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So what is it that makes one person secure in a relationship, and another person not secure? Why is it that some people are perfectly fine with the idea of their partners having lunch with, romantic relationships with, or mad passionate sex with another person, while some people would rather be shot multiple times in a drive-by than see that happen?

It's too easy just to say "Oh, some people are jealous." That's a non-answer. Whenever I hear someone say something like "Oh, I could never do that, I'm a jealous person," it sounds as nonsensical as saying "Oh, I'm a hungry person" or "Oh, I'm a tired person." Jealousy is an emotional response; to say "Oh, I'm a jealous person" and to let it go at that is to treat it as if it is some fixed, immutable thing we are powerless over, like saying "Oh, I'm a Western European person" or "Oh, I'm a dark-haired person." In fact, scratch that--many people seem to feel they have more control over the color of their hair than over their emotional lives!

Now, there are certainly plenty of people in the world who do indeed feel unhappy and insecure if their partner spends time with someone else. There are many reasons that someone might feel this way, of course; insecurity, low self-esteem, a feeling of being expendable or interchangeable, a feeling that one's needs are not important to one's partner, feelings of being marginalized or trivialized.

Some of these, such as low self-esteem, are internal. Low self-esteem in particular is a real bitch, especially when it comes to relationships; I've seen many people cling to their low self-esteem like drowning men cling to a piece of driftwood, refusing to give it up. It's self-reinforcing, because it creates a sense that you're not valuable and thare are many people in the world who are better than you are, so you best not let your partner be with any of them, or best make sure you're in control of the situation. The thought of giving up the low self-esteem is terrifying, because if you give up your low self-esteem, then it might be okay for your partner to spend time with another person--and you don't want that to happen, because it makes you feel insecure! Hence, you don't want to give up the low self-esteem, because giving it up means that you may face situations which...trigger your low self-esteem.

Some of these are external. There really are people who shouldn't be comfortable if their partners express an interest in someone else; there really are people who treat their partners as expendable and interchangeable, and who aren't concerned with taking care of their partner's needs. Many "free agents" in the poly community behave in ways that don't exactly inspire confidence in their lovers; some behave as if they barely recognize the differences between them at all.

Okay, so there's nothing new in any of that. We all know this already, right? Behave in a way that doesn't acknowledge the needs of your lover, and your lover may not feel secure in your relationship. Behave with indifference to your lover, and your lover may not feel secure in your relationship. Behave as if your lover is the flavor of the day--"Ooh, you're so cool, I dig you, I'm so glad we met, I totally lov--oh, look, potato chips!"--and your lover may not feel secure in your relationship. This isn't really rocket science.

But what happens if you flip that coin over and look at the other side?

There are people in the world--I've met more than a few--who have a strong sense of self, a robust sense of security, who are in partnerships with people who are sensitive to their needs and treat them well, yet who still seem plagued by insecurity in their relationships. I'm not talking about people who simply aren't polyamorous; there are secure people in healthy relationships who are just monogamous, and that's the end of it. No, I mean people who seem to be secure in themselves and have partners who treat them well, yet seem insecure in their relationships all the same. So what's the difference?

Conjecture: Putting your partner's needs first, putting your partner's happiness before your own, doing everything you do in your relationship for the sake of your partner, can also cause your partner to be insecure.

Reasoning: Now, this doesn't seem to make intuitive sense at all; if your partner is respectful of your needs and consistently puts your needs ahead of his own, it wouldn't seem like this should breed insecurity. Just the opposite, in fact; a person in a relationship with someone who has a consistent track record of making his happiness the most important thing should feel secure, right? But bear with me here.

Let's say Alice and Bob are in a relationship, and Alice consistently puts Bob's happiness ahead of her own. Alice genuinely wants to make Bob happy; in fact, this is her first priority in all matters great and small. Alice has always done everything she can to make Bob's needs her first concern. Could you reasonably expect Bob to feel secure with Alice?

I think the answer is "no." Every human being does have needs; a romantic relationship where one person's needs are important and another's are not isn't sustainable, even if it's the choice of the person whose needs are being neglected.

But it gets worse. If Alice has never made her needs or her happiness a priority, and has never stood up for the things she wants, then it's entirely possible that Bob doesn't understand her needs, and because of that has no idea how to make her happy. Alice's self-sacrifice backfires, because by not standing up for her needs, she has denied Bob the opportunity to meet them. Can Bob make Alice happy in their relationship? Bob has absolutely no way to know; he has no handle on what Alice needs...and indeed Alice herself may not have a handle on her needs! When the day comes that the relationship becomes unsustainable, when Alice must start considering her own happiness...what then? Bob doesn't have the tools to make Alice happy; if some situation comes along which DOES make Alice happy--even if it's a situation Alice herself could not have foreseen or anticipated--the Bob may very well lose Alice, and the poor guy never had a chance.

