Tuesday, March 22, 2016

My Wife Is Upset about My New Girlfriend. How Do I Help Her Feel Better?

Dear Viny,

My wife is really struggling with a new relationship of mine. I...don't really know what to do about it. It's true that I've fallen hard, and it's only been a month, but there is nothing family-threatening going on here. Not even remotely. And, I think my wife knows that. We have been happily poly for years now. Yes, I am in love, but I'm definitely not going anywhere.

I'm trying to be supportive, but it's difficult. My wife is all over the place.

For example, last weekend, my wife was obviously super-upset. She said some...unkind things. (Fair enough. I let her say them.) All very understandable, all things considered. So we talked, and we cried, and I thought things ended really well.

A little while later she says that she should meet my new girlfriend, and doesn't even know what she looks like. So I start trying to see when would be a good time for them to meet. But apparently I was being way too pushy.

So, ok, fine. I dropped it.

Then, a few nights ago, my wife is again really upset, and we talk, and we cry. And again, I feel like things are really good! We're solid. Life is returning to normal, she and I are spending quality time together. But...something is still wrong. What is it??

She says it's not about me. She says it's not about us. Part of it is flashbacks to a relationship I had a long time ago, which ended badly (which, ok, I fully get that). But there's some other part that I don't get. But she doesn't want to talk about it.

In fact, she doesn't want to talk about my new relationship at all. Something wonderful and magical is happening in my life, and my wife doesn't want to hear anything about it! That's her request.

So now I have all this stuff on my mind, but I have to keep it all from her. And that is starting to trigger me. I don't want to be sneaking around! My wife and I have always talked openly about our other relationships in the past. “Don't ask, don't tell” always seemed like a fucked-up arrangement to us. I don't want this to be fucked up... but if she refuses to talk to me and makes me hide this...that's just not going to go anywhere good.

But I can't say any of this to her, because she doesn't want to talk about it. She says she just needs a break from thinking about this.

Lay it on me, Viny: What am I supposed to do?

– At Wits' End


Dear AWE,

Be patient. And then be patient some more. And then continue to be unrelentingly patient, for as long as it takes your wife to get over the crisis of confidence she is currently experiencing.

If you're wondering, “But how long will that be?”, just take whatever you believe to be a reasonable amount of time, and triple it. People in the flush of NRE are notorious for being on the fast-track to fantastic. I suspect that you have been bombarding your wife with “hurry up and be happy!” demands in every conversation you've had with her thus far, whether you mean to or not. Please, back off. Give her the time she needs to work through her difficult emotions.

Physiologically, the acute phase of jealousy (yes, I think your wife is struggling with jealousy) is kind of like being love-sick – except that there is no hand whose touch will make it better. There's no relief in sight. And it is accompanied by feelings not of openness and expansion of self, but of smallness of self: the fear (or, worse, a feeling of conviction) that one is not enough.

This is not about you. It’s not about your new person. It's about your wife. I'm guessing that the reason she “doesn’t want to talk about it” is that she wants a break from being herself. Right now, her life feels like it's out of her control – in a very bad way. But her previous life, the one she was living before you fell for this other woman, seems colorless and boring – not worth returning to. She wants to feel better about herself, but she doesn’t know how. And unfortunately, there isn’t much that you can do to help her.

And yet she needs your help, or at least she needs to feel like you want to help her. She probably wishes she didn’t. She probably worries she's being a drag, and if so, the last thing she wants to do is remind you what a drag it is, dealing with her – except that she can’t help herself. So, you are going to get the hot & cold treatment. You are going to get the “I need to meet her, ASAP – no, not NOW, I can’t handle it!” tap-dance. Count on it. Prepare accordingly.

Be patient, and then be patient some more, because your wife needs TIME to see that there is nothing family-threatening going on here. There is no way around the several months (or even longer) that it will take to prove this to her.

Be way more than your fair share of patient, because you have resources she doesn’t have right now. You have reserves of self-esteem you can tap into. You have a sense of excitement about the future. And you have the support of someone new, someone who sees you at your best, someone who is going to see your failings as adorable quirks and who will feel honored by your vulnerability when you lay the worst parts of yourself bare, as opposed to thinking, “Oh yeah, here’s this thing about my partner that I’ve been banging my head against for years.”

One final suggestion: please, while you are being patient, remind your wife why you love her. It's not enough just to tell her that you love her, because right now she can't imagine why anyone would love her. She's too busy disliking herself.

This is the only thing you can do for your wife besides simply being patient while time goes by: help her rediscover what is lovable about her. (And not just lovable, but also exciting, potentially, to someone who has yet to discover her, in the way you and your new partner are currently discovering each other.) Your wife may protest that she doesn’t need this kind of attention and reassurance from you, but chances are, that’s only because she wants not to need it. Tell her what you love about her, specifically her, anyway. It will help. It may not seem like it’s helping, but I promise, it will turn out later to’ve helped.

Compassion & Kombucha,

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