Self Discovery Through Relationships
While I would not advise using your relationships as a sole place for growth and learning, it is important to remember that relationships are a place that humans expand, experience, and develop in ways they otherwise might not.
Polyamorous people have a unique opportunity to double on this process. They open themselves up to pain, experiences, and loves that are unlike anything else. In this process, there are ways that we discover ourselves.
It can be exciting and dramatic and amazing. Totally worth the other stuff, I’d argue. Though the way these processes play out will look different in practice if you are Poly, it occurs in any kind of relationship. Monogamous, professional, and friendships fall under this category as well.
Here are some ways self discovery can play out in relationships.
The Human Mirror
Being with another person can help us notice habits, behaviors, and preferences that we didn’t know we had. In short, now somebody is calling you out on your shit.
This can either be amazing or the worst thing in the world depending on your relationship with your shit.
Keep in mind, when your partner is making a request that is hard for you to accommodate, you get to say no. If they are asking for something that doesn’t align with your values or desires, you don’t have to do it. BUT think about why.
If the reason this new request or suggestion bothers you is something that can be worked on, then you’re in luck. More personal growth! You get to explore it safely. Let your partner know it’s hard and you could use some support with it. (For stuff like, “Can you meet my other partner,” not stuff like, “Can you risk prison and help me bury this body?”)
When a partner pushes edges we didn’t know we had, it holds a big mirror up to us. Do we like what we see?
The Time Machine
In relationships, we inherently experience a lot of changes. Memories from the past are brought back up. It might be an ex, a family member, or a previous version of ourself that we are reminded of.
We essentially say, “This is who I am and here is why,” over and over for the first few months of a relationship just in different ways. Digging into the “why” can mean old feelings coming up and it can feel scary.
While we don’t get to hold our partner accountable for those feelings, we do get to work on them from a new place. A place of loving and being loved. This is better done separately from your partner (they are not your therapist) but you can surely share the happy results.
We sometimes catch ourselves expecting a partner to behave the way other partners or our family members did (or the way we would have liked them to). This is not a place to try to fix old wrongs or finally get what we never got out of those people. It is a time to cope with those loses and have fresh love for this new relationship.
The Climbing Ivy
It might sound cute and sweet to become the ivy on the trellis of another, but a trellis is normally inanimate and doesn’t mind the company. In relationships, we can sometimes grow in the context of our partners and not any place else. We can adapt to their life and live well in it and mistake that for personal development.
That behavior is a pattern that is very common in relationships. It is a way that we suffocate a relationship by becoming it. It truly is the shadow of self discovery in a relationship and can make for messy break ups and turbulent relationships.
Maintaining an identity as an individual can help keep that ivy, while beautiful aesthetically, from becoming the way you grow in the relationship. Instead, grow as an individual next to your partner instead of on top and all over them (emotionally, of course).
As people grow, they place in the relationship may change. This is where Polyamory has a well explored answer: Relationship Transitions. While these are possible in Mono relationships, they are not very common.
Relationship transitions can help a relationship cope with the kind of emotional growth that takes place in deeply moving relationship. The transitions can go up, down, sideways, and under. They can take the commonly monogamous sting out of “growing apart”.
Happy loving, everybody!
Britt Vasicek is the host of Poly Wanna Podcast and creator of Sell Your Body Show. She is an advocate for Poly-Visibility and Sex+Love education.
www.fullabritt.com – firstname.lastname@example.org