Episode 70: Half Ghosting

What happens when your mutual partner ghosts you, but not your partner? Rejection sucks, but this feels a bit different.

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic:

What happens when your partner and your best friend don’t get along?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 70 – Half Ghosting

What happens when your mutual partner ghosts you, but not your partner? Rejection sucks, but this feels a bit different. That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – What happens when your partner and your best friend don’t get along?

 

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

So, what do you do when a mutual partner ghosts you but not your shared partner?

My long term partner and I were both singularly and severally involved with a partner. The partner just completely ghosted me but kept talking to my long term partner.

They said they had a lot going on in their life and I totally understand that, but I also feel like, if they had enough time to keep talking to my long term partner, they had enough time to say something to me. Even a ‘hey I’ve got stuff going on’ or a ‘I don’t want to see you anymore’ is better than what I got. And what sucks even worse is that they kept talking and I didn’t know. I thought they had ghosted us and not just me.

It makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me, like I’m not good enough. Rejection sucks but I’ve been through it before. This sucks way worse though I can’t explain why.

Response:

There’s a lot going on with this particular situation. Because the thing that I’m wondering… the long and short of it is that if you were to go with the option of confronting this person, as much as you could possibly confront them… I’m not sure what the logistics are. Does this person live really close to you both? Do you live with your partner, your long term partner? Is this person going to be physically coming over? Is there COVID stuff that’s happening with this? Since when we’re recording this, this is still in the midst of COVID. 

So I don’t know if it’s likely that you’re physically going to run into this person or if you have to go out of your way to run into this person, and generally speaking I think you could confront them, but I’m wondering if confronting will get you the answers that you want. So I think it’s worth thinking about what is the answer that you want from this? Because I do think that, you know it’s… for some people rejecting people outright is a really hard thing to do. And I’m not saying that makes it totally okay to ghost someone, but to say they said they had a lot going on in their life, that sort of reads to me as a little bit of a rejection.

If not a direct one, and it could be possible that to them, they didn’t ghost you. They told you they had a lot going on in their life. And that was the end of it. There’s a variety of different reasons why they might decide to continue talking to your long term partner — and I don’t know if by talking that means that they’re dating or they’re romantically involved — and not to you but it may just be that they get along better with your long term partner than they do with you. 

And considering the fact that I’m assuming that they know that you’re dating your long term partner, perhaps, they feel just as awkward about it as you do. So I don’t know what it is that you would get from a confrontation, because they may just tell you like, you know, the reasons in particular that they feel they’re not compatible with you, or they may tell you something that you don’t necessarily want to hear. And that wouldn’t necessarily be helpful for you. I think that the thing that I’m wondering about this is that, you know… you say rejection sucks. You’ve been through it before, and it sucks way worse — what wonders me about it is it does it bother you…

Is their rejection bothering you or is it actually that your long term partner is continuing to engage with them? Even after knowing I assume that your long term partner knows that they ghosted you. And maybe that’s the issue. It’s not so much that you know that they’ve ghosted you and rejected you or whatever but that your long term partner is now continuing to talk with them, and maybe you feel awkward about that and this opens up a different kind of can of worms. I think that one of the things that’s interesting about non-monogamy and polyamory is that we get to see the choices that our partners make.

And it’s quite easy especially within monogamy and especially within the way that we’re encouraged to practice monogamy to think that our partners have chosen us because we’re really special or we’re really good at something, or, you know, that we stand out, or that we are particularly good. And that’s kind of the narrative that the society that we’re in encourages us to believe. Right? That they’ve chosen us because we’re better in some way. And so, the funny thing about polyamory is that you can see the people that your partner choose and you can be less than impressed about that. 

And in this particular situation it’s less about like— that you don’t like this person but it’s that your partner’s sort of choosing someone that has kind of been rude to you, and you don’t really know what to make of that. Because, you know, on the one hand, some people operate in a very compartmentalised way. And I’ve struggled with this a lot too. Some people are like “This is what has happened in between you two, and we are separate”. And I can see the validity in that and if that is how people can emotionally operate, then that totally makes sense. 

On the other hand, I can also see the problem that you can have if you know someone’s been really… Well not *really* rude — I mean they just ghosted you. That’s not nice. But someone’s been not nice to you and your partner has gone, “Okay”. In a way. So have you talked about it with your long term partner? This is really tricky because it — and I’ve been in situations like this before with friends and not even necessarily with just partners. It’s like, I have had friends who have been nasty to my partner and me go, “You know what?” Even though, yes, this isn’t—  We aren’t a unit, and I don’t really like to be in that kind of a unit. Like I don’t operate as a unit. I operate as me. 

It’s kind of hard for me to be friends with people who are mean to people that I care about. I can’t ignore that or separate that. So it might be that this is less about that person and more about what’s going on in between you and your long term partner, because I assume that you meant you were severely involved with the same person. And the fact that you thought that that this person had ghosted both of you, and then you suddenly found out that wasn’t the case— that is really awkward. And I just think that, you just need to talk it out a little bit more with your long term partner. And it’s really important not to use your — and I’m sure you know this — but it’s really important not to use your long term partner as a way to get answers from this person.

Just say like, “This is how I’m feeling. What do you feel about the situation?” It could be that your partner feels just as awkward about it. I would really hesitate to encourage your partner to make any decisions about the relationship they have with that person purely based off of the way that they’ve treated you. Because here’s the thing about ghosting. I have done this before, in friendships. I’m not necessarily proud of it, but for me personally, I have resorted to what people would call ghosting when I have felt like having a direct confrontation with the person was either not something that I could do at the time, or if I felt like it would not result in anything beneficial.

There was someone who I was friends with for ages and I just… I didn’t have —  my expectations of them we’re not really fair but I didn’t know how to have a confrontation. I’m not generally very good at healthy confrontation. I’m very good at unhealthy confrontation. I’m very good at, you know— I can easily like get mad at somebody. I can easily like— if I have to really put my foot down, I’m very I’m very fine with doing that, but to be vulnerable and to say, “Hey, this hurts, and this is how I feel”. That is really really hard for me, actually. 

And so when people ghost sometimes — I can’t speak for every single person in every single situation. — But sometimes the reason they do that is not because they are trying to hurt you. It might be that they just don’t know how to do rejection. It might be that they don’t how to make it clear. It might be that they thought they made it clear by telling you that they have a lot going on. And that was clear enough, and maybe you’re like, “Oh that’s not too clear.” It’s hard for me to say because I don’t know what — if you’ve sent them a bunch of messages and been like “Hey how are you?” and they’ve just totally ignored it. I mean generally that is what happens with ghosting but if you see that they’ve seen the messages it’s a bit different. But sometimes that’s what people do when they can’t really have a direct confrontation, and I’m not saying that makes it even easier for you, or that it feels nice, but it might be worth thinking about that. 

There are good reasons why they may have— they may want to make time in their life for your long term partner but not necessarily with you. Maybe they’re really intimidated by dating two people who are dating each other, and they feel like or they want to make a decision instead of dating you both. We can sit here and speculate all sorts of reasons. I’m not saying sit here on an endless loop of speculation as to why they did it, but I’m saying that inot to take it personally, that it’s probably not necessarily about you personally.

And even if it is, if they’re not willing to tell you exactly why they’ve done this or exactly why they’re not interested and there’s only so much you can do. But when it comes to how weird you’re feeling, I think it sucks worse just because you know your partner got accepted and you didn’t and that’s really hard and it’s worth talking with your partner about it, or seeing a therapist, if you have access to a polyamory friendly therapist, talking to that and just also allowing yourself to be a little bit, put out by it. 

Rejection does suck in general. It’s always gonna suck. But when somebody you know gets accepted and you get rejected like that sucks and you’re gonna feel a way about it, and that’s okay. Like, it will I think eventually pass, but it might be worth just having a chat with your partner — like no expectation of them to do anything in their relationship but just letting you know that you feel weird about it, and if they plan to bring that person over then you might all have to like acknowledge what’s the big elephant in the room of what’s happened. 

And just, you know, laugh about it. Address it and move on because I don’t necessarily think this is going to be a big deal in the long term. It just feels a little bit weird right now because of the way that it happened, and then the fact that your partner is probably still talking to them and it feels a bit awkward, and that’s okay. So yeah, just to recap, you could confront them depending on your logistical situation but I don’t know if that will be helpful for you I think you do have to kind of just accept that.

It may not have been a very good rejection but it is clearly a some type of rejection, and it is what it is. And, you know, let go of the assumption that having that knowing exactly why they rejected you is going to make you feel better because I don’t think it will. And then the second thing is have a talk with your long term partner about it and try to explore a little a little bit yourself. Like does it bother you that your long term partner is, has, has been accepted or continues to talk with them? Ask what the plans are if this person does come visit your long term partner. How are you going to work this out?

It might be that eventually there is kind of a sit down with all three of you and you just kind of talk about it, and that would probably be really useful to address the situation. But just have a chat with your partner about it but don’t put any pressure on them to make decisions. It’s okay for you to have feelings about being rejected by a person who’s kind of, you know, accepted more or less your partner. But the last thing that you want to do is necessarily make them feel like they have to they have to do something to honour your feelings to this person. That’s not a really fair position to put them in. 

And last but not least, I just think that you have to accept that you feel a little bit shit and be okay with that. You feel a bit shit and rejection sucks but this one sucks a little bit worse and I don’t think it’s going to suck forever. It’s going to suck for a little while. It’s going to be awkward. Embrace that it’s going to suck and be awkward for a while. If you have access to a polyamory friendly therapist consider having a few sessions talking through this, and eventually I think you will feel better. 

But, yeah, I think it sucks, mainly because it’s one thing to get rejected. Like usually when we get rejected, we don’t know who else has been accepted. Now we know who else has been accepted. So it’s easy for your brain to start comparing and contrasting and that’s just your brain trying to like help you out. It doesn’t feel helpful at all. It doesn’t feel in the slightest but helpful at all right now, but that is your brain just trying to, especially if you’ve ever been through any kind of trauma like it’s your brain being a survival brain and going “oh well  if we learn where we made mistakes and then we’ll be able to prevent rejection from happening again!” 

Your brain just doesn’t want you to feel pain again but the thing is that you can’t— And I’ve said this in my columns, I’ve said this in podcast before, and I have a polyamory 101 and 102 articles. And I think specifically I talked about this in my 101 article. Your anxiety is always going to make you feel like if you make different choices then you’ll be able to prevent pain. You’ll be able to prevent the worst from happening, but you can’t accept that and accept the hyper-vigilance without also accepting that everything that has happened to you is somehow your fault. 

And it’s not. The rejections you’ve had before— it’s not because you’ve made some grave error, every single time or, you know, it just happens. And your brain is, in its weirdness, trying to help you figure it out so that it can prevent pain, but, you know, sitting with it and going, “Hey, this happened”, will eventually help your survival brain calm down. But at least if you can see that it’s just your survival brain trying to help you out, then that sometimes makes it a lot easier to deal with it. I hope this helps and good luck.

Episode 69: Self-Sacrificing Too Much

If you’ve given a partner 10 years in monogamy, but they expect you to be happy and feel compersion after deciding to be polyamorous, you might be self-sacrificing  a little too much.

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic:

What’s one major way your values have changed in the last 10 years?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 69 – Self-Sacrificing Too Much

If you’ve given a partner 10 years in monogamy, but they expect you to be happy and feel compersion after deciding to be polyamorous, you might be self-sacrificing  a little too much.  That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website.

 

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

My long term partner and I have been together for 10 years. When we started dating I told him I was polyam and he said he was mono. I had been in mono relationships and so I was ok with us being that. I mentioned it again as our relationship progressed and he seemed to be interested but it just really never got off the ground. At that point I committed to being mono for the duration of our relationship and began building on that. 

Then about 7 months ago he decided that he wanted to try polyam. Since then it’s been nothing but heartache. For years I worked on turning off all my poly[am] switches and focused on building our relationship. And now he has decided that I need to turn them all back on immediately so that he can date.

I have ways been polyam, even when I didn’t know what to call it or even realise that I was. 

Believe me, it caused me no small amount of heartache when I was younger and crushing on multiple people at once. My desire to pursue it has not changed because it is who I am. He and I are really struggling right now because I’m not ecstatic for him in every possible way. I am putting in hard work reading and researching and self examination and really trying to break down all the bullshit I’ve built up over 10 years of being in a mono relationship. I can’t even get him to read a book. He says he has it all figured out and he’s totally adjusted to everything on every level.

Compersion is very difficult for me. I feel like he asked me to be his one and only special person for 10 years and now I’m not anymore and he is giving away to other people what was ours. And I hate it. I’m working on it but right now I despise his partners and I am angry and resentful and jealous that they’re getting a part that, for the entirety of our relationship, has been for me because that’s how HE wanted it and now he’s just decided to 180 and pull the rug right out from under me.

When we are intimate now I can’t think of anything else besides them. As you can imagine, it strains our intimacy. I try. I swear I am trying. It hurts that I can’t seem to be happy for him. I feel guilty because he gets mad that I’m not, like I’m doing something wrong.

Response:

First and foremost, if you were with a friend, and you had some boxes to carry, and your friend said, “You know what? I don’t know if I can do this. Would you carry these?” And you carried them and you were like, “Okay fine. I understand you may not be able to do it”. And you carry them. And then, after a long time, your friend is like, “Oh wait, actually I can totally do this. This is fine. Whatever. Cool, I can do it”. You would be annoyed. And you not only would be annoyed because he’d been carrying them for so long, you wouldn’t expect in the scenario for the person who has been carrying the boxes to be happy about the change in situation. 

I mean obviously yes. It’s great that things have changed to make it a little easier, sort of, on you, but it would be unrealistic and unfair to expect that person who had been carrying all those boxes to suddenly be like, “Oh this is awesome. I’m so glad that you’re enjoying carrying your box!” It’s not like a completely comparable situation. I don’t mean to compare relationships to holding boxes, but it’s very very unrealistic for any person to completely change and sacrifice—  because this has been a sacrifice for you — and then be happy, just suddenly be happy and cool and fine with things changing.

Changing is going to cause, even if it’s a change that you would have liked to have had, changing things is going to be a little nerve wracking. And especially in the situation that you’re in, like you said you’ve kind of— I don’t think you can necessarily switch off your inclination towards polyamory if it’s what you feel is an inclination. However, whenever people create a hierarchy — and whether this is in monogamy or polyamory — if you create a hierarchy where there is one person who is more important than everybody else and that person is the romantic person and you can do this within polyamory.

This is kind of what happens when people create “primary partners”. If you create a hierarchy that one person is important, it is naturally going to create a worry, and a little bit of a defence mechanism if you are in that prioritised position to want to stay in that prioritised position. You’re naturally going to worry about that changing. So it makes complete and total sense for you to, after 10 years of being in a monogamous relationship with somebody, for you to be worried that — what if this person isn’t polyamorous? They just want to find someone new to replace me? 

It’s okay to have those worries. This is a massive change. It’s a massive, massive change. It’s like if after 10 years, your partner was like, “Nope I don’t want kids. Hate kids. Don’t want kids. Hate kids. Don’t want kids. Hate kids”, and then suddenly was like, “Let’s have a million babies”. You would be a little bit concerned. And you wouldn’t be wrong for feeling that. So right now, what you’re doing is you’re putting yourself, not only — and I really hate compersion. The thing that I hate about compersion, right— And for people who don’t know what compersion is —Basically it’s supposed to be the “opposite of jealousy” although I’ve seen that be challenged more and more. 

It’s basically when you’re happy that your partner is with somebody else like you’re happy for them. I really hate putting it in a position where compersion is like the ideal or compersion is like the top of the mountain and you’re trying to reach the top of the mountain and sometimes you just have to be okay that you can’t get to the top. No, it’s a cherry on top of the cake. It’s an extra side benefit. And it might just not be something that you experience

It’s the same with friendships. Some people are super interested in their friends romantic lives and really get excited when they’re dating other people, some people couldn’t give a fuck less, and that’s okay. It’s okay if you’re not deeply invested in being happy that you’re partner’s with somebody else. It’s okay to feel that. You’re putting conversion on this like mountain that you need to climb up and you’re forcing yourself to climb up this mountain. 

 Now, you have a little bit of a problem here. This is a problem that I have. I run an advice column because I have an inclination to be helpful. I like being helpful. I want to be helpful and useful to people. That’s just kind of the way my personality is. I have to be very very very careful about how I do that because I’ve been in way too many situations where I have basically busted my ass for someone. It’s difficult because sometimes I busted my ass for people but I haven’t really… They didn’t ask me to do that. And they’ve not recognised or seen what I’ve done and I felt resentment over that. 

You have to be really really careful with the inclination to self-sacrifice, because even though I don’t go out of my way to help people because I want cookies for it, or that I’m trying to necessarily do it to get on the good side. I’m not trying to be manipulative about it. But if I do self sacrifice, if I do work for people if I try to help someone, and then they turn around and they treat me like crap… It feels like it hurts worse. And I have to be really really careful about who I decide to sacrifice for. I’ve been in a lot of situations like not even romantic relationships, friendships.

