The Many Facets Of Love

Love“How can you love your husband and want to see other men?” 

This is the most common question from people unfamiliar with open relationships. Oftentimes people believe that to be in love with someone means that you don’t have room for anyone else in your heart. Let’s examine this a bit more closely.

First of all, our society teaches us that love is built on the scarcity model. This model has been well explained by others, but essentially it assumes that the human capacity for love is limited to one person at a time. If you love one person, it thereby prevents you from loving another.

Is this true?

Well, let’s think about the human capacity for love. We have two parents, does that mean we inherently love one parent less than the other?

No.

What about children? If we have multiple children does that mean we love the newest more and the oldest less when new children come along?

Of course not.

Let’s think about friends. If we incorporate a new friend into our circle, do we care about our old friends any less?

No.

So why are romantic partners viewed differently?

To answer this question, we need to understand romantic love. To put it simply, psychologists have determined that there are 4 stages of romantic love (note: agape love, or the love you have for your children are excluded in this analysis). Different people call these phases different things, but essentially there is a love at first sight stage, the infatuation stage, the romantic love stage, and the stable love stage. These stages mark the natural evolution of relationships (although love at first sight is not a necessary component of a successful relationship). I will explore these stages more in depth at a later time but I want to introduce the concept to address the question.

model of romantic love

The love at first sight stage is marked by an immediate pull to another person due to physical characteristics only. It is that feeling of falling without even having a conversation with them. You see them across the room and just know within your heart of hearts that they are “the one”. This is a very unstable stage because you don’t really know the person of interest. In fact, only a subset of people seem to experience this stage.

Infatuation stage (or limerence) is marked by an intense attraction to someone else that is almost obsessive. Infatuation can cloud a person’s judgment because they can be consumed by the feelings of “falling in love”. This is because the love chemicals saturate the brain. On average, it is the stage that most people feel early in a relationship, for about the first six months. However, this stage can be prolonged if you are in a long-distance relationship or don’t have very much access to the person of interest.

For someone feeling this, they might be checking their phones constantly looking for a text or email from the person of interest. If they see a message, they might be elated whereas if they don’t, they might feel devastation. Someone in this stage will be thinking of their lover constantly and wanting to spend as much time possible with them. It is common that people in this stage project unrealistic views of the person they are with. They see them as infallible, perfect, and soul-mate material. As their partner opens up to them, there is a feeling of excitement with emotional intimacy. As the person opens up more and more, they are faced with either incorporating the new reality into their ideal, or rejecting the person because they don’t fit their ideal. If there is mutual acceptance the relationship moves to the next phase and the feelings of love start to develop.

Romantic love is the transition out of infatuation and into “realistic love”. It is where you are still passionately involved with your person of interest but you have begun to incorporate their faults into your perception of them. You may realize they have annoying habits like leaving socks on the floor, but you still love them in any case. A successful transition to this phase means a reduction in anxiety of insecurity. If they don’t text you back immediately, you might accept that they are in a meeting and not necessarily rejecting you. The love chemicals are less strong in your brain, so you are less obsessive and able to think about other things other than your loved one.

Stable love is the love you feel after many years of a romantic love. Depending on a person’s psychology and history, they may move into this stage as early as 3 years whereas others may take longer. This love is characterized by an increase in stability and a decrease in passion. You may not feel the overwhelming urge to rip off your loved one’s clothes as soon as you get home from work, but you do feel very deeply and warmly attached to them. At this point your relationship has stabilized into routines and patterns. Assuming these routines and patterns are healthy, you feel a great deal of security from your relationship.

I will discuss these stages more in depth and the factors which cause us to evolve in relationships, but for the sake of argument, let’s accept that there are different types of love. With this new understanding, it makes much more sense that people can be in multiple stages infatuation or love at the same time because they are not mutually exclusive. 

Some even have the ability to be in the same stage with multiple partners (multiple infatuations and romantic loves). However, for myself and my husband, we find it more difficult to be in the infatuation stage with more than one person. Similarly, truly monogamous people might have the capacity to experience different stages of love at one time, but truly do not want to. They should never be forced to as individual preferences must be respected for a healthy relationship.

