Advice – I feel very special when my secondary dates others, but not when my primary dates others.

“I have been together with my primary partner for 6 years now. Our relationship is super solid and we are still very much in love. He is not poly per se, more ‘open’ and only in love with me. I do struggle with feeling less special when he dates others. I get insecure and anxious. Maybe I do feel special, but I also tend to be afraid that the other girl is cooler than I am. I recognize that she is just different and we have different qualities.

It is different with my secondary partner of 4 months. He is poly and currently in love with three partners and maybe dating five or six people in total. They are gorgeous. I don’t feel a speck of jealousy. I even feel very special because those girls are all super beautiful and have the ideal body according to him: petite and skinny. I am not petite and skinny at all. So it’s really cool that he likes me so much! He even fell in love with me and shows me a lot of love and affection. He explained me that we are all special in our own way. He didn’t have to explain this because I already knew.

I think this is pretty interesting. My anxiety pops up when my primary partner dates other girls, and especially when they have a more ‘ideal’ body than mine… and with my secondary partner I don’t feel this at all!

Did someone experience something like this? I would like to explore why this works this way psychologically. I think it’s because I would be devastated when I would “lose” my primary whereas I am just enjoying my secondary for as long as it will last.

If you ever struggled with feelings of being anxious or less worthy when your partner dates cool people, how did you handle this?”

/u/notsofearless, /r/polyamory.

Photo by Harry Cunningham on

Dear Not So Fearless,

I think you already touched on one possibility; that you could fear potentially losing the six year old relationship you have with your primary partner. But I also think that there are two other possibilities that could explain why you feel more special when your secondary partner dates others while you feel less special when your primary partner does so.

It could be that the difference in each of your partners’ relationship orientations make you feel more or less secure with each one. You mentioned that your primary partner is more open while your secondary partner is much more polyamorous. So you have already established an idea of the kind of partners they each seek out. And you could in turn fear that your primary partner could still potentially develop feelings toward their casual partners. You already know and have experienced that your secondary partner can maintain happy and healthy intimate relationships with many people. So you don’t feel as insecure about your secondary partner developing and sustaining emotional connections with others.

Image credit to Hunter Photography.

Another possibility is that you have different attachment styles with each of your partners. For those who don’t know, the four attachment styles (Secure, Anxious-Preoccupied, Dismissive-Avoidant, and Fearful-Avoidant) originate from the attachment theory. In short, it reasons that our early life interactions with our parents determine how we might be acclimated to develop a specific style of connection with our loved ones. Here is a very quick overview of how different attachment styles compare.

  • Secure: “I am contently attached to my partner(s). I am deeply engaged with my partner(s) and feel free to explore the breadth of human experience. I have a high value of myself and others, and love developing strong and intimate connection with many.”
  • Anxious-Preoccupied: “I seek high levels of intimacy from my partner(s). I feel anxious when my partner(s) are away from me. I want to get very close to the people I love. I have a very high value of others but a very low value of myself.”
  • Dismissive-Avoidant: “I seek high levels of independence away from my partner(s). I do not need anyone to be a high functioning individual. I sometimes struggle to develop and maintain close connections with people due to how I keep those connections at a distance. I have a very high value of self but a very low value of others.”
  • Fearful-Avoidant: “I want to but feel utterly unsure how to develop close connections with my partner(s). I feel very ambivalent about wanting to connect with people at a deep level, but not wanting to get too close to someone who could hurt me. I struggle to feel worthy in my relationships. I have a low value of myself and others.”

Most of us generally gravitate toward one attachment style over others, and your natural attachment style could change depending on the relationship, where you are at in life, and the kind of attachment style your partner(s) has.

So it could just be possible that you are securely attached to your secondary partner, while you have an anxious-preoccupied attachment with your primary partner.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on

It might be a good time for you to sit down with your primary partner and establish a more secure attachment with each other by diving deep into what you feel the most insecure about. This will be a very difficult and complex discussion to have, as you’ll quickly discover that all of these body image issues are more internal rather than external. And there will only be so much your partners can do to address your self-image issues. We are so often told by our colleagues, TV ads, and fashion websites that beauty is absolute and the impossible beauty standards should be achievable.

But the truth is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And I don’t mean your partners when I say beholder; I mean you. Learn to recognize and appreciate the things you love about yourself by romancing yourself.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

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