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.

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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.

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Lapsed desire

When my wife and I first started seeing each other, our sex life was great. It was new and exciting, if not slightly more subdued than to what I was normally accustomed.

After we moved in together, it seemed like our sex life became far less active than before, and I attributed it to a combination of external factors; she’d just returned from her last semester of her degree studying abroad, we’d just moved into our apartment, she was trying to find work, and deciding what she wanted to do next in life.

A residual dichotomy from my repressive religious upbringing is that even though I was very active and comfortable in my sexuality, it had been very difficult to openly discuss sex. Because of this, it wasn’t until about a year into our relationship when I was finally able to broach the subject, and we began a dialogue. Initially she was very alarmed, as she told me how when many of her past relationships had ended with this situation as a contributing factor.

After many more discussions, and much more reading, she explained how she had learned of asexuality, and that is how she now came to identify. Specifically, she’d realized that although she enjoys sex, once she begins to develop a strong emotional attachment or bond, her interest in or desire for sex declines.

We’ve now been together over 5 years, and celebrated our first wedding anniversary a few months ago. We try our best to make sure the other is happy and fulfilled, and though I still struggle from time to time, our sex life and communication about it is the best it’s yet been.

We currently remain monogamous, but we both have had open relationships in the past, though hers admittedly more casual than mine. Since very early in our relationship, we’d discussed non-monogamy conceptually, but also theoretically for ourselves. As of late, these conversations have suggested the potential for me to have my sexual desires fulfilled, and for her to explore her as-of-yet unexpressed bisexuality, but still I have my misgivings.

In past relationships, I’d felt generally confident and secure in all aspects of the relationship, physical, emotional, or otherwise. I believe that helped me to only very rarely have any difficult or negative feelings. On the contrary, I’ve sometimes sought out or introduced individuals in whom I thought my then-partner would be interested. But things seem very different now in my marriage, and it seems to come down to 2 quandaries, and the interplay between them:

1) Even though I have no doubts that my wife loves me and wants a future with me, and that she enjoys the sex we have, I don’t know how to handle the thought that she no longer experiences an enthusiastic, excited desire for me that she would with a new partner.

2) I don’t know if we’ve identified the limits of our relationship and are entertaining the possibility of freeing ourselves to have experiences beyond, or if we are approaching non-monogamy entirely wrong, as a patch for the one glaring difficulty in our relationship.

Thanks for reading, any thoughts or input on either predicament, or both, would be greatly appreciated.

First and foremost, I’m glad to hear you have reached a place where you feel you have good communication with your partner.

When it comes to your questions, I think with regards to your first one, you handle those thoughts in two ways: by allowing yourself to experience them without judgement and punishment and also by refocusing yourself on both the “signs” that your partner loves you and the reality of what you can control.

In terms of the latter, it’s helpful for me personally whenever I’m worried my partner may find someone who is “better” than me (or even when I’m worried a crush I have might find someone “better”) to realise that there is no way for me to control who my partner falls in and out of love with and that part of this attempt to control it is my brain trying to help me survive. Most of my anxiety is about convincing myself that I can control things I can’t because, in a traumatic situation, it is more comforting for your brain to believe you can change the behaviour of people through your actions than to realise there’s little you can do.

Monogamy and the promises people make within it don’t stop them from finding or meeting someone “better” and deciding to dump their partner and be with them. Ultimately, if that’s the sort of person my partner is and if they think so little of me that they would “replace” me… I cannot control that and I probably wouldn’t want to be with that person anyway. Now, obviously, you can be a total asshole to your partners and no one would blame them for dumping you. But outside of doing your best to treat your partners with respect and love, you can’t do something to make them not “replace” you if that’s what they decide to do.

And that’s where this fear is coming from: a combination of you wanting to have that desire between the two of you and not having it but also a fear that her having that desire with someone else will mean something more. Reminding yourself of the ways your partner has shown you love during those moments of fear might help you refocus on what’s important.

