Rules about love

My partner and I got married recently, which in these COVID-19 times was amazing! A month before the wedding however he said that he would like to start exploring non-monogamy separately. In the past we would explore together or under the same roof. I agreed and We spoke about acceptable boundaries at the time.

He quickly found two connections which escalated quickly, the two girls really liked each other and they formed a type of trio. I felt pretty left out as the idea of three girls and a guy dynamic wasn’t appealing. One of the things I asked at the beginning was if there were feelings of love, to speak to me about it first. After a weekend away with the girls I asked him if he felt like he would fall in love with the one he was closest to. He replied, ‘yes I think we are – we discussed it at the weekend’. Admittedly they were drunk but it felt like a huge betrayal.

We then had productive deep and meaningful conversations following this as in their NRE I had felt frankly forgotten about. He kept certain things from me as he didn’t want to have the conversations which may cause upset. I asked if we could just focus on us for a while and he agreed.

He then said the day after that he felt sad and that he didn’t want to change the dynamic with the other girls (one especially). He did agree to put more effort into our relationship and be more mindful of me. The one thing I do not doubt from him is his love for me. One of the things we agreed to was for me to feel more involved in their relationship for which I felt positive about.

I just can’t shake a feeling from which I recognise from previous relationships. That uncomfortable feeling when an ex-partner starts dating someone else. The difference is we’re still together and it’s making me feel quite defensive and critical. I just can’t shake it, the thought of the other girl is in my mind a lot, the comparisons and what my mind conjures up when they’re together. It’s starting to affect my own emotional wellbeing and I’m feeling sad a lot of the time. I think it’s feeding into a gremlin I formed as a child of not feeling good enough, and having a scarcity of love growing up.

I love my partner so much, I need a way of reducing the negative thoughts and feelings so that I can feel better in myself and the relationships. I’m pretty sure I’m not a hoot to live with currently.

Update: the week after we had the big chats he had a therapy session which made him realise that he may not be in love with the girl, that there could have been an element of codependency. The prior chat we had though was like a stab, it hurt me and the wound is still there. The potential of it happening again with another girl in the future is there too.

There is an element here that you really can’t escape which I see you attempting to do in some ways — you’re going to be afraid that your partner will leave you for someone else. If, in previous relationships, you haven’t had good experiences with it, then it’s going to be even more of an anxious time for you this time around.

This is likely the reason behind you created this rule — where if he felt “feelings of love” he had to speak to you “at the beginning”. While this may sound like a good rule, the problem with it is that it’s not as clear as it may sound and it doesn’t actually help. In general, what it seems like you actually want is reassurance and also to not be left in the dust when your partner gets involved with someone new, which is a completely understandable rule. But you can’t create that with this rule. And all it ends up doing is creating these feelings of betrayal when he doesn’t come to you at the right time to have a conversation.

Furthermore, you say he’s kept things from you because he doesn’t want to have upsetting conversations. It’s hard to say whether or not there’s an expectation of you to know more than needs to be said because that’s often what happens when people are worried about their partners leaving — they think that more information will prevent their partners from leaving them especially if they have previously been doing non-monogamy as a couple.

However, he shouldn’t be avoiding conversations because they might be upsetting. If he wants to keep some things private — because his partners do have a right to their privacy with him as well — then he should be able to tell you instead of avoiding it. He can put more effort into your relationship without changing the dynamic or telling you details about his other relationships. I feel like your anxiety is pushing for you to know more details and to be more involved thinking it can and will change his behaviour, but realistically I don’t think that would help — and it’s not really essentially fair for you and him to agree things about relationships he has with other people.

Ultimately there is going to be some discomfort. Instead of avoiding it, you’re going to need to sit through some of it. You’re going to have to trust your partner will support you when you need to and be able to have discussions with them if they are shifting focus from you. If you have a partner who is not good at attending to your needs, no amount of rules or involvement in his relationships is going to be able to change that.

I wrote an article about mistakes people make when they begin polyamory and some of those preemptive steps in terms of finding your anchor and also facing your fears might be helpful for you. Definitely also make sure that, if it’s accessible for you, that you are doing some therapy on your own and able to focus on some coping techniques for dealing with anxiety. Remember there is only so much you can prevent on your own.

I hope that helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

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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.

Cheating and polyamory

I am at my wit’s end. I was engaged to be married this summer; in the fall (we postponed for COVID), my fiancé confessed he had cheated on me extensively over years. I already had a bunch of concerns about his behavior in our relationship that I sort of stuffed and I tried many times over the years to talk about what he needed or how we could be monogamish and have me still feel safe, which he did not engage in. I would try to talk and it would go nowhere; I would send an email afterwards and get no reply. So that he was hiding these things all along is galling.

And I don’t trust him to put my needs first, to have boundaries, to prioritize the relationship or make me safe. And I worry I would spend our lives together miserable if I keep having to deal with this fallout when he’s attracted to and flirting with people. Do couples ever switch over and have it work? I’m so aggravated and he won’t even tell me what vision he has or what his needs are—and even by opening the conversation I feel like he is slapping me in the face after all the lying and refusal to be open before.

People do switch over and have it work — but it has to begin from trust.

If your partner is cheating extensively on top of outright refusing to respond to your attempts for communication, that doesn’t really sound good at all. Even if he is turning over a new leaf by telling you, if he won’t tell you what his needs are and refuses to have a conversation with you about it then…. it just doesn’t bode well. And it will continue not to bode well for you.

Ask yourself why you are stuffing down all of the concerns you’ve had over the years and why you have stayed despite the fact that he has repeatedly shown you that he refuses to communicate, that he doesn’t have the drive or the ability to have these important conversations with you? Even if he didn’t want to have a primary style relationship with you, he still needs to be able to communicate that and if he out and out refuses to do that, there is not much you can do.

I might be tempted to ask how he told you or why he told you and if he made an earnest commitment to changing his behaviour and even seeing a relationship therapist who is familiar with polyamory but… this feels like you are going to entering what seems like a relationship style that doesn’t appeal to you to appease someone who is not meeting your basic communication needs.

Are you getting what you need out of this relationship? Are there areas where he is sacrificing for your benefit? Or are you just continuously pouring into something that is draining you? There’s a lot here you’re not saying so perhaps there is a good amount of sacrifice on his part and he is promising to turn over a new leaf in a way that feels different and earnest and, if so, you could considering some couples counselling to help you with some of the feelings of betrayal from the cheating.

But really consider whether or not his behaviour will change. I wish I had better things to say, but I don’t hold out much hope for this. I hope it helps still, and good luck.

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

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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.

Giving up a marriage

I’m a married man of 30 years, and have made the decision that the rest of my years, which hopefully amount to a couple of decades will be spent pursuing non-monogamous relationship, polyamory lifestyle.