I can imagine one friendship that I recently had where I—  they said that they couldn’t afford something and I built a Crowdfunder for them and I busted my ass to get it fully funded and they got the money and then they turned around, and they — we had a disagreement about something and they turned around and told everybody behind my back that I hated them and was trying to conspire against them and that really really hurt me. And it hurt me worse because I busted my butt so badly for them. And when that happens— like I’ve come to a conclusion that if I’m going to sacrifice or work hard for somebody, if I’m going to give to somebody, I have to release myself of the expectation and prepare for the reality that that person may not be that great.

 And it’s not my fault. There was a period of time where I wanted to be like, “Well I’m not going to sacrifice anything for anyone else. I’m not going to help anybody anymore”. And that’s just not within my personality, right? But I have to just be careful about this. I don’t think that it was wrong of you to give up on polyamory, but at the same time you do kind of have to realise that when you make that kind of a decision. You have to make that without basically beating yourself up if it doesn’t work out. If you can sacrifice something, and then be okay with whatever the result of that is, then that is the best choice to decide when to sacrifice something. 

It’s really difficult, because it does hurt, and it is incredibly painful when you really, you know, go out of your way to help someone, and you also need to be — if you have a tendency towards this — I think you also need to be wary about who you do this for. And you also need to realise is this person going to see me? Yes, for me, like, I don’t do things to to necessarily get loads of praise, but if I’m doing it for someone and I haven’t made them aware that I’m trying for them or if I haven’t, you know, if I haven’t not necessarily tried to stick it in their face, but if, if they don’t seem to be an appreciative person, right, or they specifically aren’t asking me for help and I’m just going out of my way to do it I have to be really careful about that. 

So that is the thing that I want you to think about in the future. There’s nothing you do about it now. You’ve sacrificed 10 years to this person and you know, that is all gone and I do think you need to allow yourself to be sad about that. You need to allow yourself to mourn the loss of those 10 years, you know, you’ve kind of put yourself on the back shelf of it, and prioritises your partner over yourself. And that has caused you to lose touch with yourself in that way. It’s caused you to miss out on a lot of relationships you could have had during that time, and it’s okay for you to be sad about that. 

And I do think that right now you’re kind of like pushing all of your feelings back, because you’re still self sacrificing. You’re still prioritising his feelings, You’re still prioritising—  you want to have compersion because you want him to be happy. And you’re still doing that and I think that you need to stop doing that. And you need to allow yourself to be a little bit — like more than a little bit sad about what has happened and what you’ve missed out on. 

The big thing here, aside from all of those issues, is your partner’s attitude, which honestly really boils my piss to be frank. Expecting you to just turn around after 10 years of being monogamous, and not only be okay with polyamory, but to have no interest in doing any research after not being polyamorous, and I don’t think anyone needs a degree to be polyamorous, but understandably like you— It seems like you want to work through this with him, and you want to talk about things, and it just seems like he doesn’t want to talk about it. He just wants to do it and he wants you to be happy. That’s kind of bullshit. I’m not surprised that you’re struggling with being intimate with him and struggling in having any intimacy. Why would you? 

Why would you want to be intimate with someone who completely changes the game on you? And not only completely changes the game on you but, isn’t from what you’ve written, isn’t really showing you any compassion for what you’re going through? It’s like this scenario that I just introduced you in: you’re holding this box. If he said, “Do you know what, actually, I can hold that box. I’m really sorry that you’ve had to hold it for so long. I’m so sorry.” You can’t change what has happened and I respect the fact that like, you know, he could have been too self sacrificing. He could have equally tried polyamory when he didn’t want to, and if it hadn’t— I mean I’ve seen that scenario play out so many times where people push themselves into polyamory, and they really don’t want it, and it ends up being a really painful hard thing for them and I’m glad that he didn’t do that.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t show you any compassion for where you are. That doesn’t mean he can’t try to and I understand like reading books and doing all that research isn’t necessarily for everyone, but there’s still things he can work with you through. And it doesn’t sound like he’s even showing you the least bit of compassion for what you have gone through. Even if he wanted to be polyamorous, from the start the fact that you’ve had to kind of completely switch gears and not only that but he is getting mad at you for not being happy for him. That’s bullshit. 

Even if you were both “experienced polyamory people”, even if you both were experienced, and you had a partner who was getting mad at you because you weren’t happy for them, that’s bullshit. It’s okay that like, if he’s dating other people and you’re not feeling great, it’s okay if he struggles with that. A lot of people really struggle with the idea that something they’re doing is making their partner unhappy. A lot of people really struggle to go out on those first dates because they don’t want to upset their partner. A lot of people want to reach some kind of perfect state of readiness and perfection before they go out and date other people, because they really don’t want the partner to be unhappy. 

He’s not only not doing that but he’s getting mad at you for not being happy. Well, no wonder you’re not happy. That’s no reason for you to be happy. You spent 10 years completely changing how you do relationships for one person whose completely switched it up. Seems like they’re refusing to have any discussions with you about this. “I just expect you to be happy about it. Why are you sad?” You’re not a robot. And you know what, there might be people out there in the world who could completely switch and be fine and be like “Yeah and I’m totally stoked for you”. That’s great, that’s not you, and it’s not realistic to be— to have this expectation of you and like demand that you be cool.

If he wants to do polyamory it’s not like polyamory is not monogamy plus. It’s not monogamy but you get to sleep with whoever you want your partner’s cool with it. That’s not what polyamory is. And he has to be willing, just as he would in a monogamous relationship, to support you. If he has it all figured out for him. Brilliant, great. If he doesn’t need to— if he feels like he doesn’t need to read anything for him. Great. That’s great. But he still needs to be there for you and be supportive of what you’re going through. And that’s the issue. He could read 500 books and still be unsupportive. The books aren’t going to make him supportive.

But if he’s just unwilling to do any kind of work with you. I mean, and then he’s getting mad at you for not being happy. Of course you’re not! Even if you had a completely supportive partner, who was totally down with and gave you lots of assurance and lots and was there for you and apologised constantly about changing their mind and all this sorts of stuff — I would still expect you to not be completely and utterly happy because it’s a big shift. It’s a big change. And it’s scary to know if this is, is this person for real or are they just saying polyamory and then I’m going to get replaced? It’s totally an utterly expected for you to have those feelings, and to also mourn what you’ve lost. 

You’ve lost 10 years that you could have had so many relationships during that time. It’s okay for you to be upset about that, but instead of being able to have someone there for you and someone who supports you and understands and is trying to be there for you, you’ve got someone who is like, “No,  I’m cool with being polyamorous, and this is great. Whoo, why aren’t you happy for me?” Like what? It would be like in that same scenario that person just like took the box from you and was like doing cartwheels for it and then was like “Shouldn’t you be happy that I can carry this box?” No, of course you’re not happy. Of course you’re struggling to feel compersion. 

That is totally an utterly expected in this situation. That is kind of the bigger issue for me in this. Yes, you have an issue here with  self sacrifice, and whether or not, you know, that is something you should continue to do. Yes, you have an issue with not allowing yourself to feel your feelings about this because you’re too busy continuing to self-sacrifice. Those are issues you can address, but you can’t fix him not being willing to support you. And if he was supportive I would advise you to like, okay, accept where you are now accept what you’ve lost, mourn than what you’ve lost, try to work through some of this anger, see a polyamory friendly therapist on your own and see how you can reassure each other and work from where you are now to forward because I do see the other side of the situation and that if he did force himself to do polyamory and he couldn’t, that could have also ended just as badly.

There could have also been resentment and also then a lot of emotional pain in that situation, so I can understand — and I think it’s better that he said, “No, I don’t want to do it”, instead of trying to be self sacrificing in the same way you were. I think it’s better. But the fact that he is unwilling to be supportive of you is a big issue. And I do really, really think that regardless of whether you consider polyamory or monogamy is not the biggest issue in this situation. It’s am I with someone who is willing to support me and be with me and hold me through difficult times in my life and help me and, you know, allow me to feel my feelings? 

Someone who is being mad at you because you’re not happy is not someone who is allowing you to feel your feelings. It’s okay if he has feelings about your feelings. Like, that’s fine. But if there is this expectation and you know maybe it’s something you’re more forcing on yourself but it sounds like he’s also forcing this on you. There’s an expectation for you to just be happy. That isn’t going to work in monogamy, let alone polyamory. That doesn’t work in any relationship, if someone just expects you to constantly be happy and doesn’t want to deal with any sad feelings or unhappy feelings, that’s not realistic in monogamy or any— That’s not realistic in a friendship. That’s not realistic in any kind of relationship. 

You have to deal with the fact that sometimes people aren’t happy. And if you want to have a sustainable relationship with them then you have to be able  to work with them through that. If you have the resource talk to a polyamory friendly therapist about all this. But I do really, really think that you need to— you can ask him and put kind of put an ultimatum kind of situation on him, in terms of being more supportive of you, but there’s nothing you can do to make him care more about you. 

And I really, really think that you should consider whether or not it’s worth continuing to self sacrifice and continuing to be with someone who is not willing to sacrifice a little bit for you. Like it has to be mutual. It has to be someone who’s willing to at least consider the fact that you’re not happy, and try and be supportive of you. I think that you should really really consider if that’s the kind of person that you want to be with. Because the problem here is absolutely not that you can’t feel compersion. The problem is that you are being forced into a situation where you have to be happy or else, and that’s not a sustainable or helpful situation. I hope that helps and good luck. 

Episode 68: Mismatched Labels

If your partner is polyamorous but you are non-monogamous is your relationship doomed?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic:

What is your ideal polyamory or non-monogamy set-up?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 67 – Mismatched Ideals

If your partner is polyamorous but you are non-monogamous is your relationship doomed? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – What is your ideal polyamory or non-monogamy set-up?

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

I’m a cisgender straight woman. My partner is a straight cis man and his other partner is a cis bi woman. My partner and I began our relationship four years ago as a casual physical relationship. We lived an hour away from each other. He was recently out of a bad relationship, and made it very clear that he was with many other women. This was fine, but we really clicked and quickly fell in love. He’s done a lot of healing and we’re doing well. I moved across the country a couple years ago and we didn’t know how things would go but we realised that we were still just as in love. 

With the pandemic allowing me to work from home, we have recently moved in together. We knew that we were not monogamous, but we are non-monogamous in very different ways. I prefer to have very casual partnerships and hookups. He needs an emotional connection with other partners. He also needs love and companionship and reassurance in a way that sometimes feels to me like a quantity over quality, but that is not how he sees it. 

When we first started talking about moving in together, I asked him what we needed to talk about as far as other relationships. He said that we didn’t really need to because there weren’t any. I assumed that he meant that he was not interested in other relationships. Since we’ve moved in together, I’m quite happy with him and just not interested in other partners. I thought we were in the same place. He told me a previous partner had ended their romantic relationship. It was very clear to me however that they both still wanted each other. He went over to this person’s house for a game night, I asked if he was coming home, and explained I would be uncomfortable staying at the apartment by myself, and he said he wouldn’t do that to me. 

I understood this to mean he would not be spending the night with other partners. A few weeks later he told me he would be spending the night with her 48 hours later. I was crushed and betrayed. I felt forced into a situation I had not consented to. We have since had many conversations and understood that we both made assumptions based on desires we had not expressed. He is a very direct and frank person who understood the thing about spending the night to apply to that particular night. I don’t resent him for anything except not talking through things more before we moved in together. 

My main issue is dealing with the other partner. I want nothing to do with her, I don’t want to be reminded of her existence, and when he’s with her I’m a mess. I feel like this would feel different had we talked about how things would work first, and now we have, so I don’t expect this to happen again. But what’s done is done. And this person who did nothing to me is someone who is a source of so much pain. I don’t know how to get past this. We are all part of the local activist community so I can’t totally avoid the other partner, and would not want to have to explain to anyone else why I don’t want to be around her. I just feel lost. To provide more context they are both polyamorous, my relationships tend non-monogamous but I’m definitely not polyamorous.

My partner has had death threats due to his activist role in the community and people have showed up at our home looking for him. That has changed how I view our time together, as I worry each day will be his last and it makes me want to hold on tighter, even though I don’t think that’s helpful for our relationship

Response: 

First thing that I would say is that, you kind of have it right in that there wasn’t a lot of discussion before you moved in together about how you would deal with other partners. And I don’t necessarily think that it’s fair for you to resent him for that, because it’s possible… I think he at the time — and this is kind of a problem that a lot of polyamorous people have and this is why, in the article that I mentioned earlier, I really encourage people to think these things out before they become an issue.

Because I think a lot of people think, “Well, there’s not a reason to talk about it now because it’s not happening now”. And to be fair for some people they don’t necessarily know what they’re going to feel or how they want things to happen if they’re not currently happening. So it can sometimes be really difficult to have that discussion. I do think that you both need to have more of a discussion about your shared space, what that means and what is realistic. Even if you were completely monogamous, I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s realistic that he can’t spend the night somewhere else.

With family, with friends, people even in monogamous relationships don’t spend every single night at their house with their partner. So it’s not really a realistic expectation. With the added bit that you’ve contributed about how he said death threats, and how people have showed up at the house — that is an absolute concern and I can understand you not feeling comfortable being home alone because of that reason.

There has to be more discussion about that and how you both work that out because it’s not sustainable or really fair even, like I said, even if you were monogamous to expect him to spend every single night at home with you. Because it’s just— He might want to say to my at a friend’s. He might want to stay tonight with family. Even if he didn’t have other partners. It’s not a really realistic expectation so you’re going to have to figure out how you work through that. If he’s had death threats, do you need to move? 

Is that a realistic solution to what you’re facing right now? That is something that you have to kind of work out with each other. Even if he is totally willing to stay every night at home with you, I really don’t see that being sustainable. I would say that’s even too much for, like I said a monogamous relationship so that’s the first thing.

I think that a lot of people in your situation where things haven’t been discussed, and you know sometimes like I said you don’t know that you have a boundary until it’s been crossed. And that is painful and difficult. I find that in a lot of these situations where this happens, it’s very very easy to displace your anger or displace your discomfort or displace everything onto the metamour. And I do think that that’s what’s happening to you. For those who don’t know a metamour is the basically the person, the other person that your partner is dating or the other people that your partner’s dating are your metamours — that you’re not dating. 

You probably are going to find it harder to hold the same anger for your partner that you can easily hold for this metamour because even though you’re all part of the same community and you sort of know of this person, you don’t have any other context. You don’t understand what’s going on with this other person. You don’t understand how they feel so it’s quite easy for you to just take all of those feelings and go, “I’m gonna throw them on to this person, and then I can kind of get my anger and frustration and with a situation out by kind of basically taking it out on her”. 

And I think you do realise that. She’s done nothing to you. And you don’t necessarily want to have to make it awkward for her, or make it awkward for the people around you, but it might help for you to realise that it’s okay for you to be pissed off that this has happened and that you and your partner haven’t really talked about this. And when situations like that happen where you like, “Oh, actually I don’t want you to ever spend the night anywhere else” and he thinks it’s just for that one night… there needs to be more discussion. 

And I do think more discussion about this is going to make that anger, a little less intense. I think that you have some serious incompatibilities with your relationship expectations that really need to be hashed out. You saying that you are definitely not polyamorous and he is. This is a problem. Two people who are non-monogamous aren’t inherently compatible just because they’re both non-monogamous. If you have completely different definitions of how you want to pursue things that will always clash if you cannot actually find some areas of compatibility.

You already kind of said that you kind of see things as casual, and he doesn’t. He seems to have a little bit more of a kind of a relationship anarchist approach or a kind of wanting multiple deep romantic connections. You’re always going to struggle with that because if you see other people as casual and him as serious, you’re creating a hierarchy where you are the most important person and he may not feel that way. And if you think that you are the most important person, you are going to then feel threatened by anybody else, because you are creating this hierarchy that doesn’t necessarily exist for him. 

However you want to judge his expectations of quality over quantity like that —  That for me is a little bit of a worry because you not only have separate concepts of what you want your relationships to be, but you are kind of judging him a little bit in how he goes about it. I think, as a person— I am more like your partner in that I don’t see other relationships with casual. However, I have been with partners who do have a lot of casual relationships, and it’s really ironic because easily, someone could flip that on you. Even though you aren’t necessarily seemingly pursuing other relationships, the idea that you would want something casual instead of something deep someone could equally judge you for that. 

We all have different needs. We all have different wants. We all have different things that we want in our life and just because somebody— a lot of people judge polyamory and non monogamy or even bisexuality for supposedly being greedy or supposedly wanting more and therefore, that being a problem. So I think that you just kind of need to be a little bit careful about how you’re looking at it. You can have differences and how you want to approach things. That’s absolutely fine. It’s okay for you to want one relationship that has this specific meaning and other relationships have a different meaning. 

It’s okay if he wants to have multiple deep romantic relationships. There isn’t necessarily one right or wrong way to approach it. It’s more about how does that work with each other? Because I know for me when I have had partners who have had more casual partnerships or who see me in a different light, or even not even necessarily about casual versus serious but when I’ve had partners— I’m a kind of introverted. A Stay At Home kind of person. I don’t like parties. I’ve had partners who are extremely extroverted and love parties. And I used to feel really scared because I thought, “Well what if they find somebody who’s  “better” than me because they like to go out and like to go to parties?”

