beating myself up over it, but I’m glad to become more conscious of it.

And of course, there’s that problem that’s dogged us all along: the built-in lack of opportunity to right misperceptions. The fact that we’re not primaries, don’t live together, see each other just once or twice a week if we’re lucky, and he doesn’t like to communicate via email, means it’s difficult to correct misperceptions, follow up on discussions, etc. So misunderstanding can float along uncorrected. And we get really tired of processing when we do see each other. Of course if we were more compatible there would be less processing. But still, I do find this to be an issue particular to poly.
 

jenlou

New member
The Big Picture:
Our misunderstanding about the “cancellation” aside, we agreed on our retreat that we want different and incompatible things. I need some kind of consistency to our contact, and for him to share my desire and be committed to making sure that happens. I want him as a partner (partners is we’ve been trying to do), and my current level of emotional involvement with him is as a partner (which I define as regular contact, commitment to making sure we see each other regularly, being a fairly big part of each other’s lives.)

His needs have changed. He needs to break contact with me whenever he feels the need to do so, and to have that be okay with me. This is because: he finds it difficult to be intensely connected with me, for instance when we go away for a weekend, and also deeply connected to his wife. He doesn’t know how to do it and isn’t sure if he ever can. His relationship and being connected to her is his priority. Other factors in their lives can also make quality time hard to find, and when that happens he needs to focus on their relationship. So he doesn't want to commit to any regular interval. Also, he’s taken on commitments that make him busier now than several months ago, and he needs to be able to tend to them. And he needs more alone time. All of which add up to, he wants to see me less, and for our dates to be fit in all the other stuff.

Neither of us is wrong for wanting what we want. I’m relieved we could articulate it and acknowledge that we can’t give each other what we want. I feel very supported by him to do whatever I need to do right now. He is being steady and letting me know he’s there for me, even as I retreat. We’re both committed to staying in each other’s lives. We share a deep emotional bond, and we want to see if we can change our relationship so our needs are more compatible. We hope to have some kind of romantic/sexual component but know this may not be possible. We’re taking a break from contact. We’re starting couples’ therapy next month.

The Aftermath:
I’m deep in grief around losing my partner, losing a relationship, & losing my dreams of what I’d hoped we could have. I am so sad that he doesn’t want what I want. I’m trying not to feel rejected but it’s hard. I was so excited about our shared commitment to openness to love, keeping our hearts open, not being bound by conventional thinking around what is and isn’t possible in the realm of relationships. I really wanted to try being poly partners with him!!

It’s hit me a lot harder than I’d anticipated, and this also has been an area of revelation. As I anticipated this restructuring of our relationship, I was mostly coming from my head, which makes sense. I was pretty confident that I could “do it”, make that transition from what we have to something more casual, yet still intimate. When we agreed to end what we have, it hit me like a freight train. Way, way harder than I thought. I haven’t even wanted to eat ice cream! Whoa. I’ve been pondering that, and have become conscious of ways in which I devalued our relationship because I wasn’t his primary. I’ll share more on this later.

Now and the Future:
As I think about what I want with him in the future, I’m asking questions about how I experience connection and disconnection. I know there have been many times when people have felt great love for me, and I just couldn’t feel it, couldn’t hold it in my heart. I know this happened with Steve. I’ve had some excellent discussions with old friends/lovers with whom this issue came up a lot. Now I feel like, if people are loving me, I fucking want to feel it!!! And I want to figure out how. It’s all part of my current life quest to feel more connected to everyone and everything, generally.

So I’m asking: what is “security” to me? How do I feel loved? How much of how I experience being loved is changeable? If someone’s not loving me in the way I most easily understand (“quality time” in languages of love), how can I open up to other ways of feeling loved? How much does my inner security impact my ability to feel other peoples’ love for me? How do I hold a feeling of being loved by someone in the absence of contact and communication? How can I mentally reframe my beliefs about what love is? How do I balance all this while being prone to codependent behavior? I’ll share more on this later as well; maybe in a separate post?

