Preventing hurt feelings

I am fairly new to the world of non-monogamy, having only been introduced to it in May 2020. Through learning about the different constructs that can be applied to a designer relationship I have discovered that this lifestyle could suit me well. Mostly as it encourages me to address the multitude of insecurities and other personal issues that make non-monogamy difficult. For the first time ever I am able to be compassionate towards myself and not just others, I am cultivating feelings of self-worth and getting closer to being able to allow myself to be present with my emotions instead of running away or numbing with substance abuse.

I care about the person that introduced me to non-monogamy deeply on many different levels and have communicated that we above all wish to safeguard our platonic friendship. We have also talked about their reservations with continuing the partnership on an intimate level as they are scared of hurting other people’s feelings. However, When I told them that I am a big boy and can handle change in circumstances they seemed to agree. The issue was then raised about if they were to flirt with someone in front of me how would that make me feel?

And upon reflecting on this dynamic I would personally like to get to the point where I could be in the same place as my partner and be fully comfortable with them flirting and then going off to explore an intimate connection with someone else. I feel compersion for friends and ex-partners in those circumstances and feel like it is possible to reach that level with a current partner but only if I have come to terms with my insecurities and know that I am enough to make myself happy.

To answer your question short and sweet: you can’t. You can’t completely assure someone of how you may feel in any given situation. You can, if you have experienced that situation before, give an estimation of what you think you would feel based on previous experience, but you can’t assure someone that you won’t feel anything about them being intimate with someone in your immediate presence.

But that’s not what necessarily concerns me about your letter and there a couple of things here that need to be addressed.

Polyamory will lead you to security

The first worry I have about the way you’ve expressed your letter and wants is that you feel that non-monogamy is going to lead you to a better place as a person than monogamy will. While I don’t doubt that non-monogamy brings with it different types of challenges, I really really discourage people whenever I can to view polyamory as some type of bootcamp for their emotions.

Why? Because the given assumption is that polyamory leads one to a Vulcan-like state of detachment from their emotions. There is a strand of beginner polyamory advice that is almost cult-like in it’s insistence that while there is supposedly “no wrong way to do polyamory” all of it’s suggestions point to the only and ideal way being detached, balanced and guru-like, giving off the impression that having or feeling emotions makes one “bad at polyamory”. And this, without a doubt, is not only an impossible expectation, but not fair.

Far be it from me to leap to complete assumptions about you, but I do wonder, if numbing your feelings with substance abuse was an issue for you in the past, if you are not just looking for another way to numb your emotions. And the polyamory advice often given seems to endorse or encourage the idea and promise a sort of zen like tranquility. I don’t think that’s the case for more people, nor do I think it should be the aim.

If you are practicing or wanting polyamory because you think it will bring things into your life that you as an individual will enjoy — great. But if you are practicing polyamory because you think it will make you a more mature, emotionally responsible person… well… that’s sort of like someone having a child because they hope it will make them a better person. Adding more relationships to your life doesn’t make you any better at coping with emotions. And throwing yourself into the deep in will not help you swim better.

Emotions represent insecurity

The second issue I have with the assumptions your making is that, if you should have any feelings seeing your partner flirt or go off to sleep with someone in front of you, that this is an immediate sign of insecurity — which is pretty much what a good deal of polyamory blogs will tell you. But this is not the case.

People have feelings about seeing their partners with other people for all sorts of reasons that are not as simple as just “being insecure”. For many people, they are afraid to lose the partner they have and this is a completely understandable reaction to have. Depending on the context of your relationship, if you have a brand new attachment with someone or you have a history of trauma where people have abandoned you or betrayed you, you may be reacting emotionally based on that lack of foundation or your personal history. These in turn may make you feel you aren’t good enough — but it’s not necessarily just a matter of personal insecurity.

I think, for the vast majority of people raised within a monogamous society, they are not going to be able to see their partner flirting with someone else without feeling at the very least some of the intrinsic fear they’ve learned by being in a society that’s told them that love only means something if their partner is sexually exclusive to them. Not only would I tell you that you are going to feel that way but I would tell you to expect to feel that way and, instead of trying to prevent feeling something, try and learn how to sit in discomfort, figure out what it is your afraid of, challenge some of the assumptions those fears are making or… avoid all of that together and, if at all possible, don’t be there to witness it.

Unless you both have the same social circles or go to the same parties, there’s no reason to purposefully put yourself in that position if you don’t want to. While you shouldn’t avoid doing things you want to do because you fear having a reaction, you also shouldn’t put yourself into a situation you know may be uncomfortable if you don’t have to. There are no awards to be won here for emotional endurance, I’m afraid. So why do that?