And that made me really scared for a long time because I thought that I would be replaced by that. I didn’t understand that my partner was like “Hey, I like to stay home with you. And I like to go out and do other things”. There’s not an either or hierarchy there. You’re kind of creating that. So you have to kind of understand that when, in your mind you’re operating from a basis of one relationship has this meaning and others are casual, he is not operating from that mindset and you’re going to have to kind of remember that when you’re thinking about this. 

Because that’s what’s freaking you out. You are afraid that you are positioned as the “most important” is going to be challenged and that you could be replaced. The thing about it is is that if he’s going to replace you, regardless of  the seriousness of any relationship. If he is going to replace you, that isn’t something you can necessarily control or stop, especially by trying to control whether or not he sleeps over at somebody else’s house or not. 

Your brain is kind of trying to protect you by thinking that this little thing of him sleeping over at somebody else’s house is going to— you know if you can keep him around you somehow. You can prevent— you’re not going to be able to prevent that. You just aren’t. You can’t prevent somebody, you know I mean yeah obviously you can be a decent partner and be a nice person and not treat your partner like crap and that makes it more likely that they’re going to stick around and be with you. 

But outside of that there really isn’t anything that you’re going to be able to prevent. So you need to kind of ask yourself, “what is this kind of rule of him not being able to sleep over at somebody else’s house? What is that actually going to prevent?” Now you have brought up a side situation, which again like I said, the death threats and serious concerns over your safety, that is understandable and you may have to be in a situation where he can’t maybe randomly spend the night away but if he gives you enough warning, then you can stay at a friend’s house or whatever is actually sustainable.

But ask yourself if you can really prevent that and think about the ways that you look at relationships differently, and whether or not you can actually be compatible. Because I do think that it is workable. I don’t think it’s a complete in compatibility, but I don’t think that you can expect him— I don’t think you can expect him to see things the same way you do. And I certainly don’t think this not being able to stay at other people’s houses is really realistic or sustainable. So you have to really think about again like the question I put forth at the beginning of the podcast, what is your ideal situation? What is his ideal situation, and how can you combine those? Can you combine those?

Are they so different that basically you’re always kind of going to be butting heads about what each other wants. More discussion needs to happen because I think that’s been your problem throughout this entire relationship is that — you know and I don’t think that he is doing it maliciously so I do think that you kind of need to let go of a little bit of the resentment towards him about that like yeah it would be great if you all chatted about it, but especially when it comes to non-monogamy or polyamory or whatever you want to call it, there isn’t really a guidebook. There isn’t really a clear ideas about what you should or shouldn’t talk about and a lot of people don’t necessarily know for sure what they want until they start to have experiences. 

So, you know, it’s not necessarily that he purposely didn’t talk to you about this to spring it on you. You have to kind of assume he’s in good faith in this, but you do need to have more discussions about what you both want, what’s realistic, and not just kind of go with the flow of what’s easy. Because I do think you’ve kind of slid into that a little bit. 

So yeah, just to sum up — again more discussion about your shared space. Really really challenge this rule that he’s not allowed to sleep at somebody else’s house or he has to spend every night with you. That’s not realistic or sustainable even again for a monogamous relationship, it’s just not — It’s just not realistic. If there is a serious problem with your house and the safety of your house that needs to be addressed you both need to address it together in a way that isn’t, “Well you just have to stay here every night”. Because again if he’s realistically if he’s getting death threats, and he you know if somebody is going to show up at your home, it’s not necessarily going to be better if he’s there. 

And obviously calling the police isn’t always a sustainable solution for everyone and they’re not necessarily going to do anything but you have to have that discussion. Realise that you’re displacing a lot of anger onto your metamour. I do think that you’re going to have to sit in a little bit of a discomfort when you’re kind of in community spaces and kind of work through that. If you want to have a discussion with her and just say, “You know, I’m feeling a little bit sensitive right now, and I would appreciate some space”. That’s totally fine. You may not be able to have that discussion in person or — I would not get your partner to do it. I think it’s something that you should do on your own. Maybe if you can chat with her online. 

Realistically, if it’s kind of pandemic times there shouldn’t be big community meet-ups anyways but it’s okay for you to avoid her a little bit but realise— I think it’s fair if she starts asking questions, is kind of confused, it’s okay to say “There’s been an issue between me and my partner and I’m just feeling a little sensitive and I just need a little space”. That’s fine. That’s okay. 

There are some serious incompatibilities with your relationship expectations if he’s polyamorous and you’re definitely not. You really need to talk about your relationship ideals and how you can realistically combine them and also try to bring that up again and again with your emotional experience because you are working within the framework of your own emotions and it’s easy for you to assume that because one relationship for you is more serious and others are casual, that he’s thinking the same thing. 

And so when he goes off and spends time with other people, your brain is going, “Wait a minute, we’re supposed to be the serious one! Are we casual Ahh!” And you’re kind of freaking out a little bit about it because you’re assuming he sees things from your perspective, and I’ve done that too. I’ve definitely done that too. I’ve been really bad at it, especially when it comes personally for me, when it comes to sexual related stuff, feeling really worried that I’m going to be not important or not as good as other people or not as— especially with my disability.

Especially with, you know, being non binary, being worried that I’m not, you know as real as other people is a huge problem that I’ve had before. It’s very easy to forget that other people just have different ways of looking at things, especially if your way of looking at things is so different. I don’t think it’s completely impossible but you will have to kind of continue to remind yourself of that. 

And if you can find a polyamory friendly therapist to kind of chatting through like whenever these feelings start to bubble up. That would be a really good thing to do, but I think overall if you both have a little bit more of a realistic talk about what your expectations are and what you think— you know, I know you can predict the future and I know that sometimes, you know, things are a little bit up in the air, especially with pandemic stuff happening and that really putting a halt on a lot of things. I know it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen. But if you can see if you’re both kind of heading in the same general direction, that might give you a little bit more stability that might make these other experiences less intense. I hope that helps and good luck. 

Episode 67: Temporary Monogamy

Can an aversion to non-monogamy come from relationship anxiety and trauma?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic:

What have you changed your mind about in terms of how you want to live your life?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 67 – Temporary Monogamy

Can an aversion to non-monogamy come from relationship anxiety and trauma?  That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – What have you changed your mind about in terms of how you want to live your life?

 

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

I am a queer, AMAB, non-binary person, and most of my adult life I identified as a cis gay man, which I mostly still pass as (at 27 yo). I have never considered or wanted to pursue non-monogamy before in my life.

A bit over a year ago, I met Dean. Dean is queer and has sexual and romantic attraction to people of all genders. I was instantly smitten by him and asked him out after meeting a few times. A month into the relationship, when things were clearly getting serious, we had a discussion about what kind of relationship style we wanted. This was something I was nervous to do because I could tell from our talks that he thinks about sex and relationships very differently than I do.

For him, romantic, sexual, and platonic relationships can all overlap, and our relationship is one that happens to be sexual and romantic and exists in the quilt of his many other friendships, etc. I have deeply emotional and intimate friendships too, but they are all platonic. Sexual and romantic attraction are inseparable for me. Dean is 25 and never has had a long-term or committed relationship like ours before.

In that conversation in the early part of our relationship, he said he had “never been interested in monogamy before,” but agreed to have a monogamous relationship with me. I immediately started seeking therapy from a sex therapist for help understanding my deep aversion to non-monogamy and past sexual and emotional trauma, because I love him, really want our relationship to continue, and quickly realised I have relationship anxiety.

I wanted to prepare to be able to consider a request from him for non-monogamy at some point. I didn’t brush this potential problem under the rug. I’m still working on this though, and in seven months of therapy I have really only gotten better at talking about it and recognizing that my anxieties stem from past relationship traumas. I’m working on managing the anxiety, and Dean has been so supportive and caring through that.

In our sporadic check-in conversations since, Dean has said he hasn’t felt like he’s sacrificing anything to be with me in a monogamous relationship and he feels fulfilled romantically and sexually by our relationship. That is, until this past week. Two friends of his have been dating for three years and one wants to pursue non-monogamy and the other doesn’t. The one says “she doesn’t think monogamy” works.

In our conversations about it, I could tell Dean agreed with her. When I asked him directly, he said that was true, which really hurt me because I feel like our relationship is “working.” We’re still in the “honeymoon phase” but I’m stupidly in love with him and we have a relationship in which I feel really safe, loved, and cared for (despite my anxiety). Now he says ultimately he does want to have a non-monogamous relationship, and I still feel like I can’t give that to him. The idea of him with other people makes me feel really horrible–debilitated even–and wracked with anxiety.

I don’t feel like non-monogamy is wrong or gross. I feel excited that there are people who are happy and thriving in consenting non-monogamous relationships. As a queer person, I understand the liberation of loving who and how you want to. I also reject a lot of the gross power dynamics and toxic possessiveness and jealousy that pervades a lot of (white cis hetero) monogamy.

I just don’t want non-monogamy for me, both for practical reasons (I am introverted and busy and don’t want to dedicate that much of my energy to maintaining multiple romantic/sexual relationships), and because that’s just not how I feel about romance and sex. I can feel within me the ability to love other people like I love Dean at the same time, but I find so much joy, vulnerability, safety, and love in waking up every day and choosing him and being okay with not knowing those other possibilities!

I feel so good about that decision. No FOMO here. I don’t think I will feel good about that anymore if I don’t feel like that is reciprocated. These feelings also make it really hard to understand where desire for non-monogamy is coming from in others and empathise. For people I’m not dating, that’s okay! I don’t have to get it! Now I am struggling and feeling deeply like I am “not enough” for Dean.

Dean says this is part of who he is. I really really want to be able to give that to him and to stay with him, but when I think about opening up our relationship, I immediately feel deeply violated. I can already feel myself turning into the most nasty, toxic, insecure horrorfest when I think about a life where he is seeing other people. I don’t want that for either me or Dean!

He says he doesn’t need non-monogamy to happen now, and he wants to be okay with this being unresolved, enjoy our relationship together, and figure it out as it comes. I feel like it has put an expiration date on our time together, I just don’t know when that date is, and this is going to be an enormous elephant in the room from here on out.

And now it doesn’t feel like therapy is working towards feeling free of trauma and societal expectations so I can have an informed and reasonable conversation over opening up the relationship IF that happens, but that I have no choice but to work to change who I am for WHEN this happens.

Anyway, I guess my question is what can we do? We both want to stay together a lot. I am trying to be open with Dean (who I trust deeply because he is a good communicator and has always been honest with me) and talk about it, but it feels like we are at an impasse, and also feels like fixating on it will wreck any other joy that we have. It also feels cosmically unfair! I don’t know what to do. Thanks for reading this ridiculously long email, and apologies for not keeping it more brief.

Response:

There’s obviously a lot going on here. I super related when you said “cosmically unfair”. Just because I’ve been in a lot of cosmetic unfair situations myself, I think that the first thing that I would do if I was in your situation and what I encourage people who are in this situation to do is ask yourself if you can see yourself being monogamously with someone who has a time intensive career or hobby. And the reason why I asked this is because I think that even if you are monogamous to someone who is polyamorous — and that does happen. You can have someone who is monogamous to a polyamorous person and doesn’t date other people.

The biggest difference between a monogamous relationship and a non-monogamous relationship is that someone who is non-monogamous will not be spending the vast majority of their time with you, and a monogamous relationship can have this. I think when you have someone who is a lawyer or a doctor or someone who works long hours, or who might be away for long periods of time, that is something that even if you are monogamous, you might not be able to deal with. So, dating that person won’t work.

Another kind of thing to think about is like long distance relationships. A lot of people can’t do them monogamously or not. So if you can see yourself being with someone who has a time intensive career or hobby or isn’t around all the time or isn’t fully focused on you, that is the first small step. The feeling of anxiety and being like wracked with all of this kind of tension when you think about your partner being with someone else: I don’t think that that’s necessarily a sign that you can’t do non monogamy, because there’s some people who really— they’re voyeurs and they really like the idea of their partner— and they think about it and it’s hot.

Some people even if they are non-monogamous don’t think about that and they’re not necessarily interested in that. And that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a don’t ask don’t tell situation, but they don’t sit there and dwell on it. It’s not something that they’re interested in. So I don’t think you should definitely see that as a sign that it’s not meant for you. Especially because you do think that some of those feelings are coming from past relationship traumas. So I don’t think you should see that as a bad sign.

If you decide okay, he doesn’t have to spend all of his time with me, that’s fine, that’s kind of like a first step. I think that the next step is: is there something, anything about that situation, that could be of a benefit to you? And it’s funny that you say that you’re introverted and like busy and that’s like a big reason — that is kind of the reason why I am interested in polyamory, or non-monogamy, actually. Because I am introverted, because I don’t like partying, I don’t like dating. I don’t like. I’m not attracted to many people I don’t have what a lot of polyam people seem to have which is, “I just like so many people”.

And I’m not making fun of them just saying that like I’m not like that. I’m not a free love hippie type of person, I don’t fall in love with everyone that I see. I’m barely ever attracted to anybody, to the point where like, if I get a crush, I’m like “oh my god it’s happened again” because sometimes I think I will never have another one. That’s just me and the reason why I’m interested in polyamory is because, if I am interested in somebody else, then I want the freedom to be able to pursue it.

And I want to also be able to have friendships that are close that could maybe become non-platonic without having to worry about it being too close, or, you know, being a bother like all that toxic shitty stuff you mentioned about not necessarily inherent to monogamy itself. But all of that stuff that brings up. It’s just a lot easier. Also I like being alone, and like my partner going off and being with somebody else… Even if I want to live with another partner and I want to wake up with next to them, you know, sometimes I also like my alone time, so that can actually work quite well.

Just because you’re not like a like social butterfly, doesn’t mean that it won’t work for you. When you try and separate this, that feeling of not being enough all that anxiety that is one thing and I do think that is something that you can work through. And that also quite an understandable feeling of not being enough but I’ll get to it in a second. If you can separate yourself from that and think purely as an individual. What is a benefit that you could see for yourself in a non monogamous setup? Even if it’s just having the house to yourself once a week.

There can be some benefit to you because like I said, there are situations where people are monogamous to a polyamorous person, and that does work fine for them, but they just have to be okay with them not spending all the time in the world with them. And also, there has to be some kind of benefit for them. And it can’t and really shouldn’t be a benefit that involves keeping this relationship and that’s going to be really hard for you in this situation because it does kind of seem like that’s the biggest reason that you want to try is to keep Dean in your life.

But there has to be something separate to that, because there’s an issue that I’m seeing — from the get it seems like Dean has made it clear to you that in terms of how he sees relationships, he doesn’t see romantic sexual partners as being better or more important than friends and stuff like that like it’s all kind of mixed. And I feel like you’ve kind of ignored that a little bit in your head. He’s agreed to do monogamy with you but just because he has agreed to be sexually and romantically exclusive with you, doesn’t necessarily mean he’s changed his mind about how relationships work.

And even if he continued to be monogamous with you that is still a big issue, because you’re kind of assuming a hierarchical structure in a way that isn’t even there now. Like you’re kind of allowing this agreement to do monogamy, sexually and romantically, to redefine it in your own head, to give you a kind of a false sense of security of what this relationship means in context with the other relationships that Dean has.

If you kind of remove that web of safety that you’ve kind of put that isn’t really there, you’re already kind of in a relationship with someone who isn’t necessarily going to prioritise you or believe in prioritising a romantic sexual relationship over other relationships. It sounds like that’s the way Dean does things. I could be wrong, but it does sound like that’s the way he does things so you might be kind of pulling the wool over your eyes a little bit right now already.

So thinking about “okay already, I’m kind of doing that”, thinking about that, and trying to understand what benefit you could get out of it might be a little bit helpful. If you can find a benefit for it that’s just for you, that is something that you can hold on to, when you’re dealing with this stuff.

The next big thing is that you not feeling like you’re not enough. It’s a very very understandable thing. Going through the process of trying to figure out what it is that you could— you would want out of Non-Monogamy as an individual might make you empathise a little bit more with the desire for non-Monogamy and maybe that non-Monogamy isn’t for you. But it’s not about not being enough, and it’s really hard to explain that.

The best way that people have been able to explain that to others is using the example of like if I go out to eat. If I want to go out to a restaurant, it doesn’t mean that my partner is a shitty cook, or that I don’t like it when they cook for me. Another way that I always encourage people to think about it because it’s probably the easiest kind of example for a lot of people, if you have one child having another child or wanting to have another child doesn’t mean that that one child is not enough.

And you can even think about it in terms of your friends. You might have very close— and you said you have very close emotional relationships with your friends. Wanting another friend or building a relationship with another friend doesn’t mean that the friends you have are shitty or that there’s anything bad about them. And we are encouraged within the society that we’re in, even if we’re queer, even if we try to break free of it, we are encouraged to think of love as a scarce resource that we have to compete with each other for.

And that if, you know, finding a one partner means that everyone else doesn’t get that and that that scarcity is what you need to find and therefore need to buy all these products for blah blah blah. If you challenge that idea in your head and you try to think okay. There might be situations where in a way you aren’t enough. There’s always going to be somebody out there that’s better at something than you regardless. But it’s not easily about that for most non-monogamous people.