I too have dated someone who cannot or will not plan, and found it very frustrating, because I also like consistency and dependability. . . in some ways we are very mismatched. But - I enjoy his company. . . . My life is better with him in it than out. . . *For me, the key to making it work *is simply saying "this is who he is". The behaviors that I find challenging are not specifically targeted at me; they are just how he runs his life. . . And I try to not take cancellations or absences personally in cases when it is not warranted.*. . you asked if it is possible to change expectations, and I think that it is, and that moving to expectation that suit who your partner is, rather than an idealized picture of who s/he should be, is a reasonable adjustment.. . .

Wildflowers, I definitely want to talk to you more about your experience and how you got from wanting what you wanted, to accepting him as he was and being glad for what you could have with him. This is my goal…after I get through my grieving.

Thanks again to all who got this far. I’m pretty excited about all this, and glad and grateful to be sharing it with such an insightful community.
 
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bookbug

New member
It sounds like excellent progress - in spite of the grief. I understand from personal experience. I will share later. Now I need to go to work.

One thought before I leave: it sounds like Steve is monoamorous and polysexual given that he is not able to balance two intense relationships at once.

More later. Hang in there!
 

GalaGirl

Well-known member
I'm sorry about the break up, and your feelings of deep grief. But glad you both are going to go to counseling to see what can be done about a new format together in future.

Sounds like some progress. That's good. I agree with bookbug -- he sounds monoamorous and polysexual to me too. How does he identify?

Stuff you might want to talk to counselor about if you guys decide to give it another go in some other kind of open model:

Mixing up "want" and "need." How to deal with that?


In case it helps articulate. I like to think that most of the time I can handle mine but I'll look up and circle things on the list when I'm feeling too overwhelmed to easily articulate it out of the air. YKWIM? Sometimes it's just easier when tired/overwhelmed to run down something like "yes/no" than pulling the word from the sky.

Being responsible for knowing and stating your wants, needs, and limits.

Both people could do that.

I push the person into articulating precisely what it is they’re saying, telling me what they’re going to do. If they don’t articulate it, I will, and ask them if that’s what they’re saying. If the other person is pretty verbal and self aware, this isn’t a problem because they’ll just come back at me with “No, that’s not what I’m saying. Slow down and listen.”

But if the other person is not so skilled in the language of feelings, and has a harder time figuring out what’s going on inside them and what they need, they might just say “yes” because my summary seems close and sounds reasonable. And also maybe because they feel pressured.

So.. you know now he's not esp skilled in the language of feelings. What do you plan to change in your approach? "Let me repeat back what I just heard so I know I got... was that it? How does that affect me then?" and wait for answer rather than leaping to conclusions?

Now that he knows you like direct communication, what's he going to do from his side to come closer to that? You guys could each try to meet each other in the middle.

Conflict resolution method.

So misunderstanding can float along uncorrected. And we get really tired of processing when we do see each other. Of course if we were more compatible there would be less processing. But still, I do find this to be an issue particular to poly.

Yup. You want to get ON to having the fun date instead of doing relationship management talks all the time. If he's not good at checking in over phone or email to give opportunity to correct misunderstandings and it has to wait til face time, it's not fun for your face times to mainly be problems solving stuff. You guys need to have a conflict resolution method in place. Not having a clear one means each time it draaaags on.


Being more specific.
(which I define as regular contact, commitment to making sure we see each other regularly, being a fairly big part of each other’s lives.)

All of which add up to, he wants to see me less, and for our dates to be fit in all the other stuff.

Not measurable. What is "regular" in this? What is "less" here? Both could work on that skill.

