The following content is an excerpt from JESSICA FERN’S book – Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma and Consensual Nonmonogamy. Jessica is a trusted friend and contributor to the Leveled Up Love community.
I have predominantly used the umbrella term nonmonogamy when talking about people with multiple partners, but as we saw in Chapter Four, people who are non monogamous can be quite varied in the ways they practice having multiple partners.
As we move further in the discussion of how to be POLYSECURE, I talk specifically about people who are practicing polyamory. Polyamory is commonly defined as being the practice of having romantic love-based relationships with more than one person, and we can add that it is also the form of non monogamy where people have multiple romantic attachment figures.
As previously mentioned, not all CNM relationships need to be attachment-based. We can have very fulfilling, meaningful, loving and significant relationships with people who we are either less entwined with, don’t want to label or define or who we are not looking to actively build an attachment-based relationship with. Ideally, any type of relationship, regardless of how involved or not, is ethical, respectful, has open communication and is considerate of everyone involved.
But when we are in attachment-based relationships more is required, so the rest of this book will center on people who are (or want to be) in polyamorous attachment-based partnerships.
Do We Want To Be Attachment-Based Partners?
The antecedent to being polysecure with your partners is first getting clear about whether you want to be attachment figures for each other. Our attachment-based relationships take time and investment, and so when referring to attachment-based partners I am referring to a choice that we are making to intentionally cultivate and tend to the attachment-based needs within a particular relationship.
Often, falling in love with someone or feeling attached to them does not feel like a choice we make, hence why we call it falling in love instead of stepping into love. Our attachment figures might be the people we feel levels of connection, compatibility or intensity with right from the start for reasons that we just can’t explain, or they may be the people with whom our romantic attachments have organically grown in potency and depth over time.
However you come to be with the partners that you already feel attached to or want to cultivate being more polysecure with, what is important is that at some point you are all clear that being attachment-based partners is what you want for the relationship.
In monogamy, usually at some point people have the commitment conversation in hopes of better defining their relationship, but exactly what that means to each person and all of the assumptions and expectations that each person is carrying are often left minimally discussed, if they are articulated at all.
In nonmonogamy, unspoken expectations and assumptions typically don’t bode very well, and intentional discussions about exactly what we’re doing and why we are together are important for everyone involved to feel safe and secure.
Since we are talking about attachment-based polyamorous relationships, we are talking about relationships in which you are committed to showing up for each other regularly, prioritizing each other (from choice, not obligation), actively cherishing each other, doing the work required to build a relationship and possibly even building a life together (though having a life commitment is not a prerequisite for secure attachment).
Your attachment-based relationships might be with the partners that you refer to as your primary partners, inner circle partners, nesting partners or anchor partners. You may or may not live with them or have children with them, and you definitely do not need to do either of those things to be polysecure. People who are solo poly and relationship anarchists can be in securely attached relationships.
People who are married and live with their spouse can also have secure attachment–based relationships with their non-nesting partners when vetoes and prescriptive hierarchy are not at play. What matters here is that you have a shared vision about the depth, breadth and level of involvement that you all want together, and that everyone is able to follow through with what you’ve agreed to.
For us to feel safe and secure in our relationships, we need to know that our partners want to be there for us and will be to the best of their ability, and so some level of commitment to being in a relationship together is important.
Depending On What Stage Of Relationship You Are In, This Might Look Like:
- A commitment to staying in exploration of the relationship together, without specifically defining the future or integrating your lives.
- A commitment to building an official relationship that you want to have longevity and/or be more interwoven in.
- Commitment to building a life together where you are in it for the long haul.
Commitment can be expressed in many ways. Traditionally it is solidified through marriage, owning property, having kids or wearing certain types of jewelry, but legal, domestic or ornamental undertakings are not the only ways to show dedication.
In a 2018 talk on solo polyamory at the Boulder Non-Monogamy Talk Series, Kim Keane offered the following ways that people practicing non monogamy can demonstrate commitment to their partners:
- Sharing intimate details (hopes, dreams, fears) and being vulnerable with each other.
- Introducing partners to people who are important to you.
- Helping your partners with moving, packing, home, work, job hunting, shopping, etc.
