The podcast features Ruby Bouie Johnson, a therapist and sexuality educator who has been working almost exclusively with individuals who are non-monogamous – a niche with its own culture, challenges, and perceptions.
The holiday season at the end of the year is a stressful and emotionally-charged period for many people, and self-care – including mental health care – is of paramount importance. For anyone in a polyamorous relationship, the desire to help or “fix” a partner’s (or multiple partners’) emotional health can put added strain on the relationships.
There is a perception that people with mental health issues will inherently find non-monogamous relationships more difficult. However, Ruby Bouie Johnson believes this is a myth. She says, “Most of us at some level experience anxiety, sadness, etc., and that does not say that we are ill-equipped to be in a relationship.”
Caring for a partner’s mental health within a polyamorous relationship can be challenging, especially for those who believe they need to fix their partner yet still want to maintain their own mental well-being. Ruby says, “You can support a partner without becoming their nurse or doctor. There is no ‘fixing’ here.”
Supporting a partner with a mental health challenge, such as anxiety or depression, can lead to burnout and withdrawal if the boundaries between lover and therapist are not clearly set and upheld. Ruby recommends seeking therapy, both as a self-care tactic as well as to support your partner(s) with mental health issues. She says, “I believe in treating the entire system and the entire polycule.”
The discussion continues about the importance of boundaries. At some point, it’s important to rally around a person and support them, but if that person becomes the center of attention long-term, it can negatively impact the other partners by crossing boundaries and creating an imbalance. Ruby mentions that every individual within a poly relationship is his or her own individual with an identity: “I’m more than my partner’s lover and more than their support. I’m more than their caregiver. I’m actually my own person.” Ruby believes that this realization is necessary for each individual’s mental well-being, and it’s a boundary that must be upheld.
When a partner does not address his or her own mental health, it may be necessary to end the relationship in order to preserve one’s own mental health. Ruby states, “Wanting that person to stay well more than that person wants to stay well – it’s a huge red flag. You have to recognize within yourself when you have reached your limit. It’s not to say that you’re abandoning that person, but that person has abandoned themselves – and you can’t be their life preserver. You can’t force-feed people’s recovery or well-being either. They’re going to swallow it whole and digest it, or else they’re going to choke by not wanting to deal with it.”
The Multiamory team and Ruby go on to discuss whether mental health issues should be disclosed when entering a non-monogamous relationship. Ruby offers guidance on how to do that organically in a spirit of honesty and openness, not as a victim who needs saving but as someone who is actively taking care of their own mental health.
Ruby also explains how to deal with a common situation where an individual has one partner with a need for transparency due to anxiety but another partner with a need for total privacy due to trauma. She gives advice about how to meet the needs of both partners while still maintaining one’s own mental well-being.
Listen to Episode 250 here https://www.multiamory.com/