How do you know your relationship is ‘serious’? Is asking about it going to bug your partner too much?

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

Discussion Topic: Would you lie to make your partner happy? When does a good lie become a bad lie?

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Episode 27 – Signs of Seriousness

How do you know your relationship is ‘serious’? Is asking about it going to bug your partner too much? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – Would you lie to make your partner happy?

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 partner and I have been dating for more than two years, almost three years now, if we count the long distance time. I’m female hetero flexible, I tend to have just one main partner and just enjoy some occasional ONS, fwb, or threesomes with my partner.

My partner is poly[am], straight male. He’s said that he has romantic feelings for several girls at the same time. He’s never defined any of his relationships, he calls all of the girls he’s seeing “friends”. Although I feel and I’ve told him that I see him as my main partner, and I feel that he sees me most often.

We’ve been always open. He vaguely lets me know that he was seeing someone else, on and off, through social media posts. But he seldom talks directly about his feelings. I tried to ask many questions in the beginning, but I realized that he is just not the person who could talk clearly about his own feelings, so I stopped to ask those questions that I know will never get any clear response.

If I don’t ask questions such as… “How do you perceive our relationship?” “How do you feel about the other girls that you’re dating?” “What are your relationships with others like?” etc… things would be fine. But he asks me those questions when I start to see other people, and I would always answer them as clearly as I could. So in regards to information equality, I feel unbalanced, but I can’t change it.

Yesterday we went to an orgy party that his friends held. We had a very good time there.  It was good vibe, really exciting, arousing and relaxing. After that he went on to a road trip with the group of friends. I have to work so I came back to the city. I know that he’s had a romantic history with a girl who’s also going on that road trip. I don’t know what their relationship is like nowadays… I guess they might rekindle a bit during this trip.

But I feel like… I hope he’s more “serious” with me than with others. We’ve talked about plans like having kids or maybe marriage, or maybe cohabitation…but it just never happened.

I know he would be turned off if I express my insecurity… especially when he’s on a trip with another lover. I’ve never gone on a trip with him because I always have to work. And apparently his other lover is way successful than me career-wise…

Should I tell him all these feelings that are bugging me? Or should I just let go of them and keep the peace when he comes back?

Response:

So there’s a couple of things going on here. I think that your biggest problem is the communication and equality, which you point out. I think some people— and I think it’s fair that if your partner doesn’t really define relationships in the same way that you do, you’re never going to be able to force him to define things. In some relationships, that’s kind of the case like for me, I definitely define relationships very clearly. But I’ve dated people who, you know, if it were me in that situation, I would consider the people they see my partners, but they don’t really consider them to be partners.

How people define a relationship is really, really subjective. And it can probably be really hard if someone says like, “How do you perceive our relationship? How do you feel about the other people you’re seeing?” Sometimes you don’t really know and sometimes, especially for some people, probing too much into that kind of ruins things a bit because they kind of want to let things organically go on their own.

I’m in a situation where I do understand where you’re coming from— where you kind of, you want to have a bit of an anchor. And you want to have a good idea of, you know, how you are in your partner’s life. But I think that you should probably examine a little bit more where this anxiety comes from, because right now you’re in a relationship, which doesn’t give you a lot of easy signs of security.

So there’s a concept called the relationship escalator, which is really, really, really, really great. I suggest you Google it. And it’s all about how the society that we live in unless you live in a completely different society. And if you do then, I apologise. But a society at least that I live in. We have the signs of security within a relationship or the stages of relationship, which is called the “relationship escalator”. And it’s these things which in monogamy, you have a hint of how serious something is. And so you feel more grounded and more stable because these little things that you do like such as moving in such as you know, becoming exclusive, such as doing this or

that— the things you talk about, like having kids, maybe marriage, cohabitation.

Those are really kind of landmarks on this journey. And those ground you and help you figure out whether or not things are serious with this person. And that’s very understandable of a thing to want. But within non-monogamy and polyamory, people may not want those same things and they may not have those same kind of markers of stability. So you kind of have to learn how to create your own stability within things. And I think maybe you’re clinging a bit to these kind of definitions of what makes you serious, because you’re anxious, you know, and it It makes total sense.

There’s nothing wrong with you being anxious, like you’re— you’ve been together two to three years. And, you know, that is a fair amount of time. But it’s— you’re still kind of building your relationship with each other. So you’re trying to figure out, you know, what— how stable is the situation? And you want to have that stability because it’s a scary situation to be in. It’s always scary when we try new things ao we’re always trying to look for that stability.