I’m an introvert and the partner I have who lives with me is an extrovert who is very social. I used to worry heavily they would find someone who was “better”, who could go to parties where I had no interest in doing that. While they were out at parties, I used to write them long love notes and cards so I could refocus on what our connection did have and what we meant to each other which would then make our differences seem smaller.

Lastly, when it comes to your first question, you need to also just allow yourself to have these feelings and not judge yourself for them. A lot of beginner polyamory advice makes it seem like you’re a bad person for not being over the moon that your partner is with someone else. But sometimes, you’re not happy about it. Sometimes there are real differences here, such as your partner feeling more sexually energised by new connections than longer ones, that are going to understandably spark those feelings.

Letting yourself experience these feelings, sitting with them, and realising your partner is still there in the end and still loves you will help out loads in the long term. Even without your differences, I would tell someone who is starting out in polyamory to expect to feel miserable when their partner is with someone else because you can’t just grow up in monogamy-centric society and expect to be fine and happy and dandy when you’re doing something like polyamory. Emotions are going to come. So will fear. And the more you accept those will come and learn how to cope with them instead of pretending you can fight them off by being “strong” somehow, the better you will be in the long run.

Allow yourself permission to feel shit and learn how to take care of yourself in that moment. In my experience, ignoring or trying to ignore your emotions just causes you to act frantically to protect them which may mean calling your partner when they’re with someone else or feeling like if you don’t “do something”, you will lose them. In my experience, as my partner has gone out and been with others, I have had less and less fear because I know that they are likely to come back to me and that I can’t control if they decide not to. I also realise that going back to monogamy won’t solve this problem because a monogamous society gives people the perception of security but not a guarantee because of the way it is socially endorsed.

In terms of your second question, this is a quick one. You’re not approaching it wrong from what I can see. You both have an individual personal reason to want to try non-monogamy. You’re communicating well and are trying your best. There isn’t one right reason for trying non-monogamy, it’s just the reasons that work for you. I address some of the polyamory pitfalls you might find yourselves in in my introductory polyamory article which you might find useful.

Otherwise, to sum up I think that you will have these scary thoughts and feelings but re-framing them into both an understanding of what connection you and your partner do share as well as understanding what you can and can’t control will help enormously as well as giving yourself permission to feel like shit and knowing how to cope and soothe yourself when you do will also be really helpful for you going forward.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Lying by omission

My fiancé who I have been with for 15 years. Has asked if I would be in a open relationship. He says he has always thought this way but what really made him to bring it up was talking to his therapist… and he got a crush on a mutual friend who he has gotten closer to over the last year. Which is a little hurtful on multiple levels.

He said he doesn’t want to hurt our relationship or me and that this is the most vulnerable and honest he has ever been. Which I do trust him and love him dearly. I told him after weeks of thinking and learning about it.. I like to know all the facts and learn about other ways of living etc before I say yes or no. I am a open thinker or at least would like to think so. That we could try this open relationship I don’t want other relationships at this time. But who knows maybe later on. I told him there are only a few rules:

1. No relationship with the mutual friend (no being alone with her either) or any other mutual friends

2. Has to come home at night

3. I need to know if he is involved with someone

So… with that being said I think those are very fair rules not a lot and honestly I don’t ever ask much of him. He failed to mention to me the other day that he dropped off a guitar at her house while I was working at my job not from home and we are quarantined. He didn’t bring it up because he knew it would upset me. Well I found out and was upset… I now also know that she may bring him lunch sometime this week while I’m working he doesn’t know that I am aware of that… I feel like I am suppose to trust him but now I don’t feel like I can. And I don’t want to bring it up.

I looked at his phone. He told me today that he doesn’t want to replace me he loves me and our relationship he just wants more freedom to do what he feels more naturally. I thought the base for open relationship with a main partner is trust… am I being crazy? I feel like I need to stand my ground on this. I always cave and I’m done doing that. I feel like I’m missing something and it’s no to much to ask of him to do… please help… feeling confused and like I’m going crazy…

You’re absolutely right that the base for an open relationship — and for any relationship to be honest — is trust. But you began opening this relationship with distrust.