Don’t assume that having a reaction to your partner going off with someone else is about your personal insecurity. If you pursue polyamory, you’re going to be trying something without the same cultural scripts as friendships or monogamy and that in and of itself is enough to make one anxious on top of establishing a new bond of trust with someone and trying to counteract all of the social conditioning you’ve had that’s told you that sexual interest is something meant exclusively for someone you are interested in and only them.

Not to mention, the idea here is that there is some type of linear achievement you can have where you may in the past have feelings when you see your partner go off with someone else and then you progress to a level where you do not — and this is a false expectation. You may have no problems with one person but problems with another. You may have no problems and then suddenly experience a traumatic event and then have loads of anxieties you didn’t before. Life isn’t a linear progression in terms of our mental health. We go all over the place depending on what’s on our plates at any given time. Expecting to reach this “level” in a way isn’t fair on yourself or realistic.

Compersion is the ideal

Last but not least, you mention a topic that’s drawn much contention from me — compersion. I get why people use it. I’ve actually felt it now! You hear that readers? The compersion curmudgeon has felt compersion for the first time. Wild.

However, the problem I still very much have with this concept is that, again, while we say “there is no one right way to do polyamory” or “no wrong way” — whatever — compersion creates an ideal and you are creating an ideal that you just not may be able to do either because you just don’t feel compersion or because you do have an emotional response to someone you like going off with someone else — whether it’s fear or FOMO — and you can’t stop yourself from feeling.

I worry that by desiring this state, you are basically setting yourself up for failure. Compersion is great to feel, as I now actually know, but if you don’t have it or you are scared to lose your partner, this does not represent a failure on your behalf. Don’t let this be your goal. Let it be a nice bonus if and when it happens.

You are enough but you aren’t an island

Lastly, I want to address the sentiment you have in terms of your insecurities. “I am enough” is a wonderful sentiment and I don’t want people to feel like they are dependent upon others so much that they stay in relationships that hurt them because they think they deserve the mistreatment or because they don’t believe anyone else would love them.

However, there is a problem within much polyamory writing that promotes the idea of a kind of bootstraps mentality where if you have a problem, it’s only your problem and yours to deal with. This type of self-sufficiency paves the way for people who behave abusively to take as much advantage of others as possible and then gaslight people for attempting to reach out for help.

Human beings are social creatures and our nervous systems regulate either by us learning our own ways to self regulate but also by co-regulation with others around us. We have survived as a species for this long not because of brute strength or some type of weird survivalist individualist Mad Max type of concept — but because we formed communities and helped each other. There is a “Western” concept of individualism that creates a lot of problems when people are so focused on individuals that they forget that our communities are also important.

Bottom line, if you feel you cannot reach out to your partners for help or talk to them, there’s a problem with that. While they can’t be your therapists, they should be there to love and support you. And being afraid of the loss of them in your life is reasonable and understandable. There isn’t anything about that that means you aren’t enough. It just means the obvious — however enough you are, it hurts to lose someone who was important to you in your life, whether they are friend, family, or lover.

In summary

To sum up, I think that, while I can understand what it is you want, I worry you’re setting yourself up for failure. I wrote an introductory article about some of the classic blunders I see people trying polyamory find themselves in and that might help you in your initial quest and also with some of the things you’re worried about here.

Allow yourself to feel. You’re a human being, not a Vulcan. Feeling isn’t failure.

I hope this helps and good luck.

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HSV 2 and polyamory

I’ve been in a wonderful V-triad for 3 years and I love my partner & metamour!

Recently, I tested positive for genital herpes and they’ve both been beyond supportive but they seem *too supportive* which I didn’t think could be possible. I suggested closing our triad indefinitely and even permanently to minimize risk and my metamour was okay with it but knew it would never work for our partner. I love my partner but I’m between a rock and hard place; I’m tired and terrified of being a risk and being at risk to a point I’m contemplating monogamy and/or abstinence while they wish for me to overlook the stigma and be a level of sex positive that one would normally dream of but I’m drifting away from. I’ve talked to my therapist but another source wouldn’t hurt at this point.

What might help you before you make any rash decisions is to fully immerse yourself in learning as much as you can about HSV 2, or genital herpes, and HSV in general especially it’s commonality. While I’ve not gone through this myself, I would expect that it is incredibly common to have to work through all of the shame and stigma attached to HSV in our culture and figure out what your risk level is.

