My Brain on ENM: Lessons Learned From Non-Monogamy

My Brain on ENM: Lessons Learned From Non-Monogamy

I’ve finally come to appreciate what my brain is capable of. I used to see my hyper-awareness and over-analysis as bugs, but they’re actually features I’m leveraging for good to achieve personal growth and be more curious about the people and ideas around me.

Ethical non-monogamy (ENM) has been the most epic petri dish for learning important lessons about myself, especially because my anchor partner is a relationship anarchist who doesn’t believe in relationship rules. My world is constantly filled with change, which doesn’t naturally mesh with my need for certainty.

In just one year of this new identity, I’ve become super intimate with my brain, thanks to hours of therapy and resources like Polysecure and the Multiamory Podcast. I can’t fathom how I processed life before, or what it was like not to know these five things:

#1: Advocating for Needs

Above all else, I’m learning the importance of identifying, communicating, reinforcing, and advocating for my needs. Having been a people-pleaser my whole life, I never prioritized myself or thought I had needs. It sounds silly to say out loud, but everyone has needs. Oftentimes they’re unstated and unmet, disguised behind complaints and disagreements.

I’ve lived the dark side of not owning my feelings, not listening to my instincts, or trying to influence situations I have no control over. I lash out in unfair ways and lean into my vices. Resentment builds, especially if someone else is getting their needs met and I’m not.

Finding a balance between growth-based discomfort and putting up boundaries (or walls) isn’t an exact science. It takes practice and sometimes trial & error, which has helped me foster healthier relationships, trust myself more, and focus on my own well-being.

#2 Practicing Self-Love

The hardest part about ENM for me has been learning how to be alone. I’ve almost always had roommates, never really needing to entertain myself, much less doing so when my anchor partner is out having sex with someone else. I have a habit of revolving my identity around others, which is a MASSIVE habit to untrain.

While I don’t meditate, it’s served me to figure out how to self-soothe and access my inner peace and calm. Amidst the inherent chaos, uncertainty, and emotional dysregulation of ENM, I’m learning when to let go of my need for control and focus on choosing joy… or at least stop gaslighting myself. Otherwise I’ll emotionally burn out.

Whether it’s spending time with friends or discovering new hobbies, it’s important to keep forming my own identity. Who am I as a person, and who do I want to strive to be? Constantly journaling and blogging has been a great way to process this.

#3 Accepting Humanness

Whenever I talk to my therapist about situations that trigger jealousy, anger, or protectiveness, I always hope for a clever epiphany or framework that will magically dispel these uncomfortable feelings. Every time, she tells me with a smile that these are normal human experiences and encourages me to sit with them. UGHHHH.

It’s hard fucking work to rewire my brain (or anyone’s brain) from monogamous triggers. I can logically accept my partner experiencing NRE (New Relationship Energy) or having sex with someone else, but I feel betrayed by any sudden thoughts of insecurity, comparison, or “dirtiness.”

This obsessive thinking is becoming less frequent and persistent (especially since I’ve gotten back on SSRIs) and I have to remind myself that it’s impossible for me to play a perfect game. All I can do is ask my brain to be patient and trend positively.

There’s no real solution to this negativity except NOT act on it. Practicing affirmations has helped me build confidence and work through any fears of inadequacy. I’ve been able to explore my authentic self and heal past wounds I never thought to address. Now THAT’S the beauty of being human and putting in the work.

#4 Communicating Pet Peeves

One of the hallmarks of successful ENM is good communication. Combined with self-awareness and lots of therapy, I’m constantly getting better at articulating what upsets me–things I never previously put into words. It’s actually neat to see patterns arise with more experience:

  • Incongruence — When what you say doesn’t match what you do (or if there’s a lack of follow-through) you’ve lost my trust.
  • Inconsideration — When you lack of self-awareness and caring of how your actions affect others.
  • Facades – When you’re fake, phony, and overall inauthentic. Why are you hiding your real thoughts and feelings from the world?
  • Gaslighting – No one likes this, but specifically I can’t stand when someone disguises toxic behavior under love, i.e. “But I’m doing this because I love you.”

Many of these things might sound shallow and unforgiving, and I’m striving towards being more generous in a way that feels right to me… but all that leads me to the last lesson I’ve learned.

#5 Standing for Something

I’m done apologizing for who I am and what I believe in. I’m entitled to strong opinions. It’s not my responsibility to accommodate the discomfort of others when that discomfort results from reinforcing my personal boundaries or protecting myself.

When I opened up to the world of ENM, I had an idealistic expectation of what it should look and feel like. I forced myself to feel compersion, love everyone, and blindly go along with everything my partners wanted… which honestly reflects all the above lessons.

For example, if I had a bad feeling about a person or situation, I beat myself up for not being “sex positive” or “open-minded” enough. The reality is that I don’t have to support every ENM concept under the sun, and that’s okay. As long as I’m not sabotaging the lives of others, I can still hold high standards for communication and self-work.

This past year of practicing ENM has been the most rewarding journey of self-discovery I could have asked for. I’ve learned how much there is to love about myself because of (not despite) the amount of growth I still have want to do. I feel like I’m truly unlocking the potential of my brain.

It’s helped me feel more confident about the way I choose to approach relationships, knowing it’ll be different from that of my friends and partners… but different is good. With lots of help from therapy and SSRIs, I’m finding an effective balance of stability and challenge, one that makes life worthwhile.

To end this blog post in true Criminal Minds fashion, everything above is probably why I got this quote tattooed on my arm:

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”

Nelson Mandela

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