An Example of Projection in a Poly Relationship

Shortly after posting my previous article about projection, I had a client say to me, “Maybe I’m projecting.” I forgot to ask if he had read my blog or if it was just a coincidence. But I did ask if it was okay to use his story (with changed names, of course.)

Let’s call him John and his wife, Sue. John had been struggling with feelings of fear and jealousy regarding his wife’s interest in a new man. They had successfully done poly relationships before. And John trusted the integrity of the other man (Bill) and considered him a potential friend. So John was confused about his fear.

He was saying that it was the intensity of the chemistry between BIll and Sue that seemed to trigger his fear. John then talked about the guilt he felt in a previous involvement when he used to feel like seeing his other woman felt like a vacation and he admitted that he sometimes felt disappointed when he was going home to Sue and the kids, and had thoughts like he was, “going back to the grind.”

In the moment he had his epiphany about projection, John realized, he didn’t want his wife to think of him and the home life they shared as “the grind” she would “have to return home to.”

John had not discussed this with Sue and had no reason to think she was thinking or feeling this way, and that makes this a perfect example of projection. These were John’s thoughts and John’s feelings and he had thought them and felt them during a previous relationship (and felt guilty about them.) In the present, he was projecting them onto Sue and experiencing pain and fear. The same pain and fear he imagined his wife might have felt had she known of his thoughts and feelings during that previous relationship. This explains the guilt John felt at the time. He believed his thoughts and feelings about homelife being “the grind” would have hurt his wife. And now, he was projecting his thoughts and feelings onto her and imagining that she would feel the same way about him.

The next question is, “What do we do about this.” A client can get lost, swimming in a sea of guilt, fear, blame and despair. Luckily, John didn’t feel a need to punish himself, nor did he feel he deserved to suffer for having thought and felt as he had. But he did feel a new motivation to be free of his fear so that his Sue could enjoy her new relationship interest.

We decided to question his beliefs about home life being “the grind.” It was a complex combination of beliefs about homelife and parenting being a lot of work, that work being boring, and by comparison, dating life being fun and carefree. He had fears that anyone with a choice, would choose the fun and carefree life, and that he might lose his wife to a new love interest if the connection were intense enough.

We talked about the stages of relationships and why anyone would ever choose to leave the carefree dating stage and move in together, marry, or have children. Through this he reminded himself of what he already knew: a mature relationship offers things a carefree relationship does not -- increased intimacy, commitment, security, nesting, planning the future, creating a shared future, and approaching the problems and joys of life as a team.

John needed to do internal work to restore his appreciation of his daily life as the activities and experiences that create that intimacy, security and shared future with his wife. We discussed this and created some homework assignments for him.

I also recommended that when he is ready, he and Sue would benefit from opening up communication on this topic, so they can have shared meaning about their daily experiences of creating and maintaining a home together. Through this John can express his appreciation for their shared life and hear how Sue also appreciates and values their shared life.

And, of course, John and Sue need to recommit themselves to having dates together and having fun. Any long term relationship, whether poly or monogamous, can suffer if one or both people miss a variety of experiences and having fun together.