Am I being selfish, or do I need to just give myself the permission to live without traditional terms and categories and pursue my best life ever?

Is it selfish to make a decision in your life that will overall increase your happiness? Some people might think it is. I could give you a value judgement based off of my own morality and ethics and then you can use that to decide how you would like to proceed — but I would always encourage you to think about your own ethics.

You say you’re married but you don’t give much context beyond that and that context is key. So many people don’t find out that non-monogamy is a valid way to live their lives until years after they have married, “settled down”, and had children. You don’t say you have children but, in this example, do I think it is selfish for those types of people to break their marriages and families to pursue polyamory? No. Because I don’t think that we should believe a monogamous heterosexual picket fence “traditional” nuclear family is the only or ideal way for a family to live. And I don’t think that divorce should be this big cultural stain on people’s lives.

But if that same person were to up and leave their kids with no further involvement in their life, then yeah, I would consider that selfish. In the same way I’d consider someone selfish if they ditched one monogamous relationship like that for another and ignored their kids — it’s nothing to do with polyamory and everything to do with the context.

There is unlikely going to be a way, even if you weren’t married, to leave a monogamous relationship without pain. Breakups just aren’t painless for the most part. Avoiding it or trying to be happy within a monogamous relationship when you aren’t isn’t going to help that. One might say dragging a person along in a monogamous partnership when you don’t want to be in it instead of cutting them lose so they can spend their time finding someone who does want to be there is far more selfish.

The one thing I would challenge is the assumption that non-monogamy will give you “your best life ever”. While it might be true that you will probably feel a certain amount of freedom in non-monogamy that you do not currently feel, there are downsides to any path you choose in life. The more relationships you have, the more heartbreak you risk. Things get complicated and twisted. It’s not any more or less easy than monogamy can be.

Perhaps the reason you’re afraid to make this leap is because you’re worried that you might make a mistake, but mistakes happen whether we worry or are aware of them or not. It’s not completely preventable. Which isn’t to say you should fling yourself at any whim that comes across your mind, but if you have given something a decent amount of thought and are operating with the best of your faculties, that’s all you can really do in the end.

I wrote two articles that are pretty much for beginners, a sort of Polyam 101 about the mistakes people often make and how to avoid them and a Polyam 102 about the mistakes I specifically made and what I wish I knew before I tried non-monogamy. You might find those helpful your thinking process. Pursuing what you want is important, but just remember that focusing inward and making sure you’re happy doesn’t mean being cruel. It requires a balance. I would seek a polyamory friendly therapist if you’re still struggling to work it out.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Episode 60: Temporarily Open

Can opening your relationship temporarily work to address an incompatibility?

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

Discussion Topic: How do you prefer to be broken up with?

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

Episode 60 – Temporarily Open

Can opening your relationship temporarily work to address an incompatibility? 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 do you prefer to be broken up with?

 

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 boyfriend and I have been in a long term closed relationship for almost 6 years. Recently he brought up the idea of wanting an open relationship. Neither of us have been with other people ever or have been in an open relationship before. We decided on this after multiple occasions where we both felt we weren’t having certain needs met. My boyfriend is a very sexual person and I am just not as physical. We’ve talked about if we want this to be temporary or not and as of right now we want it to be temporary.

After listening to many podcasts of yours, we had in depth talks about boundaries and things we should establish for this transition. I am open to the idea but I don’t know the best way to go about this without someone getting hurt. I am not a person who enjoys having casual sex, but I feel this may give us both chances to explore.

We both do not want to break up, as we love each other very much and we want a life together. I guess I am just asking for some advice on how to transition and other tips you may have with combating the fear and anxiety that goes along with this transition.

Response:

In response to your question, I think that the first thing that I would do… I don’t always think that opening relationship to address unmet needs is a bad thing, but I do think that sometimes people rush to that as an option, before considering other options, You say that this is about unmet needs. But it seems like it’s a very one sided unmet need. It doesn’t seem like there is a need that’s being unmet on your side. It seems like your boyfriend is more sexual than you, and maybe wants different types of sex or wants sex more often than you. And so opening the relationship is the purpose of doing that.

I don’t think that that that’s necessarily a bad thing. But the thing that worries me about this is that when you decide to have a non-monogamous relationship temporarily or long term, specifically for the purpose of addressing an issue that is going to be a very big and valid reason for you to feel jealous and scared and it’s not to say that you can’t overcome that or it’s not to say that can’t be addressed. But when there’s a specific issue where— and it depends on how you feel.

You may be a person who’s like, “Look I’m not very sexual, I do not feel emotionally bothered by the fact that you are more sexual and you can have that with somebody else”. But it will be a scary thing and I think that that can happen regardless of whether or not you open a relationship or a relationship begins that way. A very good example of this, which I’ve talked about in the podcast and the columns before is that I am more of an introverted person and my partner is more of an extroverted person (the partner that I live with) and very early on in our relationship, I was very very worried about the fact that they really loved going to parties and I didn’t really like it so much.

And I was very worried that they would find someone who would love to go to parties and I would basically be replaced by someone who they had more fun with. And over time, they did kind of explain to me “Even if I did find a partner who was interested in parties in the same way I am, you are the partner that I want to live with. You have a place in my life. It’s not like I’m going to switch you out or something like that”. Now obviously that helps reassure me but I still have that fear.

So I do think that when you do open, specifically for the purpose of addressing a need, it can kind of make you,

understandably, feel very anxious about being replaced and feel very anxious about the fact that somebody else can give your partner something that you can’t. I think that the very real reality, especially in a culture where this kind of toxic monogamy — not just monogamy — but this… if you’ve lived in the same culture as I have and maybe you haven’t. But if you have, then you have learned that one person should meet everyone’s need and that is what true love is and that if you’re truly in love with someone then you’d never feel anything for anyone else.

This person is perfect and amazing — you learn that stuff, and you do start to believe that stuff. And for a lot of monogamous people learning that that isn’t necessarily the case, but they can still love and care about their partner, and they can still feel connected to their partner and they still have a strong love for their partner is really challenging. So, if you literally have a need that you can’t meet for your partner, getting to a point where you’re emotionally comfortable with that can be quite difficult. So the thing that I have to wonder is can there not be compromises made here?

I’m sure that you may have already tried some stuff like that and it’s not that I necessarily think that you should have sex when you don’t want to. That’s not what I’m saying. But I don’t know as that you need to go into a full open relationship mode, especially when it’s clear that like, it’s something you want to try temporarily, which means that polyamory really isn’t what you want. Because if you were polyamorous you would be looking for actual other established relationships with other people. And while it’s not to say that all relationships have to be long term to be successful.