There isn’t necessarily wrong with you having a period of abstinence while you reorient yourself and work on your feelings and your partners seem like they would understand that. From my perspective, it sounds like you’re taking responsibility for things that you have no control of and that’s likely not going to help. Rather than closing your triad, you could simply do only activities which don’t involve skin to skin contact for a period while you ground yourself again.

Being an immunocompromised person with lifelong disability and health issues, I’ve always been panicked by the prospect of having *another* health issue to manage. I can’t pretend the stigma itself wasn’t an issue for me, but because of the nature of my health condition, it affects my immune system for anything else, which causes me to be ultra cautious and also ultra paranoid. Combined with anxiety, I’m driven to want to try and control every aspect of everything to control my anxiety.

However, when I’ve had the prospect of partners who have HSV2 or metamours, I dug myself into research about HSV. When I realised how common it was, how it could be managed, how even wearing condoms can’t prevent you from catching it, and all of the other aspects about it I had to realise how little I could control things. Especially since, as far as I’m aware, you can’t really even test for HSV of either type until you have a symptom so it’s possible your partner and metamour already have HSV, they just haven’t had symptoms about it.

In the same way that I tell people that the cultural script of monogamy gives them reassurance and makes them feel like their relationship is “safer” than non-monogamy is, equally I think people also assume that STIs won’t happen to them when it’s really down to random chance in a lot of situations. Another good analogy that helped me was driving. We can wear seatbelts, drive safely and do everything we can, but that won’t prevent an accident and an accident can happen the first time you ever drive or the 500,000th time you drive. If you had an accident, it would make sense to be afraid of your partners driving, especially in a car you had an accident in but there is only so much you can control.

We accept culturally that the benefits of driving outweigh the risks — even though driving can kill you and HSV is not deadly. But we’ve historically put so much shame around STIs and around HSV in general that it’s hard for us to see that it’s just another risk and be as casual about it as we are about the potential of any other accident.

Give yourself some time and take a period of personal abstinence if you need to. Throw yourself into groups and learn about HSV2 and talk to other people about it. Find a doctor who will answer all of your questions and research as much as you can about risk. Maybe when you have a little bit more knowledge you will feel more grounded and be less likely to assume responsibility for your partner and metamour’s sexual health.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Hiding partners from each other

I am monogamous, but I have been dating someone who identifies as poly for almost three years. We began our relationship while he had another girlfriend. That was a fairly traumatic time for me because I struggled with dealing with my emotions of jealousy, feeling less than and finding my place despite my desires for something more traditionally monogamous. Eventually he and his other girlfriend broke up, for reasons I did not know at the time.

We discussed that he would let me know when he became interested or sexually active with another woman again and things were smooth for a time.

It was over a year after his break up that I learned that he never stopped being sexually active but he never told me because he claims he did not want to hurt me. He said he felt like he was gut punching me every time he told me about his other partners, so he lied by omission.

I tried making this work, but I’m not sure what to do or if there are solutions. Is there a way for me to learn to be comfortable that he has other partners? Despite everything I know he loves me. I don’t question that. He just made a bad choice.

I don’t like knowing that if another partner wants more time, it would cut into my time. He also doesn’t want to live with anyone or have kids. Which are some things I want to experience. Am I trying to make something work that never will?

I’m sorry to tell you, you’re fundamentally incompatible and you’re both just delaying the inevitable.

The last bit of your letter seals the deal. You want to live with him and have kids and he does not. And you also do not like the idea that he would be spending time with other people, which inevitably will be the case if and when he finds other partners. Agreeing to non-monogamy fundamentally, even if you were to be monogamous yourself to him, means accepting a situation where your partner does not spend as much time with you as they would in most monogamous relationships. If that’s not something you want, then it’s not going to work for you.

And even if you were going to be monogamous, if you want different lives in a way that can’t be compromised — such as living together and having children — then there isn’t much either of you can do about it. You can’t really compromise on living together if he does not want that and you shouldn’t have children to make your partner happy if you do not want children.

It also doesn’t bode well that he’s basically cheated by lying by omission, probably because he knows that you do not want polyamory and he wants to try and keep things somehow and you’re being way more forgiving of him than you probably would be because you assume he made a “bad choice”. Cheating isn’t really just a bad choice. Just because you are lying to avoid hurting someone doesn’t make it better. He could have faced the music a year ago, ended it and given you a year to find a partner who can actually give you what you want and chose to lie instead — which, if he is honest with himself, knows that will and can not save you from hurt.