Your first rule inherently means you don’t trust him. Even in a monogamous set up, I would advise people to never agree to any kind of relationship where their partner attempted to control them physically. It’s one thing to put a sort of pin in the idea that him dating a friend you both share would make you uncomfortable and it might be worth having a discussion about that sort of thing to address your fears but it’s a completely different thing to ban him from being alone with “her” or any other mutual friends you have.

Why? If you trust your partner agrees with your first rule willingly and it’s a mutual agreement, and not a restriction you are placing to prevent him from dating or falling in love with a specific person, then you should not have any reason to believe he would break this rule. And that puts him in an extremely awkward position where if someone — as two adults who are friends are wont to do — wants to hang out or drop of a guitar or do something simple, he now has to basically disclose the status of his relationship which he may not want to do with all of your mutual friends and he has to basically say, “I’m not allowed to see you because my wife won’t let me.” Ask yourself, if the situation was reversed and your husband was banning you from being alone with any mutual friend who is a guy, would that not sound a little like the 1950s?

He has a crush on your mutual friend and understandably that makes you afraid. But if he is going to replace you with her, you cannot prevent that from locking him in a tower away from her. It’s understandable to not want to lose a friendship because things become awkward with dating, but sometimes that just can’t be avoided. Restricting him from dating her is only going to cause resentment and push him further away from you.

Rules aren’t a problem in general, but they have to do what they are designed to do and there has to be a logic behind them. For a lot of people opening up their relationship, it makes sense to want to have the security of your partner not doing overnights right away, especially if you’ve been with them for 15 years and it’s a new experience for you. It also makes sense to want to know if he is involved with someone because you might need some time to process things and get some reassurance from him when this does happen. So many rules when people first open their relationship are about avoiding the anxiety that comes with change and that doesn’t work.

If you are truly okay with opening the relationship, then you have to understand that this will fundamentally change your partnership. He will be focusing on other people and you should be free to do the same. This change is like knocking down some of the pillars of your relationship and rebuilding them. Trust has to be rebuilt. And that process is filled with anxiety that you can’t avoid.

You may want to read through the intro to polyamory article I wrote and work on talking together about your ideals, recognising what your anchor is in polyamory, and figuring out how to compromise effectively. Re-framing some of your fears might make them less intense and you may realise your rules are not really needed as time goes on. But really, if you start a relationship forbidding your partner from being alone with any specific person, that demonstrates a lack of trust. And that is definitely worth you reconsidering.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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With or without permission

Me and my wife we both know each other from 2015 and in September 2019 we got married.

Now she’s in Canada and for her studies and I’m in India waiting for this pandemic to be over so that I’ll be able to be with her.

Well the real question is that we are very broad minded when it comes to sexual needs and we love to try new things with each other. We the only issue right now is that I’m alone here and it feels weird when she talk about open relationship.

She said she want to feel other body not want to do sex. But I’m not ready to share my wife in any manner right now. I’m emotionally unstable and want us to be with each other. We have spend almost 3 months after marriage and after fighting for each others she had to go abroad.

What should I say to her about this? A bit of tensed conversation has been done and sometimes it feels like the person is changed or I’m not the priority.

I have told her that I want to begin our lives together first and then we will explore another Cosmos of that particular Era. In short I just want to remain with each other, her way of letting me know is that she want to do it anyway whether it’s fine or not for me.

If I say something she’ll be like I’m bounding her. Things have gone somewhere separation. That’s why this thing makes me vulnerable. Help me figure this out. I want her to wait for me. I don’t want her to participate alone. I want us to be in team form. Thank you and pardon if it’s complicated. Looking forward to see your reply.

There are so many stories like this on polyamory forums and it makes me genuinely sad because, if not for the behaviour of the person pushing polyamory, this would actually be workable.

