Ethical Nonmonogamy | Polyamory, Love & Relationships

Holiday stress and polyamory

We’re 45 days out from the end of 2019 which means that the “holiday season” is officially here. By now (if you’re in the United States), you’ve likely had at least one conversation about how your polycule is going to handle Thanksgiving (or Friendsgiving), and I’m guessing there’s more than a handful of hinge partners out there that are starting to feel the pressure of multiple paramours vying for spots on the holiday calendar.

This past Friday was a bad day for me. Now that I think through the events of last week, it probably started at some point on Wednesday, but it didn’t come to a head until I was staving off an anxiety attack in the middle of the supermarket when another shopper was needlessly snippy with me, and had a complete meltdown in the car on the way home (and a few more at the gym an hour later).

Experiencing this level of anxiety is uncommon but not unfamiliar territory for me. It happened a lot when I was a teenager. They diagnosed me with depression and put me on medication. It happened again when a major family feud cropped up right before my wedding. That time they prescribed xanax.

It didn’t happen with regular frequency again until the days and months after my husband passed away. Now, nearly six years later, I maybe have an episode once or twice a year at the most. The last time it happened was a little over a year ago, when I felt trapped in an unhealthy work environment and thought I was having a heart attack, so I guess that time it was actually a panic attack, not an anxiety attack.

There is a common factor in all of these experiences. These were all times in my life when I felt like my life and my choices were not under my control.

So, what’s really messed me up in the aftermath is that I’ve never been in more control of my life and my choices as I am right now. I don’t know exactly what’s at the source of this feeling, and as someone who’s really, really, really in touch with my emotions and what’s activating them, it’s unnerving.

The good news is that my anxiety attack had the decency to schedule itself on the afternoon before a date night, and spending the evening and morning with my partner really did help me re-calibrate and recover (mostly). I’m not crying anymore, but I am very tired and the tension in my body has me feeling very weak and a little depressed.

For a little while I considered the possibility that the anxiety I was experiencing wasn’t fully my own. I don’t usually like to claim “empath” but I know that I will sometimes pick up on the emotions of those around me, and if I’m not paying attention, I sometimes start to reflect them back.

I mean, lately the communities I moderate have had a noticeable rise in tension and members reporting other members for being insensitive, rude, and outright mean-spirited in their interactions. There have also been a LOT more posts from people who are truly struggling with their relationships and relatively few that have shared some stories of growth or progress in that realm.

Maybe I’d just been picking up on the world’s anxiety for a few weeks without purging it, who knows?

But as I meditated on this thought this afternoon, another idea sprang to mind. I’ve noticed that I’ve been asking for a bit more reassurance lately from my partner than I normally would. I’ve started to miss him with more intensity than I normally do between our scheduled dates. Then, the other day he mentioned his holiday plans to fly out for a visit with his family, whom I’ve still not met and have no plans to meet even after 4 years of this relationship.

That prompted me to ask Alexa how many days until the end of the year, and while I don’t think my anxiety is caused by the holidays – I *do* believe that the holidays are having an amplifying effect on the world’s emotional state which might be playing a role in my own.

Back in 2017 I wrote this article which describes some of the emotional struggles that those of us who are the non-nesting partners of polyamorous people might experience during the holiday season.

But today, I expanded on that in a message that I posted to a few of the groups that I moderate, and I thought that parts of it would be relevant to a lot of others out there who might be feeling randomly sad, anxious, short-tempered, or melancholy without being able to pinpoint where it’s coming from:

The holidays are coming and with them, a lot of very strong emotions. I know my holiday blues have already started, as I’ve been asking for more reassurance lately than I usually ask for from my partner. I’ve been feeling anxiety that I’m fairly certain isn’t polyamory related, but the fact that I can’t depend on my anxiety scheduling itself on days when I’m going to see my partner who can help me feel better isn’t lost on me.

For those of us who are mono and non-nested with our partners, we’ve got some stuff we’re going to have to deal with over the next 45 days – especially if our partners are not fully out to their families or if their nested partners are not keen on including us in their holiday plans.

For those of who are mono and nesting with your partners, you may have to deal the other side of that stuff – of knowing that there are one or more other people who want to spend time with your partner (and vice versa), during some really hectic “family” holidays. The implications might be challenging for you.

And for our polyamorous friends out there, you have the potential to get pulled in multiple directions from people who aren’t necessarily working together to make it easier on you – and even if they are, there’s only so much time and only one of you.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the holidays are already stressful, and layering multiple relationships on top of that – even in the most ideal situation where it’s kitchen table poly and everyone’s on board – it’s MORE stressful.

So, what do we do? I’m not a fan of trying to suppress, ignore, or “fix” emotions. I’m more of the “acknowledge their presence and listen to what they’re telling me” type of person. Now that I’ve identified that I’m having some re-emerging feelings around his trip home, I’ll be able to articulate to my partner that I might need a little extra TLC and words of affirmation to make up for the disruption in quality time when it comes. I can work on practicing self-care and self-soothing when I’m faced with disappointing news, like that I won’t see him for a full week or that our time together will be cut short because his flight is taking off on our date night.

But there’s another part of this that I think is important for all of us to practice as we get closer to the holidays, and that’s compassion, kindness, and empathy. We need to be aware of how the stress of the season is affecting the way we interact, not only with our partner(s) and metamour(s), but with others we interact with as well.

So that if someone gets snippy with us, we don’t have a meltdown in the middle of the cold cuts aisle at our local grocery store. We might instead just step aside, let them pass, and move along with our lives.

3 thoughts on “Holiday stress and polyamory”

  1. This is a great article, and thank you for addressing the topic. My partner lives with and has young children with his primary partner, so especially while the kids are small, holidays can be difficult. Fortunately, I do like staying in my pyjamas, watching Christmas tv and gorging on food! But there are many times where I would love to be curled up with him in front of a fire on Christmas Eve. 😢

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  2. Sorry to hear about your anxiety. I know how draining and debilitating it can be. I can relate to not being out as poly on the holiday. I was once in a triad with a married couple and Christmas was rough on all of us because we were not out to their parents and siblings. I was the “friend with nowhere else to be” on Christmas. At least I still got to spend it with them though.

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