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.

Do you have a question?

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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!

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How to ask for reassurance

Much of the advice I have seen about dealing with jealousy in polyamorous relationships involves telling your partner so that you can communicate about it.

When I tell my long term partner I am jealous of him and his girlfriend it makes him very sad, and he begins to avoid me. We have had an open relationship for many years, but only late last year decided to try being poly[am] (he met another women he developed romantic feelings for).

How can I communicate to him that I am jealous and sometimes ask for his reassurance without making him feel bad? If this can’t be done, how else can I seek reassurance and/or learn to deal with my jealousy on my own? I don’t want my jealousy to be the cause of the end of our relationship.

I suppose it comes down to the reasons you’re feeling jealous and what in particular is sparking it. Obviously your partner is going to feel sad that you feel unhappy and feel pressure to end the other relationship to save you from pain, but a lot of times when people say they feel “jealous” this ends up covering a whole range of things that, in my opinion, aren’t actually jealousy.

You can address this by trying to break it down. What is it that you are actually feeling?

Wanting what you don’t have

To me, jealousy would be specifically that you want what he has — meaning that you want to have another relationship but don’t have one. If that is the case, I don’t know as that going to him for reassurance would actually be helpful. It’s sort of like if your partner had a stable, high paying job and you didn’t and you felt jealous of that. You’re allowed to feel things and may very well feel frustrated by that kind of thing, but going to them and saying, “I feel jealous of your luck or ability” might actually not help anything because there is nothing concrete they can really do.

If you wanted a relationship and were jealous of your partner having one in that sense, I would say that you should explore some of the reasons why you feel like you have to be in one, whether there are avenues in your life you may be able to receive more love and attention (even if it’s not romantic) and if you could see a therapist on your own to speak about some of what may be a justified unfairness. Especially if you have a partner who socially may find it easier to fit into many communities where you may be disadvantaged. Those are all things that would probably be more helpful than going to your partner and asking for reassurance.

Fear of being replaced

However, when most people say they “feel jealous” when they are trying polyamory, more often not, they are feeling a fear that their partner will leave them and they are seeking reassurance from their partner. I feel like, if your partner pulling away is exacerbating these feelings, then that might be what you’re actually feeling. Splitting hairs on the definition of “jealousy” aside, if this is what you’re feeling, assurance from your partner can help, but it may also help to identify and face your worst fears.

Unless you grew up in a different society, you were likely given very mono-centric messages growing up that endorse the concept of “the one”. We’re encouraged to see relationships, love and sex as a competitive sport we can only succeed at if we look a certain way or buy certain products. The style of monogamy that society wants us to live that puts romantic love above all else compounds the importance of this competition.

Even when we move away from monogamy, we can still feel like we can be “replaced” by a better model. And sometimes, in an effort to comfort us, people trying out polyamory can reflect these concepts through rules like, “I’ll only ever love anyone but you” or trying to reinforce the value of one relationship by devaluing others.

Recognising you grew up in a society that encourages you to compete with others and that it’s just not as simple as that is part of exposing that fear for what it is. Because, especially if you have gone through any kind trauma in your life, your brain will be wired for survival in such a way where it will encourage you to believe that if you behave in x, y, z ways, your partner will stay with you.

Facing what you can control

Mostly when people are jealous and scared in or out of polyamory, they’re afraid their partner will leave them for someone “better”. Polyamory makes this fear more pronounced because, well, your partner actually sleeping with or developing feelings for other people makes this look like a more likely scenario. But in reality, people fall in and out of love all of the time, regardless of whether they are polyam or not. People dump and leave people they have been with for decades, married to or had children with. There is very little you can do as an individual to completely prevent this.

It seems contradictory to throw your hands up and “give up” in a way and a lot of polyamory advice would encourage you to look inward and see your own inner value and recognise that you are unique and your partner has a good reason to be with you — and while I think there’s no harm in building your self esteem, the fact of the matter is this advice reinforces the idea that someone is with you because of an innate value you have and that, regardless of what it is, must be maintained to keep that person around.

It abates the fear you have that someone will leave you because you aren’t good enough. But instead of saying you’re good enough and great and why would anyone ever leave, maybe flip it on it’s head and ask yourself if you can really control whether or not someone leaves you? Obviously, you could choose to be a mean, cruel or just neglectful partner and someone will leave you — you can control your actions. But your actions aren’t always going to control other people’s emotions. Especially when they cannot always control their emotions.

