Should I Ask My Partner Not To See Other People?

Jul 29, 2021

Hello. My name is Martha Kauppi. I’m an AASECT-certified sex therapist and supervisor and the author of Polyamory: A Clinical Toolkit for Therapists (and Their Clients).

By the way, if you’re enjoying these vlogs, my book looks like it’s made for therapists but I think it might be made for you. It’s very much like having a conversation with me, to read the book. It’s a big thick book with a lot of stuff in it. If you get anything valuable out of a five-minute vlog recording, I can just about guarantee that you will get a ton of value out of the book. You might want to invest.

Today, I’m going to continue talking about some of the nuances of dealing with jealousy and particularly, the balance of self-regulation and co-regulation, folding in another question from a viewer. If you haven’t listened to the last two vlogs in particular—one is about a balance and integration of receiving and asking and the other is about the Happiness Project—go watch those first because this builds on them.

Now, I’m going to read another question that was sent to me: “How do I figure out what I want and need? How do I dream the future?

I will, for sure, talk about that soon but now, here’s a little twist:

“The idea of shifting focus from what I’m afraid of to what I want makes sense to me. However, I have found that it feels very vulnerable to want things because I am afraid it will be even more heartbreaking when I don’t get them. It also feels tricky to know what would really make me feel better.”

Go back two vlogs to asking/receiving for a discussion on how to ask for the right things. That is such a deep question. I really appreciate this question. It is not easy to figure out what would make you feel better.

Remember, anything external to you that you’re thinking is going to make you feel better might or might not actually make you feel better. You, always, can do something within yourself to make you feel better. The thing about the Happiness Project, the project of me creating a happy life for myself is that it makes me more resilient in the face of circumstances around me. I bounce back better from disappointment if I’m generally a little more robustly happy. If I have multiple interests, I’m much more likely to bounce back from something that doesn’t go my way.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t get my way regularly. Several times per day, certainly many times per week I don’t get my way. If it crushed me each time, I would not have any juice left to do my work, to make vlog for you, to help my clients, to write a book, or any other project that I might want to do.

Attending to what keeps me balanced: that’s the most important business of my life because it’s my foundation. When I build a strong, flexible foundation, that is the basis of what I bring to the world and underlies how I bring myself to all of my relationships—professional and personal.

I can not say enough about how important that foundation is. You have to have one. You just deserve to have one. It’s your birthright to have one and my dearest hope is that your partner wants you to have one because your partner wants you to be a happy person. Listen to a few things I’ve done before and see if you can learn a little bit about the Happiness Project.

Shifting focus from “what I want you to do for me that will make me happier, I think” to “how I want to show up,” what is that? This is a really important magic trick. The example in this listener’s question is, “It’s tempting to say I want my partner not to see other people. This, I think, would make me feel less triggered.” Ok, maybe. “But my partner might say no.” Yes. “And even if my partner agreed, they would be compromising themselves and I think I would still feel insecure. Then, I experience pressure to meet my partner’s needs.”

There’s a lot here. There’s a whole lot here. I do think that when it comes to the question of asking your partner not to see other people or asking your partner not to see particular people, first of all, let’s talk about how to do that asking. If I say to my partner, “I wish you wouldn’t see that person. Please don’t do that,” that’s one way to do it and at least it’s direct. Extra points for directness.

That’s better than, “Oh my gosh. I’m so unhappy and you don’t understand how unhappy I am. I keep telling you why I’m unhappy. I’m unhappy because you’re seeing that other person and you’re just not getting it, why I’m unhappy. Why don’t you meet my needs without me even saying them?” That’s much less direct so that one gets a “C”.

I would say “B+” for “Just do what I want you to do, for goodness sake. This is what I want you to do. I want you to stop seeing that other person,” or, “I want you to see that other person less.” At least it’s direct. I really do like direct.

But what would be even better would be if you talk about yourself, what’s going on for you, and what you want for yourself. This would be, “When you go off and do that thing with that other person, I have a lot of emotions. I’m not sure how to deal with those emotions really well and I’m working on that in a number of ways. One way I’d like to work on those emotions is to talk to you about them.” You can ask your partner to help you with your project. Your project is the Happiness Project of you. Your partner might be interested in the Happiness Project of you because your partner cares a lot about you.