Unfortunately, some people believe that successful love should be contained in the early-stage romantic love where they are falling madly and passionately into another person. In reality, our bodies and brains cannot sustain the intensity from an early relationship. In fact, a successful relationship naturally transforms into a more loving and stable connection.

In summary:

  • My husband and I reject the scarcity model of love.
  • Early romantic love and infatuation cannot be sustained due to limitations of brain chemicals and energy demands. A successful relationship over a long duration of time will eventually move towards stability.
  • My husband and I are in stable love and believe that it is possible to go through different stages with others because they are wholly different experiences for us.
  • Truly monogamous people do not want to experience multiple stages of love at the same time even though they might have the capacity. Their choices should be respected.
  • Other people have the capacity to be in the same stage of love with multiple partners. Knowing which type of person you are will help guide your open relationship choices.

Our Story Part 15 – The Renegotiation

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After we healed from our experience with Brad and Amy, we did some soul searching about how to continue. We realized that the highlights were the solo portions – the separate dates and overnights. We knew that we wanted to pursue that again but also knew that the likelihood of finding a couple where all four people connected at the same level would be impossible. This meant we were faced with opening up our relationship to separate dating which was much scarier to us. Putting up separate dating profiles and doing it with a stranger came with a different set of emotional hurdles.

We felt like we could handle it and took it very slowly. My husband was the more fearful one so he went on several dates first. I spent a month emailing and texting my first person before I met him. Then we went on several platonic dates and let my husband give his approval before attempting a physical relationship.

Our strategy was successful. Unlike the break-neck speed race into the swinging world, we approached separate dating with caution and made sure everyone felt safe at all times. The only times we didn’t feel safe is when we jumped ahead too quickly without realizing it or didn’t calibrate our expectations for communication correctly. However, because our communication skills had been honed and strengthened through our experiences, these small issues created manageable ripples in our life instead of tidal waves of fear and anger.

Relatively quickly, we blossomed into a full poly and open lifestyle. We maintain the primacy of our relationship but many rules have been changed and updated. We’ve traveled with partners, have routine overnights with them, and can fall in love with them too, should we desire it.

It’s been liberating and has fostered an incredible amount growth. For me, I have learned to give myself freely and to experience the full spectrum of human emotion. I can be vulnerable and safe with others and feel the beauty of the human connection. In many ways, opening up healed many deep wounds which were limiting my ability to truly connect with others. I experience life in its vast richness and don’t hide my inner light.

We both are incredibly happy. Can everybody successfully open a relationship? Probably not. Are there some lessons we learned that we can share for those interested? Definitely.

Our Story Part 14 – Compersion

Leonid-meteor-shower (1)It was months later when my husband and I laid under the stars awaiting the meteor shower. Chilly mist crept from the grass onto our toes, so we snuggled under a blanket for warmth. We there for hours before we saw anything so we drank wine and made small talk until well past midnight. Finally, meteors began to blaze across the sky. We looked up in awe as a silence fell between us.

When I spoke again, my voice was almost a whisper. The question just came out and surprised me. “Did you love her?” As soon as the words slipped out, I instinctively held my breath. For him to lie at that moment would be a grave injustice.

His lengthy pause gave me the answer, but he also quietly said, “Yes….yes I did.”

I had suspected that they loved each other even though him and I had never talked about it. We allowed for the possibility and then didn’t revisit the conversation when things got rocky. There was actually a moment months before when I caught a glimpse of him and Amy staring deeply into each other’s eyes. They had just stayed the night at our place in what would be our final overnight before I ended things. Brad and I were cooking breakfast in the kitchen and chatting lightheartedly about the world. As Brad buttered the toast, I glanced outside to the deck where Amy and my husband were at. She was straddling his legs to face him. Her hands cusped his chin as if to beckon his gaze. Previously when she did that it was always during the evening and a prelude to the bedroom. But the intensity of making that eye contact in the daylight in our patio chairs meant something had shifted between them. So when I asked my husband if he loved Amy, deep down I already knew because I saw him looking at her with the same gentleness that he has with me. However, hearing him say out loud to the world it felt more momentous somehow.