The dangers of putting your own needs ahead of everyone else's are pretty obvious, really. Being a selfish prick isn't a good relationship strategy, and I think most reasonably people can easily see why.

But the reverse--putting your partner's needs ahead of your own--is a dangerous game as well. There comes a point where you must stand up for your own happiness, and defend the things you need and want; if you do not, your partner may be left with no idea what those things are, and no idea how to make you happy.

Were I in a relationship with someone I did not know how to make happy, I do not believe it would be possible for me to be secure in that relationship--even if my lover did everything in the world for me. Reciprocity in a relationship is more than just fair; it's the very thing that gives the people involved the tools they need to make one another happy. It's very important for me that my lover stand up for her happiness, and be able to assert herself and ask for what she wants. If I know what she wants, I may or may not be able to provide it--but if I don't know what she wants, I don't have the most basic tools I need to make her happy, and if I cannot make her happy, I can never really trust that she will stay.


( 34 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 10th, 2005 07:27 pm (UTC)
i completely agree. even short of worries about leaving, i'd like my partner to articulate her desires, since i'd like her to be happy... i usually find that misplaced self-effacement leads to problems sooner, rather than later.
Aug. 10th, 2005 08:01 pm (UTC)
Aug. 10th, 2005 08:28 pm (UTC)
True to form, I agree with 90% of what you're saying. :-) However,
"I've seen many people cling to their low self-esteem like drowning men cling to a piece of driftwood, refusing to give it up."
makes no sense to me. I have a fair amount of experience with low self-esteem in relationships, both my own and in those with whom I'm involved, and it's never been something which has been chosen, either consciously or unconsciously. In fact, I've seen it recognized for what it is and struggled against on a daily basis, and can assure you that it isn't a switch which can be turned off or even a crutch which can be dropped if only the person really wants to. You describe it as a self-reinforcing downward spiral, and in my observation that's an oversimplification.

Other than that I think you're spot on as usual. Go you! :-)
Aug. 10th, 2005 08:42 pm (UTC)
If I was drowning, and the only thing I thought could save me was a piece of driftwood - I don't think it would be very easy to give that up either.. I don't think the analogy really trivializes or oversimplifies how complicated low self esteem is or how difficult it is to turn it. You could look at the driftwood as a metaphor for your personality. Low self esteem is usually so tightly wound around parts of our personalities that the only way to change it is to actually kill parts of ourselves and rebuild.
(no subject) - datan0de - Aug. 10th, 2005 09:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - Aug. 11th, 2005 12:28 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - griffen - Aug. 11th, 2005 05:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - peristaltor - Aug. 11th, 2005 07:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - peristaltor - Aug. 12th, 2005 04:08 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nesteddoll - Aug. 11th, 2005 12:29 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ra_the_bold - Aug. 11th, 2005 12:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - chaos_crafter - Sep. 13th, 2005 12:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 10th, 2005 08:47 pm (UTC)
Insecurity in a relationship comes primarely from low self esteem and personal complexes; but I think they are deterrents of further involvement rather than proponents of retaliation. For example, if you are insecure about your physical appearance, you will avoid sexual activity at all costs and will feel very uncomfortable when you see things leading to the exposition of your weakness.
Whether you get jealous when your spouse is with another person is of no debate. Of course you will, but the desire for more control is independent of insecurity and varies with personality.
Aug. 11th, 2005 12:33 am (UTC)
Whether you get jealous when your spouse is with another person is of no debate. Of course you will, but the desire for more control is independent of insecurity and varies with personality.

I'm not sure I follow this part--do you mean you believe that jealousy is an inevitable response when your spouse is with another person?
I've been here too - peristaltor - Aug. 11th, 2005 08:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: I've been here too - tacit - Aug. 15th, 2005 09:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: I've been here too - peristaltor - Aug. 16th, 2005 03:19 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: I've been here too - tacit - Aug. 22nd, 2005 08:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: I've been here too - peristaltor - Aug. 24th, 2005 04:05 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: I've been here too - tacit - Aug. 25th, 2005 05:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 10th, 2005 09:09 pm (UTC)
Oh. My. Ghod.


That hurt, but it hit the spot. Thank you, sir. May I have another?
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 11th, 2005 12:19 am (UTC)
Re: I have a degree in Anth, may as well share...
"Reciprocity" here means something like "balanced reciprocity," in the sense that a relationship works best when all the people involved work together to build something that meets everyone's needs and serves everyone's happiness. Healthy relationships need to work for everybody; if one person consistently defers his happiness for the sake of another, the relationship is unsustainable.
(Deleted comment)
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 11th, 2005 12:17 am (UTC)
Re: May I?
Aug. 11th, 2005 02:03 am (UTC)
Translated to french
I like this note, so I traduced it in french in my blog: http://blogs.kd2.org/bohwaz/?2005/08/11/48-quelques-reflexions-sur-la-securite-des-relations

I hope you'll agree to this translation, if not just say it I'll remove it from my blog.