It is fair for someone to tell you what their needs are. She is not a bad person for wanting to open your relationship or for feeling lonely, especially during a global pandemic. Equally, you are not a bad person for wanting to be in a more stable situation before doing something which is definitely going to challenge you emotionally. It’s fair for you to want to wait until your relationship is not long distance so you feel more secure. It’s also fair for that to be too long for her to personally want to wait and for her to feel trapped by that situation and controlled.

What isn’t really fair is her basically telling you that she is going to do whatever she wants, with or without your blessing. No one should have to give up all of their wants and needs in a relationship, sure, but relationships, especially if you have taken the step to marry, are about compromises as well. You have to be willing to work with one another. If you reach a point where there is nothing to be compromised and you want to do what you want to do, knowing it is a hard limit for your partner, I feel like the adult thing to do in that situation is to be the one to pull the plug.

Instead, she’s just telling you that she’s going to do what she wants to do, adding the emotional leverage onto it that you’re binding her if you object, and not doing what she should which is fully breaking up so that she can do what she needs to do. As a complete aside, during a global pandemic, the last thing she should be doing is seeing new people anyway so I’m really confused as to what the rush is necessarily at this point. But you also seem unwilling to negotiate any type of “sharing” in any form, so she may just want to have the freedom to flirt with and establish romantic connections with others.

From your perspective, I think there are also a few things to consider, even if her behaviour isn’t exemplary. I think that you need to reconsider the idea that you have to open your relationship “as a team”. I’ve covered dating as a couple in a previous column, but in general I don’t recommend it. People should date as individuals, and if you will only allow her to see other people “with” you, I can see why that would be untenable for you.

Secondly, while it does make sense to want to be more stable before opening your relationship, this could be somewhat a delay of the inevitable. We go through periods of stability and instability in our lives and, even if the pandemic were to end and you were together, that does not mean you would not face another emotional hardship. A family member could die or something else could happen that would throw you off. When people put the condition on their relationship being open on their mental stability at any given point, that runs the risk of you wanting to shut things when you don’t feel great, which isn’t realistic or fair to anyone.

Thirdly, it’s understandable that you aren’t ready, but you have to be willing to face a certain amount of discomfort to try something new and, while it’s fine to want your partner around to have that reassurance, I think it’s worth also considering how to be more dynamic about getting emotional reassurance. Because, even if you were physically together, sans pandemic, your partner would not be available at all hours to provide you with emotional support. If you have that expectation, that is going to kill most attempts at polyamory because you are expecting the level of attention someone would get in a monogamous relationship and that just isn’t really possible with polyamory.

Overall, I think you need to consider if you are willing to be more flexible or if your needs are ultimately not matched. It would help, as I mentioned in my intro to polyamory article, to think about your anchor and the reasons you’re interested in opening your relationship and then consider both of your ideals. Two people can be interested in a polyamorous or open relationship and still be incompatible. It might be that what you actually want is swinging and what she wants is a more relationship anarchy type of situation. You need to find that out.

It’s also worth bringing up to her that this attitude of “I’m just telling you I’m going to see other people whether you like it or not” is not really okay and if she feels that way and she is unwilling to compromise or work through this with you, then she should do the right thing and break up with you rather than basically forcing you to do it. If you have access to therapy, you can still see a couples therapist together digitally, and that might be something you want to consider to work through some of these issues together.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Possessive metamour

My boyfriend and I have been dating for over two years but have been in a BDSM dynamic for four years, we have always had an open BDSM dynamic due to not always having the same kinks but we opened up our relationship sexually a year ago.

In that time he took on more constant play partners, I am perfectly happy with this but some of the girls he goes with makes me uncomfortable, I always feel pushed out if our whole group is out together at a BDSM munch/event, as one gets really possessive over him and pouty when he pays me any attention. Especially when she gets drunk. The other is newer and is one who he has spoken to me about in the sense he would like to take things sexually with her. My issue with her is she has tagged him in pictures calling him daddy or if I’ve been in the room with his phone or laptop and seen her pop up I’ve seen parts of messages where she calls him daddy.