You’re unfortunately just not compatible — even if he were to give up polyamory. You don’t want the same lifestyles and it’s better for you to end things now and spend your time finding people who will actually meet your needs. As much as it may hurt to break up, it will hurt more down the line if you allow resentment and spite to build.

I wish I had something better to advise but unfortunately you are at an impasse. I hope this helps and good luck!

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Fidelity and grief

I have ADHD and am dealing with the bereavement of both of my parents dying… Cancer… 2016 and 2018… My wife couldn’t handle the effect of my ADHD with my grief which caused severe anxiety and depression… I can’t really say I blame her. I was a nightmare. She has endometriosis so sex happens little and when I does to be honest it’s pretty mediocre. She moved out… Then I did. I slept with someone else and so did she and then within 3 months we were back together. I didn’t tell her who it was I slept with and she has big issues with this person…

The person in question and I used to be “friends with benefits”… So she really hates her. Actually, I slept with the person in question twice… I told her I slept with a girl once after I got home to find she had moved out and left her wedding ring and taken mine… I didn’t want to lie to her but I knew ultimately it didn’t matter who it was… but she wouldn’t see it that way. My wife also slept with someone else in our time apart… She had moved back into our old house at this point… I know it shouldn’t make me jealous but it does… I love her with all my heart and she has been honest with me… I have been partly lying… About who it was and how many times… But it STILL makes me jealous. Is it possible to recover from this? I can’t leave her as I love her too much… How do I shake the jealousy… Sometimes I think the fact I still have a partial secret should make it easier… But it doesn’t. 🙁

There’s a cliche that goes around that it’s the people who are most paranoid about their partners cheating who are most likely to cheat. I don’t know how based this is in reality, but I do think there is a kernel of truth in it in that when we know we have done something wrong ourselves and we have feelings about it and we can’t or won’t be honest with our partners about it, that will likely affect the relationship.

At its core, your relationship foundation is cracked and challenged and it has been for awhile. Even before you broke up or had any of these understandable issues with grief and losing your parents, if you had told me that you had a wife who hated someone purely because you had a “friends with benefits” relationship with them, I would say this illustrated an issue that should have been addressed.

It makes me wonder if there is more about this person that’s not being discussed and if there are other issues about her that make your wife worried and therefore more jealous of her — maybe things you’re not wanting to acknowledge? Either way, you don’t feel capable of telling her the full truth because you’re worried about the consequences and it makes sense that your brain would wonder if the same is true for her.

Not to mention, you’ve struggled with, as you described, your sex life being mediocre for whatever reasons and it stands to reason you would wonder if this other person she slept with didn’t have those problems. You blame yourself a lot here and don’t give yourself much compassion. While it may absolutely be difficult for your wife to handle, having two parents die within 2 years of each other and then also struggling with something like ADHD in a society not built on respecting, understanding or accommodating neurodiversity… well, none of these things were your fault. Give yourself a break.

It is possible for you all to recover from this, but you have to be able to trust one another. You have to be able to be fully honest with one another. I’m not sure if this is a situation where you’re avoiding being honest with your wife because you struggle to cope with her being unhappy and you want to avoid confrontation or if she discourages you from being honest because she doesn’t want to provide further emotional support — but either way, the secrets have to stop.

My suggestion is that you both consider seeing a polyamory friendly and disability aware therapist who also knows a bit about grief. You need something of an air clear and an intense discussion of what happened between the two of you that caused you to separate, what happened during your separation where you can be totally honest, and what, other than a fear of being alone, that has brought you back together and then you can decide where to go from here.

Unfortunately, the sooner you accept that there may be a situation where you both need to separate. It’s very possible for two people to love and care for each other very much but still not be compatible in what they want. It sounds to me that there are issues surrounding how you coped with your grief that can be addressed rather than an incompatibility but there will be consequences for dishonesty and trust has to be rebuilt. It’s possible but it will take some time.

Find a therapist who can provide a neutral ground and space to discuss what actually happened, work it out between you two, and see how you can rebuild your foundation together.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Rules about love

My partner and I got married recently, which in these COVID-19 times was amazing! A month before the wedding however he said that he would like to start exploring non-monogamy separately. In the past we would explore together or under the same roof. I agreed and We spoke about acceptable boundaries at the time.

He quickly found two connections which escalated quickly, the two girls really liked each other and they formed a type of trio. I felt pretty left out as the idea of three girls and a guy dynamic wasn’t appealing. One of the things I asked at the beginning was if there were feelings of love, to speak to me about it first. After a weekend away with the girls I asked him if he felt like he would fall in love with the one he was closest to. He replied, ‘yes I think we are – we discussed it at the weekend’. Admittedly they were drunk but it felt like a huge betrayal.

