How Polyamory Saved me from the Lingering Trauma of an Abusive Relationship

Relationships

How Polyamory Saved me from the Lingering Trauma of an Abusive Relationship

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

“So you and your husband date other people? Don’t you get jealous?” I get asked the same question every time I disclose that I’m polyamorous. I shudder on each occasion, not because there is something inherently wrong with jealousy. In fact, jealousy is a perfectly natural emotion, regardless of one’s relationship structure. It’s what jealousy represents – the conventional view of a relationship. Let me elaborate. When I decided on polyamory as my relationship structure, I chose it simply because it came naturally to me. At the time (7 years ago to be precise), I didn’t give much thought to where this desire to be non-monogamous emanated from. After all, it really wasn’t as if I was dating a lot. Over the years however, as I opened up about this lifestyle change, I’ve realised that much of this choice has its roots in my first, and extremely abusive relationship.

With the normalisation of this lack of accountability, it’s hardly surprising that possessiveness becomes the metric of love in people’s minds.

I was 17 at the said time and harboured all the grand and romantic notions of what love is supposed to be – Bollywood being my primary source of knowledge. It sounds cute till you realise how toxic it can be. We’re taught repeatedly that love isn’t easy, that real love requires never giving up. That love means never having to say you’re sorry’. With the normalisation of this lack of accountability, it’s hardly surprising that possessiveness becomes the metric of love in people’s minds.

My very abusive ex decided to take this a few steps further and equated relationship and ownership. For him, as for many others, being in a relationship meant any conversations or even deep platonic connections were borderline cheating. What began as simple jealousy, very quickly turned to violence. Screaming led to flinging things and name calling every time I so much as had a cup of coffee with anyone who wasn’t him. As is typical of all abusive relationships, he made sure that I was alienated from everyone I loved, including family. Complete and total dependence on him was what he sought and ultimately got.

Apart from the very skewed idea of romance I had adopted, the abuse also left me dissociated from a strong sense of identity.

Being the very first brush with romance in the 17 years of my life until then, all I remember was the feeling of suffocation. We only know what we’re taught. And I was taught that this form of abuse was just the sacrifice love demanded, I carried it inside me for years to come. It’s hardly a surprise then that all my subsequent relationships blew up in my face. Apart from the very skewed idea of romance I had adopted, the abuse also left me dissociated from a strong sense of identity. Was that to be my only definition every time I was to be in a relationship? Someone’s possession? That feeling of suffocation persisted no matter whom I dated. It became the very thing I associated relationships with.

Till I met my husband, that is. Though it began as a typical monogamous relationship, the safety and security we created for each other in effect allowed us to have open conversations and question the need of a default relationship structure that is monogamy. The idea wasn’t necessary to explore non-monogamy. It was to question and to arrive at our relationship structure based on our individual needs. The fact that there was space to openly question these ideas, made us realise that the love we felt for each other had nothing to do with what we felt for anyone else. It simply existed. With no external influence from anyone.

That the space we created for each other meant that we could grow and explore without the fear of losing each other. It was the existence of this space that did away with the feeling of possessiveness. When we allowed the love to simply exist and take its course, we also realised that we were together not because we were married, but because we actively choose each other every morning. With this, the necessity to hold on tight simply melted away. And so did my association of suffocation with relationships.

The fact that there was space to openly question these ideas, made us realise that the love we felt for each other had nothing to do with what we felt for anyone else.

In the last 7 years, I’ve realised that this is equally applicable to platonic relationships. I no longer compartmentalise my relationships in boxes. I no longer feel the need for constant re-assurance, romantic or otherwise. Which isn’t to say that I’m indifferent, but that I can now let emotions just exist and take their own course. I still don’t date much, for that was never really the reason for me to explore polyamory, but looking back, polyamory has done way more for me than to just let me explore different connections. It has redefined love for me, it has made me more secure as I now realise that it’s impossible to be non-monogamous without having enough strength in the fundamental structures that constitute relationships. More importantly, it’s made me realise that it is not only possible to breathe but also to grow in love.

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