Hang in there as things continue to unfold. :eek:

hugs,
Galagirl
 
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YouAreHere

Active member
So, 2) I “push” things a bit (again this is a largely unconscious behavior on my part—until now). I push the person into articulating precisely what it is they’re saying, telling me what they’re going to do. If they don’t articulate it, I will, and ask them if that’s what they’re saying. If the other person is pretty verbal and self aware, this isn’t a problem because they’ll just come back at me with “No, that’s not what I’m saying. Slow down and listen.” [...]

So I said to him “So what I hear you saying is that you want to cancel your date with me. I mean you’re saying you want to be a free agent, and you want to play with this girl in the evening, so yes that is effectively canceling our date. Please just come out and say it and don’t beat around the bush. Right?” I was upset. And I remember him looking a little…confused?…and saying something like “yeah, I guess” in a not-totally-sure tone. Or at least that was the feeling of it.

From my POV, the act of trying to summarize what one person is saying (to illustrate that you either understand, or don't) is a GOOD thing. They teach you this in management classes and conflict resolution. Always, ALWAYS make sure you're on the same page.

However, I'd stop at summarizing, and before you hit this part:
so yes that is effectively canceling our date. Please just come out and say it and don’t beat around the bush. Right?

This part can definitely come across as aggressive. It's basically saying, "This is what you told me. Right? Right! I'm right, right? Right!"

Restate, then stop and give the other person the opportunity to say yes or no without adding your conclusion. Conclude only when you've established that yes, you're on the same page. Otherwise, they're not going to be able to just say yes/no, but they'll feel the need to correct everything AFTER the yes/no as well, when it's fairly easily avoidable.

Just my $0.02.
 

bookbug

New member
I totally understand your sense of grief. You logically know he is not rejecting you. If anything going to counseling indicates that he values you highly. However, your emotions are interpreting it as rejection.

I went through a similar thing when our triad disintegrated due to an inability to cope on the part of the wife, and the male chose to stay in his marriage for the sake of the children. I knew if I were in his position, I would make the same choice. He wasn't rejecting me; he was trying to be a responsible father. Despite my logic, my emotions insisted on interpreting it as rejection. A year later he and his wife divorced. She told the kids it was my fault, despite the fact that I'd been absent from their lives for a year, and two marriage counselors could not fix their problems. Since then, the Philosopher, has been emotionally unavailable due to the trauma of divorce and devoting all of his energy trying to compensate for tearing his children's lives apart. Again, despite logically understanding, it felt like rejection. I have FINALLY processed the understanding that it is not, emotionally. It is his shortcoming; not mine.

So I think you understand that in Steve's case, he is not rejecting you. Instead he has found that he can not function in the current dynamic. He does not know how to be as intensely involved with you at the same as he is wife. It's not your shortcoming; it is his. Just as I would not expect the Philosopher to prioritize me over his children, I know that you would not want to replace Susan. So yeah, Steve's inability; not rejection.

Allow yourself to experience the grief. Regardless, it is still not what either of you had hoped it would be. But keep listening to your logic. In my experience, emotions lag months behind what your intellectual knows.

Also? There is nothing wrong with you wanting a deep, dependable bond.
 
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jenlou

New member
Thanks to everyone for your support!! It helps so much. Yes, Steve may be monoamorous. He’s wondering. I am his first romantic relationship outside his marriage. Before, it was just non-monogamy/NSA sex. I know we’ll discuss this in therapy.

GalaGirl, I love the need & feelings inventories lists. Yes, we are both growing in the area of stating wants, needs & limits. I’ve been reading some Non-Violent Communication stuff and it’s really helpful.

I’m going to watch for when I feel that anxiety in my chest, when someone is telling me something I find threatening. Then I’m going to slow down and check in with myself. Take a time out if necessary. And when I do active listening, it stops with “Is that it, did I get it right?” I like your question “How does that affect me then?” Open ended. I think the essential thing for me is noticing that anxiety, and stopping or slowing until I can distance from it a bit.

YES to conflict resolution method. I love this. I look forward to getting help in therapy with this. It’s been a hard one for us and we’re stuck.