The cicadas seemed to pause with his reluctant admission as if they also heard the heaviness in his voice. Shooting stars danced across the sky innocently, completely unaware of the significant moment down below. Internally, I felt an emotional shift like a mudslide rearranging the earth. My heart filled with both sadness and empathy for my husband. I had taken that away from him – his second love – and there was no pleasure or satisfaction in knowing that. I rolled onto my side and embraced him while he continued to watch the celestial show. He let out a deep sigh and I shared the pain that filled the space between my arms.

Our Story Part 13 – Facing the Inner Demon

tumblr_mn0oenpmrw1s8dvpno1_500On our date night, my husband was especially quiet with Amy to be fully present with me. However, during the movie he slipped out of the theater with his hand on his pocket. My instinct told me he was sneaking out to text her. I felt a pinch in my heart. In my mind, my husband was texting his mistress on my time with him and it made me seethe with anger.

I glared at him when he returned to his seat but he was oblivious and didn’t notice. During the movie I did my best to choke down any negative emotions but it wasn’t working. There was fear, intense fear, but I couldn’t explain it. My emotions were spinning out of control because I had not really confronted my darkest demons about opening up. On the drive home I told him how angry I was that he slipped out on my time to text Amy.

He calmly explained that she was in a place of unknowing and needed reassurance. My body quivered with disgust as I pointed out that he attended to her emotional needs before my own and how unacceptable that was to me. I wanted to bolt. I felt like I was going to crawl out of my skin. When we made it home, I attempted to run upstairs to the guest room to find some solace alone but he grabbed my arms.

“DON’T TOUCH ME!” I screamed as I struggled away from him.

“Jenn!” He called after me, but I was having none of it. He was stunned at my outburst. We never have explosive fights. He reached out for me once again.

“Leave me ALONE!” This time I violently ripped my arms away from him and tore my sweater. I ran upstairs sobbing hysterically and slammed the door. He came after me but I refused to let him in.

I fell back on the bed in a full body sob. My mind was racing. What the hell is wrong with me?! What am I feeling? Fear? What is my fear? I kept trying examine the darkest parts of my psyche for clarity but there was nothing.

We spend years protecting ourselves from our deepest fears. We build thick walls to keep from peering inside because it is terrifying to confront. Anytime we get close to seeing, we push our emotions onto others instead of sitting to understand them. I had been carrying a demon on my back and doing everything in my power to keep from facing it directly. This time, I was determined to see.

I embraced the fear and turned into it. I imagined I was on a jagged cliff looking into an abyss. Out of the pit came a demon claw-like hand that reached upwards. My soul was trembling but I stood strong. Without warning, the hand forcibly penetrated my chest and clutched my heart. The hand squeezed until I was certain my heart would stop beating, but my gaze did not waver from the darkness. Finally, the flash of insight clapped inside my skull like lightening.

I’m afraid that I am unlovable….

When this thought pierced my mind, I was reduced feeling more helpless than a baby. Never before was I consciously aware of this. Yet, I was afraid that Brad rejected me because I was deeply and innately flawed. I was afraid that my husband and Amy loved each other because they were lovable, but that Brad didn’t love me because I wasn’t. I was afraid that opening up our relationship would destine me to seeing my husband fall in love over and over again while I would be constantly rejected. This is why the relationship imbalance bothered me. I wanted what my husband and Amy had because I wanted to feel deserving of love. When I wasn’t getting that from Brad, it fed into my insecurity. My emotional outbursts were the manifestations of that fear.

The pain that came up from my inner core scared me. Old wounds rushed up and overwhelmed my senses. I didn’t recognize my voice as I cried out in rolling waves of anguish. I hugged my inner child and mourned.

As I comforted myself, the demon released its hold and the healing began.