We then had productive deep and meaningful conversations following this as in their NRE I had felt frankly forgotten about. He kept certain things from me as he didn’t want to have the conversations which may cause upset. I asked if we could just focus on us for a while and he agreed.

He then said the day after that he felt sad and that he didn’t want to change the dynamic with the other girls (one especially). He did agree to put more effort into our relationship and be more mindful of me. The one thing I do not doubt from him is his love for me. One of the things we agreed to was for me to feel more involved in their relationship for which I felt positive about.

I just can’t shake a feeling from which I recognise from previous relationships. That uncomfortable feeling when an ex-partner starts dating someone else. The difference is we’re still together and it’s making me feel quite defensive and critical. I just can’t shake it, the thought of the other girl is in my mind a lot, the comparisons and what my mind conjures up when they’re together. It’s starting to affect my own emotional wellbeing and I’m feeling sad a lot of the time. I think it’s feeding into a gremlin I formed as a child of not feeling good enough, and having a scarcity of love growing up.

I love my partner so much, I need a way of reducing the negative thoughts and feelings so that I can feel better in myself and the relationships. I’m pretty sure I’m not a hoot to live with currently.

Update: the week after we had the big chats he had a therapy session which made him realise that he may not be in love with the girl, that there could have been an element of codependency. The prior chat we had though was like a stab, it hurt me and the wound is still there. The potential of it happening again with another girl in the future is there too.

There is an element here that you really can’t escape which I see you attempting to do in some ways — you’re going to be afraid that your partner will leave you for someone else. If, in previous relationships, you haven’t had good experiences with it, then it’s going to be even more of an anxious time for you this time around.

This is likely the reason behind you created this rule — where if he felt “feelings of love” he had to speak to you “at the beginning”. While this may sound like a good rule, the problem with it is that it’s not as clear as it may sound and it doesn’t actually help. In general, what it seems like you actually want is reassurance and also to not be left in the dust when your partner gets involved with someone new, which is a completely understandable rule. But you can’t create that with this rule. And all it ends up doing is creating these feelings of betrayal when he doesn’t come to you at the right time to have a conversation.

Furthermore, you say he’s kept things from you because he doesn’t want to have upsetting conversations. It’s hard to say whether or not there’s an expectation of you to know more than needs to be said because that’s often what happens when people are worried about their partners leaving — they think that more information will prevent their partners from leaving them especially if they have previously been doing non-monogamy as a couple.

However, he shouldn’t be avoiding conversations because they might be upsetting. If he wants to keep some things private — because his partners do have a right to their privacy with him as well — then he should be able to tell you instead of avoiding it. He can put more effort into your relationship without changing the dynamic or telling you details about his other relationships. I feel like your anxiety is pushing for you to know more details and to be more involved thinking it can and will change his behaviour, but realistically I don’t think that would help — and it’s not really essentially fair for you and him to agree things about relationships he has with other people.

Ultimately there is going to be some discomfort. Instead of avoiding it, you’re going to need to sit through some of it. You’re going to have to trust your partner will support you when you need to and be able to have discussions with them if they are shifting focus from you. If you have a partner who is not good at attending to your needs, no amount of rules or involvement in his relationships is going to be able to change that.

I wrote an article about mistakes people make when they begin polyamory and some of those preemptive steps in terms of finding your anchor and also facing your fears might be helpful for you. Definitely also make sure that, if it’s accessible for you, that you are doing some therapy on your own and able to focus on some coping techniques for dealing with anxiety. Remember there is only so much you can prevent on your own.

I hope that helps and good luck!

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Cheating and polyamory

I am at my wit’s end. I was engaged to be married this summer; in the fall (we postponed for COVID), my fiancé confessed he had cheated on me extensively over years. I already had a bunch of concerns about his behavior in our relationship that I sort of stuffed and I tried many times over the years to talk about what he needed or how we could be monogamish and have me still feel safe, which he did not engage in. I would try to talk and it would go nowhere; I would send an email afterwards and get no reply. So that he was hiding these things all along is galling.

And I don’t trust him to put my needs first, to have boundaries, to prioritize the relationship or make me safe. And I worry I would spend our lives together miserable if I keep having to deal with this fallout when he’s attracted to and flirting with people. Do couples ever switch over and have it work? I’m so aggravated and he won’t even tell me what vision he has or what his needs are—and even by opening the conversation I feel like he is slapping me in the face after all the lying and refusal to be open before.