I think as we begin to explore what we might have in the future, we’ll talk specifics in terms of contact. I agree specificity is necessary. Right now neither of us is sure.

Bookbug, your words re the rejection experience are super helpful. Yes, my brain is my ally here. Printing that shit out. Every time I feel rejected, read it. It helps. And I do want that bond. Recently resurrected my plan to supplement my OKCupid efforts by emailing a paragraph to all my friends summarizing what I’m looking for in a partner, and asking them to keep me in mind. :) The wider the net…

Interesting and lovely thing: since we separated, we’ve texted some, and we met last Saturday to discuss next steps. He has been so attentive, kind, and supportive of me in my grieving process. I feel more secure and loved by him now than I have felt in a while. Ironic. :) I know he can behave this way because he has the space he needs now; he’s not feeling consumed and overwhelmed. It’s so good to be doing this process of letting him and us go, while feeling his loving supportive presence in the wings. And also to feel myself strong in my boundaries at the same time. I feel lucky…
 

nycindie

Active member
And of course, there’s that problem that’s dogged us all along: the built-in lack of opportunity to right misperceptions. The fact that we’re not primaries, don’t live together, see each other just once or twice a week if we’re lucky, and he doesn’t like to communicate via email, means it’s difficult to correct misperceptions, follow up on discussions, etc. So misunderstanding can float along uncorrected.
Gosh, it's funny sometimes to see how differently other people view a situation that would seem perfect to me. Seeing someone more than twice a week on a regular basis would feel oppressive to me, never mind living together or being entwined in a primary-type partnership.

And we get really tired of processing when we do see each other. Of course if we were more compatible there would be less processing. But still, I do find this to be an issue particular to poly.

If you mean doing lots of hard relationship work and processing all the issues that come up in relating to a lover, believe me, polyamory has not cornered that market. It is just as prevalent in monogamy - just think of all the relationship-focused self-help books out there, which have been published for decades, trying to get people to analyze their relationships and make them work - the majority of those books are about monogamous relationships.

I need some kind of consistency to our contact, and for him to share my desire and be committed to making sure that happens. I want him as a partner . . .

His needs have changed. He needs to break contact with me whenever he feels the need to do so, and to have that be okay with me . . . Also, he’s taken on commitments that make him busier now . . . All of which add up to, he wants to see me less, and for our dates to be fit in all the other stuff.
Clearly, you are at odds and want different things.

We share a deep emotional bond, and we want to see if we can change our relationship so our needs are more compatible. We hope to have some kind of romantic/sexual component but know this may not be possible. We’re taking a break from contact. We’re starting couples’ therapy next month.
Really? Couples therapy? Why? The way I see it, you have both gotten very clear about your hopes for a relationship and can see how neither of you will be able to meet the other's expectations. To me, therapy would be a way to fix or heal something that is broken or wounded, or to gain clarity - but you guys are very clear. It seems that you were both brave enough to illuminate for the other what was going on for each of you. What needs fixing? Why therapy if you have already chosen to step back from deepening your involvement?

I’m deep in grief around . . . losing my dreams of what I’d hoped we could have. I am so sad that he doesn’t want what I want.
Holding on to unrealistic expectations, I have learned, is the biggest impediment to happiness. If there is anything I do strive for in my life, it is to be present in the NOW and alive in each moment - instead of lost in my dreams - so I can see clearly what is in front of me in order to know where to invest my energies. When we are not aware and fully present, we are like machines that switch onto automatic pilot, propelling us forward into a mythic hopefulness that is simply hanging on old fantasies about what we should want, or believe we want. The key is to wake ourselves up and ask questions.
 

jenlou

New member
Thanks for the thoughts, NYCindie. I love how this forum makes me dig deep and articulate!

Gosh, it's funny sometimes to see how differently other people view a situation that would seem perfect to me.

