“Your relationship with yourself sets the tone for every relationship you have.” — Robert Holden
When my husband and I decided to open our marriage, I had no idea how everything would change. Polyamory turned out to be the most exciting experiment of my life, one that allowed me to explore my needs around love, connection, and sexuality. That type of exploration simply wouldn’t have been possible in any of my previous monogamous relationships. Suddenly, there I was — living completely freely, daring to dream, and making those dreams come true.
…When I’d had a fantasy about a coworker and shared it with my husband he gave me the green light to go for it. I did, and had a blast.
…When I wanted to try online dating, I had the freedom to do that too.
…When I was curious about certain things sexually that weren’t interesting to my husband, I had a chance to try them with people that shared my curiosity.
But most importantly, I learned to love myself. I knew it was important to have a great relationship with myself, but I had no idea how much self love would affect all of my relationships…
When we opened up our marriage I started behaving in a way I wanted to rather than the way I thought society wanted me to. The more attention I paid to my true desires and dreams, the more love I felt.
It was becoming clear that the love, kindness, and respect I felt towards myself was directly correlated with how much love, kindness, and respect I could exchange with people around me. Interestingly, the amount negativity and self-judgement I experienced towards myself set the bar for how much negativity I let others express towards me. As my relationship with myself started to improve, I noticed that my tolerance for any negative behavior directed at me started to decline.
Don Miguel Ruiz explains this idea really well in his book “Mastery of Love”:
You love yourself so much that you don’t allow selfish people to take advantage of you. You are not going for revenge, but you are clear in your communication. You can say, “I don’t like it when you try to take advantage of me, when you disrespect me, when you are unkind to me. I don’t need someone to abuse me verbally, emotionally, physically. I don’t need to hear you cursing all the time. It’s not that I am better than you; it’s because I love beauty.”
Part of what Don Miguel talks about is setting boundaries. Boundaries are the guidelines for how we want to interact with people around us in a loving, safe, and respectful way.
I learned that setting boundaries with someone is a very loving thing to do. When I communicate my boundaries, it means I trust that person and want to connect with them on a deeper level. I used to shy away from establishing boundaries, because I was nervous about hurting people’s feelings. But what I’ve started to notice is that being honest about my needs and boundaries actually strengthens my interactions with others. Even if there are some uncomfortable feelings at first, they are a lot less hurtful than the feelings that come up when somebody oversteps a boundary.
For example, having personal space and time has always been really important to me. For a few years — just when I had kids — I forgot just how important. I didn’t prioritize time for myself and inevitably became so stressed that I could barely function. When I started dating again I remembered what it felt like to have personal time. I re-established a consistent practice of spending a few hours any way I wanted every week, regardless of whether I would go on a date, meditate, hike, or do anything else I felt like doing. When for whatever reason I didn’t get that “me time”, it would drastically impact my mood and well-being. Even my kids now know the significance of personal space and time for me and they respect that need just as I make sure they too have “me time” in their lives if and when they need it.
Another hard boundary for me is name-calling. In my opinion name-calling in any shape or form is very disrespectful. I never talk to myself that way and I can’t allow others to do that to me either. Sometimes I see my kids do that to each other when they argue. Even though their name-calling is not directed at me, I still try to teach them to solve their conflicts without it. I explain that it can be very hurtful to hear insults and to recover from them.
Once I started to establish those boundaries all of my relationships have started to shift.
I moved out from my family home, because my newly discovered boundaries did not align with what my husband wanted in a romantic relationship. We became friends and adjusted expectations towards each other which has tremendously improved our partnership.
I realized that my need for multiple relationships was actually an attempt to replenish the love I wasn’t able to give to myself. I subconsciously searched for multiple partners to feel more love. When I fell in love with myself that need has disappeared. I am now completely happy with my boyfriend and at this time I don’t feel the need to date anyone else.
To accept and love myself even deeper, I continue doing the following exercises:
If I’m feeling some negative emotion, I tell myself that I love myself even then. Let’s take anger, for example. When I feel angry, I tell myself “I love myself when I’m angry”. If I can’t believe that thought right away, I’ll say “I love myself even when I don’t like myself when I’m angry”. And I keep repeating it until I start believing that I do actually love my angry self.
Another helpful trick has been to really listen to what I want in the moment and then to give myself that. Whenever I have a few minutes, I relax, focus on my breath for a few moments, and ask myself “what do you need right now, dear?” Usually the answer comes right away — it could be as simple as “a nap” or as complicated as “I need some reassurance from my boyfriend that he will still love me when I’m old and no longer beautiful”. Whatever it is — I try to find a way to do that for myself.
Practicing metta, or loving kindness meditation, has been extremely helpful as well. It’s a very simple practice where I mentally direct loving kindness towards myself, my loved ones, my friends, acquaintances, and the rest of the world.
I am very grateful to have had this experience in my life. If not for all of the people I met, dated, and talked to over the last few years, I wouldn’t be where I am today.