They don’t choose it because one person isn’t enough for them. They may identify that they have a personal need for non-monogamy and variety, and therefore communicate that in a way that is “well one person isn’t enough for me”, but it’s just a little bit more complicated than that. The other thing that might also be helpful for you and understanding your anxiety and understanding whether or not this is for you is that monogamy and the way that it’s encouraged in society gives us a false sense of security.

And you can look this up when it comes to like “the relationship escalator” and everything else, you end even in this relationship that you’re in now you have assumed your safety in this relationship because monogamy itself, as well as all of the signs of “progression” in a relationship a lot of things are kind of built on this cultural script. Going through the script, even as a queer person, going through the script is, in a way, encouraging to us, it shows us that our relationship is “committed” that things are more rooted, that things are grounded, that everything is going by the script. So is fine. It’s safe.

There are people who have been together for 20 plus years, who break up. All relationships have an expiration date. There are no guarantees rather in life that anything will last. Just because you’re monogamous doesn’t mean your relationship will last. And also, if your relationship doesn’t last, it isn’t immediately a sign of failure. For me that has helped my anxiety. If anything. Realising that I have not as much control as I think I have, and that I need to, because my anxiety works on trying to make me think I have control over situations, because I’ve been in a lot of situations where I haven’t had control, and that’s been scary and I’ve been hurt yada yada yada.

But the point is, you can’t control every aspect of everything. And you could break up with Dean, go and find someone who definitely wants to be monogamous for them with them for 50 years and get cheated on. Nothing is guaranteed. So you shouldn’t assume that there is somehow more safety in monogamy than there is in non-monogamy.

To just challenge the person who said “monogamy doesn’t work”. I really hate that. It does work for some people. It depends on your expectations for what you want in monogamy. Like if you want a relationship where the other person never has a sexual thought about another person but you. Yeah, probably that doesn’t work. But monogamy in and of itself as just two people who don’t date other people. That does and can work for a lot of people. It really irritates me when people say that. Monogamy does work and it might be that monogamy is what works for you. And it doesn’t have to be because you’re traumatised.

That’s another thing that I want to say. Yes you might have a lot of traumas connected to the idea that your partner doesn’t want you. Even within the context of a monogamous relationship I would still encourage someone who felt like they weren’t enough to explore those thoughts, question the assumption of the safety that monogamy brings them, to build a relationship with themselves where if they aren’t enough as their partner does leave them. They are still safe within themselves.

But, it doesn’t work for everyone. Choosing monogamy doesn’t mean you’re insecure. Choosing monogamy doesn’t mean that you are traumatised and broken and just need someone to commit only to you because you’re too jealous or anything like that. That’s just not the case. It is a choice that some people want to make just like some people want to be child free. Being child free doesn’t mean that they’re scared to have kids. That could be one reason why people would choose to be child free because they are scared that they will pass their anxious shit on to kids, raising my hand here.

But that isn’t the only reason and that also doesn’t mean that people should have kids anyway. Equally, choosing to have children doesn’t mean that you’re afraid of death, and that you are obsessed with your own ego and want to pass on your legacy. There’s different valid reasons for why people choose different things in their life, and it doesn’t mean that there’s a problem with them as they choose it.

So, it may be that you just want monogamy, and as you’ve kind of explored it a little bit already in your letter. It might just be what you want because that’s the lifestyle that you want. When I’ve asked you if, can you see yourself being with someone who has a time intensive career hobby if you said no, then no. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It’s just not what you want. So if it’s not what you want then you shouldn’t try to shove yourself into a box. And, and do it. If you don’t want to.

As you said like the therapy isn’t going to help you if you feel like it’s not a choice. So, yeah. The other thing is, I am a little bit worried and I understand Dean’s like 25 and hasn’t had a long term relationship before. But the thing that really worries me about the situation is that Dean agreed to monogamy in a way that made it seem like — to you at least — that it was going to be the choice. And only didn’t really bring up until two weeks ago, that “hey actually at some point I may ask for non-monogamy”. And it would be one thing if from the beginning when Dean said “You know what I’d like to try monogamy, but I don’t know if it’s something that I’m going to want to do for for a long time.”

If he had presented that to you from the beginning, then I would have been like okay well he’s been fully honest about that. I don’t know if Dean’s being honest with himself. And I think that this confrontation will not really confrontation but this. Basically, seeing this breakdown in a relationship between your friends and then go “actually do you know what I think I do want Non-Monogamy!” It’s not going to be easy for you to just relax and smell the roses. When stuff is shifted like this, that’s really hard to deal with. You’re being pushed and pulled out of your safety and comfort zones. And that’s hard regardless of whatever lifestyle you decide to choose.

I hate the word lifestyle, hate it, but it is kind of a lifestyle. But the point is, like — I don’t think Dean did it maliciously doesn’t sound like Dean did it maliciously, however, that is still a really big concern. If he wanted to have to try monogamy. I feel like he should have made it obvious to you from the beginning that this was a trial. And it doesn’t seem like it was obvious to you. It seems like you thought “okay we’re doing monogamy, but I’m just preparing myself, to see if I might be able to do non-monogamy, and maybe who asked for it the future”.

But you haven’t had that signed, sealed and delivered. Now you’ve had it signed, sealed and delivered — that’s very different and it’s— to just be like, “well, we don’t know where this is going, just like relax” like I do think that sometimes you can just have a relationship and just because it ends doesn’t mean your failures, and that you don’t have to expect a relationship to last until one of you dies. But it’s like you said, it’s like the elephant in the room now. And it’s put an expiration date that you didn’t really think about. I mean, all relationships have an expiration date, but it put a new dimension into this that you didn’t factor in.

And it is a sudden thing and so it is very difficult for you to feel safe and comfortable with someone who has kind of just shifted their mind a little bit on something that’s quite huge. A good example to compare it to is, is the decision on whether or not to have kids and I think that’s just such a good comparison because if you had agreed “okay we were definitely not going to have kids, because I have all this trauma about children and I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle it, but I’m going to go to therapy and see if I can work that out and in case one day you asked me if we can have a family” and then all of a sudden he’s like “yeah definitely I’m going to ask you to have kids one day”.

That’s very, you know, like — it worries me that he doesn’t realise how jarring, that is for you. Because it’s going to be hard enough to kind of cope with attempting this on top of having to also deal with the fact that he’s kind of changed the game on you a little bit. So, to sum up my response to this — ultimately I can’t tell you whether or not you can, or are non-monogamous. Some people feel innately non monogamous. I don’t personally necessarily feel that way, but I do feel like monogamy isn’t something that I would ever want. However, there are things that you can go through, as I’ve said, that can give you an indication of whether or not this type of way of doing things, is something that you can do, even if you were monogamous to a polyamorous person.

And those are the things I said: can you see yourself being with someone with a time intensive career hobby where they don’t spend all of their time with you? Can you find a personal benefit to non-monogamy that only applies to you, that isn’t saving this relationship, even if it’s being home alone every once in a while? Because like I said being introverted can actually work really well with non-monogamy. You don’t have to be a social butterfly, or a free love hippie to be interested in it.

If you can find a benefit and if you can see yourself being with someone who has a time intensive career or hobby and can accept the fact that Dean won’t spend 100% of his time with you, then I think you might want to consider working on this concept of unpicking your assumptions about safety in monogamy, really challenging yourself a bit on the assumptions you’ve made so far in the relationship that because Dean is sexually and romantically monogamous to you that that suddenly means he defines relationships, the same way you do because that isn’t— I don’t think that’s true. And I think there probably needs to be more discussion around that.

Challenging some of the safety assumptions that you have will really help. I wrote a article called “13 mistakes people make when they try polyamory”. I think that’s what it’s called. You can find it on the website. That talks about the beginning steps of finding your anchor, challenging some of your fears, challenging some of the assumptions that you make that can really help cope with the anxiety of it. I don’t think that just because you have anxiety or disgust or fear or worry when you think about your partner being with other people that that means that you can’t do non-monogamy.

Because that can sometimes be just part of what you’ve learned about the scarcity of love from the culture that surrounds you. Another thing is, I do think you should potentially find a polyamory friendly couples therapist for you and Dean, even if Dean is a good communicator as you said, it’s a little bit worrying that Dean— It seems like there was a miscommunication. I’m not saying it’s wholly Dean’s fault. I think that there’s some assumptions made on both sides but it seems like when you agree to monogamy your assumption was that non-monogamy might come up, but that it wasn’t a definite, and now it’s a definite and you need to address that. miscommunication.

Even if it’s that Dean didn’t really realise that it was that important to him until now. It’s something that you have to work out together. Like how important is it actually? And there’s another bit in the article that I mentioned and what I advise people generally when they start out in non-monogamy is thinking about what their ideal situation is, and seeing if there’s compatibility. Because both of you could be non monogamous but still not compatible. Being non-monogamous doesn’t inherently mean that you’re compatible or that you want the same things in life. So working out what the ideal state is can then help you get further down that road.

I think that if you can— If you’re fine with him not spending all this time with you. If you can work on some of these feelings of not enough and challenging some of your assumptions of safety. If you can find a personal benefit out of being polyamorous, or non-monogamous for yourself. And if you can have discussions with Dean about why this miscommunication happened, and figure out how to avoid it happening again. Then, it might work out. You might be able to try being non monogamous.

You might be able to deal with some of these fears and stuff that you’ve been through before and push through that. I wouldn’t say that you’re always going to be happy because anytime you start something new or try something new or change up what you’re doing and you don’t have a cultural script to go by, you’re going to be frickin nervous. It’s going to stoke anxiety. Don’t expect it to be easy. But I don’t think that just because it gives you anxiety that it’s not worth trying. Or that it’s not something that you can do just because you feel anxious.

So yeah, if you can go by the steps, give it a try. If from the out, you’re like, “Nope, I wouldn’t date someone who’s in the army. I wouldn’t date a doctor or a lawyer who was all the time at the office” or whatever then I just don’t think that even the kind of monogamy that you would want with other monogamous people would work for you, let alone this relationship and you might have to— If you can stop and enjoy the roses, if you can

enjoy the aspects of a relationship that you have with Dean, understanding that it might come to an end, then, do that.

But it sounds like that— if this is not of any interest to you whatsoever — it does sound like that would just be a little bit of a waste of your time. Unfortunately, if what you want is to find one person and settle down and do that whole shindig, then there’s no point in wasting your time. You know, maybe you have to kind of what they call de-escalate your relationship. Be friends and define your relationship that way until you find that person that you actually want to do that with. But yeah, I can’t tell you if you can or can’t do, non-monogamy.

It comes down to a couple of things that you have to be real with yourself about. And it’s really hard. And, if there’s one way that you feel strongly, don’t ignore your strong feelings and stay because even if you think, yeah, breakups hurt. It’s not a fun thing. It’s a sucky thing. But it’s always much much worse to sit and let resentment fester or to sit and try and lie to yourself and pull the wool over your eyes and think that you’re safe. When you’re not or think that things are going the way that you want. When you’re not. It’s always much much worse for to do that than it is to break it off, in my experience. So yeah, I hope this helps and good luck.

Episode 66: Hidden Metamour

Even if you have confusing boundaries and you’re not “official”, lying by omission can still feel like cheating.

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic:

What is a non-monogamous setup that wouldn’t work for you?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 66 – Hidden Metamour

Even if you have confusing boundaries and you’re not “official”, lying by omission can still feel like cheating.  That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – What is a non-monogamous setup that wouldn’t work for you?

 

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

I’ve been seeing a guy for over 2 /12 years. We started seeing each other after he got out of a 8 year relationship and it’s been semi casual (neither of us made any serious commitment and we both have been seeing other partners) but since that year mark we have been exchanging “I love you’s”  and confirmed that we were in a relationship. In July I found out that he had been seeing her for the past year (at least once a week).

I spoke with her and she confirmed that she’s been with him and that she knew that I was his primary but that she wanted more from him, possibly a relationship. Since then he’s stated that I am his primary but that he enjoys seeing her sexually and that he needs an open relationship.

It isn’t that he is seeing someone else sexually, I am open to this, but it’s the fact that he’s lied and that she wants more time and affection and that I’m the blame for the lack of that. I feel attacked from both sides and I don’t know how to continue with this. I’ve been scrambling looking for advice since July, I’ve been following your podcast. I appreciate any advice on this situation.

Response:

The first big problem with this situation is the lying. Now even though you said you weren’t “official” and you only after the first year of being together, said that you were in a relationship, I find it a little worrying that he didn’t mention this other partner to you at all. And I don’t really know how you found out about it, whether you found out because you discovered it yourself, or he told you.

Doesn’t sound like he told you. It sounds like you discovered it yourself. And then you have this conversation with her where she seemed to say she knew that that you were his primary and she wants more, and also seems to have told you (I assume that she told you this) that he wants more time and affection— or no she blames you for the time and affection that she’s not got from him, which isn’t great. And then he’d sort of tells you that  you’re definitely his primary and that he’s only interested in her sexually. There’s a lot. There’s a lot about this that’s a problem.

It’s not up to me to tell you what you define as cheating. There’s a reason why I personally prefer not to have things and kind of a weird quasi unsure state. I prefer things to be quite clear in terms of like — Are we in a relationship? Yes or no? And maybe it’s that you didn’t have that and so he kind of felt like he didn’t need to tell you about her, but I would feel cheated in this situation. I would have a hard time not feeling cheated because it’s the lying, and it’s hiding her. And it just feels like she has been hidden from you.

And she knew about you but you didn’t know about her and that’s just really odd and I don’t see why that’s the case. And I just feel like he could have easily just mentioned it in passing. I do know that like a lot of people when they begin trying out non-monogamy sometimes they accidentally cheat because they don’t really know how to tell their partners that they’re seeing someone else. And they’re so used to the idea that they shouldn’t do that because if they do that it’ll end the relationship that they end up cheating kind of by mistake. So maybe that’s where he’s coming from but you got to figure out like why did he not mention this, up until now?

I also feel like. Had I been able to advise you before you had that conversation with her I probably wouldn’t have advised you to have a conversation with her because this is kind of not really about her, but the fact that you did you’ve got like this other information which is that she does want more from him. And she’s mad at you because she’s blaming you that  she hasn’t been able to get more time and affection from him.

Now, it’s kind of… it’s okay that she wants that and I’m not blaming her for that, But I feel a little bit worried about the fact that she is blaming you and has no problem, telling you that, and you go and talk to him and he’s like “yeah you’re my primary and I’m just interested in her sexually”. There’s some communication breakdowns going on in his relationship with her.

Because, while it’s okay for her to want stuff and I’m not saying that’s bad, she’s not going to get that, and that’s not really fair for your partner to like keep stringing her along if what she wants is more time and affection. And it’s also really awkward for her to pull you into that. No wonder you feel attacked from both sides. I would be really hesitant around like a metamour who was just willing to lay all this out on me. Because it’s not really up to me. It’s not my fault and I understand why she’s blaming you. It’s easier for her to blame you because she doesn’t have any feelings for you. She has feelings for this guy.

So her brain is going to want to put all the negative stuff on to the person that she doesn’t have any contact for, but that’s still really really worrying. If you confronted him and he said, “I shouldn’t have hid it from you” or acknowledged that even if he wasn’t trying to hide it, he didn’t tell you about it. I just feel like he should have been… It doesn’t sound like he was apologetic about the situation. He just sort of was like well you’re my primary and I’m only interested in her sexually.

Okay, but clearly there’s an issue here. And you have to address that and if that’s all the way that he’s going to address it, I just don’t know if that’s something that you should continue dealing with. It doesn’t seem like you chose to have an open relationship. It just seems like you kind of fell into it. You don’t really seem like a person who is like “Yes I want an open relationship. This is specifically what I want”.

It just seems like you didn’t want to make a serious commitment either way and you saw other people. And then you have this “I love yous” and confirm you’re in a relationship but it’s not really clear about whether that was supposed to be open or not. I mean, what did he tell you when he was going once a week? Did he lie? I just feel like you need to ask yourself, do you want an open relationship? Is that what you want independent of this person? Is it something you’re actually seeking? And then if it is something you’re actually seeking, do you want it with someone who is being dishonest with you?

Because that’s kind of what this is. Sorry but if he has been seeing some other person for the last year, hasn’t mentioned it has been seeing her for at least once a week and she is angry with you because she wants more time with him— So clearly, she doesn’t understand that she isn’t going to get that. It just doesn’t spell very good things. He’s not communicating well in that relationship clearly, or is making a choice of a person who doesn’t want an open relationship when he— it’s just a lot.

I just feel like you need to really ask yourself if open relationships are what you want, and it’s having an open relationship with this person is what you want? Because, you know, it doesn’t seem like you’re happy to find this out. And it doesn’t seem like he was going to tell you. So I just feel like you— This to me would be defined as cheating. Again I’m not going to tell you how to define it to yourself. It would be cheating to me, and I would be out of there personally.

Basically, to sum up, lying by omission is still cheating, in my opinion. Whether or not you want to identify that as cheating is up to you. Because you kind of had nebulous boundaries and definitions from the beginning, so maybe he did get confused and didn’t know when to tell you and I don’t know. I think that you can confront him about the conversation you had.