Generally speaking, most people — a lot of people aren’t necessarily wanting a relationship to have an end date basically when — especially when like a couple more or less are going, “Yeah when we feel tired of this we’re going to end it.” That’s not an enticing scenario for a lot of people who are polyamorous. That’s not going to be a situation that they necessarily want to get involved with because they will get hurt. So, you know I’m wondering if — and since you don’t necessarily enjoy having casual sex, it seems like you’re really going to struggle to find any benefit in this situation for you.

There isn’t really a benefit for you and the one thing that I encourage people to do … there’s an article I wrote called “Thirteen mistakes people make when trying polyamory” which I think you should check out. And the first thing that I encourage people to do is think about an anchor that will keep them sort of understanding when they’re in the difficult spots that this might bring to them. It helps them ground themselves a little bit and what their anchor generally is is the reasons why they chose to do this that don’t have anything to do with avoiding breaking up with their partner.

And that’s really, really important. Because, understandably, everyone like doesn’t want to break up out   of a relationship that they’re in. But you can’t let that prevent you or lead you into doing things that you don’t want to do just to avoid a breakup because that will end up hurting, for a lot longer than just breaking up would. And I know that that’s like incredibly difficult and I don’t think that the vast majority of people are going to make a clean break. I think most people are going to try and save something before it ends and I get that.

However, there are other options that don’t aren’t necessarily a full open relationship like is seeing a sex worker option? Is this situation where your partner could see a sex worker, and that sex worker would be a professional. And I think that that would. I mean, depending on how you feel but I think if you became more informed about sex work and how it worked. I think that that would be something that in a way would be a little bit less scary for you in a way because the sex worker — I’m not saying that people can’t fall in love with sex workers.

I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen that a sex worker falls in love with a client or something like that. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, but generally speaking, it is a professional relationship and so there is less of a reason for you to worry there because if you see a sex worker that has had clients before then they will have had this experience of seeing someone. And knowing that they’re with someone and, you know, they will understand those boundaries and so that might be an option.

I think that there may be— I’m not sure. Again, I don’t want you to necessarily have sex when you don’t want to have sex, but there might be things that — you could work it out in some way. It just depends whether you know, there are things to work out. I don’t know the finer minute details of the sexual in compatibility so it’s hard for me to say. But I do think you should at least try to exhaust those possibilities before you completely open everything.

I think that there are swinger communities. That might also be something that your partner might look into. It might be a lot harder for if your partner is a straight cis man. It might be harder for him to go into a swinger community and find people who are willing to swap with him. Usually it’s a very couple based thing and I don’t think you would probably be comfortable in a swinger situation. You might. You could try it. You can kind of form a relationship with another couple and swap. But, it depends.

I think that, barring all that, regardless of what you choose to do, I do think that there are a couple of things here that make me worry. And the first thing is that you deciding it’s definitely temporary. I think that the thing that I worry about that is that  who gets to decide when it’s not temporary? That’s the thing that you have to kind of really worry about because you know if he starts to fall in love with the person that he’s with and maybe he doesn’t want to admit it to himself and but you could kind of see the signs and you start going “Well now its ended now because I’ve said so. We said it would always be temporary and now it’s temporary. Now it’s ended.”

He’s not going to want to break up with somebody that he has feelings for and understandably that person he has feelings for also is a human being who shouldn’t just be discarded because you guys aren’t working things out together. So that temporariness is a little bit of a concern for me. I don’t know if it’s realistic. There are some people who — and this is one of the things I address in the article that I recommended to you.

There are some people who are very self aware and can have casual sex with people without falling in love with them, or who can experience a love for somebody, and not feel like that has to mean that they have to enter a relationship with them, or know themselves well enough that if they are having casual sex with somebody and they start feeling something that is a little bit more— well, I don’t want to say more.

They start feeling a kind of romantic attraction that isn’t allowed within those boundaries can pull themselves back before they get into a situation where they feel like they’ve gone too far. I don’t know as that most people are that aware. And the thing is that the biggest mistake that a lot of people make when they try polyamory, when they open the relationship, when they try anything, it’s making the rule that I won’t fall in love with anyone else. And I think that that is a unrealistic rule. It’s just unrealistic.

You can’t control that. And you can make yourself aware of how you’re reacting to somebody and you can separate yourself from them so that you don’t continue to have those reactions. But you can’t stop yourself from falling in or out of levels with somebody. If you could, the world would be a lot less complicated, so I don’t think it’s realistic to try to agree that you won’t fall in love with somebody else you or your boyfriend.

I just think that that isn’t going to work. What you need to decide to do, is— what will happen if your boyfriend does fall in love with somebody else? Can you imagine a situation where your boyfriend has maybe one other partner that perhaps is more sexual than them? How would that work with the life that you have now? How would that change the life you have now? And think about like the physicality of it. Maybe your partner is gone, your boyfriend is gone for two nights a week or on the weekends or something like that. How would that change?

Because you say you don’t want someone to get hurt, but easily in this scenario, the person that generally ends up being hurt, is the person that is discarded when the couple wants to save their relationship over others. I know you don’t want to break up and you want a life together, but the other people that your partner may or may not see also have rights. They also have their own life that they want. And it’s important to consider that. There is a whole guide you can look up on “unicorn hunting”. I don’t really think that that’s what you’re trying to do here, but it’s always good to understand the way that people who are often kind of sought out in a little bit of these kinds of scenarios, it’s important to understand their perspective.

And even if your boyfriend is having casual sex with somebody that doesn’t mean that they can’t be hurt. Because as well even if you’re having casual sex with somebody, you could still be friends with that person. And a friend isn’t someone that you just kind of chuck aside and never talk to, again without that hurting them. So, it’s also important to be aware of that as well. I think sometimes when people make these kind of sex only agreements or I’m only going to sleep with these people, they often kind of forget that friendship is also a thing. And just because, you know, you might still be friends with that person and just suddenly cutting them out of your life would hurt, even if you didn’t have romantic feelings for them.

Those are things to think about. Just to recap, all of the things I’ve gone through here. I think first and foremost exhaust all of the possibilities of you being able to be somewhat sexually compatible. Again don’t force yourself to have sex if you don’t want to have sex. That’s not what I’m saying. But depending on what kind of incompatibility you have, is there any room for, you know, some compromises to be made at some points? Just make sure you’ve exhausted that possibility before you necessarily jump to fully opening a relationship.

Think about other ways to open, but not necessarily have a fully open relationship. So like, allowing your partner to see a sex worker is one option that you can consider. Maybe going into the swinger community, again with the caveats about the swinger community that I’ve given. And then the other point is being realistic, both with your wanting it to be temporary and also with your— Basically you haven’t explicitly said that you have a rule against falling in love. But it kind of seems like that’s what this is basically because it’s about casual sex and it seems like it’s more about casual sex than it is about forming another relationship.

But just make sure you aren’t doing that without saying that because I think that is really an issue. Definitely challenge your kind of assumption within this dynamic that, or at least make it very clear to any person that you or your boyfriend does get involved with that you do have a hierarchical dynamic so they know if they want to get involved in that or not. And again be realistic about whether or not you may fall in love with somebody. Consider talking about what will happen if that does happen.

Can you see yourself living in a situation where you don’t get all of the time? I mean I do think if you’re agreeing to an open relationship, then you are agreeing to, maybe not fully polyamory but you’re still agreeing to allow— you’re agreeing that neither one of you will spend all of your time together in the same way that you would monogamously. Some of your time is going to go to other people. So, what if that wasn’t temporary like and what is that it was somebody that he did have a love for or that you have a love for?

And then last but not least check out the “Thirteen mistakes people make when trying polyamory article” that I wrote. I think that has a lot of stuff about grounding, a lot of stuff about the kind of rules that people make without realising it, sometimes realising it, when they first start polyamory and that might help you out a little bit there. I hope that helps and good luck.

Rejecting someone slowly

So my best friend is polyamorous, I’m monogamous, and (I’m 99.9% sure) my girlfriend is monogamous. (We’re all girls by the way) My best friend Just told me that she has a crush on my and my girlfriend, we’re all best friends. I don’t know exactly how to react, I’m not gonna cut off ties because she likes us. But I’m not interested in a polyamorous relationship. I don’t think my girlfriend is either. My best friend only told me (so far) so I’m not going to tell my girlfriend yet. Cause she’s probably not ready to tell her if she hasn’t already done it. But how do I let her down slowly? I’m so confused and stressed, how long has she felt this way? How’s my girlfriend going to react? What if she *does* want an open relationship? What if my best friend isolates herself because I don’t feel the same way? I’m in shock, and I can’t believe this is real. (I don’t mean to sound rude or disrespectful in any ways, I’m just not very educated on this subject.)

There isn’t a way to prevent someone from feeling disappointed or even hurt by you rejecting them. And the only other alternatives are completely ghosting her or going on with a relationship that you don’t want. You just have to be honest and say something like, “I appreciate that you felt comfortable telling me this. As you know, I’m monogamous. I don’t have any interest in a polyamorous relationship and I don’t feel that way about you. I’d like for us to continue to be friends.”

If she has become your best friend because she feels romantic toward you, she may not be so close with you after you tell her this. Unfortunately, there isn’t very much you can do about that. At the end of the day, your best friend started to have feelings for yourself and your girlfriend and decided to continue having those feelings and putting herself in situations where those feelings might continue most likely knowing you are monogamous. Had I given advice to her about this situation, I would have told her not to expect that a big confession would help the situation and to maybe ask where you stood on polyamory and, if you said you weren’t interested, to drop it.

If you don’t want polyamory, do not try it for the sake of trying to keep your best friend in your life. If your girlfriend is interested in dating her, unfortunately this might also mean ending your relationship with your girlfriend if she definitely does want to be polyamorous. I don’t mean to make light of how serious that is and it would obviously be upsetting to you, but I feel like if the alternative is pushing yourself to be polyamorous and you have no interest in doing so… then that is a far more painful alternative than it might seem right now.

So, to sum up, I think you should just tell her, not slowly, but up front and honestly. You cannot completely control her emotions or feelings. Obviously, don’t be a jerk about it, but being honest and straightforward about your feelings is important to do regardless of what relationship style you have. Speak to your girlfriend about it. I wouldn’t wait for your friend to tell her. If your girlfriend does want to try polyamory, make it clear this isn’t what you want. I’m sorry that this had to happen this way, however. I think that suddenly telling you this isn’t really helpful. You don’t have to cut off ties with her, but if she doesn’t respect your wishes and wants, then it might be best to regardless of how she does her relationship.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

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Episode 59: Feeling Disconnected

If COVID caught a relationship when it was just forming, is it worth picking back up again if you’re feeling disconnected?

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

Discussion Topic: How do you prefer to end a relationship? We always assume that in-person is better, but is it?

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

Episode 59 – Feeling Disconnected

If COVID caught a relationship when it was just forming, is it worth picking back up again if you’re feeling disconnected? 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 do you prefer to end a relationship?

 

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:

So before COVID I started developing feelings for a close friend with benefits. I haven’t felt this intense about a companionship in years. We worked on some creative projects together and we helped each other with our careers. I started to become friendly but not intimate with his fiancée but I was open to develop something with them potentially a throuple or be a part of their constellation. But it never got there. I got very sick probably from COVID two weeks before lockdown and then lockdown happened. During this time we all kept in contact texting each other at least once a week.

I was doing a lot of self reflection, work on feelings about this and being poly[am], reading self help books, and talking with friends who were in open relationships. I was feeling pretty heartbroken from not being able to see them. It hurt so much I needed to talk about it. I had a really heartfelt conversation with the one I was closest too and it ended on a really positive note. We agreed that it is uncertain where we are going to go or how this will develop but its clear there were some strong feelings between us that we were both excited to explore.

Then the city started to open up. I expressed interest in trying to meet up somehow but it never seemed to work out, not sure if that was intentional or not. I saw them both by chance at a protest for a brief minute but we all got lost in the crowd. We started to grow apart less texting. Then I noticed they went on vacation with two of their friends possibly other companions, not sure, but I felt really left out.

A little bit before this point I was having mental health issues from all the changes in my life from COVID and this so I stopped initiating conversations through text at which point our channel of communication basically stopped. He then recently released a project I was a part of without much notice and I just have a lot of conflicting feelings about it because of all this.

I understand COVID really has been shaking things up and I don’t want to blame but I feel really neglected. It kinda feels like I broke up with folx before I even got to develop a relationship with them which really hurts. At this point though I feel so burnt out by the situation I’m not sure I want to continue to be intimate in the future without any commitment on their part, but still open to be friends.

Do you think its worth trying to salvage something from this situation? Am I being too clouded by the hard circumstances and mental health stuff I am in at the moment? Should I be doing things differently? Part of me hopes that we can one day mend this but part of me would rather move on and find folx who are going to meet my needs better. What are your thoughts?

Response:

So I think that the first thing that you should do is think about — and this might be something that is quite difficult for you. Think bout what it is that you want or expect out of the situation. And,  if you’re just starting off trying out polyam, it might be hard for you to really know what that is. And sometimes I do think that we can sometimes end up in situations where we don’t know that a need isn’t being met until we’re kind of hurting from it not being met and that really sucks to be in.

But I do think that the first thing that might be helpful in approaching them is understanding what it is that you want or expect, and you kind of have a good idea of that because you talk about commitment, but I think that you need to establish what commitment really means. What are you hoping to be in their lives? Are you really wanting this thruple situation? I’m always really really hesitant. I’m assuming that they didn’t approach you as a couple. It just so happened that you were interested in both of them.

If they approached you as a couple, I’m just really, really hesitant about people who date as couples because I’ve written a whole article or column about it. It tends to be a thing that people do because they think it’s safer than dating individually. And I’m not saying this is always the case because sometimes it’s not but it tends to be something that indicates that they aren’t really having the conversations in between them, and they’re sort of dating as a couple as a fail safe because they think it’s just easier, or they don’t trust one another.

And they need to be present while the other is dating somebody else because they’re worried about being accused of or cheating. And that just doesn’t bode well in general, but if they didn’t approach you as a couple, and you just so happened to have some interest in both of them but naturally developed into being closer to one of them just because you met that person first, that’s fine. But I do think you need to think about — what is polyam to you? What is non-monogamy to you?

What do you envision your life being like? Are you more of a solo polyamory person where you don’t really have any established primaries, or even people that you live with? Do you want to live with partners? It may be a situation where you’re kind of open to different aspects but clearly I think the fact that you’re hurting in this situation, which makes sense, means that you do want something more and I think that just saying “commitment” isn’t really clear.

Because the thing that you have to remember is that, with monogamy, you’re kind of operating with a cultural script that everyone sort of knows. If you haven’t read it before there’s a really great article called The Relationship Escalator. And I think there’s been— the same person who wrote that wrote books about it. I’m not quite sure. But the article itself I have read and I think that that really illustrates the kind of script people have.

The thing that people kind of know indicates commitment within monogamy— people kind of have a shared definition of that. But when you’re in a non-monogamous relationship or polyamorous relationship, you kind of have to come up with your own definitions of what commitment means and what it is that symbolises commitment. I think that that’s the first thing.

The second thing is is that I think that you’re not really on the same page, because when you talked about this discussion that you had, it seemed like you *were* kind of breaking up with them because you kind of both acknowledge that you did want to continue things, but COVID was restricting you from meeting in person. It may be possible that neither one of them do long distance very well, and just aren’t very good communicators, when it’s not in person.

And so maybe that in that discussion that you had, that really good discussion you had, maybe their understanding was that things were at a pause, so they don’t see the point in reaching out and trying to continue that and don’t see the point and inviting you to go on a vacation with someone who they maybe shared, like, met with or were closer with so it’s less of a COVID risk, or that they already had prior experience with. So, I think you need to have a better clarifying discussion because it could be that in that conversation you both walked away with different understandings of where exactly you were.

And I also think one thing to flag up about this is that — If you want to date them as individuals then you can’t use the person that you’re closest to as a kind of communication conduit. You do need to have separate conversations with them, instead of treating them as a unit. I think that’s one thing to note. But you have kind of continued the establishment of the communication. And I think it’s fair for you to feel like, “Okay, I stopped communicating and I basically fell off the earth to them, and they stopped initiating discussions with me”. I wouldn’t necessarily assume that that is because they don’t care about you or they’re not interested in you.

They may just think things are at a pause and that you will get in touch if and when things clear up and people can start meeting regularly in person. Maybe they are waiting for you to initiate that. Who knows? I can sit here and I can postulate on what’s going inside their minds as much as possible but you’re not going to know until you actually have that conversation with them. And the thing of it is, is I totally understand half of your brain that’s like, “Man, I just need to get away from the situation because I’m having to initiate all of the discussions. Now that I’m not initiating anything they’re not initiating anything with me. Screw this!”

I totally get that because I quite often feel that way. And I do think that this is probably how 98.9% of my online dating conversations end because I have actually found it really really important that people at least meet me halfway. And I know that sometimes people struggle with online communication. I know that sometimes people struggle to start conversations, but at the end of the day, whether it’s due to shyness or they’re just not interested in me, I want to have relationships with people who can actually start a conversation with me, or who have some interest in my life, enough to talk to me.

I am not going to be the one that initiates 80% of the conversations. I want a little bit more. 40% I’ll take from them, but I can’t like— I hate that and I’m not going to do that and I’d so I totally get where you’re coming from on that and I do think that’s not a bad position to be in. And I do think that when you talk about what you need from them, you need to bring the fact that you initiate most of the conversations up with them and be like, “Look, I can’t be the only one initiating conversations here. I don’t want it to be that way”. So, yeah, I do think that that’s fair.

But what I would say is because your last conversation with them to me sounded like a pause. It didn’t sound like “okay we’re still dating”. It sounded like “Well, COVID has happened. We can’t meet up in person so it’d be nice to explore this but let’s explore this later on when we can actually meet up more in person”. That’s what that sounded like to me.

Who knows what kind of impression? You need to have more of a clear discussion with them. Give people a chance to meet your needs before you decide that they can’t. You’ve already established this bond with this person you’ve already put some effort in. So I do think that you should at least give them the chance to not meet your needs before you decide that they can’t.

Have a sit down discussion with them over the phone, over Zoom, whatever you need. It’s okay for you to feel left out and all this stuff but I don’t think that that was necessarily deliberate. Make sure you’re clear on where you’re at. Are you still interested in dating as much as you can? Is this thing at a pause? Do they need to initiate more discussions with you? Where are things at? Because it could just be that you guys walked away or y’all walked away from that situation with two different understandings or three different understandings of where you’re at.

To sum up, I think that you need to think about what it is that you would like out of polyamory or non-monogamy. Where do you see it fitting into your life? That may be fluid. That may be something that you don’t know just yet but have a think. At least have a think about it. Because if you think about it, people will think about what they want out of monogamy— even though monogamy is— the way it’s presented is like one picture and it’s like marriage and this is kids and this is what you’re going to do.

People envision that and think about that all throughout their adolescence, so they have a million chances to think about what it is that they want out of monogamy before they actually ever even think of getting into a serious adult relationship. So, if you think about it, you need to have a couple of things yourself about what polyamory is to you, what it means to you, what your life will look like in the most ideal state, and that can give you an idea of what your wants and needs are.

And make it just a little bit more clear to them other than just saying “I need you to be more committed”, because that could mean anything to anybody. Have a sit down clarifying discussion about where things are, what it is your needs are. Tell them what your needs are. And really I don’t know if you should have like a three meeting. I’m very hesitant to suggest thrupledom, just because I tend to think that complicates things more than it needs to be.

Have a sit down discussion with each of them, or at least the person that you feel closest to right now, and figure out what it is that you need, and give them a chance, give either him or both of them the chance to actually meet your needs, before you decide that they can’t. I think that’s pretty much what I have to say about the situation. I do totally understand how you feel. The frustration is serious. The frustration is real. I am a most— 99.9% initiator, so I feel your pain. I hope it helps and good luck.

Managing a triad

My wife and I have been together for 20 years, being married 14 of those years. The last 12 years my wife and I have been in The Swinging lifestyle and in that time you have grown. We have always talked about polyamorous relationship whether it be another couple or single and a year-and-a-half ago I met a woman. We hit it off and we started chatting everyday. What started off as a occasional swinging partner, turned into feelings for each other.

My wife saw what was happening and I was in denial but I can tell my feelings for her were getting deeper and deeper. So I approached my wife with the prospect of bringing her into our relationship and she agreed. We spent the next six or seven months chatting back and forth, the three of us together, my wife and her alone and her and I alone and the feelings all around became mutuel. It was then that we all decided that we should go one step further and move in together. Up until this time we had been seeing each other, she lived on one side of the country we lived 800 miles away, and we would travel to spend time with each other.

So my wife and I packed up our stuff and moved so that we could be with her. So now here I thought it would be no different than just living with my wife and we would all be happy, no issues, but I am wrong and I think it’s all my fault.

I am finding it very difficult o be honest with the two of them about how I feel about certain things, not wanting to get them mad. Trying not to spend more time with one than the other. Then there’s the sex I thought that it would be mostly the three of us sharing together. But at times they both feel left out because I have a hard time approaching them individually.

I am scared one’s going to think I’m having sex too often with one and not the other. I’m really having a hard time trying to figure out how to approach one of them to get them alone when I want to be with just one. We all were sharing a bed until about 2 weeks ago and I don’t know what to do. My wife and I both want this woman to  become part of us and I think I’m doing everything wrong. I’m hoping do you have some advice for me that I can think about and hopefully put into practice because I don’t want to lose either one of them.

One of the things people take most for granted when they start out in non-monogamy or polyamory is how much time they had as young people to imagine what their future might be like in a monogamous context and how much the culture around them gives them ideas for what their lives might look like and gives them a step by step guide on how to get there.

When we jump into polyamory and non-monogamy, we don’t usually spend relatively the same amount of time thinking about these things because polyamory and/or non-monogamy are kind of in and itself an ideal we think we want to aspire to. We rarely think about the physicalities of how our lives will change. We just imagine that polyamory or non-monogamy will be exactly like our lives are now… but somehow better. We don’t tend to think that things have to change or that polyamory and non-monogamy would take away from our lives.

The fact is, when you agree to polyamory or non-monogamy, on the whole, you’re not agreeing to monogamy plus. You’re not agreeing to an upgrade. You’re agreeing to a different way of doing things. And that requires some upfront discussion on all sides. I do worry slightly that you and your wife are forcing this to be a traid when it’s not particularly clear if that’s exactly something your wife wants — outside of believing it’s “safer” or maybe wanting to agree to the situation to avoid losing you.

There are some really important questions for you all to think about and discuss with each other — not as a couple talking with one person, but as three individuals working out a compromise between all of your ideals. At some point you will have to face your fear of disappointing or angering one of them and perhaps remember that it should be possible in your relationships with people you care about to make mistakes without someone deciding to leave you. And that if someone refuses to give you a chance for making a mistake, they likely aren’t someone you can build a sustainable relationship with anyways.

I posted two useful articles that might be helpful including one on Why Couples Always Want a Triad and a primer for people starting out called Thirteen Mistakes People Make When Trying Polyamory. In reading them over, you may want to speak to a polyamory friendly relationship therapist who can facilitate a discussion between all three of you about how you want to arrange your living together and what each person wants.

I’d worry less about things being exactly equitable as different people have different needs at different times and more focus on the fact that, as long as you are willing to listen to the needs of both of your partners and respond to them in the best way you can, there is ultimately nothing you can do if a triad situation doesn’t work for one of them.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

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Episode 58: Sexual Incompatibility

After more than a decade, your partner wants to open up because he’s not happy, but you think things are going too fast. What do you do?

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

Discussion Topic: How much detail do you want to know?

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

Episode 58 – Sexual Incompatibility

After more than a decade, your partner wants to open up because he’s not happy, but you think things are going too fast. What do you 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.

 

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 husband of 5 years, and partner of 11 years, recently came to me and asked to see other people sexually.

He sat down and we had a conversation about it where he hit me with a lot of reasons for wanting this and said he was scared to ask me. He said he felt sexually frustrated because when we got together he was mostly a top and I am also. I have tried to be versatile in many ways, but he is rather large. I have tried to use toys and devices to practice to make it easier or even pleasurable, but I can’t manage to. I just receive no pleasure from it. He said he felt betrayed and lied to. He said ultimately it wasn’t fair.

On top of that we never seem to be “in the mood” at the same time since we work different schedules. When he said these things it hurt to find out this way and that he’s been feeling this. I told him I didn’t like the idea and I was uncomfortable with this, but I would think about it and it’s not an easy decision for me. He said it’s not an ultimatum and that he won’t divorce me over it or anything, but deep down I’m still afraid he might since he brought divorce up.

You see he’s asked me for a divorce in the past and then changed his mind when I started to pack my things to move out, he broke down and said he didn’t want to lose me. He wanted to get a divorce but still live together and be in each others lives romantically and sexually. He told me then that he was feeling we had become friends and grown apart romantically. It hurt to hear him say that since I felt that we had become more than that not less. Ultimately I love him and want to make him happy, so I agreed to the divorce and when he changed his mind I agreed to stay.

I thought about it for a few days and told him I don’t like the idea and I am uncomfortable, but if it’s what he needs and makes things feel fair then we can do what he needs. He said for it to be fair we should both have the option, I said ok but told him I probably never would because of how I feel about it. I did ask him to think about some ground rules and guidelines and get back to me on what he thinks.

Less than a day later he is already “going out” (his way of not telling me he’s going to have sex with someone else) and has not even talked to me again about the subject let alone the ground rules I asked him to think about. The entire time he was gone I was a mess of emotions, I tried to distract myself with tv, video games, music, anything I could think of really. When one hour turned into two then three then four then five it got progressively worse and harder to even find a momentary distraction.

Nothing worked and all I could do was think about how I wasn’t enough for him. Would he want anything more from me than to take care of the house and clean up and cook and help pay bills? Would he be asking for that ever looming divorce when he realises he no longer wants or needs me for anything or falls for someone he’s with? Have I failed in this relationship? Have I not done enough, or shown enough affection over the years? By the time he came home over seven hours later I was emotionally exhausted and unable to sleep in our bed so I was trying to sleep elsewhere.

