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FROM THE FUCKBUCKET: In what way do you best phrase your feelings of insecurity without hurting your S.O.?

If this is your first conversation that the two of you will be having about things that might be accompanied by feelings of insecurity and jealousy, then you probably won’t be able to do it without some amount of hurt. These conversations, and the feelings that happen on both sides of the equation, are fucking challenging for most people, even if you’re used to having them—like many polyamorous people or open sex workers—and the first time out can feel scary and bad. Just remember: you aren’t unevolved or “basic” or whatever for having either the initial feelings of insecurity OR for feeling anxious about the conversation. They don’t teach this shit in school, although they should.

The best thing you can do going into such convos is for both people to assume the best intent and mutual investment on both sides. (If you can’t do that, then feeling insecure and jealous is not the deepest level of challenge that you have, and I recommend seeing a couples’ therapist pronto.)

Another basic thing is to really make yourself physically present. Sit across from each other so you can have eye contact; turn off the damn phones. And be prepared to breathe a lot and stay silent and listen.

I talked about this a while back, about leaving lots and lots space in tough conversations. You’ve got to leave room, take time to hear the other person and then come up with your response. This is basic conversational respect: don’t be preparing your response when you haven’t even listened completely to what they are saying.

It’s worth going into these with similar sorts of ground rules that you establish together. Whether that’s my “asterisk” concept (setting up a code word that indicates that you have finished speaking for the moment) or an understanding that one of you may cry when upset, but that doesn’t mean ending the conversation, whatever your particulars are, it’s good to get them out on the table to support the process.

Also, and maybe this is obvious, do some thinking ahead of time about what is really going on. Take notes for yourself if you need to; it’s easy to get lost in your head when emotions are running high. At the very least, spend a little time thinking or journaling about what happened to bring up this conversation, so that it’s not all unfolding real-time during your discussion.

Okay, enough about prepping. How about that actual conversation?

When you tell your partner about those feelings, hook them up to a specific event or situation where you feel them; that is, avoid sweeping statements like “I’m just feeling so insecure lately!” Try phrasing it as a cause-and-effect thing: “when you stay out so late and I don’t hear from you, I feel anxious/insecure/angry (whatever the tough emotion that you feel).” The cause, however, is not them, it’s a behavior or situation, and you are reporting your feeling about that situation, NOT THEM.

Spend some time digging in with your partner. Are you worried about losing your partner to someone else? Do you think that their co-workers are more attractive than you are? Are you missing some intimacy at home? Are you dealing with so much instability in your life that you just need one spot of stability, and you thought that was your partner, but now this is happening? Go deep. Because yes, there are things that they are doing or ways that they are being that are bringing these things up, but you are not a blank slate or a puppet with strings waiting to be pulled: you are bringing your own history and feelings in as well.

When you’ve hashed out what is really going on, and how they feel, and actually what are the facts about the situation, it’s time to ask for what you want. Can you lay down some action items, and make a date to check in on them? Sometimes the remedy is as simple as a phone call or text; maybe you do need a therapist together. What is something that they could do, or the two of you together, that would help you feel better?

Remember also to think about the things that you could do to help yourself. I’ve heard this called “self-soothing,” and holy crap, is it something that I have had to work on constantly when it comes to my own relationship insecurities. Basically, you’re looking at non-harmful things that you can do when you’re feeling bad, and also just committing to sitting through the uncomfortable feelings. Sometimes you need to share with your partner when the shitty feelings come up; sometimes you can share with trusted friends, or work on it by yourself through journaling or making art. You get to decide for yourself, hooray, self-sufficiency! (That was only partially sarcastic.)

Then at the end? Your partner might still feel hurt or whatever; you might still feel insecure. But make sure that you have something good to do together afterward, making dinner or watching a movie or a bath together, something bonding. Because you did it. Feeling insecure and hurt are normal things, but you talked about it, and you planned for change, and you still love each other and the world did not end. Well done!

*****

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