It doesn’t make it clear whether you actually told him that she said that she wants more time from him and feels you’re the blame for not getting that. So clearly there’s some communication breakdown. It’d be interesting to see what he has to say about that. And if he apologetic for basically hiding this from you for so long? Especially if he’s seen her once a week, like he had to say he was going somewhere or maybe. I don’t know. Maybe you don’t live together.

Or you don’t have a shared calendar so it’s not like you paid that much attention. But sometimes we don’t know that we have a boundary until it’s been crossed and this might be a situation where you go, “Okay. In the future, if you decide to see someone regularly I would just like a heads up”. And you can go from there but I kind of just feel like the combination of the fact that you found it out, which to me seems to illustrate that he didn’t tell you.

You found it out on top of the fact that she is blaming you for not getting more time with him when you didn’t even know about her… It doesn’t spell good things, so you need to ask yourself if you want an open relationship? And if you want an open a relationship with this person? Because even if he needs an open relationship fine, but he could have been honest about it from the beginning. And he wasn’t.

And so that is really the issue that I’m having with. If you need an open relationship that is fine but that doesn’t give you carte blanche to just lie to people and not tell them, whether you’re not intentionally lying or hiding things…

yeah, it just doesn’t spell good things to me. Really, ask yourself, is an open relationship what you want, what you need? And even if it is, is that something that you want with a person who has lied to you for the past year?

And hasn’t, from the looks of it, apologised for that. I wish that I had more like other things, to be able to advise, because if this is his response is just going “Well, you’re my primary and I just want to see her sexually and that’s it”. That’s just not enough to go by, and the fact that you’ve been trying to find advice about this for so long makes me feel like he hasn’t given you any other reassurance or attempted to do so and that doesn’t spell good in any kind of relationship.

I wish that I had better things to advise. I really hate it sometimes when the only thing that I have to advise is “Do you really want to be in that situation?”. But yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

Episode 65: No Longer Primary

How do you force yourself out of apathy if you feel the partner you want to settle down with is slipping away?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic: How has your ideal lifestyle changed over time?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 65 – No Longer Primary

How do you force yourself out of apathy if you feel the partner you want to settle down with is slipping away? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – How has your ideal lifestyle changed over time?

 

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

In the past I was married and dealt with an abusive, homo-normative relationship (married to a power lesbian doctor who wanted a submissive doctor’s wife). When I left that abusive relationship and moved to another country, I started my healing process and learned to be my own primary.

I read The Ethical Slut and this helped me define myself as a relationship anarchist. Because I met more people who were into alternative relationships, I felt more open and free. I was also involved in a queer anarchist punk group that I still see as my family.

I became my own primary and was happy to no longer have any other emotional responsibility. I explored my sexuality more and got into more BDSM activities such as spanking, bondage, and humiliation. This led me to move to another country where I started to teach spank therapy.

I loved my life there but also survived two racist/homophobic attacks. As a Black, gender non-conforming individual, I started to feel exoticised and missed seeing a more culturally diverse community. I also missed my family so after 7 years away healing from the past trauma of the marriage and getting to know myself again, I decided I needed to move back to the US.

When I moved back, I had to readjust to the extreme of capitalist life. I started working full time in the nonprofit world again and had to hide my BDSM kink lifestyle. People I dated were either monogamous, or else not familiar with healthy non-monogamy (it just felt quite trendy and not taken seriously). Finally I met someone called K last year that was on the same page as I was about non-monogamy and wanted to develop a healthy relationship. We even started out reading [polyamory books] and doing the exercises together.

About three months into our relationship they let me know that they wanted to date someone who they were attracted to prior. I accepted that and let them know that I supported this, and appreciated that they told me that they felt this way in the beginning. I am attracted to transparency, and I also still had a few lovers that I saw and was able to share that with them without them feeling our connection was threatened. I knew that the lovers I had would not evolve into more emotionally intense relationships (one connection being primarily sexual and the other spiritual). I felt that my relationship with K had the potential to become more well-rounded: emotional, spiritual, and physical.

The sexual connection started off great and continues to feel that way almost two years later. What I didn’t expect was for their other lovership to grow into a partnership that they found to be equally important. I met the metamour a few times at the beginning of their relationship and they were very respectful, even seemed to want to become friends.

I was resistant to this because I felt I had enough friends in my life and didn’t want a forced connection (although K would have liked this). Also-there were times where K broke boundaries that we agreed on (invited them to the DR to meet their family without telling me until last minute, and also fluid sharing when we formed an agreement around us only fluid sharing together).

Somehow we overcame those incidents and reinstated our boundaries. I still loved them and didn’t want to ‘break up’ because they were still affectionate and apologetic. During the pandemic we became closer and even though we were apart for three months we connected by doing a 21-day meditation challenge together. They were still connecting to their other partner long distance as well, but told me that they wanted to find a place together in the US and plan a future together (start a family and buy a house together eventually).

Fast forward, we did reunite, it felt good, and we now live together in the same flat (with our own bedrooms). With this ideal set-up, I thought it would work well since they would invite their other partner to come and stay with them sometimes and vice versa. But 5 months later, it proves to be more stressful than I thought it would be.

They see their other partner once a month and even though it started off as 4-5 days, it is now at 10 days a month. I am also dating another person that they have met and is also attracted to and we started a triad because I like to include them in my exploits, but with them planning to spend more and more time with their other partner, they have less capacity to develop this relationship with me.

There have been times I really needed them (when my Grandma has been sick, or I am feeling down, or want to plan a doctor’s visit together to freeze my eggs) that they just aren’t available based on timing. We have a shared calendar but they don’t seem to look at it prior to making plans with their other partner and I am starting to feel like a fool for being so accommodating. They sense my anger and proposed that we go to counselling to talk about our different ways of being non-monogamous since the timing has been the most consistent point of contention between us.

I am not sure it is worth it and am also triggered from the time I tried counselling in my last abusive relationship. It didn’t help ‘fix’ anything and I felt that I was being called ‘the problem.’ I am willing to get rid of this past trauma to work towards a stable foundation with K, but I also don’t want to waste my time if we can’t reconcile our different philosophies on being non-monogamous. I don’t want to be apathetic (my go to shut down), but I don’t want to try ‘too hard’ either.

Do you think our non-monogamous differences are worth going to therapy for or that I am hanging on to a configuration that just doesn’t work for me and should let it go?

I do know that any relationship can shift and change, but I am feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the way things are going, and feel like this may mean that I should move on sooner than later as I have the tendency to hang on and try to make things work when they aren’t supposed to. This is my fear.

Response:

The first thing here that I want to say, specifically about therapy — If you go into therapy with someone who is abusive, that doesn’t work. There’s an amazing book I constantly, constantly recommend people read called “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft, and I recommend this book because it was hugely, hugely helpful for me in understanding the pathology of people who are abusive.

And I do want to illustrate that there’s a difference as well between people who do abusive things that maybe they have learned because of where they grew up or just the society that we grew up in, and people who are pathologically abusive, which means — if you read the book then you do understand the difference between the two. And one thing that Lundy Bancroft, and a lot of therapists say who deal with people who are actually you know pathologically abusive is that going to therapy can sometimes make it worse — especially couples therapy can definitely make it worse.

So just because you’ve had a bad relationship with therapy with your other partner who you say is abusive does not mean that it won’t work in this case, I think that this is a situation where you have a really good concept of what your ideal is, but it doesn’t seem like you’ve had that conversation with K.

Or it may be that K’s ideal is shifting and maybe they don’t really know how to communicate that to you. The thing that I worry about is that K violated some pretty serious boundaries that you had. It’d be one thing if it’s like, “Oh, K was supposed to come to see me this time but didn’t”. But violating the fluid bonded boundary is a pretty big deal. And I worry that maybe you kind of forgave a little bit too quickly.

I’m not saying that you should break up or that you should have broke up. But I do think that you have a clear situation where K is prioritising another relationship in a way over you and you’re not really handling it or talking about it or it doesn’t seem like you really talked about — Forgiving someone for doing something wrong is one thing, but working out why it is that they did that is another thing.

I think that you need to both sit down and figure out if you share the same, as you said, philosophies on being non-monogamous but also ideals. Does K really want to do this, have a family, buy a house together? Is that something that K actually wants? And this is something that K really needs to figure out especially when it comes to this other person that K is also supposed to be in a triad with you? With this other person?

Maybe K has new relationship energy with this new person and is sort of being sucked in but still does want you know the whole marriage and family and settling down with you. But you have to have that specific conversation. Is the mishaps you’ve been having with timing intentional? Because you say, we have a shared calendar, but it doesn’t seem like K is checking that calendar before K makes plans, is that intentional?

Is K actually just so caught up in things that they don’t really think about it for they go ahead and make plans, or is it that K isn’t looking? That involves K being really real with themself, and they have to be really real with themself and what they want, because otherwise this is what eventually happens. Like stuff gets missed. The little things start piling up. Resentment and anger starts building, and then eventually it ends up being horrible.

I think that you could have a basic conversation with each other about whether or not you share that same goal. Does K actually want this or is K envisioning…? What is K’s ideal? Does K envision that this partner that they’re going to see for 10 days out of the month will eventually come and move with you guys? What is the ideal here? Do you have a shared intentional vision of what you want your relationship to look like?

If you don’t have a shared intentional, then what you can do — I don’t necessarily even think you have to break up, but it will allow you to decide, “Okay, K doesn’t want this” and you may need a break up period” It really depends on how you feel personally, but maybe you can shift that expectation, and then K spending so much time with this other person won’t be such a big downer for you. Maybe this other person that you’re dating that you have this like triad with, maybe that can be the person that you have this settling down with who is more interested in that.

So, it just comes down to what your shared vision is. I think that if you can get out of K, that you do have some shared visions, that this timing stuff is not intentional, that they have not, you know, they can see that they’re caught up in new relationship energy which does sound like. I don’t know how new this relationship necessarily is but you can be caught up in new— especially if you’re a long distance, and especially with all this pandemic stuff and like the way that people have been touched starved and how difficult it’s been like, I do think you can be caught up in new relationship energy for a long. long time with a long distance connection because every time you see each other, as they say absence makes the heart grow fonder.

I do think that can be especially true for long distance, even if K is spending 10 days of the month with them. It’s like that absence makes things super dramatic, in a way that can kind of intensify the new relationship energy. So if K is able to say like, “Yeah, I am being a little bit focused on this relationship. But I do want to have this settling down thing with you”. Then I would say go to counselling together.

The fact that K recommended counselling is actually really, really great. That does show an effort to fix things. And again, like I said, just because you’ve had a really bad experience with counselling with an abusive partner in the past, that won’t fix anything. A counsellor is not going to be able to stop someone from being abusive towards you, if that’s what they want to do, and going to couples counselling with an abusive partner can actually make it worse.

Like I said, it’s another thing about— one thing that’s quite popular within the community is Nonviolent Communication, and there’s a lot written about nonviolent communication about how if the person wants to be violent towards you, nonviolent communication does not work with them. And similarly with counselling so I think it’s a positive sign that K has adjusted to go to counselling. K has recognised that you’re frustrated and upset and wants to solve that.

And I think that you also might want to consider counselling on your own, because there’s a bit of a contradiction on what you’re saying You talk about how you’re worried about trying too hard, and hanging on but then you also say you’re apathetic and you shut down. And I think that you might want to work out some of the stuff that you went through with your other partner with a counsellor and figure out how to address some of these situations as and when they come up.

Because I do think that if you’ve had an abusive relationship that and you know depending on what kind of background you come from and surviving so many things that you have survived, it is going to be hard for you to feel comfortable and safe confronting someone about some of the things that they’re doing. That is quite understandable. I definitely think that makes sense.

To sum up. Just because counselling didn’t work in your last abusive relationship doesn’t mean it won’t work now because that partner was abusive. So of course, it didn’t work and it’s okay that you didn’t know that. A lot of people go through that. You should definitely like I said, check out that book. Look up what other people go through online with going to counselling and abusive relationships.  I’m sure there’s tons of things written about it, especially if you had a counsellor that didn’t understand your perspective, and where you’re coming from, and didn’t understand, you know, any kind of marginalisation. That can also compound and add issues to it so you can try and find a therapist who is more understanding of that.

And also, definitely check out online how to interview therapists and ask them questions. They are there to work for you. They are there to help you. And so you can absolutely  ask them if they’re used to polyamory, if they’re used to being with helping people who have been in abusive relationships, if they’re used to queer people. You can ask those questions. If you feel like you’re “the problem”, you can find a second opinion.

It’s not something where you always have to go by what one therapist says. Unfortunately, sometimes even when people aren’t abusive and are trying to find a therapist, it can sometimes not work and that isn’t because of you. So definitely, definitely keep that in mind. It’s a good sign that K has addressed these issues but you can have a sit down conversation and figure out if K is still interested in this shared vision of what you want together.

Is K still interested in settling down? And figure that out with each other. And then, last thing is just give yourself a little bit of a break for having a lot of these feelings and maybe, see if you can get some therapy one on one for what you’ve been through with not only just having that really horrible relationship that sounds like but also, moving so much, and then facing like specific horrible attacks and like dealing with horrible people. Yeah, it’s a lot and that’s a lot to go through. And now you’re also kind of back in the closet now a little bit when it comes to kink stuff, and that’s a lot to go through.

So you need a little bit of support in that regard. And then we all have the pandemic which is a lot of shit for all of us to go through so there’s a lot of stuff you’re going through. And you can be a little bit easy on yourself. You don’t sound like you’re beating yourself up too much, but I always think it’s good to remind people, especially when they’ve gone through a lot of stuff that like, “Hey, you’ve gone through a lot of stuff, and that’s understandable that you would feel anxious and a little bit nervous about the things that are happening around you”.

But overall I would say this doesn’t sound terrible. Again, my final point is that K suggesting that you go to counselling is a really positive sign. And I think that you should definitely consider it and just have a conversation. I feel like if K is already identifying that you’re unhappy and is wanting to fix it then having that conversation about whether or not you have a shared vision won’t be so difficult to have without a counsellor, but equally you can find one together who understands polyamory who’s accepting and understanding of queerness and kink, and also has maybe Black identified themselves, or maybe has worked with Black clients before or has some understanding of that, instead of just being ignorant about it, which unfortunately a lot of therapists are. But yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

Episode 64: What Rules to Have

Will the rules you want to put in place prevent what you think they will prevent?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic: If you could pick to either read your partner’s mind or have them read yours, which would you pick?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 64 – What Rules to Have

Will the rules you want to put in place prevent what you think they will prevent?  That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – If you could pick to either read your partner’s mind or have them read yours, which would you pick?