He wanted to talk and cuddle and tell me about it. By this time trying to sleep where I was was causing my back to hurt and I told him I was tired and hurting and needed to alone for a while. He went to his office and waited for me start to fall asleep then came back and tried to cuddle, when that woke me up he tried to talk to me again about his night out. I couldn’t emotionally process anything at the time so I again told him I needed some time and to let me come to terms with the new situation and we could talk later. He wound up getting mad at me and stormed off to bed.

I can only imagine that most of this is due to the fact that he’s asked for a divorce in the past and it feels like a guillotine hanging over me waiting to fall at any point in an argument. I want to make him happy and give him everything he needs to be happy and satisfied and feel fulfilled in his life. I have made many sacrifices over the years both in and out of our relationship. So if a sacrifice is what’s necessary from me I can do that with ease. I guess my questions come down to, does it get easier? What can I do to support him while not destroying myself? How do I learn to cope with this new situation?

Extra information:

When we got together and got to the point of discussing sex he said he was a bottom that occasionally liked to top, and I said I was a top and I had tried bottoming before and didn’t really like it but I would try for him. So throughout the years he was bottom and I was top, and I would try to bottom for him occasionally but it never really worked out, it was too painful for me or I didn’t seem to enjoy it so he couldn’t stay aroused. I have tried to use dildos and plugs to work up to it, but ultimately if I could I didn’t receive any pleasure from it.

Yes, he has accommodated my topness. When we got together, at least to me, I thought I was clear I was a top and it sounded to me that he was mostly a bottom. It seems to me that over the years he has become more top than bottom in desires than when we met, or didn’t want to “mess things up” by saying the wrong thing in the beginning of the relationship. That was part of the reason I was hurt to find out this way and that he had apparently (since he said he was always mostly a top) been holding onto this feeling for so long.

He says he loves me and wants to come home to me and enjoys our sex and doesn’t want any of it to change, but he just needs to be able to top more than bottom.

Response:

So the biggest issue that is coming out for me here first and foremost is that when you did when he did ask for a divorce. You both had such different perspectives of the relationship and that is a really really really huge red flag. Before we even get into all of the details about whether or not you should, or how you should be comfortable with him sleeping with other people, the fact that you’re on such different pages is a huge red flag. And that really really needs to be addressed.

If one person in a relationship feels like you’re just friends and another person feels like you’re even closer than you were before, that is a big problem. So you’re not really on the other page. The second problem here, and this is going to get in the way, not just of, if you both decide to open your relationship up a little bit more and it sounds like you kind of already have, and it’s already becoming a problem. There is a really huge lack of communication here and that is kind of what leads to the first problem.

But if he failed to communicate from the beginning and you’ve been together for 15 years. And he’s failed to communicate all of this time that this isn’t sexually what he wants, that doesn’t really bode well. And the fact that you know you open the relationship and you wanted to set some ground rules — and I’ll get to the concept of rules in a second — but you communicated that you’re going to try it but you wanted to have a little bit more discussion and his first reaction is to immediately go out for a very very long period of time.

And not only do that but then come home, and then you are emotionally distraught. You ask to just be given some space, and he doesn’t give you that space and then gets mad at you when you are expressing that you are uncomfortable. That is a huge, huge problem. That to me doesn’t bode well. And he has to be able to not only communicate his wants and his needs but he also has to be able to respect your space, and he has not really shown that here. And that’s what really really worries me about the situation.

I think that it’s understandable for him to feel like the situation has been unfair. I don’t think it’s fair to say that you’ve been unfair because you communicated from the very beginning what your preferences are. You have attempted to do your best to accommodate him. It hasn’t really worked for you. I don’t think it’s necessarily fair for you to sit there and do something which is not pleasurable at all for you. I think that that’s a bit much to ask. But you have always tried to be extremely clear in your communication. He has hidden his preference it seems like.

And then he doesn’t really communicate very well with you so that is a huge problem. Let me address first before I go on to anything else the concept of “ground rules”. Now, you are understandably worried and scared that you’re going to be replaced by someone who is more of his sexual preference and that is a valid fear, and there’s all sorts of these other things like, you know, is he going to fall for somebody else? This that and the other, have I not been enough? These are all very typical feelings that people have.

And usually when people have these feelings, the first thing that they try to do is address them by making what you called “ground rules” and boundaries. I do think that there are important boundaries and things to discuss about opening up your relationship, especially because that isn’t one thing. And sometimes you need to establish, you know, what time are you going to spend with other people? What time are you going to spend with me? What do you want this open relationship to look like? There’s a lot to discuss.

And I do also think that sometimes when people have all these fears they want to create rules like “You’re only going to love me and nobody else” and I don’t think that’s helpful. I think that’s reassuring in the moment, but at the end of the day, whether you’re open or closed, he can fall in love with somebody else and you can’t prevent that with a rule. You can’t prevent that with the rule of monogamy let alone with any rule that you set up within the standard of an open relationship. So I think that, your first instinct to say, “let’s create some rules” is probably founded in that fear, which is very understandable.

When you open your relationship, it isn’t an upgrade. It is a complete change to how you do the relationship. And not only is it a complete change but he’s basically told you that he’s been unhappy for a very very long time. And so there’s a whole lot of processing that you have to go through in terms of why did I not see it? There’s a lot there that needs to be addressed. Essentially, this has been an issue for a long time and he hasn’t communicated that so it’s almost like you have to rebuild foundations of trust with one another.

And so while you’re doing this, you can’t really do that if he is unwilling to at least discuss things with you first or give you a little bit of time or give you a little bit of space. Those are really really big things and the fact— the thing that really worries me about this, is the fact that when you clearly — and I don’t know how clearly. Maybe you were more upset at the time, understandably. The first night is honestly always a shitty night. I would have told you if you asked me before that night, how should I prepare? I would have said, “You’re gonna feel terrible” because it’s sort of— that is pretty much going to happen.

I think it’s very rare that somebody doesn’t feel terrible when this sort of thing happens so I would have told you to be ready for that. I just think that even so he could have, the second you said “Hey, I need some time, I need some space. Please give me some space”, he should have been like, “Okay, I’ll give you that space”. And the fact that he got angry and stormed off because you asked for space is really really concerning and that is the thing that worries me.

Now, the other thing and the last thing before I kind of will get into summarising my advice here that you also need to worry about is you are saying, “I’ve given the sacrifices. I’ve done this. I’ve done that”. You need to make sure that you are taking care of yourself. Because here’s the thing about sacrifices. A lot of times and all relationships, typically, you know will often require some type of sacrifice in some points depending on how long they are. Maybe they won’t.

It’s not completely unusual for there to be some sacrifice in a relationship. However, you need to be able to have that in a way that doesn’t create resentment. And the problem with this kind of attitude of like, “Okay, I’ve sacrificed so much. I can do one more sacrifice”, is that if you feel like you’re always giving and giving and giving to someone who doesn’t give back to you, that will create resentment. That will become a problem.