So you’re trying to find these— you’re trying to find out if you are more serious than other relationships because you’re scared that you’re going to be replaced by these other relationships. And the thing that I think would be helpful for you to realise is that, separate to what you want out of a out of a relationship structure, there is this constant fear that people have, even if they are monogamous, of being replaced by someone and… ultimately, there isn’t anything that you can do to be— to avoid being replaced. And that can be a really hard pill to swallow.

I think what you’re trying to do by sort of asking these questions and trying to figure out where you are, as far as how serious he is with you, is you’re trying to figure out a way for you to feel more secure in this. For you to sort of quiet that fear inside you that’s sort of worried about being replaced. But the thing of it is, is people have been in like 25 year relationships, where they have houses and cars and children with people, and their marriages have broken up. So I think that what you need to remember when you’re kind of grasping for this is that regardless of whether or not you have kids, whether you co-habitate, whether you do all of these things that signify seriousness, that isn’t going to completely and utterly prevent him from leaving you.

There’s nothing that you can do that is going to prevent that from happening. And even though that’s really, really scary, it can actually be really, really freeing for you. Because right now, you know, when your mind is going, “Oh, I’m scared, I’m going to be replaced. I’m scared, I’m going to be replaced”. It’s sort of going, what can I do to stop that from happening? I know, I’ll ask him, I’ll make sure that I’m in a serious place in his life. I’ll do all these little things. And I’ll, you know, I’ll make sure that I’m, you know, well glued into his life and then I won’t be replaced because it’ll be hard to replace me.

And it’s— that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself. It’s a lot of pressure to put on your shoulders that you have to prevent someone from leaving you by being the best partner in the world, by providing, by doing this, by doing that, and really, it’s easier to take the pressure off yourself. So that’s kind of one aspect of this is that you are kind of clinging to some seriousness in this so that you can feel more stable with him. And, you know, you— I think when you ask these questions of him, what you’re trying to find is him saying that you are really important to him.

And if that’s what you want from those discussions, then that’s maybe what you need to ask. Instead of trying to figure out how he feels about other people, maybe you should only focus with him on, you know, how he feels about you. But at the same time, like I said before, you really need to remember that like… some people— when he asks you these questions, you have a clear answer, because this is how you think, but this may not be how he thinks, and that doesn’t mean that you aren’t important to him.

It just may mean that, you know, he just doesn’t have that kind of a mind or he doesn’t really think of things in that way. He kind of maybe sounds like a person that likes to let things happen organically. However, all that said, I do think that it’s fair for you to want some idea of you know, what your plan is as well as what his plan is. And I think that’s really what you can do. You know, you can’t really make him talk if he’s not willing to talk. And that’s an issue. And I’m going to address that a little bit later on.

But what you can do is you can try to be a little bit more clear about what you want. So rather than just trying to figure out where he’s going with this, try to examine what your ideal relationship structure is like. So do you want to be more serious with him? Because you’re nervous about being replaced? Or do you want to be more serious with him because what you want is a domestic relationship with one person? You know, you said— You said in the beginning, you tend to have just one partner and enjoy occasion— I don’t know what ONS is admittedly, but you like to just have kind of occasional other sexual partnerships, but you kind of want a structure where you have one main partner.

Is that because you’re afraid of being replaced or is that because that is definitely something that you want? And I think that if that is something you’re sure that you want, then what you need to do is you need to come to him and you need to say, “Hey, this is the kind of structure that I want”. It might be that that’s not the kind of structure that he wants. So you might not ever get that reassurance from him that you are “the serious relationship” because that might not be how he wants to operate.

He might be kind of more of a relationship anarchist where he sees, you know, all of his romantic and relationships as well as friendships— You know, you said he calls all of the girls he’s seeing or women he’s seeing friends and that may be his true feelings about it. He doesn’t do one relationship as more serious than another relationship. And it’s not that any one of you is wrong in terms of how you want to do relationships. It’s just that you do them differently.

So if you know that then you can then decide okay, I might continue to have a relationship with this person, but is this going to be my one main partner? Or is this more of a relationship that would operate better for me and I would have way less anxiety if it was one of those occasional relationships? And he might have less anxiety because, you know, you have this really— you have this separation between your main partner and your other partners, and he just doesn’t have that. And that just may be how he does things. And that’s okay.