Your partner can and should generally offer you reassurance that they love you especially on days when you’re feeling down, but also it helps to remind yourself that the responsibility to keep someone around doesn’t depend on what you have to offer them. You’re not a product for sale. You’re a person and you’re complex. And the last thing you want in your life if someone who refuses to see your complexity. When you remove the responsibility to entertain and keep someone around with your value from your shoulders, the anxiety you experience when you fear they may leave lessens.

In summary

So, to sum up, addressing jealousy greatly depends on what it is that you’re feeling. If you are actually craving another relationship and you’re frustrated your partner has one, finding a place to vent that frustration, focusing on the positive aspects of your relationship, and seeking some attention and love in other forms may help address that.

But if you’re feeling something else — such as the fear you will be replaced or your partner may stop loving you — realising what little control you have over that situation will probably help you stop fretting over how you can or can’t stop it. Even when it comes to coming to your partner for reassurance. While you need to be able to give your partner space and also not solely rely on him for all of your emotional reassurance, if he is the kind of person that wants someone who he doesn’t have to give any emotional reassurance to (which is really unrealistic) then you’re not going to be able to change that through your actions.

Figure out what specific things you’re afraid of and ask him to give reassurance based on that. Find other sources of comfort in your life where you can. Absolve yourself of the responsibility to keep people around. Accept that also he may feel sad about you being sad — and unless he’s threatened to leave you for that (in which case… not sure if you’d want to stay with someone who threatens that anyway), feeling sad may just be how he copes and it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to leave you because of it.

If therapy is accessible for you, seek out a polyamory friendly therapist to work on some of the emotional things you go through when you’re feeling at your lowest. Research a bit about nervous system regulation and attachment theory so you can identify things in your past that may be ringing alarm bells now. And last, but definitely not least, being okay with not being okay.

I wrote a bit more about this in detail when I wrote my polyamory introduction article and that might help, but overall it’s okay for you to feel anxious and scared. That doesn’t mean you can’t do polyamory and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.

I hope this helps and good luck.

Do you have a question?

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Getting over a partner’s sexual history

I am 34 years old, female and since more than 10 years I am in an open relationship with my boyfriend. We follow the concept of a “primary relationship” (so most of our daily life we live like a monogamous couple) but we are free to have external sexual contacts. Most of the time we meet people from our broader circle of friends and sometimes we meet people that have nothing to do with our hobbies or social surroundings.

Our relationship has a very solid ground, but (as you can imagine) the openness keeps us emotionally busy from time to time. Especially I am struggling with the classic feelings of jealousy, fear of loss, conflicts of consensus and so on. But I (and we) managed to conquer most of it and I am much more relaxed compared to our first years.

There are still many “construction sites” we need to work on, but there is not much which deeply makes me feel insecure when it comes to our future. Only this one thing keeps eating me from the inside (if that’s a correct English metaphor): the fact that my boyfriend had (and I assume also will have) a large number of female sex partners, I would say the double of what I experienced. And I am aware that neither will I turn him into a different person (like, a less sexual/attractive person) nor do I want to restrict his openness.

What makes me feel desperate is the simple fact that there are so many people out there in this city, who know how my boyfriend looks naked and what it feels to be in bed with him. It concerns me so much that I already evolved a type of paranoia. Sometimes I even look at people in the metro thinking “who knows, maybe even she was already in bed with him. Who even did not go to bed with him?”. It’s absurd, I know. And I am also aware that there is a notion of sex-negativity coming with it, that I can’t avoid.

Though I am exaggerating a bit, it is still true that many women surrounding us where in bed with him, and it is overwhelming me constantly (even though there is no current case), every time I think about it. It automatically leads to feelings like inferiority, helplessness and anger. It has the power to make me lose my ground, to feel insecure about my role or my place in our relationship until I am no longer able to feel why I am special or not in the place to be compared with others. It’s like I don’t know how to act or to think about that fact. I don’t find my position.

And so many times when I find out about “another name on the list” it just weakens me a lot and I would just like to feel indifferent about it. But the feeling is too strong that I feel beset, and that way too much people are too close to my life and my relationship. I think it’s not the problem that I cannot handle it at all, it just feels like it’s too much, that my patience is always challenged and that I don’t have enough “openness battery” to digest these informations.

