It went something like this:
I read Spiritual Polyamory by Mystic Life in one sitting. Some of the book was useful, and some was not. His concept of "Loa" (love of all) feels foundational to me, and his conception of relationships as friendships that may include sex if that feels right for the people involved is a really useful way for me to think about our other partners and relationships. His discussion of how the monogamy paradigm has created this expectation that a sexual or romantic relationship automatically also includes control, exclusivity, and ownership is also very clear and helpful in rethinking basic relationship assumptions. The most useful lines from the entire 70-something pages, though, were these:
"When we are young it is rare to feel fully accepted. Parents and other authority figures are seen as all-powerful, and often correct our behavior so that we remain safe from harm...
This parent-child control-based dynamic often continues into our relationships as adults. Many people feel that they can't be fully accepted, that love is conditional, and that being controlled is part of being loved." (my emphasis added)
These lines summarized my work in counseling pretty much perfectly. My revelation was this: I was heavily controlled as a kid, all the way until I moved away from my family with J (so, even through my time in college my parents attempted to exert control over my life). My parents showed care and concern and love through controlling my behaviors and actions. The idea of how to give and receive love are wrapped up in my brain with the idea of control. This makes so much sense to me with how I experience anxiety and fear in our open relationship. If J wants to do something with another partner, and I have zero say in what they do and/or how, I feel extremely anxious. I can't exert control, and so I don't feel like I can give love, or that the people I want to show love can receive it. In addition, I always feel sad when I attempt to let J exert control (is it okay if I do this?, I will check in with you at..., Tell me if I should do this differently) and he responds with "I don't care. Do what you want." I feel on a deep, subconscious level: You don't love me.
A-ha!! My counselor wrote on a sticky note for me:
Love = control
Freedom (given to others, given to you)
And on the back of the note, she wrote:
It is completely liberating to be able to name this underlying, subconscious dynamic of my own psychology. Because now I have something tangible to work with, instead of this weird, vague, terrifying fear and insecurity.
This recognition also had the effect of making J feel a lot better. He has felt controlled for a long time in our relationship, even before we were open. And he rarely (perhaps never) felt validated in feeling controlled. Which I am truly sorry for. My unwillingness to validate that feeling before was coming from a place of knowing that my "controlling" behavior was never intended to be mean or like I was trying to own him; it was coming from a place of love, twisted as it may be.
So now my (long-term) work is to: reframe love for myself as something related to independence and freedom. That in giving freedom, I give love and that in receiving freedom, I receive love. It also means, that I need to start allowing myself to experience freedom so I experience love in this new way. I need to stop holding myself back from relationships and experiences I want. This heavy self-imposed control has been my subconscious way of showing myself love and it's not working. I don't think I have flipped a magical switch, but I do think I have an uber increased level of self awareness which is the first step in moving forward.
I have also been reading Osho's Love, Freedom, Aloneness: The Koan of Relationships. While Osho is pretty monoga-normative and very homophobic, the Buddhist underpinnings to his message about what love is truly fantastic. It is both painful and liberating for me to read. I am not yet done, because I am trying to just take in a little at a time so that I am not completely overwhelmed. I am eager to finish it and process it fully. One of the basic ideas that has stuck with me far is that love is love. It simply is. One cannot make love "better" and one cannot compare "one love" with another. If you feel love for someone, be grateful that you do. It cannot be diminished or taken away simply because you or the other person love others. The love you experience with another is simply love. Love is love. He also discusses how the introduction of control and over-connectedness into relationships kills freedom, which kills love. (Ha! What do you know?? Love = freedom). Also, he takes issue with the idea of "relationships." He instead thinks we should all "relate" to each other, but the very idea of a "relationship" instills ideas of control and imprisonment. Perhaps this last idea will make more sense to me after I finish the book, but right now it does not resonate with me.
I feel like I express gratitude fairly frequently on this blog, and I really enjoy doing that: I feel so grateful for having this life, for having the opportunity to reflect on my experiences and values and thoughts and behaviors, and for having the ability to grow. I feel so grateful to J for being so patient and loving, and working on himself, too, so that we are both growing as individuals and so that our relationship continues to strengthen and grow. And I am grateful to our friends (sexy and vanilla) and family and other partners who love us and want to see us happy, too.