When it’s framed like that, think about it in a reverse role. If your partner said, “I’m having a whole bunch of complicated emotions. I’d like some help thinking through what’s going on for me and figuring out a strategy for how to handle it when it happens,” that’s a lot easier to approach than, “You are not doing what I want you to do and I am pissed off about it.” Do you see the difference? It’s really, really different.

It’s not just, though, framing it so that it’s easier for your partner to digest, although it certainly is that. It’s also framing it so that you’re owning your own power and that’s the part that I care about much more than whatever your partner might experience. I really want you to feel your power.

I am in charge of the Martha Happiness Project and I have an advisory staff. I have a close friend, I have a partner, I have another close friend, I have a sibling, and I use them to help me manage the Martha Happiness Project. I’ll ask for advice. I’ll ask for feedback. I’ll say, “Gosh, this thing happened and I really struggled. I’m not sure what happened with that.”

And a therapist, my therapist, is part of my Happiness Project. My therapist’s job is to help me be the happy person that I want to be. I let my therapist know that I think her job is supporting the Happiness Project…rather than thinking that my job is to show up for therapy and do whatever she wants me to do. That’s a very disempowered stance. On the contrary, I am looking for happiness. I am looking for happiness in this circumstance, and seeking a strong advisory staff.

Let’s imagine that you’re in a circumstance where you have a partner who’s dating someone else and you’re experiencing a lot of uncomfortable emotions as a result. Can you figure out what you want to experience? From this question, it sounds to me like this person (asking the above question) wants to experience happiness and balance even when their partner’s dating this other person. They don’t want their partner to not date this other person and they think it might backfire if they were to ask for that…and it might!

You can ask, also. If that’s the dearest desire of your heart, you certainly can ask. You can say, “This is turning out to be really hard for me and I want to discuss the possibility of changing entirely how we’re doing this.” You can open that conversation, certainly.

But if what you want is to experiment with how you can feel emotionally solid even when your partner is dating someone else, that is a project that you can do but you have to be clear that it’s what you want. Your project is not “ask my partner not to date that person” if your goal is to manage those feelings better or have a different experience when your partner is dating someone else.

Good news, bad news. You can figure this out but you will actually have to figure it out. You might want to journal, write, talk to a therapist, or something to start figuring out what it is that’s getting in the way of your happiness experience. What is it that you’re telling yourself when your partner makes a date or walks out the door. Where do the little blocks come up for you? When exactly is it that you’re like, “Ugh,” thinking or feeling something that’s uncomfortable. Figure that out.

By the way, in my book I have a big chapter on jealousy that has a ton of examples and a ton of different ways of looking at this; it it I talk about this in much more depth. I do highly, highly recommend it. It also has some worksheets about personal change and some conversation about how you would make a change for yourself.

That is what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about figuring out what you want to experience. “Right now, I have lots of uncomfortable feelings when my partner goes on a date, but what I want to experience is hardly any uncomfortable feelings whether my partner goes on a date or doesn’t go on a date.” That is very important to get clear, that that’s a change that I want to make within myself that’s not dependent on whether my partner does go on a date or doesn’t go on a date. Very empowered. Very strong project of personal change for myself.

What I can tell you about personal change for yourself is that you can do it. Making someone else do something? That’s an iffy project because you can’t make anybody do anything. You can ask. You can make a request and see what your partner wants to do but what you are 100% actually in charge of is what you do and what you think about what you do.

All of the complexity around jealousy has to do with what you’re telling yourself about the situation. What are the stories that you’re telling yourself that are making all the feelings happen? Would you like to try telling yourself different stories, blocking the stories you’ve got, distracting yourself with some fun stuff that you could be doing otherwise? Any of that can happen and all of that can work. You can also use them all at the same time.

You can also be checking some assumptions that are stories or that are comparisons, fatalistic stories you’re telling yourself about the future of your relationship. You can check those out with your partner. There are so many ways to work with this. Don’t give up.

The reframe that you’re asking me the question about is the most important part, which is shifting from what I want you to do because it’ll make my life better to what I want for myself, even when things don’t go my way. Then you learn what kind of capacity you have to create the life that you want.

I’m thinking warm, kind thoughts for you. I know the struggle is real. Feel free to ask me your questions. I’ll tackle them one by one, and I hope you have a great day.

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