Why Boundaries Matter

For years I couldn’t feel anger. I was so used to stuffing it down inside myself, that I only ever took my anger out on myself. At the partial hospitalization program I’ve been attending, they talk about how anger is a secondary emotion, how it is usually the result of some other emotion. And that makes sense to me, because I think for me anger is usually secondary to hurt. For years I couldn’t feel anger, I just felt the hurt and at times betrayal. Then I went through a lot of trauma specific therapy and all the anger that I’d suppressed for years came flooding out. It took a lot more therapy, but I eventually got to the point where I can feel anger without being afraid of losing control. I began to be able to experience big emotions or fluctuations in emotions without them taking control of me. And then this past autumn happened.

I knew my partner was polyamorous when I met her. I was aware of this but kind of filed it away because we were living in a really rural town for years where dating prospects were pretty slim. Then we moved back to the Boston area, but my mental health was such that she didn’t seek out other romantic partners. But over the summer and early fall, it became clear that she was interested in potentially dating other people outside of our marriage. I had a lot of fears about going forward with her dating, mostly the usual things like “What if she decides she likes this new person better than me? What if she leaves me?” that came up many times in therapy as I processed this. And over time I began to believe that she meant it when she said she wasn’t going anywhere. But then she told me who she wanted to try dating and I just had a bad feeling about it not just because of the worries I mentioned above, but also because the person she was talking about, I’ll call her C, had given me a bad feeling when we met.

I love my partner and I wanted her to be happy, so I said okay, even through these bad first impressions and neither of us could really tell if I was uncomfortable with Miss Insecurity because she generally sent off warning signs in my head or if I was just going to be uncomfortable with anyone my partner was dating. So I said okay and their relationship began. And it was awful. For six weeks, C managed to not just manipulate my partner but also acted in ways that were borderline abusive towards me. She continually started conversations with me online and then ghosted on them after I responded, sometimes not replying for a full week. She tried to make me help her process her feelings of jealousy and upset when I tried to set boundaries with her. She patronizingly tried to explain to me how relationships worked and how I was being a bad partner. She used guilt to try to manipulate my partner into spending more time with her when my partner genuinely couldn’t due to scheduling constraints that didn’t work with C’s constant travel plans. C had jealous fits that I wouldn’t expect out of someone who’d been having polyamorous relationships for twenty years. When my partner had to occasionally turn down invitations for dates, she got upset that I got to see my partner all the time when in reality there were weeks where my partner and she spent more time together than the two of us did living together.

I spent the first few weeks of their relationship feeling very isolated and alone. I tried to set boundaries as a way of protecting myself and C took my setting them out on me. She made everything about her feelings and told me I was bad at relationships. I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone what was happening because C made me feel like the only reason I was struggling was because I was bad at polyamory. She told me that I shouldn’t talk about the issues that she and I were having with my partner, essentially trying to take away the one person I could talk to. I felt like I couldn’t reach out to mutual or non mutual friends because I was internalizing her message and was afraid they would judge me harshly. I spent the last few weeks of their relationship an anxious wreck every time my phone vibrated because I was afraid it was C trying to start shit with me again. I had trouble sleeping and meeting obligations because I was trying to deal with this alone.

But then I just couldn’t do it anymore, not alone. I started talking to friends who were also in polyamorous relationships about what was actually happening and they were horrified. One friend who knew C through other channels responded by e-mail that they’d heard that my partner and C were dating and that they felt “a moment of both horror and deep love for” me because they had also had bad experiences with her as well. Other friends told me how they were horrified by the way that C was talking to me because being polyamorous themselves they would NEVER had talked to their partner’s partner this way. Person after person, friend after friend share their horror stories of dealing with C. I finally started to feel less alone. I wasn’t happy that my partner was still in this relationship because of the ways it was affecting me, but at least I wasn’t alone in my feelings anymore.

I had refrained from talking about any of my problems with C because I didn’t want other people to have to pick a side and I didn’t want to damage her relationships with mutual friends. I tried to be the bigger person. I continued to treat her with respect even though she didn’t extend the same back to me. Even months after the breakup, I limited my discussions with mutual friends to protect her. And really that was the thing that made my partner finally end this toxic relationship. She was contacted by a mutual friend who said they wanted nothing to do with me anymore because C was trash talking me behind my back, lying about things I had said or done and framing them as her feelings so no argument against them could be made. That was the last straw. My partner met up with her to break up. C failed to mention she was drunk and the breakup took until after 3 AM because my partner had to wait for her to sober up enough that she’d actually remember the conversation in the morning. Yeah, it was a three hour breakup.

So why am I bringing all of this up now? Because C is still, unsurprisingly, bad at boundaries. And this is still, perhaps just as unsurprisingly, affecting my life. I am angry at her behavior, I am anxious of the way she may treat me after the next conversation that she and my partner have about respecting boundaries. I’m anxious that she’s going to try and turn our mutual friends against me as she has in the past. I’m angry that months after my partner broke up with her, that boundaries are still continuing to be violated. I was talking to a mutual friend last week and her reaction was that it sounded like we had both been hurt by this relationship. And I wish I’d had the strength to tell her that it wasn’t just that we’d both been hurt. That C had been actively manipulative and toxic and abusive during the six weeks she and my partner were dating and that it went beyond not inviting us both to the same gathering. I wish I’d had the strength to not just shrug and agree. I don’t know where to go from this point, but I need to figure something out because right now every time I see her face, I’m a ball of fury and hurt and recognizing that anger is a secondary emotion doesn’t make me feel any less angry by the situation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *