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?

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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.