In a way I feel so dumb and also “poor” being on his side, having to arrange myself with his quantity of intimate contacts. I think one big factor of the whole story is my strong strive for justice, balance and equality. In my head and heart it feels impossible to perceive our roles as equal when I have to face so many more people around us that have been sexually involved with him. In my ratio I know it has nothing to do with a number, but more with the way how we treat each other and so on. If I could make a wish I would like to have a recipe how to not take it personally that my boyfriend does what he does and how to feel unimpressed by all these women.

Long story short, until now I didn’t find any articles or podcasts referring to that problem. The question of not feeling devalued just because your partner has a large number of sexual contacts, that most of the time are part of our circle of friends. And let’s imagine the future will be different. Let’s imagine my partner will calm down a bit because of changing life circumstances (which truly is the current perspective), how can I arrange myself with his past?

How can I evolve a relaxed feeling about many people out there knowing my boyfriend in a sexual way? I simply don’t know how to find peace with this fact and I just want to be aware of it without getting deeply desperate every time I think about it for some minutes 🙁 I am talking to my therapist about it since some time and still we don’t find a way out. And also we are seeing a couple therapist since two months now and it’s great, he is great. But still, I was just asking him about my problem today and he didn’t have concrete ideas of how to help me out.

I hope I managed to make my point.. there is much more I could describe and tell you about, but I suppose in the core you know what I am talking about. Also it’s not that easy for me to express myself in English..

I would be really happy if you have some ideas or suggestions for me and maybe some reading advices. Because, being honest, until now your writings gave me the most satisfying perspectives. Because you seem to take everything into account, while being authentic and very close to the emotional reality of many people, without idealising anything. I like that 🙂

There are a variety of issues that are going on here. First, I want to say that it’s not necessarily completely unreasonable to feel insecure about the number of sexual partners your partner has had. There are a lot of cultural factors that would encourage you to feel this way in addition to some of the issues going on in your current relationship.

It’s worth remembering that, unless where you are located is wildly different, we are encouraged to see partnership as a competition where we consume to be “the best”. Even if you don’t logically believe this, you’ve likely had a lot of messages throughout your life telling you that you need to be X, Y, or Z in order to be attractive and gain a partner. For women in particular, there is a lot of pressure to somehow be both sexually experienced but not have sexual experience.

Even if you are a woman who doesn’t buy into those ideals, it can be hard to escape that pressure. Women are also encouraged to believe that their true value is what they can add to a man’s life and that their primary goal in life, beyond careers and anything else, is attracting and keeping a man. And that’s just for starters.

You have a relationship where you are a “primary” and while there may be many upsides to this way of doing this, it does mean that there is essentially an MVP slot in his life that only one person can fill. When you create this type of hierarchy, with it comes the fear that you will replaced by someone else and it does compound your fears.

When you’re coming from a monogamous-centric culture, you have to remember as well that it’s taught you that exclusivity is the ultimate sign of devotion and meaning. Given that, we can feel like we are only special with someone if they are exclusive to us in some way. I think this has a knock on effect when it comes to sexual partners.

Without a doubt there is an aspect of sex negativity and even some slut shaming that is impacting how you feel about the number of people he has slept with but it seems less motivated by shaming him or seeing him as disgusting and more of a concern about what it means for the meaningful times you have with each other.

Something that might be helpful is reminding yourself of your own experiences. It doesn’t take away from your experience with your partner when you have sex with other people. He doesn’t mean less when you have other experiences. And it might be helpful to remind yourself of that. I wrote a polyamory intro article that might help you figure out how to reframe your fears and find an anchor that can bring you back when you’re afraid.

It might also be helpful for you to remember that there is an aspect of your brain that is trying to prevent you from hurting or feeling pain. Especially when you are out and about and your brain decides to go into a bit of a spiral wondering about who he has or hasn’t slept with. While I can’t say what’s true for everyone’s anxiety, I can say that my anxiety is usually trying to help in a sort of weird backwards way. It might be that your brain thinks worrying about this is going to change something. It’s less about stopping yourself from having these thoughts or feelings and more about recognising what their goal is and realising that worrying about this isn’t going to change anything.

In addition to working with your own personal therapist about these issues, I think what might be helpful for you is to reframe your fears and think about them within the context of the world you’re living in, the pressures you might be facing, and the culture you’re around. Your partner could also provide you some reassurance about how important you are to them and what your relationship means.

Lastly, give yourself a bit of a break, especially since it doesn’t sound like you’re using these emotions as a reason to control your partner’s behaviour. You’re aware it’s an issue and you’re trying to work on it. That’s the best you can do. Having these feelings doesn’t mean you’re a bad person and it’ll be harder to work through these feelings if you’re punishing yourself for having them.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Comments from the therapist

A reframe that occurred to me: Look how desirable my partner is! I must be hot stuff for him to choose me as his primary!
I focus on the power of being consciously chosen by partners as way to help soothe anxiety with some of my clients. I wonder if her thoughts tend towards comparing herself to these other partners and thinking she’s lacking, rather than thinking how magical she must be for him to prioritize her.

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The definition of love

So I’m monogamous one hundred percent I want no one else but my man, he thinks monogamy is not natural, and sex is sex and primal and you can be in a relationship with one person and fuck someone else and that’s ok. Well to me it is not ok. It makes me feel less than, like I’m not good enough, like I’m being replaced. It makes me sick. He says he doesn’t have the desire now but I don’t think I can be ok with it. I want to be the only person he is with etc. Can someone help me understand how the term ethical non monogamous? Really those words are a contradiction. He doesn’t want to date anyone else. He’s talking about sex and only sex so what exactly is it?? I think it’s cheating. I think he must not love me….

There are billions of people on the planet. To say that either monogamy or polyamory is suitable for all of those people with their diversity of lives and needs is ridiculous.

As far as “natural” goes, I’m pretty sure that vaccinations and antibiotics aren’t “natural” either and I’m pretty sure that plenty of deadly poisons are. While evolution in terms of the way that human societies have worked in the past may influence some of our proclivities today, human beings are such social creatures and we don’t know everything about how our brain forms and develops.

We speak of “nature” and “nurture” as if they were oil and water but personally I believe these two things meld — because they have had to. Humans, like most other organisms, are adaptable, mutable creatures because we have had to adapt to certain environments to survive. We are also extraordinarily social and learn through social bonding — which is why solitary confinement is torture and why neglecting children in developmental stages can be catastrophic. Trying to pull a “natural” version from our “nurtured” version simply doesn’t work because they are meshed together. I always find it funny that we’re absolutely happy to regard things like monogamy “unnatural” and not… you know, misogyny. But, hey ho.

Regardless, you know yourself better than your “man” does. For him, perhaps sex is “primal” (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean). Perhaps he is capable of being in one relationship and having sex with multiple people without it having to mean something. But sex means something to you within the context of a relationship and that is valid.

And it also makes perfect sense you would feel sick or replaceable. While I think it would undoubtedly be beneficial for you to question the narrative that a monogamous centric society has told you is true — because it’s wrapped up with a lot of other misogynistic and other problematic concepts — monogamy itself as a practice isn’t inherently a problem. And if it’s what you want, that is valid.

The key word in “Ethical Non-Monogamy” is the word ethical. Polyamory or ethical non-monogamy is about all of the people involved being informed and consenting. You being told that you should allow him to have sex with others because it’s “natural” and he has no problem with it… I wouldn’t necessarily call that ethical. People involved in this dynamic want to have this dynamic. It doesn’t sound like this is what you want and my guess, from the pop evopsych bullshit your boyfriend is trying to pull, it’s unlikely he will see it as okay for you to have sex men other than him…

If this is not something that you want, then that is valid. You don’t have to understand ethical non-monogamy. And even if he doesn’t want to date anyone else and just wants to have sex with others, you don’t have to accept that or want that. Follow your heart. If what you want is a monogamous relationship where neither you nor your partner has sex with others than go for that. Don’t force yourself to accomodate someone if it’s not what you want.

I hope that helps and good luck!

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Knowing too much

I am a 40 year old solo poly[am] woman in a relationship with a poly man who is in a long term nesting relationship with his common-law wife. They have been together over 25 years; I’ve been with him for just over 3.

I’ve heard you tell readers on multiple occasions that you should not know too much about the inner workings of your partner’s other relationships. I agree with this fully, now that I’ve had the painful experience of doing just that. Three years into the relationship I am really struggling with the consequences of that and I hope you have some advice about where to go from here.

When I started dating my partner, I was brand-new to poly[am], and I was fascinated with the concept right away. I read everything I could find about open relationships, and I asked him a lot of questions. We became very close in a short period of time, in part because we talked about everything. A few months after we fell in love he went on a 2-month trip with his wife and kids, and we communicated mostly by email. We wrote long letters to each other sharing the most intimate details of our lives.