Our Story Part 12 – The Cold Truth

bigpreview_Train Station, White and BlackThe next morning I was in that blissful half-asleep state with no memory of the previous evening. The sheets entangled my legs as the cats purred happily against me. Life seemed simple and carefree. The sunlight streamed through the blinds while the chirping of the birds coaxed me into a peaceful unawareness of the night before. It wasn’t until I climbed out of bed that the memory assaulted my consciousness. An uneasy nauseous feeling struck my stomach and the world turned cold and dreary. Panic bubbled within me as I wondered if I made a horrific mistake. Every fiber of my being wanted to return to the tangled soft sheets of denial. My shoulders sagged with the weight of my decision as I replayed the text exchange in my head.

It was over.

As suspected, facing my husband was difficult. I slinked downstairs to find him waiting for me. He sipped his coffee with a certain deliberateness as if he was exercising restraint. I expected him to lash out in anger but there was only compassion. He had pain in his eyes but spoke with a gentle voice of understanding. In fact, he articulated my feelings better than I could even do. He acknowledged that he knew that him and Amy were on the train headed towards love and I was left in the station with a ticket waiting for Brad to arrive. He appreciated that I wanted to be on the same track as him and Amy and agreed that it wasn’t fair to me. He encouraged me to speak with Amy in person so I invited her for an impromptu lunch.

I met with Amy and explained my frustrations. Unlike previous outings with her, the tone was markedly different. Instead of responding with empathy, she shrugged almost indifferently and said that she had spoken with Brad and he wasn’t sure he could feel “that way” for another person. Her coldness took me aback. It became clear to me that our relationship was unsalvageable. Towards the end she asked what would happen with her and my husband. With a hint of defeat, I said that I didn’t want to keep them from each other but I wasn’t sure what would come of it. I explained that perhaps I could date and find someone else and they could still see each other. If she had any excitement about the possibility of still being able to see my husband she didn’t show it. Instead she spoke with triviality and said that whatever outcome that needed to happen would be fine. In retrospect, I now know that this was a defense mechanism of hers. She downplayed her feelings for my husband to me just as she had done to Brad. But I wasn’t aware of this and only knew that something wasn’t adding up.

I left with resolution that it was completely done between myself and Brad but had some optimism that it could still work with my husband and Amy. There was no part of me that wanted to take away a special connection from my husband. In some ways I felt relief but in others, I felt immense sadness. By the time I had gotten home, my husband told me that Amy wanted to talk on the phone. The phone was still forbidden and I was bothered by the contradiction of my meeting with her. When he declined she texted:

“She seems okay. I’m glad we don’t have to part. I think you know I feel about you…very strongly….”

The world stood still as my blood turned to ice. I came from a date with this woman who so flippantly disregarded my husband as though he was a rejected piece of art in her home…to her insinuating that she loved him? The contrast felt like a slap in the face. In person she pretended as though she had no feelings for him. When I expressed that I didn’t want him to lose a rare connection, she shrugged indifferently. She’s trying to have an affair. My jaw clenched as I swallowed my anger. This wasn’t a random woman, this was a woman who I had a relationship with. A friendship with! I told my husband that no, we were going on a date night and he could not call her. She would have to wait.

Our Story Part 11 – My Breaking Point

prisonabstractMy relationship with Brad devolved to a schizophrenic sort where it was hot and romantic while together but cold and silent while apart. The days of staying up late texting to share music or get to know each other were gone. Instead, I was left clinging to shreds of affection from Brad and growing more resentful with every comparison to my husband’s relationship with Amy. Him and I were in constant disagreements about whether to open up to other people. He finally relented to me reactivating our swinger’s profile. Despite this half-hearted concession, I knew I didn’t want to go back to the world of swinging. Having had a taste of a poly-lite relationship, I wanted another go at one, but this time with a partner who was more experienced and ready. Finding that on a swinger’s website would be like finding a rare gem in the vast empty sea. I felt like a prisoner in my open relationship and the irony tasted like burnt copper in my mouth.

Finally, my breaking point came.