As much as you want to give a gift, and have it be a gift, the thing of it is is that if it is a situation where you feel like “Okay, I’ll give up this. Okay, I’ll give up that” and you really don’t want to, you’re just doing it to keep this person. Inevitably, you’re going to want basically repayment in kind for the things that you’ve sacrificed, even if you don’t think so now, it does have a way of creating this resentment.

And the thing that I worry about here is that you are so focused on his happiness that you aren’t really focusing on your happiness. I mean in a way you have had your topness needs filled by him and a lot of ways so that’s not an issue. But that doesn’t mean that you know you have no other needs, and that he should be able to behave the way that he’s behaved. So just make sure that you’re actually taking care of yourself. And that you’re finding ways to support yourself because even if he hadn’t behaved this way, even if he had been giving you space and been more receptive and understanding to your situation, you are still going to need that ability to take care of yourself because it’s going to be difficult.

You’re going to go through a lot of stuff in terms of being afraid of loss, all that sorts of things so you need that ability to take care of yourself. And you also need the ability to understand like… they call it in the UK they call it an MOT when you kind of like get your car checked up. But I don’t know if that’s what they call it in other places. I don’t drive so…. Can you do a check up on your relationship?

Are you satisfied with your relationship or are you in a sunk cost fallacy where basically you feel like you’ve given so much to this relationship that  you would kind of essentially lose all of your investments in the sacrifices you’ve made? And you don’t want to lose that so that’s why you’re staying in it. That’s never really good reason to stay in a relationship.

So it’s really important that you ask yourself, “Am I really happy in this relationship? Are things really going well for me in this relationship?” That’s really important to— even though there is a bit of a mismatch in terms of your wants and desires. That doesn’t mean that you get, you know, because you’re getting your needs filled as a top that you don’t have any other needs or that you’re completely satisfied,

With all that in mind, I think that the thing that you should do in terms of how you approach this—  I’m willing to understand if his reaction to you needing space, and his sort of jumping at the chance to go sleep with somebody else. I’m willing to understand that as a first timer error, and just you know him being excited because he has been with you for a long time. He’s really been unsatisfied for a long time, which isn’t your fault.

So maybe he did get a little bit too excited. I think that first thing you need to do is find a polyamory friendly couples therapist and talk about first and foremost, the issue with the divorce, and you two being on completely separate pages, when it comes to how you thought your relationship was going because that is really a problem and that is going to be a source of anxiety and fear for a long time.

I don’t necessarily think that it’s the divorce that sort of hanging over your head like a guillotine. I think it’s the fact that when he did ask for divorce you were on such different pages, and that created understandably a heck of a lot of anxiety for you. Because essentially it came out of nowhere, so what you’re afraid of is not necessarily a divorce. It’s that it will come out of nowhere. So you have to kind of address that first and foremost with each other.

Work on your communication issues. Have that discussion about… not necessarily ground rules. And always question your rules. Is this about preventing emotion? Preventing loss? Does this rule actually address the situation that it’s meant to address? Thinking about what your ideal relationship looks like— how will he go out and meet people? Is that something where he is actually going to develop relationships with other people?

What will you do if he starts to have emotions for somebody else? You know all this stuff are things that you both need to have a talk about, and he needs to be able to do that without, you know, getting frustrated and upset and having a therapist there can sometimes help with that. Also, maybe he needs to come to a better understanding of how to give you a little bit of space when you need it. I understand that it’s frustrating. You know when you want to tell your partner — maybe what he wanted to tell you, was that “Hey this can actually work!”.

And he is actually relieved because he was afraid you would have to break up but then it’s like, oh no I can go out. I can do this and then I can still come home and my partner still here and I’m really happy about that. It’s cool. It’s great that he’s happy but you’ve just sat there for like seven hours and understandably been freaked out and you need some space, so you need to work out things like that together.

I would say it does get easier in terms of those kind of raw emotions and that fear. It definitely does get easier when you rebuild that trust together, but you have to be able to communicate well in terms of “this is my boundary” or allowing yourself to sit in the discomfort and see that he’s still there and he’s not going anywhere. But you have to address that ultimate issue of the fact that you didn’t know that divorce was coming because if you didn’t know, if you had no inkling, then that just tells you that something else could be around the corner without you knowing and that is what is going to freak you out the most.

Also, last but certainly not least, just as a reminder, you have to be able to support and take care of yourself and maybe you should see a therapist on your own about your willingness to sacrifice things. I’m not saying that no one should sacrifice anything in a relationship at all. I do think that sometimes you know we make compromises and that’s okay. But you can’t be the person that’s always sacrificing, always sacrificing because as much as you might think now, “Oh I’m absolutely fine with this. I just want to make my partner happy,” if you are not being satisfied or if it’s not mutual, resent will build.

And that isn’t necessarily about you being a bad person. I’m a sacrificer too. So I totally understand. And it can feel really hard because later on you’re like, “Shit I gave up all this stuff and I’ve been trying so hard and working so hard and nothing is coming of it”. And then you almost feel like, “Am I secretly manipulative and passive aggressive? Did I only just give this person or did I only just work this hard to get something in return?” It can be really hard. It can be really difficult.

There’s lots of fucked up ness about it. I do think people can be naturally giving and naturally sacrificing and I don’t think that just because you end up in a situation where someone isn’t giving you the support that you need, it doesn’t mean you gave with the expectation that they were going to return— I mean everyone should have that returned to them by someone that they care about. It’s not manipulative to give something in a relationship and expect that that person will also be there to support you and be sad when they’re not.

But that sacrifice thing is a doozy and you need to be able to be really introspective about, “I’m going to sacrifice this with the caveat and know that okay— at what point am I going to say I’m done giving. I am not being supported in this relationship— And this isn’t necessarily about how much I’ve given—“ although that will absolutely frustrate you. But, “I am not being supported in this relationship so I need to start giving to myself”. And that’s really important for you to remember and for you to work on.

Right, yeah. I think I’ve summarised all the points. I don’t think it’s completely lost. I do think that if your partner continues on this path of just doing whatever, not talking to you about it and also getting mad at you for wanting to have your space, that is really not a good sign and then you really need to think about whether this is going to work. Because I think if everything was perfect and you had a partner who got angry at you for putting down a boundary and saying that “I need space and I need time,” that’s just a bad sign overall.

And not a good sign. Even if he were like, “Okay, fine I’ll never sleep with anybody else. We’re closing this up”, the fact that he got mad when you said, “I need space” is a huge problem and so if that happens again, you definitely need to think about other options unfortunately.

I hope that helps and good luck.