 

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

Letter:

My name is Kendall and my partner is John. I am cis female and John is a cis male.
You could say this relationship is non-conventional. John and I have been dating for 6 months exclusively. I am 23 years old and John is 56 years old. Though we’ve been dating exclusively I have been prepared/preparing for the day that he requests a hall pass. He has dated primarily non-monogam[ous] most of his life. He was married at one point for 20 years and towards the end of that they had an open marriage. Since then, it has been a mix of open, closed, short term and long term relationships.
This whole situation is entirely new to me. I’ve never dated someone so much older, with so much more of a vast dating history. Yesterday he caught me a little off guard by requesting his first hall pass. My response was ‘Do what you think you need to do.’ This woman was an ex of his, which I feel more comfortable with than him seeking out a new partner. Surprisingly overall I didn’t have a whole lot of feeling towards the whole situation. During that night I would have little waves of anger, insecurities and some disgust but I didn’t spend the night obsessing over the negative aspects of the situation.
Actually, I spent that night with a girlfriend and we ended up having sex for the first time. This was not planned and I didn’t do it out of spite. John and I had already discussed me sleeping with other women – with him participating and not participating. Also, I know there are some sexual desires that I cannot fully provide for John so that was another justification for me to not feel sensitive about him sleeping with another woman. We have also talked about threesomes with me and his ex’s or involving another male but we both feel like I am not quite ready for that.
The next time that I saw John, he gave me a small amount of information about the evening but not too much and not too little. We were able to have a good conversation about feelings and expectations. My question for you is: I would like to have rules and expectations lined out better for the both of us which he agrees with. But since this situation is so foreign to me, I am not sure what to consider. Are there essential things that you think should be addressed?
So far the things I did address with him are: I prefer that he sleep with his exe s. He is not looking to date anyone else, but I am aware that you can’t always control your feelings in an open relationship. I don’t want to be competing for his attention and I will remain his primary partner and taking care of my needs will be his priority. I am allowed to say ‘no’ if I am so uncomfortable with him doing something.
Is there anything else crucial that I am missing? Or any other pieces of advice you can offer is so much appreciated. This is all so much of a new dynamic for me. Being in an open relationship isn’t something that I was looking for but it isn’t a deal breaker for me either.
Response:
So I think that the biggest red flag here is the thing that you haven’t thought about — the big crucial thing that you’re missing is the feelings of the person that your partner is dating. Just because he’s dating exes or people that he’s dated before, doesn’t mean that they don’t have feelings and that they don’t have agency of their own, and that they don’t have, or may have a desire to have something with him that isn’t just sex.
I feel like your approach to this is you’re trying to create rules to prevent something that you can’t prevent.
And I don’t mind rules and I’m not the kind of person… I really actually quite dislike the perception that rules are always bad and that they never work. I think that some rules can work and I think it’s sort of like the ongoing joke in the BDSM community where someone says, “I don’t have any limits” and then some person goes “Okay well cut your finger off”. Yes, you do have limits. Everyone has limits.
The rules that people often agree on and don’t really consider rules within the polyamory community are STI boundaries or rules about testing or things like that. So everyone does have some rules. The purpose of a rule should not be to prevent something that it cannot prevent. Ultimately all of your rules and all of the things you want to put in place are to control your partner in a way that will prevent him from falling in love with somebody else and leaving you.
I think if you really look hard at these rules that’s what you want — you want to be his primary. You want *you* to be his priority even if that means hurting other people. You’re allowed to basically say no to anything that he does with someone else. So you basically have control over somebody else’s sexual relationship with him, which isn’t really fair, if you think about it. And all of that is not necessarily coming from a place of control. Like you weren’t purposely sitting over him and, tapping your fingers together, evil and going, “What can I control?”
You’re not trying to control the situation but because you have a fear — which is understandable and doesn’t make you a bad person — you are trying to control the situation to prevent him from falling in love with someone else. You can’t prevent that. If monogamy doesn’t prevent people from cheating, then all of these rules are not going to magically prevent him from crossing them or falling in love with someone else or someone else becoming somewhat of a priority for him.
So I think that, for that reason, a lot of the things that you’re trying to put in place don’t really make sense because they aren’t going to prevent the thing that you want. If you want to be in an open relationship… And I honestly feel like this is true for everyone. I don’t think that being in a monogamous relationship means that you think that your partner will never have any feelings for anyone else. I think that *that’s* actually really unfair and and isn’t something that this culture should encourage.
But it is something that this culture encourages with monogamy, the idea that once you’re monogamous like you don’t even look at anybody else or that you don’t have feelings for anyone else when I do think you can. I think that realistically, you need to accept the things that you can’t control. Whether you’re a open or not open relationship. People have monogamous relationships — I mean, I think that this is probably what’s igniting your fear so much. You’re with someone who has had a 20 year relationship with somebody, and that has ended.
So I think there’s something inside of your brain that’s going, “Well, how long is *this* going to last?” in a way. Not that you don’t trust him. But, you know, you’re looking at a situation where — 20 years people been together, you would think after 20 years like everything’s gonna be fine and we’re solid, but things can change, and in a way that you don’t anticipate or expect and a rule is not going to prevent that from happening.
A rule is not going to keep him from straying if he really wants to stray. So, you can’t create these rules with the expectation that it’s going to be able to control your partner’s feelings. He may not want to only date his exes and his exes, even if they are his exes, maybe you don’t feel as threatened by them, because in a way you kind of feel like you’ve won the spot and they lost it. You’ve won the priority spot. But that isn’t going to help you in the long run.
Because, even if it’s an ex, it’s still someone that could capture his heart again. You don’t know that. I think that you really need to think about — rather than think about like what you don’t want, you need to think about what you actually do want. What does your ideal non-monogamous setup actually look like? What do you actually want? You’ve talked a little bit about this, which is why I think that your anxiety wasn’t so bad on that first night because you had talked about things like that. So you need to explore that a little bit more.
The thing that worries me a little bit about this and I’m not gonna lie — I don’t always think that age gaps are a problem. But I do think that age gaps where a person is in their mid 20s, and somebody else is like 50 something… I don’t know about that. Just because I have been in situations — and I’m 33. I’m not in my 50s — where I looked at somebody who’s in their early 20s and I’ve been like even that gap… there’s a lot that goes on in your early 20s. Age gaps— if you were like in your 30s and he was in his 60s, I wouldn’t mind so much because there’s a lot of maturing that happens really really fast in your 20s.
And I just don’t know if it’s a good thing that someone who is that older is kind of looking at someone quite so young. I’m not gonna say anything negative about your partner. I’m not saying he’s a bad person because you know you, you’re attracted to who you’re attracted to. But I just am a little bit worried that he had this open relationship at the end of his marriage. He starts this relationship with you and you don’t have a discussion about this. You agree to monogamy— he agrees to monogamy knowing that he didn’t have monogamy in his last relationship and you don’t really talk about whether or not… you say you’ve been worried about him asking for a hall pass, but you don’t really talk about whether or not you had discussed the trajectory of what a relationship might look like.
Now you’ve only been dating for six months so maybe that just hasn’t come up but I think if it’s come up enough for him to ask for a “hall pass”. Then there needs to be a little bit more of an idea of of where this is going, and what you both want, and why he didn’t come to a discussion about an open relationship before this moment. I’m just a little bit worried that — if you hadn’t met him and from the get go he was like, “Look, I was in a marriage for 20 years it was open at the end I need non-monogamy. That’s where I’m going. That’s where I’m at.” Then I would be a little bit more confident about the situation.
But because he kind of has been dating you monogamously, assuming that this is what has been happening because you didn’t mention that he had brought up non-monogamy from the beginning. And now he is instead of asking for non-monogamy it just seems like he asked to sleep with someone else. I don’t know. I just really worry about if *he* is actually given a thought to non-monogamy and what he wants out of it. Or if he’s just kind of stumbling around. I don’t think that necessarily means that you need to break up. But I do think that it does mean that you need to think about what your ideals are instead of thinking about what you don’t want.
You need to think about what it is you want. What do you want personally out of non-monogamy? If you’re just doing this to keep him around. that doesn’t spell good things, because even though you have all of this to cling on like, even though you didn’t have a bad reaction to him sleeping with someone else because you have other things to cling on like you know that he has sexual stuff that he wants to do that he can’t do with you for whatever reason, so that comforts you. That’s only going to last for so long and that’s why I’m wondering if that’s why you’re creating all of these rules.
Because if you don’t have anything to hold on to on your own, and I call it an anchor (it’s kind of a ongoing theme). If there is no personal reason for you to do non-monogamy that is only about you, and it’s just about keeping a relationship, then eventually, that just isn’t going to secure you in the same way. Because ultimately if you are just trying to keep this relationship going, then you’re kind of wanting something that doesn’t exist anymore. Non-monogamy is just different to monogamy. It’s not a level up. It’s not an upgrade. It’s just a different way of doing things.
Think of it in terms of a long distance relationship versus a not long distance relationship. A long distance relationship isn’t any less than a in person relationship, but they are fundamentally different in terms of how they act. And if your partner is moving away and you agree to a long distance relationship thinking that that is going to be the same as an in person relationship, then you’re going to be disappointed. And if you can’t do a long distance relationship, agreeing to one just to keep your partner isn’t going to work.
Likewise I think the same, if you don’t want non-monogamy in your own terms — and I’m not meaning like… having the occasional threesome is not the same necessarily than having an open relationship or being polyamorous. And so that’s why you all need to discuss what you actually do want because what you want doesn’t really sound like… It sounds like some swinging aspects. It sounds like you don’t want him to have feelings for other people. It sounds like you want to be the person who he has feelings for, and that can work if it’s something that you both want.
If it’s not something that you both want then it isn’t going to work. Two people can be non-monogamous but not compatible. Non-monogamy isn’t a basic compatibility. You may just want to do swinging. He may want to do polyamory. So you have to figure that out between you and you have to make sure that you’re agreeing to it for personal reasons that actually appeal to you, and not just so you can keep him with you.
To sum up, I think that you need to think about what your purpose is in establishing these rules. I don’t particularly think these rules are fair to the other person that he’s dating, unless that person is fine with just sleeping with him and not having any feelings. Even if that were the case, you basically being allowed to tell him that he can’t do something with someone else isn’t fair to that other person. So you have to really think about what the purposes of your rules are. Are they actually going to accomplish the thing that you want them to accomplish?
Can you actually prevent him from straying? You can’t actually prevent him from leaving you by establishing these rules. So what is the purpose of them? Are they going to actually work? I think you also need to think about what it is that you do want instead of what you don’t want. What is your ideal polyamory or non-monogamous setup? What is his ideal? What can you compromise on? And it may be that you can’t compromise on some things.
If fundamentally you want him to not have any feelings for anyone else, or if you want that to be his goal. He could fall in love with someone else or he could start to develop feelings and still decide that, “Okay, I’m going to avoid that person or I’m not going to pursue things”. If that’s what he agrees on he can do that. Obviously rules can’t prevent him from falling in love with someone else. But if you both have the same goals, then that’s fine. But if he doesn’t have those goals and it won’t work and you’re not really compatible even when it comes to non-monogamy.
Think about the things that you do want and figure out what your ideal is, what you can compromise on, and then go from there rather than going from what he can’t do. I hope this helps and good luck.

Episode 63: Visualising Your Partner

What if you can’t see your partner with someone else in your head without feeling terrible?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic: What is one thing that you didn’t get as a child that you want to now have as an adult?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 62 – Visualising Your Partner

What if you can’t see your partner with someone else in your head without feeling terrible? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – Was is one thing that you didn’t get as a child that you want to now have as an adult?

 

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

Letter:

My wife and I have been married for 24 years – Our only sexual experience has been with each other. We have had a good relationship over these years.  Recently she brought up the idea of moving in the direction of an open relationship. She thinks she is oriented poly[am] and is wanting romance and sex from more than just me.

I am open to the idea but I am really afraid. I have always tried to be her biggest cheerleader – encouraging her to be herself. When I think about living out a polyamorous relationship I can totally grasp it intellectually and sometimes even get excited about the idea.

But emotionally it has really shaken me. When I think about my wife dating someone else and having sex with someone I panic inside and feel anxious for days even though I seem okay intellectually with the idea. My core self really wants to set her free in her desires but emotionally I seem so far from it.  How can I bridge this emotional gap between my core self and my fears?

When I try to visualise my wife with someone it creates so much anxiety and fear in me – not fear of losing my wife – I know she loves me so much – but I fear that I won’t be able to handle the anxiety and pain. I know it won’t kill me but I am afraid the anxiety and fear would be very draining for me and would really pull the joy out of our relationship.

Response:

First thing I want to say is this is extremely normal. Okay? And I think that if you’ve tried to find help online for this, that might have been where you’ve really struggled, because a lot of people will sort of… they kind of act like that there’s a state that you should reach where you’re kind of zen like about everything and I don’t really agree with that. I don’t really feel like polyamorous people are polyamorous because they visualise their partners with other people.

You don’t have to do that. So many people sometimes when they’re opening their relationship they think… sometimes — they’ll literally go “Well I’m not gonna have sex with someone unless you’re in the room” and even though I understand why they do that and I’m not saying that that’s what you’re doing but this is like… the whole visualisation reminds me of this is. You got to have that trust and it’s just, sometimes it just hurts.

Sometimes, you can either be kind of completely not interested in seeing your partner with somebody else because you’re not a voyeur or you just… it does hurt because you’re not getting attention and you want attention from your partner. You do not have to visualise in your head your partner with other people. That is not a step that you have to take and be okay with. You can be polyamorous solid for a long time and still feel jealousy, fear, all these sorts of things when you see your partner with another person… that is not at all a yardstick by which to measure yourself.

So, don’t do that. Don’t try to visualise your partner with other people, because it just might not be something that you like. Some people really like that. Some people are really into that. Some people are really nonchalant about that. And also that feeling about whether or not you’re into it or you’re nonchalant, or it hurts or it makes you — you know— that can vary as well depending on what’s going on in your life, how you feel about yourself, all sorts of different factors.

So don’t do that, because it doesn’t help. It doesn’t necessarily… it’s not like if you could… if you were, turned on or excited by seeing your partner with someone else or are thinking about it that doesn’t even necessarily mean you’re going to be… that polyamory is going to be the thing for you. So, so yeah. First, don’t do that.

Second thing, there’s an article that I wrote, which is called “13 Mistakes That People Make Before Trying Polyamory” and I also wrote another one called the “13th Things I Wish I’d Learned Before Trying Polyamory” or trying non-monogamy which you should be able to find it on Non-Monogamy Help.com. But those are just the mistakes one will actually really help you in kind of setting things up but the two kinds of things that I recommend people think about when they’re considering whether or not polyamory is for them.

Or two things. One. Do you have any benefits to polyamory solely for yourself? So it’s not that this would make your partner happy. It has to be something that is just for you. So you might be actually interested in having other sexual experiences, because you did say that you and your partner — you’ve been the only people that you’ve had any sexual experience with. So that may be something that you have an interest in, and that is something that can help in the future when you start to experience some of that anxiety and pain.

And I wish I could tell you that you won’t go through any of that but the fact is that you might. I still have some anxiety and I’ve been polyamorous for about 10 years now. So, you will have that anxiety. It’s more about how to address and how to manage that then necessarily about you reaching some kind of master Vulcan state where you don’t experience any of it.

The second thing that you really should think about is, do you feel comfortable with your partner not spending, the vast majority of their time with you? I point out quite frequently in my columns this is something that a monogamous person would have to consider if they were dating someone with a really time intensive career or anything like that.

Some people don’t want to date for example someone who has to travel a lot, so they barely ever see them. They couldn’t deal with that kind of relationship. Some people can’t do long distance. So, you have to ask yourself because, inevitably, if this is the route she wants to go she will be spending date nights with other people. She’ll be spending time with other people. She is not going to be spending 100% of her time with you and that’s really, really important.

Because I think that sometimes people agree to polyamory especially when their partner wants it and they don’t necessarily want it, but they agree to keep the relationship but what they don’t realise is that the relationship they’re keeping is fundamentally different to a relationship that they had. And one of the big major physical obvious differences is the amount of time spent with one another. So would you feel comfortable not spending all of your time with her?

Do you have stuff that you do on your own? Are your lives so wrapped up within each other that you don’t have any separate hobbies or can you not see yourself having a separate hobby? And I mean if you are interested in polyamory for yourself, if you want to date other people, then that is time when she’s not there that you could be spending with other people. So it sometimes works out but a big thing that I also usually point out to people is that it’s very very normal and very very common for a lot of people who are in a couple, and then they open their relationship for one person in that relationship to have more quote “success” than the other person in terms of finding dates.

So you it may be that you open up and you look for dates you don’t find any and she does and then all of a sudden she’s got, Thursday, Friday, Saturday booked and you don’t. So be prepared for that inevitability and and think about it. Are you fine with her not spending 100% of her time with you? Because if you have a polyamorous relationship then that won’t happen. So I think if those two those two things are things that you’re like, “Yeah I’m fine with that and I do have a benefit to myself.”

I think that where a lot of the anxiety and fear comes from is, and it’s good that you said that you’re not afraid of losing your wife. And you know that she loves you. But a lot of the fear and anxiety that people can feel comes from the fact that whether or not they feel comfortable and established in their relationship they still have grown up in a mono-centric society. They still have grown up in a society that has told them specific things about love, and that love only means something, if it’s scarce.

10 mins. So, you know, you can’t love two people, or three people or four people or five people – you can’t love them all the same. So you know they’re out there it’s a competition and, you know, so that is something that you’re going to have to challenge. I think that if you feel like you can challenge some of these things. And if you go to the article that I wrote about (13 Mistakes), it talks about facing some of your fears and how facing some of your fears is sometimes a result of taking on too much responsibility. There’s only so much that you can do. And I think that if you’ve been married for 24 years. The biggest thing that is probably going to be really triggered by this is that even though you’re like “I love my wife. I’m not scared of losing her.”

The fact of the matter is, is that there has always been the chance that you, you will you both could break up. And that the problem was, kind of existing in a mono-centric society and being in a monogamous relationship, and especially doing that sort of relationship escalator thing where you know you get married and you have kids and la la la. And I’m not saying you have I’m saying, you know, being married as part of that escalator and that is a societal script that reinforces you and makes you feel safe. You don’t think that you’re likely going to break up because, hey, we’ve got all of these scripts things that we followed and that reinforces you.

When you start to go off script, when you start to do polyamory, you may start to fear it, because the threat that you’ve been told all your life is actually presented right in front of you. And I think the other thing that you have to kind of think about is, most people when they’re in this situation they are afraid of losing their partner and furthermore on that they put the burden on themselves to keep their partner, because they’ve been kind of conditioned by a society that wants to sell things. Consumer capitalism (wee!) wants to sell you things and it sells you things by making you feel deficient.

And it’s really really easy to make you feel deficient by saying, “Oh, you know, buy this cologne and you’ll be irresistible to women” or whatever all the sorts of bollocky nonsense but that kind of stuff does get embedded into your psyche, the idea that you have to compete for a partner, the idea that you have to find someone and earn them and keep them and all you know it’s reinforced constantly throughout our society. So what that does is that puts the burden on you and on your shoulders for keeping your partner around.

Now I’m not saying that you that by being a decent person, and by treating your partner well that those aren’t things you should do to keep your partner. I think that those are the things you should do period. But there is only so much that you can do to keep someone from falling out of love with you. There really isn’t that much control over the situation. And the problem is is that a mono-centric society convinces you that you have control over these things, that you have control over whether or not your partner loves you, or is attracted to you.