People do switch over and have it work — but it has to begin from trust.

If your partner is cheating extensively on top of outright refusing to respond to your attempts for communication, that doesn’t really sound good at all. Even if he is turning over a new leaf by telling you, if he won’t tell you what his needs are and refuses to have a conversation with you about it then…. it just doesn’t bode well. And it will continue not to bode well for you.

Ask yourself why you are stuffing down all of the concerns you’ve had over the years and why you have stayed despite the fact that he has repeatedly shown you that he refuses to communicate, that he doesn’t have the drive or the ability to have these important conversations with you? Even if he didn’t want to have a primary style relationship with you, he still needs to be able to communicate that and if he out and out refuses to do that, there is not much you can do.

I might be tempted to ask how he told you or why he told you and if he made an earnest commitment to changing his behaviour and even seeing a relationship therapist who is familiar with polyamory but… this feels like you are going to entering what seems like a relationship style that doesn’t appeal to you to appease someone who is not meeting your basic communication needs.

Are you getting what you need out of this relationship? Are there areas where he is sacrificing for your benefit? Or are you just continuously pouring into something that is draining you? There’s a lot here you’re not saying so perhaps there is a good amount of sacrifice on his part and he is promising to turn over a new leaf in a way that feels different and earnest and, if so, you could considering some couples counselling to help you with some of the feelings of betrayal from the cheating.

But really consider whether or not his behaviour will change. I wish I had better things to say, but I don’t hold out much hope for this. I hope it helps still, and good luck.

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Giving up a marriage

I’m a married man of 30 years, and have made the decision that the rest of my years, which hopefully amount to a couple of decades will be spent pursuing non-monogamous relationship, polyamory lifestyle.

Am I being selfish, or do I need to just give myself the permission to live without traditional terms and categories and pursue my best life ever?

Is it selfish to make a decision in your life that will overall increase your happiness? Some people might think it is. I could give you a value judgement based off of my own morality and ethics and then you can use that to decide how you would like to proceed — but I would always encourage you to think about your own ethics.

You say you’re married but you don’t give much context beyond that and that context is key. So many people don’t find out that non-monogamy is a valid way to live their lives until years after they have married, “settled down”, and had children. You don’t say you have children but, in this example, do I think it is selfish for those types of people to break their marriages and families to pursue polyamory? No. Because I don’t think that we should believe a monogamous heterosexual picket fence “traditional” nuclear family is the only or ideal way for a family to live. And I don’t think that divorce should be this big cultural stain on people’s lives.

But if that same person were to up and leave their kids with no further involvement in their life, then yeah, I would consider that selfish. In the same way I’d consider someone selfish if they ditched one monogamous relationship like that for another and ignored their kids — it’s nothing to do with polyamory and everything to do with the context.

There is unlikely going to be a way, even if you weren’t married, to leave a monogamous relationship without pain. Breakups just aren’t painless for the most part. Avoiding it or trying to be happy within a monogamous relationship when you aren’t isn’t going to help that. One might say dragging a person along in a monogamous partnership when you don’t want to be in it instead of cutting them lose so they can spend their time finding someone who does want to be there is far more selfish.

The one thing I would challenge is the assumption that non-monogamy will give you “your best life ever”. While it might be true that you will probably feel a certain amount of freedom in non-monogamy that you do not currently feel, there are downsides to any path you choose in life. The more relationships you have, the more heartbreak you risk. Things get complicated and twisted. It’s not any more or less easy than monogamy can be.

Perhaps the reason you’re afraid to make this leap is because you’re worried that you might make a mistake, but mistakes happen whether we worry or are aware of them or not. It’s not completely preventable. Which isn’t to say you should fling yourself at any whim that comes across your mind, but if you have given something a decent amount of thought and are operating with the best of your faculties, that’s all you can really do in the end.