It was one of those rare moments where Brad and I were texting live. Our conversation went from light to heavy as I told him I wasn’t feeling like my needs were being met with our situation. He said he understood but felt that he couldn’t meet them. Although it stung to hear, I still had a small nugget of optimism that there was a miscommunication. I rationalized to myself that maybe he thought the word “needs” was too ambiguous or overwhelming of a word. I reasoned that maybe he translated “needs” into “falling in love”. I didn’t want love with him as much as I wanted to explore a lighter version of emotional intimacy. In fact, I was still very scared of opening myself up to loving another person other than my husband. Suddenly it was clear that all I needed to do was clarify what he thought I meant by “needs”. Optimism flooded my heart once again. With one last hopeful reach, I asked him what he thought my needs were.

My fingers traced impatiently over my iPhone while waiting for his reply. When I heard the distinctive ping, I felt like a schoolgirl again. My heart was a nervous flutter as I opened his message.

His response read:

“I believe your needs are…
Affection
Communication
Reassurance.”

I blinked several times while trying to process his text. My imaginary conversation of explaining how I didn’t want love slipped away with any remaining hope. Yes. Of course those were my needs. In fact, they are my basic human needs for a friendship! Brad was telling me he couldn’t give me affection, communication, or reassurance?

The floor dropped out from under me. Intense feelings of vulnerability and panic froze my inner child. The sensations that I felt in my body were like drowning. My lungs filled up with the dark emotional waters that I had been so furiously trying to tread. I could kick no longer and I slipped downward into the murky pit of anger, rage, insecurity, injustice, envy, and jealousy. On the outside, my facial expression went blank as my heart tried to disconnect from Brad.

I was in protection mode when I very coldly typed my reply, “Thank you for letting me know. I cannot be with someone who cannot meet my basic human needs. Goodbye Brad.” Part of me knew that this decision was not just affecting myself. As I clicked send, I knew I had to face my husband in the morning and the thought chilled me.

I felt guilty, but I also felt free.

Our Story Part 10 – Sand Castles By the Sea

UntitledOur relationship with Brad and Amy was like building a sandcastle too close to the sea. Truly, we became victims to Brad’s emotional tides. The castle would stand beautifully on its on until, boom! Seemingly at random, a wave would suck away the sand faster than we could repair it. Each time we would scramble to fix the structure, but deep down we knew it was a losing battle. It’s hard to pinpoint when it exactly changed, but denial became part of the game.

Amy started hiding her texting with my husband from Brad so he wouldn’t be confronted with it when he was at home. She would text my husband during the day but would go radio silent in the evenings. From Brad’s perspective he was none the wiser and assumed that their relationship was dying down. From my perspective, I saw this as an indiscretion. Envy permeated my being when Brad continued to withdraw from me. He was happy to believe that their relationship was moving to a “casual” realm and shifted ours in kind.

My turning point came when she called my husband at work even though she had never spoken to him on the phone. I stepped outside in a panic when I heard this. Without realizing it, I was pacing back and forth, my feet pressing hard against the ground in agitation. I incredulously asked with a hint of disgust in my voice, “What?? Why is she calling?!” Anger boiled up within me. I was already teetering, and this escalation was about to push me over the edge.

How dare she think she can just access my husband whenever she wanted, I thought to myself. How dare she turn to my husband for emotional support?? My heart was pounding. My palms were sweaty. Colleagues passed me but I didn’t even notice them. All I could focus on was how she was taking the relationship to a new level, and trying to do so secretly. My mind was reeling. Would she dare call him at home when he’s around me? No, of course not. 

In those moments, it struck me that it felt like an emotional affair. She was trying to hide it from her husband and me! Little did I know, we were coming up on some of the darkest times of our open relationship. I felt trapped by our situation. Brad had effectively shut down and my husband’s mistress was emotionally leaning on my husband while trying to keep it under the radar. I was not happy. I pushed my husband to allow me to see other people, but he refused. He was absolutely okay with only seeing Amy – even on limited terms. I felt suffocated with Brad’s indifference and my husband’s unwillingness to let me explore. I tried to reason with him and say that clearly Brad was not okay with the situation. But my husband pushed back because he could not fathom being with another woman. Our nightly conversations started ending with tears as I would exclaim how I wasn’t happy with the dynamic. He would calm me down eventually, but there was a breaking point and we were speeding towards it.