And unfortunately, that is not something you can completely control because it isn’t even something that your partner can completely control. People are married for decades and decades and decades, and fall out of love with each other. That happens. It happens sometimes even being married for 24 years isn’t necessarily going to prevent that from happening. And it’s easier when you’re monogamous and when you’re in a marriage and when you’re close to ignore that possibility because you have everything in society encouraging you to think that your relationship is stable, safe, and nothing can shake it.

When you open up and you start dating other people, that is going present a more realistic physical, tangible threat to the balance that will remind you of this uncertainty and will trigger a lot of anxiety. Even if deep down you know that your partner wouldn’t just up and leave you for somebody else because they aren’t that kind of a person, you still are going to have a lot of fear and the thing that you do to handle that is face it, which a lot of beginner polyamory advice I really really hate and I rag on it and I rag on it because the way that they decide to tell you to treat that fear is by going, “Encourage yourself to see how special you really are”.

And I do think that positive self talk has a place in helping you combat fear. But the real problem is that in my opinion that’s like a, it’s like the. Gosh can’t think of the right metaphor. It’s like your boat is sinking and instead of repairing the hole you’re just tossing water out of the side. It doesn’t address the real core issue. The real core issue is you placing the responsibility on your shoulders of keeping your partner around. And it’s tricky because to a certain extent. You are responsible for that. You can put effort into your relationship. You can put effort into noticing your partner. You can put effort into spending time with them into being loving into reciprocating.

But the thing is you could put into effort into all that and still they fall out of love with you so it’s not something that you can completely control. When you remove the burden off of your shoulders of what you can and can’t control. Before your partner even considered polyamory, there was nothing really stopping her from meeting someone at, you know, work, and falling in love at work and leaving you. That could have happened.

Nothing about opening your relationship necessarily threatens that any more. If anything, you could look at it as the fact that you kind of are willing to explore this with her as makes it more likely that she will stay with you but either way. There is nothing you can really control. And so, recognising that “Oh, okay up until now I’ve assumed safety. I’ve assumed that there was nothing that, or that there was no way my partner whatever leaves me because we’re married and duh duh duh”. But actually, you can’t ever assume that nothing is ever really safe nothing is ever really completely and totally in your control.

So once you in my experience at least once I realised that and I was like, “Okay, I’m going to put effort in. I’m going to be the best partner that I can be. Sometimes fuck up I’m not great all the time. I have mental health problems. Sometimes I have anxiety. Sometimes I have freak outs. I’m not by far from being the perfect person. But if I put effort in, that’s the best I can do”. I can’t make someone fall in love with me and I can’t stop someone falling out of love with me. If that’s what happens. And I think that that will help you.

I’m not saying that that is going to poof! Your anxiety’s gone. No. Anxiety is going to happen. You’re experiencing a massive change. Think of it this way. If you guys wanted to have a baby — I don’t know if you have children. It doesn’t say, but if you wanted to have a child — I think most people, even people with or without children, if someone said, “I want to have a kid and I don’t want to feel anxious about it at all”. You would be like.. eehhhh. No matter how prepared you are, no matter how many books you read, no matter how many parents who talk to, you’re going to feel scared and anxious because it’s a massive change to your life. This is a change to your life.

This is a change to how you do your relationships. This is going off of the course that society has told you is the safest. It’s going to come with anxiety, it’s going to come with fear. You’re trying something new. You’re trusting and changing the way that you’ve trusted your wife for a long, long time. It will come with fear and there isn’t anything you’re going to be able to do to avoid that. But what you can do is find the aspects that interest you about this relationship, just as you would if you had — you know i’m not saying that polyamory is like having a kid.

But I think, speaking to at least a lot of parents that I know, everyone has a moment where they’re just like, “Why did I do this? Why did I do this?” And so obviously there are benefits to having a child that keep them going through those difficult moments. I think, a similar outlook could be said about polyamory or any lifestyle change. You know if you went from living in a city all your life living in a country and you were really interested in it, you’d have hard moments. And the reason that you decided to move is going to be the thing that keeps you going through some of those hard moments.

So I think that that is going to help anchor you. It’s what I call an anchor. And then also, remembering the benefit you get out of it and remembering the amount that you can actually control and constantly reminding yourself of that, because in response to uncertainty and fear your brain is going to encourage you to think that you can control everything because that’s way better. If you think about looking at it like “I can totally control and prevent a terrible thing from happening to me”, versus “This terrible thing may happen to me and there’s nothing I can do about it”.

Of the two mindsets, the one that is convinced that you have the power to control things is going to be the one that your brain is going to pick, because that is going to make you feel better. So try and think of it that way. And I think the article that I wrote goes a little bit more in depth I definitely recommend that you read it and that should help you address that anxiety. It sounds overall like you’re very positive towards your your wife’s wishes, and that’s good.

You may be one of those people that is monogamous to polyamorous person. Like if there’s no benefit you see out of it, if you don’t have any desire to have any other kind of relationships or sexual experiences with other people, then it may be that you’re a monogamous person with a polyamorous person. That does sometimes happen. But I think the thing that will mean this is a situation that you are going to be fine with and that you can live with has to do with whether or not there is a benefit that you can find personally to yourself, even if it means that you get to hug the bed some nights.

And also being comfortable with the fact that your partner won’t spend 100% of the time with you and being able to challenge some of those ideas that monogamy is kind of really ingrained into your brain and finding ways to cope with that anxiety. I think that you. It’s not impossible. The anxiety will be— it’ll be worse sometimes than it is, but in my experience, it does go away. Like it’s really intense at first because it’s new.

It’s scary. It’s a change, just in a similar way that a lot of experiences like this are. Every time you make a big change in your life, every time something new happens, there is a period of fear and anxiety and uncertainty and then you start to feel better. If you can find that anchor, then you will definitely feel better. Yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

Episode 62: More Metamour Toxicity

Your partner’s partner’s partner doesn’t seem like they’re good for your metamour, but what can you actually do?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic: How many of your friends know each other?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 62 – More Metamour Toxicity

Your partner’s partner’s partner doesn’t seem like they’re good for your metamour, but what can you actually do? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – How many of your friends know each other?

 

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I’m a married, polymorous woman and have been dating a man for almost two years. Our relationship has always been moderately long distance as we live just over an hour apart across an international border — but since COVID, that border is now mostly closed and we see each other much less.

He has been married to his primary partner for 6 years and they’ve been polyamorous about half that long, each having had various shorter-term partnerships (he just with women, her with women and men). Let’s call my partner Shawn and his primary partner Leah.

Leah has been in a relationship with another partner (let’s say Sam) for a year and a half — they have a lot of shared interests and activities that Shawn doesn’t like, so they spend several days and nights a week together. Sam is solo poly[am] and from the beginning has been awful at acknowledging and respecting Leah and Shawn’s boundaries — it doesn’t help that Shawn and Sam have very different interests and personalities, so they’ve never bonded as metamours. Sam has also burned bridges with Leah and Shawn’s friends by being confrontational and aloof at gatherings, so they aren’t interested in spending time with him either.

Despite Shawn’s boundary that he does not want to spend time with Sam (either separately or with Leah) Sam continuously pushes to visit Shawn and Leah’s home without warning, store things in their space and be invited to their social gatherings. He has been un (or under) employed for the length of his relationship with Leah and she pays part of his rent and for most of their date nights and agrees to drive him places because he doesn’t have a car.

Sam has had a variety of short, dramatic relationships with younger women throughout their relationship, and nights out with Leah and other partners has ended in screaming fights, sometimes with the other [woman] partner or Leah literally out on the street on their own, intoxicated, because he has stormed off or locked them out.

Despite this, he is always successful in guilting Leah into continuing to date him and to spend more and more time with him. He has also managed to imply that he isn’t the problem, but instead that Shawn is too controlling and should let Sam come to their home and to their social gatherings whenever Sam wants.

This has been incredibly toxic and upsetting both to Shawn and to me — Leah’s a very smart woman, a feminist, and yet she continues to be dragged through drama after drama with Sam. Not only has she not broken up with him, whenever they’ve had a disagreement she’s only worried that HE will break up with HER and always eagerly resumes their relationship after days of him freezing her out.

It’s the latest development that worries me the most and has taken this from toxic to potentially abusive — Leah has recently met and gone on a few dates with another married, poly[am] woman (let’s call her Susan) who was very stable and pleasant. Susan got along well with Shawn and Leah’s friends and Shawn found her to be lovely to spend time with.

But the first time Leah invited Susan and a couple of Susan’s female friends to hang out with Sam, Sam accused Susan of “yelling at him for just trying to get to know her friend better,” which sounds to Shawn like he made an unwanted move on a   friend and Susan told him to back off. Sam got so angry that he refused to speak with Leah for days over this, which was only made worse when Leah and Shawn hosted a very small, COVID friendly social gathering at their home this weekend, to which Sam was not invited.

He has now made Leah so guilty that she’s been upset and crying for two days and the worst part is, Shawn tells me Leah has now called things off with Susan entirely.

We are at a total loss. Sam is succeeding in alienating Leah from her friends and other healthy partners and Leah will not listen to Shawn’s concerns. I’ve felt just terrible over this all day — Shawn is stuck with this toxic person in his life, is worried sick about Leah and I can’t be with him for support.

Is there anything we can do? Do you have any recommendations for resources that may help Leah more objectively (and not through the lens of Shawn’s dislike for Sam) see that Sam’s behaviour is hurtful and full of red flags? Shawn has asked me not to contact Leah at all about this and I will respect his request. But I’m hurting for both of these people that I care for.

Any advice would be appreciated, thanks!

Response:

The long and short of this, unfortunately, is that there is very very very little that you can actually do. The issue with this is it sounds more than toxic, especially if he’s starting to basically tried to alienate her slowly from all of her relationships. That does sound abusive and it does sound unfortunate and very very difficult for everyone around.

Basically the gist of the situation is that the second that you as a person involved in this person’s life began to demand them to leave people or demand that they stop seeing people — and I’m not saying that’s what you would do but anything that seems that way — can easily be twisted and turned by the person who is abusing them exactly as you said, that he says now that Shawn is too controlling.

So it’s going to be very very difficult for you or Shawn to really do anything about this situation. There is a really good book called “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft. I recommend it all the time because it was really really helpful for me. It’s just a really good breakdown of what goes through the mind of people who are abusive and the narratives that we’re kind of given in society is that people do this and they can’t help themselves and that it’s not something that they are consciously doing.

But a lot of what Lundy Bancroft shows in his book is that it is very conscious. If you can get her to read that that’d be amazing. However, it is something that is going to be very very difficult for you to do because I’m pretty sure he’s going to be furious about her reading that. There is another website that I also recommend called youarenotcrazy.com and it talks about verbal abuse specifically, and how people who are verbally abusive can twist things. So that might be something that she wants to look at.

I would just be careful. I would read “Why Does He Do That?” before you suggest anything to her, and just be careful about the way that you go about it because basically what she just needs is for somebody to be there for her and not abandon her. So against all odds, don’t just abandon her to Sam’s whims because that’s what he’s hoping that you’ll do. And it’s so so much easier for someone who is abusive to continue abusing someone, whilst they are isolated from everybody that they know.

The other thing that you can do and that Shawn can do is, he is absolutely able to set firm boundaries in the shared spaces he has with Leah, and it does sound like he’s kind of doing that. They have gatherings without Sam being invited but that obviously causes a lot of stress, but I wouldn’t encourage him to ease up on those boundaries. I would encourage him to keep them. I would encourage him to be more firm in them. The thing about it is, is that I don’t think that Leah is going to be willing to execute those boundaries fully. As you’ve said throughout the letter that every time he kind of says jump she says how high.

I think that Shawn can just allow himself to be characterised that way by Sam. And for the sake of his own sanity, put down those boundaries and say like, “Look, I don’t want you at my house, and I’m allowed to because it’s my shared space. I don’t want you to keep your stuff here”. And it’s going to put more pressure on the situation, undoubtedly, but it’s really, really important for him to maintain that, because if he starts just letting things happen. It’s not going to make the situation any better.

As much as you might think, “Okay, well we’ll just let him store his stuff here. We’ll invite him so we’ll stop causing all this ruckus”. It’ll just be some other thing because that’s kind of how the situation works. I don’t really like calling it like the frog in the pot thing because I think that that’s a misnomer. But it is very much a case of slowly and slowly turning up the pressure. And basically, someone does something, they flip out, they get mad, they cause a whole ruckus. It’s very upsetting. And in order to avoid that the abused person and the people around them are going to try to avoid that.

But then something else is going to cause and then they’ll just slowly and slowly and slowly back that person up into a corner. And I expect at some point there will be some escalation. I expect at some point that Sam will demand that Leah break up with Shawn. I would expect that. And I would be prepared for that eventuality, but I definitely think that Shawn should not ease up on his boundaries around their shared space. It’s his home too. He doesn’t have to put up with Sam.

Another thing that might be helpful, and I don’t know if Leah is open to getting counselling on her own, but I would also, if there’s a way to do that by maybe Shawn and Leah going to see a polyamory friendly couples therapist. That might be a gateway into her seeing a therapist on her own and realising that these are really horrible behaviours that Sam is engaging in, that they aren’t helping her, and that she feels miserable. I think that that is a good gateway.

Someone who has the ability to help her objectively see the situation isn’t really going to be you. Definitely. And isn’t really going to be Shawn. It’s going to have to be a professional because it’s just not something that — and I wouldn’t be surprised as well as Sam turned — you know said “Oh your therapist hates me” or “your therapist—“ like criticise her credentials — or them or they or he. I would not be surprised for a second if Sam does that. But, at least getting her on to that kind of attract might help but ultimately she has to make that decision.

She has to decide that she doesn’t want to be with Sam anymore. And the thing of it is is that I believe, if I’m not mistaken, I believe it takes people an average of seven attempts to leave someone who is abusive. I believe that that is the average. The average is seven. So, it is very very hard for people who are stuck in the cycle to just break out of it. And as much as it might seem simple to you because you’re seeing it from the position —I think that you get that.

You’re not like most people who are in your situation or a lot of people that are in your situation where they would be like “oh well she just must want this, because she’s tolerating it”. It’s just so much more complicated than that when you’re kind of in the middle of it. So yeah. To sum up, there isn’t very much you can do. This stuff sounds pretty abusive. I’m not going to label Sam one way or another but clearly this isn’t a relationship that is really suiting Leah. It doesn’t really seem like overall the net benefit of this relationship weighs out all of the drama and difficulty it brings to her life.

However obviously she is the one who is experiencing it and, obviously, a lot of people who are this way can make really lovely partners when they’re not being terrible so it’s difficult, but it doesn’t sound like a good situation that she’s in. Unfortunately there’s very very little that you or Shawn can really do about that. I suggest you read “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft. If you can get Leah to read it, that would be really helpful.

I honestly read it, just before I was probably going to enter a really shitty relationship. I don’t know if he was abusive but he definitely was… Gosh, how do I say it? He was definitely denigrating to me and I put up with it because I guess I just assumed that I was being sensitive. And I would never put up with that now, but at the time I did because, even if you are a feminist and strong and all those sorts of things, you’re still encouraged by society to think negative things about yourself and you’re also, you know — like I said he’s probably not terrible all the time.

So, it’s very difficult to when you have someone who’s —  especially because he has all these interests that, you know, Shawn isn’t interested  in, it’s hard to just drop that. It’s very hard. But, if she can read that read that book, it might help her out. If you can get her to visit youarenotcrazy.com that might be helpful, although don’t be like “Your boyfriend is a horrible abusive person. Here’s a site that will help convince you of that”.  Work it into something else. Maybe if you watch a movie where there is an abusive relationship mention the site… like if there’s a way you can get her to visit it without being like “This is what your boyfriend is”, that would be helpful.

Because any pressure you put on her isn’t really going to help the situation. Absolutely remind Shawn that he is, and should continue to put down firm boundaries, around his shared living space. Obviously you can’t tell Leah to not see Sam anymore, but he can absolutely put down boundaries around his shared living space, and around what things are around, who’s in this house and who he sees, and he should not let up on those boundaries.

He should absolutely keep them going. And do not give up on them even if Sam continues to throw fit into these column names all this nonsense. And last but not least, if there’s some way for Shawn to get Leah in with him in some polyamory friendly couples therapy that might help her begin some type of internal exploration about this relationship. And what it’s doing to her. A therapist is going to be the person who will have the most objectivity, but also be fully, fully prepared for Sam to disregard the therapist, to trash talk the therapist, to encourage Leah not to see the therapist, etc and so forth to even see this leap to therapy as another sign that Shawn is controlling.

So, just expect all of that. That will happen. You just got to be there if you can for her. Don’t give up on her. Don’t allow her to be isolated, because she is going to need — when she finally realises that this isn’t a good situation. If the entire time, you have been like “He’s bad, he’s bad, he’s bad, he’s bad he’s bad, he’s bad,” and she’s going to go “Well I don’t want to go to that person who said that because they’re going to say told you so”. If you can, be that person that is supportive to her and friendly to her and do the best you can, then that’s really— that’s going to help her out more in the long run. I hope that helps and good luck.