I wrote two articles that are pretty much for beginners, a sort of Polyam 101 about the mistakes people often make and how to avoid them and a Polyam 102 about the mistakes I specifically made and what I wish I knew before I tried non-monogamy. You might find those helpful your thinking process. Pursuing what you want is important, but just remember that focusing inward and making sure you’re happy doesn’t mean being cruel. It requires a balance. I would seek a polyamory friendly therapist if you’re still struggling to work it out.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Rejecting someone slowly

So my best friend is polyamorous, I’m monogamous, and (I’m 99.9% sure) my girlfriend is monogamous. (We’re all girls by the way) My best friend Just told me that she has a crush on my and my girlfriend, we’re all best friends. I don’t know exactly how to react, I’m not gonna cut off ties because she likes us. But I’m not interested in a polyamorous relationship. I don’t think my girlfriend is either. My best friend only told me (so far) so I’m not going to tell my girlfriend yet. Cause she’s probably not ready to tell her if she hasn’t already done it. But how do I let her down slowly? I’m so confused and stressed, how long has she felt this way? How’s my girlfriend going to react? What if she *does* want an open relationship? What if my best friend isolates herself because I don’t feel the same way? I’m in shock, and I can’t believe this is real. (I don’t mean to sound rude or disrespectful in any ways, I’m just not very educated on this subject.)

There isn’t a way to prevent someone from feeling disappointed or even hurt by you rejecting them. And the only other alternatives are completely ghosting her or going on with a relationship that you don’t want. You just have to be honest and say something like, “I appreciate that you felt comfortable telling me this. As you know, I’m monogamous. I don’t have any interest in a polyamorous relationship and I don’t feel that way about you. I’d like for us to continue to be friends.”

If she has become your best friend because she feels romantic toward you, she may not be so close with you after you tell her this. Unfortunately, there isn’t very much you can do about that. At the end of the day, your best friend started to have feelings for yourself and your girlfriend and decided to continue having those feelings and putting herself in situations where those feelings might continue most likely knowing you are monogamous. Had I given advice to her about this situation, I would have told her not to expect that a big confession would help the situation and to maybe ask where you stood on polyamory and, if you said you weren’t interested, to drop it.

If you don’t want polyamory, do not try it for the sake of trying to keep your best friend in your life. If your girlfriend is interested in dating her, unfortunately this might also mean ending your relationship with your girlfriend if she definitely does want to be polyamorous. I don’t mean to make light of how serious that is and it would obviously be upsetting to you, but I feel like if the alternative is pushing yourself to be polyamorous and you have no interest in doing so… then that is a far more painful alternative than it might seem right now.

So, to sum up, I think you should just tell her, not slowly, but up front and honestly. You cannot completely control her emotions or feelings. Obviously, don’t be a jerk about it, but being honest and straightforward about your feelings is important to do regardless of what relationship style you have. Speak to your girlfriend about it. I wouldn’t wait for your friend to tell her. If your girlfriend does want to try polyamory, make it clear this isn’t what you want. I’m sorry that this had to happen this way, however. I think that suddenly telling you this isn’t really helpful. You don’t have to cut off ties with her, but if she doesn’t respect your wishes and wants, then it might be best to regardless of how she does her relationship.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Managing a triad

My wife and I have been together for 20 years, being married 14 of those years. The last 12 years my wife and I have been in The Swinging lifestyle and in that time you have grown. We have always talked about polyamorous relationship whether it be another couple or single and a year-and-a-half ago I met a woman. We hit it off and we started chatting everyday. What started off as a occasional swinging partner, turned into feelings for each other.

My wife saw what was happening and I was in denial but I can tell my feelings for her were getting deeper and deeper. So I approached my wife with the prospect of bringing her into our relationship and she agreed. We spent the next six or seven months chatting back and forth, the three of us together, my wife and her alone and her and I alone and the feelings all around became mutuel. It was then that we all decided that we should go one step further and move in together. Up until this time we had been seeing each other, she lived on one side of the country we lived 800 miles away, and we would travel to spend time with each other.

So my wife and I packed up our stuff and moved so that we could be with her. So now here I thought it would be no different than just living with my wife and we would all be happy, no issues, but I am wrong and I think it’s all my fault.

I am finding it very difficult o be honest with the two of them about how I feel about certain things, not wanting to get them mad. Trying not to spend more time with one than the other. Then there’s the sex I thought that it would be mostly the three of us sharing together. But at times they both feel left out because I have a hard time approaching them individually.

I am scared one’s going to think I’m having sex too often with one and not the other. I’m really having a hard time trying to figure out how to approach one of them to get them alone when I want to be with just one. We all were sharing a bed until about 2 weeks ago and I don’t know what to do. My wife and I both want this woman to  become part of us and I think I’m doing everything wrong. I’m hoping do you have some advice for me that I can think about and hopefully put into practice because I don’t want to lose either one of them.

One of the things people take most for granted when they start out in non-monogamy or polyamory is how much time they had as young people to imagine what their future might be like in a monogamous context and how much the culture around them gives them ideas for what their lives might look like and gives them a step by step guide on how to get there.

