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?

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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.