I learned the reasons that he pursued polyamory, which included feeling lonely in his marriage and the lack of sexual compatibility with his wife. He never said anything negative about her, and he clearly loves and respects her and is grateful that she agreed to polyamory even though she much prefers monogamy. Learning this made me feel closer to him, and I assumed that the more I knew about the history of their relationship and the ongoing struggles, the better I could support both of them.

However, about a year into our relationship I started really resenting his wife, mostly because I wanted to be able to spend more time with our shared partner, and I saw her as an obstacle to that. Eventually I realized that he wasn’t taking responsibility for his choices, and I asked him not to scapegoat his wife because it was damaging my relationship with her. To his credit, he did stop, and things got better for a while. He negotiated spending a bit more time with me, and I was very happy with that.

Unfortunately, my feelings towards his wife haven’t fully recovered. She and I have a cordial relationship. We interact only when necessary. I have dinner with them and their kids every once and awhile, but I find it extremely awkward. She is pleasant enough and I don’t think she has anything against me personally, so I’m pretty sure this is all my stuff. Although I’ve asked my partner not to tell me when they are going through a rough patch, it ends up being pretty obvious because he’s an emotional guy. He’s also extremely honest, which is a wonderful quality, but it means he perceives that not telling me what’s happening in his life is akin to lying, or at least “don’t ask don’t tell” — which is fine for some people but not how either of us want to operate.

They seem to go through a lot of rough patches. They’ve talked about separating many times. I know that they won’t break up, because they are both very family-oriented and things would have to get very bad before they would put their kids through that.

I get very triggered when they are re-evaluating their relationship. I worry that one of these days she will ask him to choose between their family and poly[am]. That may not be true, but it’s my fear, and it causes me a lot of anxiety and guilt.

I’ve explained all of this to my partner, and he feels terrible for the pain he has caused me. We are trying to figure out how to maintain our close emotional bond without triggering me. It seems obvious that we just shouldn’t talk about the things that trigger me, but it’s not that easy in practise. And even if we can manage to do that, how do I get over my negative feelings about his wife and their relationship?

In some ways, you have opened Pandora’s Box a little bit because you have been let into their relationship in a way that puts you in an awkward position, but I do think that ultimately your feelings aren’t really about her so much as they are coming from a place of instability in your relationship, which is why they haven’t recovered.

It seems like this is less about her actions and more about his. You don’t seem upset that he went on a two month trip with her and his kids, though he did communicate with you, and then you had to negotiate for more time and he initially blamed his partner for that. You haven’t really overcome that because he gets obviously upset when their relationship is in turmoil. It seems like you’ve not really had time to breathe in that regard.

He can tell you when they’re going through a rough patch without giving you details. He can also reassure you that he does not have any plans to throw you out to save his marriage — if that’s something he can promise. Personally, I feel like in my relationships I would never tolerate one of my partners demanding I dump someone else. That would be an absolute no no for me.

The problem is that, if he is willing to get rid of you if polyamory becomes a problem in his relationship, then he isn’t going to be able to promise that to you. And then you will begin to feel anxious and scared about every up and down in their relationship and then, to a certain extent, resentful of his wife for “causing” the problem. You have a relationship with him whereas you have little in the way of a friendship with her, so it makes sense that it’s easier for you to be upset and angry with her than with him.

There needs to be a combination of you sitting with the discomfort of being afraid of what you can’t control, which is their relationship, but also some reassurance on his part — especially if he wants to be able to tell you when they are having issues or be honest about it. If he can’t give that reassurance or promise… then your anxiety isn’t just happening and this isn’t about her. It’s about your relationship.

So, to sum up, I think this really is less about her and more about the uncertainty you have. If he does reassure you that he wouldn’t accept that kind of ultimatum from her and you still have these feelings, it might be worth consulting a polyamory friendly relationship therapist to work through what specific things are triggering you and figure out how to sit with this discomfort for awhile until the balance is set right. But if he cannot give you that reassurance, it might be worth working with a therapist on how to manage boundaries on your part.

I feel like if he can’t give you a reassurance that he’s not going to chuck you when his relationship goes south, then you’re definitely going to have to maintain more boundaries with hearing about his other relationship because it’s going to, for an understandable reason, make you feel extremely anxious whenever they are going through a rough patch. And you may, in the end, want to consider whether or not you want to be with someone who has no problem chucking your relationship out to save another.

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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