Aug. 11th, 2005 07:08 pm (UTC)
Re: Translated to french
I don't speak more than a handful of words in French, so I'll just call it good... :)
Re: Translated to french - ext_1393 - Aug. 14th, 2005 11:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Translated to french - tacit - Aug. 11th, 2005 07:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
Aug. 11th, 2005 03:43 am (UTC)
So here's my 2c's:

For me, I believe my security also comes from how I was raised. I had two parents (albeit alcoholic and coping with their own dysfuntion) really loved each other. My mom, for some odd reason, was pretty open with her sexuality (given it was the 60's) - she went skinny dipping with the neighbours - and if my dad ever got insecure, he hid it (probably by drinking). My mom taught us birth control, mostly by example - and that bodies aren't dirty and that there are a lot of good people in the world.

And since then I've learned: I have to be a whole person before I can share a part of me and still be whole. I cannot give away what I don't have. If I don't love myself, I believe I cannot love another. I was obsessed, in my first marriage, and addicted to my ex. I was "in love" with my ex but I don't know that lust equates love.

I also cannot trust someone else if I cannot trust myself. It is only the last few years that I trust myself, my choices, my reasons - and I like who I am. And if I like who I am, I can like someone who likes themself. And I can swap a bit of myself for a bit of someone else and still be whole, and they can be whole.

For me, life is about balance - but it is only by going to both extremes in the first marriage, the catdragon_ reaps the benefits. Also, I teach other people how to treat me - and if I take good care of me - my partner, and my friends do too. And in return, I treat them the way I expect me to be treated.

I do not do for my partner what he can do for himself, but I do offer to help and I do try and do nice things for him.

As to what you posted - everyone is at different places in the whole "life" thing. Some people, IMHO, may be at an extreme in the journey toward balance. Others may simply never get the lesson. I have seen really jealous people behave inappropriately. I think what they don't get is - it is alright to be jealous. All of us feel that way at some point, if we are still able to feel. But it isn't okay to behave inappropriately - toward ourself or others. So many people just don't want to take personal responsibility for their actions - and IMHO that's what it boils down to.

I'm sure I could wax poetic about this for hours - Pages even - but I'll spare you.

Good post - got me thinking :-)
Aug. 11th, 2005 07:09 pm (UTC)
"And since then I've learned: I have to be a whole person before I can share a part of me and still be whole."

Indeed, that's one of the cornerstones of a healthy relationship, and is a valuable tool for avoiding the kind of situation I'm talking about--sublimating yourself in your partner.
Aug. 11th, 2005 08:12 pm (UTC)
Relationship security
Considering how far apart we are I think we both need to feel secure in each other. I trust you and hope you trust me.Any questions I had about Jen was trying to establish what sort of relationship you do have with her but I can see some of the probing ones could be seen as jealousy by another-- don't worry be happy.

Friction may not be the case of insecurity though but if you do not find a balance between friends and lovers then one or both may feel neglected. Not because they're insecure but thru a sense of entitlement after all you've made a commitment to them you should take that into account when its a choice between bowling with the boys or a romantic anniversary with the significant other (exaggerated examples!! unless yo're a redneck in which case the answer's obvious-- option A every time no real insult to rednecks meant-- honest!!

As for needs any relationgship is a balancing act and a dynamic one at that. Give and take and communication helps but only if they speak the same "language". In the above example making Bob happy is what makes Ann happy. It may seem one-sided to an outsider but if they are secure in that they are satisfying the other's "need" - in Bob's case whatever makes him happy
_ in Ann's case satisfying those needs.

Then the relatonship works. It only becomes unbalanced if Bob starts to queston if he's really making her happy or begins to doubt that she is happy.
Or if Ann begins to think-- hang on what about me!

The balance works if he is yin to her yang (or is it the other way round I can never remember) but not if they both start to pull and demand.

This may make her a doormat in one person's eyes or a caring person in another's.
If they're both secure and happy who are we to judge! If not there's always the marriage counsellor or the priest or therapist etc.
Aug. 26th, 2005 01:21 pm (UTC)
This is exactly why my last relationship failed.
The thing is, I eventually "grew up" and realized that my needs weren't being met, but not knowing what they were, he couldn't make me happy.

This went on for some 8 years. I've never been able to put it into words as clear as these. Luckily, with some really supportive friends, and a great therapist, I have been able to overcome many of my self-image issues. Thank you so much!
Aug. 30th, 2005 05:58 am (UTC)
This is a great entry! I liked many of the comments just as much as the original entry itself. Thanks!
( 34 comments — Leave a comment )