- Having regular time together, both mundane and novel.
- Making the person a priority. (I suggest defining what “being a priority” means to each of you.)
- Planning trips together.
- Being available to partners when they are sick or in need.
- Collaborating on projects together.
- Having frequent communication
- Offering physical, logistical, or emotional support.
- (e.g. at doctor’s appointments or hospital visits or by helping with your partners’ family, pets, car, children, taxes, etc.).
Commitment Reflection Questions
In each of your relationships that are already attachment-based, or for the relationships that you would like to become more attachment-based, discuss the following questions with your partners:
- What does commitment mean to you?
- What aspects of commitment are most important to you (e.g., structural, emotional or public)?
- Why do we want to be attachment figures for each other?
- What does being an attachment figure look like to you?
- Do we each have the time and availability to offer this level of involvement?
Being a Safe Haven For Each Other
John Bowlby and his contemporaries believed that for a partner to become an attachment figure, the relationship would serve as both a safe haven and a secure base. The bedrock of being in our relationships is feeling that we have a safe haven to turn to. This happens when our partners care about our safety, seek to respond to our distress, help us to coregulate and soothe and are a source of emotional and physical support and comfort.
Similarly, when our partners are struggling or in need, we can be a safe haven by being there for them in warm, caring and receptive ways. When we can’t physically be there for our partners, we do as best we can to support them from a distance until we can be in physical proximity.
In search of relationship safety, our attachment system is primed to seek the answers to certain questions regarding our partners.
Both consciously and unconsciously we are looking to know:
- If I turn towards you, will you be there for me?
- Will you receive and accept me instead of attack, criticize, dismiss or judge me?
- Will you comfort me?
- Will you respond in a way that calms my nervous system?
- Do I matter to you?
- Do I make a difference in your life?
- Can we lean into and rely on each other?
Interestingly, research consistently shows that people who have safe haven relationships in their life, whether through romantic partnership or through their family, are more resilient in the face of life stressors and trauma.
Attachment research has looked at many different populations including orphans, people who have experienced natural disasters, assault victims, veterans who were in combat, refugees, people who were in New York City during 9/11, people in concentration camps in World War II, as well as people who have had heart attacks or are recovering from surgery in the hospital.
The research has found that when people in all of these difficult situations have their safe haven attachment figures around them, either during or quickly after the event, they recover faster, experience less physical and emotional pain, and are less likely to have escalating symptoms of PTSD.
Examples of things that you and your partners can do to be safe havens for each other are:
- Give emotional support and comfort.
- Listen to each other with full attention.
- Inquire and share about feelings and needs.
- Track what is going on in each other’s lives and make sure to follow up and inquire about those things.
- Help in practical ways when a partner is tired or sick.
- Discuss or debrief events of the day or things that are important to each of you.
- Let your partners know how and why they matter to you
Being a Secure Base for Each Other, Becoming Polysecure
When safety is established with our attachment figures and we have an internalized sense that we can turn towards them and lean on them when needed, we are freed up to securely turn away from them and engage in the world, whether with them by our side or on our own.
A secure base provides the platform from which we can move out in the larger world, explore and take risks. This exploration facilitates our sense of personal competence and healthy autonomy. Similar to how children want to show their parents their latest drawings, tricks, accomplishments or discoveries, as adults we need to share the new things we’ve learned, the things we’ve achieved and the things we’re excited about.
Being and having a secure base in our partnerships means supporting each other’s personal growth and exploration, independent activities and other relationships, even when these actions require time apart from each other. Secure base partners will not only support our explorations, but will also offer guidance when solicited and lovingly call us on our shit.
They function as a compassionate mirror for our blind spots and all the ways we may be fooling ourselves, whether through self-aggrandizement or self-limitation.
While being a secure base may appear to be easier or more fun than being a safe haven, do not underestimate how intimately personal and deeply vulnerable it can be for a person to share their visions, hopes, curiosities and dreams. It also requires faith to be able to turn away from a partner and then trust that you can safely turn back.
In simple terms, I see being a safe haven as serving the role of accepting and being with me as I am, and a secure base as supporting me to grow beyond who I am.