Episode 61: PTSD and Polyamory

A previous abusive experience of a polyam relationship is causing floods of emotions on your second try. Should you stop?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic: If I knew I couldn’t fail in my professional life, I would like to try to…

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 61 – PTSD and Polyamory

A previous abusive experience of a polyam relationship is causing floods of emotions on your second try. Should you stop? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – If I knew I couldn’t fail in my professional life, I would like to try to…

 

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

Letter:

My first relationship with poly[amory], I was 19 years old and very inexperienced, during that first relationship I was emotionally and sexually abused. I was in that relationship for 4 years and it has been over for quite a while.

I am in a very healthy relationship now and we have slowly been working up to poly[amory]. At first I was excited about starting it and trying it out in a healthy setting but I started to notice that I get triggered when my primary goes out with someone.

I want to be clear I do not have an issue with him and someone else, but when I have to face the fact we are in a poly[amorous] relationship head on, I start having a lot of flashbacks and feelings of fear. I become very afraid of losing my autonomy again and I get stuck in the depressive mindset I was in when I was in that abusive relationship.

My primary is very patient and does whatever he can to help. We maintain complete transparency in our communication and try to work through any issues that come up, but he is not a mental health professional and I understand his ability to help with this is limited.

I have a therapist I go to and what’s always gotten me through things most is exposure therapy which is very difficult especially with this. When he’s out with someone I don’t want to interrupt them, I think it would be unfair for his partner if he was focusing a lot of attention on me while they were together.

I also don’t want to burden a fun night with all the emotional pain I am going through, when there isn’t much he could do short of coming home to physically be with me. I would actually feel worse if he did that since I would be to blame for ruining a nice night. I try to distract myself with friends or really anything, but nothing seems to help.

I also don’t like the idea of going back to monogamy for a lot of reasons. I like how open the communication is now because we both know if we slack in that area things fall apart, so it really forces us to be conscious of our feelings and how we communicate them. While I tried to act on poly[am] for myself at first, I soon realized I personally am not in a mental state where I can pursue something between my PTSD and a very busy schedule.

I would like to have good experiences with poly[amory] I see a lot of value in it, but my past haunts me. I also hate the idea that I cannot enjoy something because of my ex, it feels like he still holds power over me and that idea makes me feel sick to my stomach. I have been slowly getting through these feelings and understanding them which helps me move past it, but it is a slow and incredibly painful process.

Additional Details: Previous relationship was polyamorous relationship involving a “one penis policy” and kink. You also had a previous upset period with your current partner that caused him to back out of a relationship.

Response:

So the first thing that I want to say to you here is that even if you hadn’t been through that previous abusive relationship, you might still feel this way. Your fears are very rational. And I feel like I know for myself being a person that has had problems like this — I haven’t been through that kind of abusive relationship that you described. But I have felt those fears. And I have felt that intensity of emotional pain. And I know kind of what it’s like when nothing can distract you, when you just feel so much fear and it feels like a lot.

And it feels like there’s nothing that you can do. And when you have anxiety and when you have mental health struggles, it can often feel like you’re being irrational. And that’s kind of like the thing that I want to fight back when everyone says that about themselves and also about other people. “Oh, it’s irrational, I’m being irrational, I’m being irrational”. Anxiety typically is a rational response to a previous environment that you’ve been in.

And that makes a lot of sense. It’s your brain trying to survive. A lot of my anxieties are health related. And when I’ve talked to my therapist about it, and I said, “You know, I will feel like literally like  I can’t breathe, something’s closing down my throat, things like that”. I’ll just fear the worst. And my GP will probably tell you how many times I’ve called him and been like, “What is this weird physical thing that’s happening to me?” And my therapist said, “You’re rationally looking for the reason why you are so anxious”.

You’re feeling a huge amount of anxiety. And so your brain is going “Well, if I feel this anxious, there must be something really, really wrong”. So that makes a lot of sense. And I think that the first step for dealing with the intensity of these feelings is a little bit of self compassion — a lot of compassion, actually. But give yourself a little bit of compassion here in that you’re not being irrational. Nothing about what you’re afraid of is silly. Nothing about what you’re being afraid of is out of touch.

And it can be so hard because I know that when you have these feelings, you think, “Why do I not believe that my partner loves me will stay with me? Do I not trust them?” And I all the things that you said about… I don’t want to ruin that night. I would feel worse if he came home because then I would have ruined it. I can’t tell you how much I relate to that. And I haven’t even gone through what you’ve gone through.

And what you’ve gone through, especially the details that you told me, you have literally every reason to be afraid of losing your autonomy. This is directly— especially if that was your first polyamorous experience. You’re going to be directly triggered by this because the first experience that you had was so bad. And that makes total sense.

And by the way, this isn’t your ex having power over you at all. This is you actually having power in that your brain is trying to help you survive. Your brain is saying, “Wait a minute, we’ve been through this before. No, no, no, no, don’t think so. This is bad get out”. And that is frustrating and that is difficult. But that is… that is your brain trying to help you. And that is one thing that helps in trying to address the situation.

I wrote a lot about this and I don’t know if you’ve checked it out yet. I wrote an article called “13 mistakes people make when they are trying polyamory” that goes through about how to identify your anchor, about how to hold on to that when you do have these experiences. There are options. You can be fully honest with your metamour about the situation. And I think that it depends on  how they feel about the situation.

But I know that if I was dating someone and they were like,  “Look, I have this other partner…” and it doesn’t have to be full honestly. You don’t have to even give them the details you gave me. If I were your primary — and if that’s how you want to do things, and make sure that you explain that to someone — But if I were your partner, and I was going on a date, I would probably say to them, “I have a partner right now who this is their second experience of polyamory. Their first experience was extremely abusive. They are going to really struggle while I’m out. Could I take about five minutes, just to call and check on them?”

I don’t think that that’s too much to ask. And I don’t think that that is going to suck the fun out of the night. I don’t want to compare it— this is a little bit of a bad comparison. But for the sake of of helping to understand it. If you were their kid, like and I know that that’s not great. But like, if they were a parent, if they were somebody, or even if they had someone they were caring for like an older relative, it wouldn’t be out of touch, or it wouldn’t be bad, or it wouldn’t be it wouldn’t be unreasonable for them in a date or the night out to say, “I just need five minutes to call and check on somebody”.

That is okay. That’s not a bad thing. If that sucks the fun out of their night completely, I’d be a little bit worried about your partner and their boundaries. But it doesn’t sound like that’s the case with your primary. It sounds like they fully—  you already had an issue where, and that— you had a lot of emotional pain. And they backed away, I can understand why they did that. I think that that kind of in a way it kind of works against the situation.

I’m not trying to say anything bad about your primary. I’m not trying to say anything bad about you. But sometimes the only way to get through this emotional pain and get through this anxiety — you know it if you’ve had exposure therapy. You have to sit through it. You have to sit through those nights and you have to see your partner come back to you and know that you can trust them and know that it’s safe. And it is like exposure therapy, because you are going to have to — the first couple of nights that the partner that I have and that lives with me, the first couple of nights, they didn’t even go on a date.

They didn’t even— they literally just went to a party, not even a date with anybody else. But the first couple of nights they spent out of the house and they weren’t even staying out all night. I couldn’t sleep. I was an emotional wreck. I have that same reaction in other relationships that I’ve been in. And over time, as we’ve established trust and established  a connection, I’m less worried. Now I can sleep fine. I’m happy to have the whole bed to myself now. It’s no problem.

But those first couple of nights were really, really hard because I had a very understandable fear that they were going to leave and I didn’t even go through what you went through. So not only do you have that understandable fear from the society that’s around you that says, “Hey, the best… the truest love is exclusive romantic love yada, yada”. You have all of that on top of you as well. So it’s going to be hard for you to just snap out of it.

You’re not going to snap out of it. And then on top of that you have this previous relationship that you had, which was really horrible. And sounded incredibly abusive and put you in a lot of really uncomfortable situations. And I think that it makes total and complete sense for you to be afraid. So don’t beat yourself up too much about that. I do think you have to sit through the pain and a little bit.

You can try to distract yourself. That has honestly helped me sometimes. One weekend, I think that my partner was at like a weekend long convention or something. I went to Sweden to visit my friend. That was helpful. I still felt a little bit shit. But like that was much more helpful than sitting at home all by myself. So it does help to do stuff like that. And don’t expect yourself to feel 100% happy. But it will distract you a little bit. But you do just have to over time, learn that you can trust again, learn that you’re safe again.

It’s going to take a long time for your nervous system basically to get back to a calm state. Just because you’ve been through a lot of really horrible things. Give yourself a little bit of credit. I think when it comes to meeting your metamour, and meeting the person that he’s interested in, I completely understand your hesitance to do so. I think that one thing is important to remember here when it comes to both meeting your metamour and when it comes to feeling all this fear — what’s helped me — and I wrote a little bit about it in the article that I mentioned, which I do think you should check out. But what really helps me is to absolutely face my fear in terms of how much control I have of the situation. And this is something that has helped me generally with my anxiety.

It doesn’t mean that my anxiety goes completely away. But sometimes it has been something that has really, really helped me. And the fact of the matter is, is that there is only so much that I can control in these situations. If my partner decides that they don’t like me anymore, falls out of love with me, I can’t control that situation. I think in the past, because of the things that I have been through, I have felt like— I’ve been in a lot of really bad situations, and part of my brain that helps me survive has taught me, “Oh, if we do X, Y, and Z, then we can control the situation”.

A lot of people who’ve been through trauma have that feeling. And that is because it’s a lot better in the moment for you than total helplessness, total helplessness and feeling “well, there’s nothing I can do”, especially if you’ve been through — if you have CPTSD. And he’s been in a situation where you literally can’t stop, you know, what’s happening on a continuous basis. And it sounds like that might have been situation that you’re in.

But you you think, “Oh, if I just do things better”. And it’s the same kind of philosophy behind victim blaming. It’s the same kind of philosophy behind, “If I just don’t wear this skirt, if I don’t wear this thing that I won’t be attacked”. It’s a philosophy that helps us deal with being an under constant duress, because it’s way more empowering than just going “Well, there’s absolutely nothing I can do”. That is disempowering in the moment. That doesn’t feel good.

And in the moment that can be really, really hard to mentally cope with. The problem with that is that in that time it served us. In that in the time when I was under a lot more duress and a lot more threat and danger and harm, it served me to believe that I could control the situation if I did x, y, and z. It distracted me from the harm, it distracted me from a lot of things. But now that I’m not in that situation, what this actually tells me is that all of the things that I have experienced are my fault, because I didn’t do x y z.

And that’s the problem with this mindset is that when you believe that you can control whether or not your metamour likes you, whether or not your partner loves you, all those sorts of things, later on down the line, you are going to be in this constant vigilance state where you are looking out for anything that you can do wrong, looking out for any mistakes that you can make, and you’re unable to enjoy actual facets of life. And that’s what anxiety is.

It’s like the constant worry that somehow I’m going to make the wrong decision. And that will ultimately cost me the situation. Now, obviously, you can be a total jerk. You can insult your metamour. You can insult your partner, and they’re less likely to want to be around you if you’re a jerk. But there is only so much that you can do to control whether or not they are in love with you. If your partner is the type of person to meet someone else and chuck you out the window, you can’t control that by being a good partner.

You can’t. And the problem with this whole philosophy that’s going on in your brain is that — I see it illustrated in when you say you’re frustrated because it feels like your ex still has control of you. So it’s like you feel that you can stop this if you do X, Y and Z. And that’s not to say that you should go into total helplessness because I think that’s also sometimes a response. But it’s to accept what you can’t control. Because once you do that, the burden that you face, like a lot of this distress that you’re going through is “This is a dangerous situation, I need to get out”.

It’s a fight or flight, nervous system response. And it can be hard to transition to a calmer state because you think you have control over the situation. If he comes home, then you will have solved that situation. And in the process, the emotional pain I think also comes from — it blames you. It puts so much weight on your shoulders to prevent something from happening to you. And that causes a huge amount of pain. In the past and now when I’m trying to face my fears — And I’m not saying I don’t get anxiety because it’s still I still get it.

I still worry. But it helps me to go “How much of this can I actually control? What can I do right now in the moment that is going to change even the worst outcome that I think will happen? So if I’m sitting up at night and I think, “Oh my god, I have a pain somewhere. This must be something terrible wrong with my health”. Yeah, I’ll still be anxious about it but the constant kind of push to have an obsessive reaction —  obsessive compulsive reaction which I have had in the past. To stop the compulsion reaction, I could go up, I could sit up all night looking on Web MD. I don’t do that because I go, “Okay, if there is something truly terribly wrong with my health, how much can I actually control about it in this situation?”

You’re just still going to feel like shit.  I would just prepare for that. Batten down the hatches, you’re going to feel like shit. But recognising how much you can control of the situation can remove the burden from your shoulders of being so constantly vigilant to find some sign that your partner is leaving, something you’re doing wrong, some little mistake that. Because we all fuck up.

We all make mistakes. And it’s not to say that you can’t make a mistake that really messes up your partner. But you need to have a reckoning that this constant vigilance over that isn’t necessarily going to prevent you from making a mistake. So that’s been something that’s really really helped me. Other things that have helped me during these times… I honestly used to write love letters to my partner when they were out with other people or at parties or things where I was just feeling so I would try and focus on that.

That was one of my anchors, in addition to wanting to be in a polyamorous relationship myself and wanting that freedom. Another one of my anchors was thinking about all the positive stuff that we had together. And, and just gratitude — being grateful for some of the things that we shared, being grateful for some of the ways that they were able to understand my anxiety. That also really, really helped me. You should still expect to feel a little bit shit.

But being a little bit more grounded in the situation by focusing on what can I control about this? Over time will really, really help you. It’s explained a little bit better in “13 mistakes people make when people—“ look, I can’t even say it right. It’s on Non-Monogamy Help dot com if you scroll all the way down. But check it out. That will help you learn how to find an anchor, learn how to hold on to it, and also be a little bit more compassionate with yourself.

It’s really hard when — the biggest problem I have with a lot of intro to polyamory stuff, and just all of the things is that it just makes it seem like you should just become a Vulcan. And just have no emotion and that if you have any emotion then there’s something wrong with you and having any feeling but love and happiness and compersion for what your partner’s doing means that you’re a terrible jealous controlling wench.

It’s very dichotomous. It’s not really helpful. I definitely think you should check out the work of Clementine Morrigan. Clementine writes a lot about trauma and polyamory. In fact, I think Clementine has a workshop about it. And I’ve really appreciated reading what they write, and a lot of things they talk about. The nervous system response. They have an Instagram, which you can check out. They also have a Patreon. I definitely think you should check out — go to their Instagram. Just read through a lot of things that they have.

I don’t have their Patreon, so but there must be more things there on trauma and polyamory that’s super helpful. And I think that would also really, really help you. I think you might want to also think about working out some agreements with your therapist about boundaries, about texting out of hours and things like that. Because I’ve never had a therapist that allowed me to text them out of hours. I have had partners who have had therapists that allowed that.

You know when your partner is going to be having a date and you can plan to have your therapist — just say, “Can I text you during these times just in case I’m going through a lot and I need someone?” And reach out to your friends — hopefully your friends who are polyamory friendly, and have the you know — they should be there for you too. They should be there to help you. So reach out to them.

That is basically my advice in this situation. To kind of sum up, please be kind to yourself. Your feelings are very rational. You’ve gone through a lot. And understandably you wish you didn’t have to feel all these feelings. You said it yourself in your letter about, you know, how you’re kind of— didn’t feel it for a while and now you’re kind of being forced to reckon with some of that. It’s triggering a lot. This kind of trying another polyamorous relationship is triggering a lot for you. And that makes total sense. Be a little bit kinder to yourself. You’re allowed to fuck up. You’re allowed to make mistakes. You’re not a terrible person and you’re not a horrible person for feeling all this.

You’re not irrational. Try to remember all that. I think that there are things that you can do with your partner to help you feel a little bit grounded. Writing love letters or gratitude letters to them, seeing if they can take five minutes out of their date night to give you a call. One thing that I still like my partner to do is even we’re away I’d like for them to say goodnight

to me. That’s a nice thing that I just like. If they’re really busy

and they are out partying or whatever and can’t and that’s fine, but it’s something that I like.

And I think actually Clementine Morrigan literally has a post on Instagram just a few days ago about needs and requests like that, which is really great to check out. But think about things that your partner can do. One call to you for five minutes isn’t going to ruin their night. And it really shouldn’t. I think that you should also remember that your ex does not hold power over you. This is not your ex still controlling you. This is a trauma response to what you’ve been through. And this is your brain trying to help you.

And then also, again, to remind you, one good thing is just to face those fears. Recognise what you can and can’t control, check out that article that I mentioned that is on Non-Monogamy Help dot com. Check those things out to figure out like what your anchors are and how you can deal with that and cope with that.

Last but not least, you’re going to have to sit through some of the pain. And you’re gonna have to go through some of the difficulties and see that your partner is still there for you, in order to basically learn slowly that you can still trust in the situation. And give yourself a little bit of kindness and compassion around that. See if your therapist is available for you to text. Reach out to your friends. Yeah, all of that. I hope that helps and good luck.