I know what you mean. Hearing your perspective is helpful in reminding me that people's needs and desires can be so different... This ending has been a good impetus for me to get clarity on just what it is I want and need in my next relationship(s).

If you mean doing lots of hard relationship work and processing all the issues that come up in relating to a lover, believe me, polyamory has not cornered that market.

For sure! What I meant was, in comparison to the primary relationships I've had--I realize everyone does it differently. Steve and I had a deep emotional connection and also conflict around needs, but we saw each other far less than "primaries" who live together. We didn't have that thing where we argue, and then the next morning we can reconnect and clear up any miscommunication. I might not see him for a week, so the miscommunication just sat. This didn't work well for me. I think Galagirl hit it on the head re needing some conflict resolution method--we never really figured that one out. Yes, I would have the same problem in a mono relationship if we only saw each other once a week and he didn’t like to email/phone; but if I were mono this is not the type of relationship I’d be in. I like more contact than that. As a non-primary partner, I’m okay with less contact, but I have to figure out a better method of resolving conflict given the time constraints.

Clearly, you are at odds and want different things. . . Really? Couples therapy? Why? The way I see it, you have both gotten very clear about your hopes for a relationship and can see how neither of you will be able to meet the other's expectations. To me, therapy would be a way to fix or heal something that is broken or wounded, or to gain clarity - but you guys are very clear. It seems that you were both brave enough to illuminate for the other what was going on for each of you. What needs fixing? Why therapy if you have already chosen to step back from deepening your involvement? . . . Holding on to unrealistic expectations, I have learned, is the biggest impediment to happiness.

This is what I find to be the very exciting part of all this! Before I ventured into poly and started questioning everything I knew about love, I would have just said "OK, it's over; we can't give each other what we need. End of story." But now, that conclusion seems strange to me, in this relationship anyway. I feel in my gut there are other options, ones that involve stretching, and hard work, but also more love. Just because I couldn't have what I wanted from him the way I wanted it, why should I throw the whole thing away? There’s still shit tons of love, admiration, shared interests, and a great sexual connection.

Steve and I share this perspective, and we’re using therapy to try to find out what shape our new connection could take. We want to explore where we can meet; how we can be less central in each others lives yet still have an ongoing deep loving connection, hopefully with a romantic/sexual component. This is going to involve some compromise, some learning of each others ways of feeling loved in the absence of regular contact, who knows what else. We’re committed to giving it a shot. We know it may not work, but we’re hopeful.

I'm quite clear on what I can't have with him; no holding on there. I'm actively grieving and letting go of all of it. When I’m ready I’ll pursue other relationships that give me the more dependable, regular contact I seek. I have no expectations about what Steve and I can have together. But as I was saying before, I'm asking myself hard questions about how I can open up to other ways of being loved. How can I let go of how I wanted him to love me, and open up to how he CAN love me? Because it's there in abundance and he wants to give it to me. But to do that, I have to do some serious self examination around how I experience feeling loved and connected (or not), and see if I can "re-train" my brain and heart in some ways. Yes I am who I am, but I know my past experiences and coping mechanisms shape and limit how I experience being loved.

I have no idea if I can do this. Often I can’t even imagine how I could be open to a deep romantic/sexual type connection with him, without having regular contact, being a priority, etc; I can't imagine how I'll stay emotionally connected enough. But I want to try, to learn. It's not just for my relationship with Steve; it's for all my relationships, present and future (and not just lovers either; this is about experiencing more connection in general—a big goal for me).

The key is to wake ourselves up and ask questions.

Amen to that.
 

WhatHappened

New member
You feel expendable because he treated you as expendable.

You're hurt because it hurts to be treated as expendable.

Don't treat someone else as your priority when he treats you as an option.
 

wildflowers

New member
The Big Picture:
Wildflowers, I definitely want to talk to you more about your experience and how you got from wanting what you wanted, to accepting him as he was and being glad for what you could have with him. This is my goal…after I get through my grieving.

Happy to help if I can.
 
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