I do think, though, that you’re completely fair and feeling unbalanced as far as the communication goes. And I think it’s fair enough that you investigate that a little bit. So you know, you— it’d be one thing if you like, asked him all these probing questions about like, “How do you perceive our relationship? And how do you feel about the other people you’re seeing?” And he never asked you any of that, but he’s asking you that and it might be that he’s asking you that because he knows— He’s also anxious about being replaced, but he knows that you do this kind of structure and you do operate this way.

So he’s asking you that because he knows he’ll get the reassurance that he needs by asking you that. But you need to talk to him a little bit. Point this incongruity out to him and say, “Hey, I noticed that, like, I try to figure out where your other relationships are and where I am in your life. And you don’t really give me answers. But when you know, when I see someone new, you ask me these questions, and I do give you answers and I feel that that’s unbalanced”. And I think that you— you’re fair to ask that.

And you might want to, if you have the option, find a polyamory friendly therapist who can like sit down and talk to you both about this kind of communication and equity that you have. Because I think it might— it’s one thing if he just doesn’t do relationships that way, and that’s fine. But he needs to also understand that it’s not really fair, in terms of him seeking reassurance from you. Like you need to find a way to seek reassurance from him. And it might be that the reassurance that you need, if you need reassurance that you know, you’re one main partner and that’s the agreement that you have, then you’re not going to be able to get that reassurance from him if that’s not how he does relationships.

But what— if you want reassurance that you are— that he cares about you, you’re gonna have to find some way of doing that that isn’t focused around these kind of traditional means of seriousness that’s cohabitation or children or marriage. It might be that he doesn’t have any interest in those things or that those things just don’t represent the same things to him as they do to you.

So, you know, and also, I think you need to just accept a bit that you’re going to have anxiety about this. You’re going to have feelings that are bugging you, even when he’s on a trip with another person that he fancies, like, it’s gonna— It’s going to make you anxious no matter what, even if you— I think even if you did have these, like, serious signs from him, or even if he said, “You know, listen, you’re my one partner, other people are casual”. I think you would still feel anxious about that, and that’s okay.

And I think that the biggest thing that a lot of people don’t do when they do open their relationships or they practice polyamory or they’re non-monogamous is they don’t really give themselves permission to be anxious about anything, because you’re kind of expected to be happy about everything. And to be anxious about anything, it makes it seem like you’re trying to control things. And— so give yourself permission to be anxious.

The other thing that’s kind of— and I don’t know if this is something that he’s made you feel or if it’s something that you’re just kind of thinking that will happen, you said, “I know he would be turned off if I express my insecurity”. That’s not a really great sign. Like I feel like people need to be— if they’re going to practice polyamory, and if they’re going to have multiple relationships, sometimes what I find is that there are people who get into polyamory or who get into non-monogamy, because they— It’s not that they don’t want one relationship or that they want multiple relationships. It’s that they want to have all of the good parts of a relationship, but they don’t want to have to deal with the emotional responsibility that often comes with having a relationship.

So they are non-monogamous in a way that allows them to have all the good parts of everybody. But not have to deal with anybody’s, you know, emotional reassurance, the sort of effort and input that it takes to have a have a romantic relationship. They may not do well with monogamy, because it’s intense in that one to one connection. You definitely have to provide that. So they’ll move into a non a non-monogamy space, because they can then find these sort of other smaller connections where they can just have fun, and they can just do whatever and they don’t have to be an emotional source of comfort or security for anybody.

And you know, if that’s how people want to live their life, it’s absolutely fine. But I do think that people need to be a little bit more upfront about that. And what worries me about the situation and the things that you’ve described is that you’ve talked about how, you know, he calls all the people that he’s seeing friends, he doesn’t seem to want to give you a reassurance about the seriousness of your relationship. He doesn’t really answer questions about how he feels about other people versus you.

You’re seeking this kind of serious level with him that he’s not reciprocating. And then on top of this, he— you feel like he wouldn’t respond well to you coming to him with with your fears. And that’s really not a good sign in general like I— even, you know, even your friends, you should be able to come to your friends and say, “I’m really scared about this”. If you can’t come to him with your fears and your insecurities, then why are you in a relationship with him, essentially? Like you shouldn’t— your partner, someone that you’re romantically involved with. Like, you know, you may do friendships just as deeply as you do romantic partnerships. But regardless, like your partner should be the person that you can come to with your insecurity.

And I don’t know if this is because of the things he said or maybe I also feel like for a lot of people, expressing your insecurity and expressing a need is a really scary thing to do and I think sometimes the polyamory advice that you get is always, “Talk to them about it, talk to them about it. Talk to them about it.” And it kind of ignores how really difficult that is. It’s really hard to talk about the things that you need. So it might be that you’re afraid that he’s going to be turned off, but he has never expressed that. But I think that’s something to really think about. Like, is it just that you’re scared to say something about it? Because you’re afraid that, you know, you shouldn’t be insecure or you think you should just be able to deal with it? Or is it that he doesn’t react well, to you coming up to him and saying, “I’m scared”.

Because if he doesn’t react well to that, then a lot of this stuff is moot. And I— because what you really need it sounds like from— even if he was an occasional partner, you should still feel comfortable enough to come to him with fears. That should just be— that should be a thing that should feel comfortable to come to a friend with. So you should feel comfortable coming to him. And if he’s doing something that makes you think that he won’t respond well, or he hasn’t responded well in the past to you saying “I’m really scared about this” then maybe he isn’t the relationship that you need right now.

So to kind of sum up everything here, I think first and foremost, it would be helpful for you to figure out if this concept of one main partner and some occasional other partners that are kind of more sexually based is the structure that you definitely want. And if it’s something that you want, because it’s something that you want— it’s not something that you want, because you’re afraid of losing him. It’s definitely like a structure that you want, and it might be hard to parse. But I think that that’s really helpful because what you don’t want to do is make decisions based upon being afraid of being replaced and based upon just serving him. You want to make decisions that are based on serving your needs.

So figure out if that’s the structure that you want. Then I think that you need to think about the communication inequalities here and you need to directly address that with him and you need to say, “This is the structure that I want. This is what I want you to be as a partner. This is, you know, maybe we can work together to figure out what ‘serious’ means with each other. But this is what I want”. And you need to figure out if that’s actually what he wants. And he needs to be able to say it because sometimes— sometimes people don’t have the gumption.

And they just sort of allow people to get to a point where they break up with them, because they don’t have the ability within themselves to come to that person and say, “Actually, do you know what, this isn’t the kind of relationship that I want. And I don’t think that we should have that kind of relationship”. He might kind of make it be you that has to do that, unfortunately. So you kind of have to figure that out.

Maybe he isn’t that one main partner that you need, because he’s a kind of person that just doesn’t have that kind of structure and doesn’t want that kind of structure. And that is okay, but he really should communicate that clearly instead of kind of leaving you in the dark, and I think that you should really address that.

I lastly, think that— really explore this issue with being afraid to come to him with your insecurity. I think in terms of like physicality, like, you know— it’s probably not helpful to bring this up while he’s on a road trip and while he’s not physically with you because this is quite a serious kind of in person sit down discussion, and unfortunately might just kind of have to bite the bullet while he’s off on this road trip. But remember, as I said before, in terms of being replaced like nothing— nothing you do— you can’t prevent being replaced. And putting that burden on your shoulders is partially what’s giving you so much anxiety because you’re trying to find purchase. You’re trying to figure out how can I make sure that I’m secure and stable in this? And you’re putting that responsibility on you.

And if you take a step back and you reframe it and you say, “Okay, I can’t be responsible for ensuring that this person never will never leave me”. You can’t be responsible for that. There’s nothing you can do to prevent that. There have been people in relationships with kids with houses with the most tied together lives you could ever imagine whose partners fall out of love with them. And that just happens. There isn’t anything that you can actually do to prevent that. And once you take that responsibility off yourself, I think you might find actually that your anxiety goes down a little bit, and it can go down a little bit temporarily, while he’s on this road trip.

And then when he comes back, you need to kind of address these inequities and the different ways that you see relationships. I think, honestly, what it sounds like is that he does relationships a little bit differently than you do. And you just— you kind of want this structure and he doesn’t necessarily operate that way. And he just hasn’t been able to say, “Hey, look, this isn’t how I do things. This is how I do things”. And it would be a lot easier for you if he did that. So maybe you in this case need to

just come to him and say “Hey, this is the kind of relationship structure that I want. Is this what you want?” And if it isn’t what he wants and maybe you need to— he can be an occasional partner and you can find that one partner who can give you that reassurance and that stability that you need. Yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

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