When we jump into polyamory and non-monogamy, we don’t usually spend relatively the same amount of time thinking about these things because polyamory and/or non-monogamy are kind of in and itself an ideal we think we want to aspire to. We rarely think about the physicalities of how our lives will change. We just imagine that polyamory or non-monogamy will be exactly like our lives are now… but somehow better. We don’t tend to think that things have to change or that polyamory and non-monogamy would take away from our lives.

The fact is, when you agree to polyamory or non-monogamy, on the whole, you’re not agreeing to monogamy plus. You’re not agreeing to an upgrade. You’re agreeing to a different way of doing things. And that requires some upfront discussion on all sides. I do worry slightly that you and your wife are forcing this to be a traid when it’s not particularly clear if that’s exactly something your wife wants — outside of believing it’s “safer” or maybe wanting to agree to the situation to avoid losing you.

There are some really important questions for you all to think about and discuss with each other — not as a couple talking with one person, but as three individuals working out a compromise between all of your ideals. At some point you will have to face your fear of disappointing or angering one of them and perhaps remember that it should be possible in your relationships with people you care about to make mistakes without someone deciding to leave you. And that if someone refuses to give you a chance for making a mistake, they likely aren’t someone you can build a sustainable relationship with anyways.

I posted two useful articles that might be helpful including one on Why Couples Always Want a Triad and a primer for people starting out called Thirteen Mistakes People Make When Trying Polyamory. In reading them over, you may want to speak to a polyamory friendly relationship therapist who can facilitate a discussion between all three of you about how you want to arrange your living together and what each person wants.

I’d worry less about things being exactly equitable as different people have different needs at different times and more focus on the fact that, as long as you are willing to listen to the needs of both of your partners and respond to them in the best way you can, there is ultimately nothing you can do if a triad situation doesn’t work for one of them.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Not satisfied with secondary

Not too long ago I met my ideal man, but he has a girlfriend I know he loves very much. But as of our second meet he told me she is asexual and they are trying for a “open” relationship because of his personal need for intimacy and physical closeness. As our following meet he explained his rules, or more so the rules his girlfriend gave him. No emotional connection (though he doesn’t believe in sex without a bond). There’s an understandable time constraint as well. The girl friend apparently doesn’t want to know anything about his other partner or what they do, to keep it completely separated from their lives.

This made me feel like I was doing something i shouldn’t be although i can understand her reasoning as her being asexual, it being relayed that she doesn’t want to be put on the back burner, but neither do I. I don’t get the girlfriend title and my previously mono mind hates it. He says that I would be important in a “different” way, but has a hard time explaining it. How can I feel important in a dynamic where I’m not allowed to emotionally connect? I know i’m not meant to be a “sex only” partner as he was offended at me giving him that title. How can he show that I’m important to him? What other ways can we connect? We have a great time when we hang out (no sex until everything is clear) And if I’m not a secondary girl friend….what am I?

There is a lot going on in his other relationship and none of that isn’t anything you can control. What concerns me the most is that he is not taking ownership of his own choices. If he is with a woman he loves who is asexual and he has agreed with her that he is allowed to have purely sexual relationships with others then those are the rules he has agreed on. They are his rules just as much as they are hers.

The problem is that he doesn’t want that. He said himself he doesn’t believe in sex without a bond. So he can’t give his girlfriend what she wants and, instead of being honest with her about that, is now doing exactly how you felt — something that she clearly won’t be comfortable with. He’s insisting you won’t be put on the back burner and that you’d be important in a “different” way, but can’t explain it. If he can’t explain it, he likely can’t show it.

If you agree to this, you’ll either be volunteering for a situation where you can and will be tossed out the moment his girlfriend realises he does actually have feelings for you or he will dump his girlfriend eventually for you but this incredibly rocky start will demonstrate that he has the capacity for dishonesty. It might be less of an issue because you may be compatible together more than he is with his current partner — but if he can’t realise that and do the right thing and instead drag this out… it just doesn’t bode well.

Your ideal man is not someone who plays around with you like this. Whether he intends to do this or not… it’s what he’s doing. People avoid breakups because they’re painful and that’s understandable. And people can absolutely have a positive open relationship even if they are incompatible in some ways, but the fact that he’s not “allowed” to have feelings but can and will… doesn’t bode well. He’s not communicated well with his partner and if he can’t do that with her… he’s already showing he can’t do that with you.

Don’t stay. Find someone who has a clearer idea of what they want. You deserve that clarity.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

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