This is a dynamic I’ve discussed with him where we both agreed to be more open about due to its nature. I’ve pulled him up on this and he said its a joke as she calls anyone she is close to daddy/mummy in a baby voice in certain situations. Since the pandemic he obviously can’t see anyone but me cause we live together, but I can hear their phone conversations as I move through the house and it sounds flirty and cute, which doesn’t bother me at all but the conversation goes dead until I leave the room and I am out of earshot, which makes me uncomfortable and paranoid, as I’ve already had one relationship where things were hidden. I don’t fancy another.

I feel like it’s my own fault I feel uncomfortable as I met them weeks after he did due to missing a few events cause of my own issues.

I like the girl that he likes as a friend she is really friendly and we talk alot about common interest and I’ve been helping her try and think of a birthday present for him and I am happy for them to have whatever dynamic they have I just want to be informed.

He hasn’t even really changed with me either, he is still cute and loving, but a bit more protective cause of the pandemic cause I’m classed as vulnerable.

What should I do? And the paranoia just all in my head?

One of the interesting but semi-unfortunate aspect of polyamory or an open dynamic is that you can see all of the different types of people you partner dates. Because we live in a society that convinces us that we have to consume in order to be the “best” to attract “the one”, we often believe that we have attracted the person we were with because we are talented in some way… and sometimes, given the types of people our partner dates, we learn differently.

You don’t have to like the people your partner dates no more than you have to like the people your partner befriends. What’s needed are some boundaries and some better behaviour on the part of your partner. It wouldn’t be acceptable for one of your partner’s friends to be possessive over him and get pouty when you’re all out in public together, so why is it okay for anyone else? He needs to put his foot down when it comes to you being within a group and advocate for you rather than allowing you to be pushed out — or you need to find another BDSM group (though I don’t know how useful that is in your area).

When it comes to the other person, I think that you need to put some boundaries around yourself and how much you’re involved in a friendship with her if you notice that you’re dwelling on what she’s doing online. Her messages to him are technically private and you shouldn’t be looking at them unless she’s agreed to that. And I could understand why, if you have a proclivity to read his messages, he is unwilling to put anything on display that might cause you to question his honesty.

A big part of this problem is your previous experience of having a relationship where things are hidden. In response, you’re attempting to prevent that happen by creating this rule that you “stay informed”. You’re under the impression that somehow you can spot someone being dishonest to you and prevent yourself from being hurt again. On the one hand, this makes a lot of sense. Your brain is trying to prevent you from being hurt again. But the problem with this line of thinking is it places the burden of preventing someone from lying to you on your shoulders.

The result is that you become paranoid and afraid of everything and also that you must conclude that the reason that your previous relationship didn’t work out was because you failed somehow — which isn’t true. Whomever was dishonest to you in the past, you are not to blame to that. You cannot prevent this from happening to you again ultimately. You are going to have to make the scary leap of faith and trust that your partner will let you know if something will change and be honest with you instead of trying to spot something yourself.

Finally, this rule of being “informed” is probably not going to serve you well because it sounds nebulous. Not everyone can pinpoint when they start to develop deeper feelings for someone. And she may have deeper feelings for him than he does for her — which he also can’t control. Ask yourself what this rule is meant to do. What is it meant to prevent? What do you want to be informed about?

Maybe what you need to do is have a conversation with your partner when your expectations around how often you see him change or when he may have a regular partner because that may alter your schedule. Have a talk with each other about your ideals and see if you match up. Maybe you only want one other partner but he wants several. Having a realistic idea of what it is you might be aiming for in terms of having an open dynamic might be helpful.

And lastly, don’t blame yourself for being afraid. You’re allowed to be afraid, especially given what’s happened to you. See if you can find a polyam friendly therapist that might be able to work on some self-soothing techniques with you when your anxiety starts kicking into overdrive.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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