Not satisfied with secondary

Not too long ago I met my ideal man, but he has a girlfriend I know he loves very much. But as of our second meet he told me she is asexual and they are trying for a “open” relationship because of his personal need for intimacy and physical closeness. As our following meet he explained his rules, or more so the rules his girlfriend gave him. No emotional connection (though he doesn’t believe in sex without a bond). There’s an understandable time constraint as well. The girl friend apparently doesn’t want to know anything about his other partner or what they do, to keep it completely separated from their lives.

This made me feel like I was doing something i shouldn’t be although i can understand her reasoning as her being asexual, it being relayed that she doesn’t want to be put on the back burner, but neither do I. I don’t get the girlfriend title and my previously mono mind hates it. He says that I would be important in a “different” way, but has a hard time explaining it. How can I feel important in a dynamic where I’m not allowed to emotionally connect? I know i’m not meant to be a “sex only” partner as he was offended at me giving him that title. How can he show that I’m important to him? What other ways can we connect? We have a great time when we hang out (no sex until everything is clear) And if I’m not a secondary girl friend….what am I?

There is a lot going on in his other relationship and none of that isn’t anything you can control. What concerns me the most is that he is not taking ownership of his own choices. If he is with a woman he loves who is asexual and he has agreed with her that he is allowed to have purely sexual relationships with others then those are the rules he has agreed on. They are his rules just as much as they are hers.

The problem is that he doesn’t want that. He said himself he doesn’t believe in sex without a bond. So he can’t give his girlfriend what she wants and, instead of being honest with her about that, is now doing exactly how you felt — something that she clearly won’t be comfortable with. He’s insisting you won’t be put on the back burner and that you’d be important in a “different” way, but can’t explain it. If he can’t explain it, he likely can’t show it.

If you agree to this, you’ll either be volunteering for a situation where you can and will be tossed out the moment his girlfriend realises he does actually have feelings for you or he will dump his girlfriend eventually for you but this incredibly rocky start will demonstrate that he has the capacity for dishonesty. It might be less of an issue because you may be compatible together more than he is with his current partner — but if he can’t realise that and do the right thing and instead drag this out… it just doesn’t bode well.

Your ideal man is not someone who plays around with you like this. Whether he intends to do this or not… it’s what he’s doing. People avoid breakups because they’re painful and that’s understandable. And people can absolutely have a positive open relationship even if they are incompatible in some ways, but the fact that he’s not “allowed” to have feelings but can and will… doesn’t bode well. He’s not communicated well with his partner and if he can’t do that with her… he’s already showing he can’t do that with you.

Don’t stay. Find someone who has a clearer idea of what they want. You deserve that clarity.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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Episode 57: Begging For Time

You’ve started in a new triad but you’re feeling like the third wheel and no one is spending time with you. What do you do?

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

Discussion Topic: What is a gift you’ve been given that’s made you cry?

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

Episode 57 – Begging For Time

You’ve started in a new triad but you’re feeling like the third wheel and no one is spending time with you. 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:

Hello. I’m a 27 year old bisexual female who has been in a monogamous relationship for almost 2 years and we have been close for almost 5 years.

We both are Aquariuses and born the same year 2 days apart. We have been traveling homeless together for years and finally got together. We bonded right away because we are so much alike.

After almost 2 years, we recently met a girl who is really cute and down to earth. Me being bisexual, I want to have sex with a woman and the way I see it if I’m in a relationship with a man, if i have sex with a woman so does he.

So I met a girl who accepts both of us who we both like a lot but she had a boyfriend at the time. She is now single so recently we fooled around one time.

Two days later they decided they want her in our relationship. I instantly felt hurt. I agreed out of my love for him and out of curiosity because I have never been in a polyamorous relationship.

But I also told them I don’t know how it will go or how I will feel being that I’m very insecure and emotionally unpredictable. I believe that I have borderline personality disorder. So I constantly am either very mad, very sad, or very happy.

This has been going on for a month now and they are constantly in each-other’s space always making out or loving on each-other or finding ways to be alone but I am not getting the same love or affection. It feels that me and her are sharing him.

I am fine when we are all together or when me and him or me and her are together but when they are alone which is a lot of times they are constantly running to the store together or going to take a nap together or finding any way they can to be alone and it leaves me sitting in the living room alone.

Every time I feel very upset and often lash out or cry. I try to vocalise my feelings to them and somehow I’m selfish or I need to get over it. That I’m just insecure and need to calm down.

The last 3 days I’ve been asking him to have alone time with just me. Alone time with my partner that I have had for the last 2 years! And we work at home, so when she’s at work we are working.

The second she gets home he spends the entire time following her all around (we live at her house until we find our own place). So I’ve been trying to get him alone for 3 days. I’ve been on shark week for about 4 days so they have been having sex without me since I started. Also we switch off who sleeps at night together.

Day 1

I asked if we could have some time he said yes after work. She’s at work. Then once we got work done she requested he spends time with her. So he does…. I am left sitting alone. I got upset they told me I’m being irrational and need to stop. I cry. I’m still alone. We all go to bed together.

Day 2

She’s at work. I ask again. He says after work. So we work till 7 pm. We finally are done she asks him if he will go drive with her to a friends. He does. Again I’m on the back burner sitting here alone… He tells me we when he gets back we will. He promised me the 2nd day that we would. We never did. Me and him go to bed and I try to have sex. He lays there like a dead fish. No effort. I got upset and told him to at least pretend he is enjoying this. He said she’s sleeping. He doesn’t wanna be loud. He told me to get off of him. We went to bed.

Day 3

I ask to spend some time just us. He says yes. We finish working and fall asleep. When we wake up I ask again. He gets irritated and says I’m bothering him. At 2am they go to bed together, I asked them not to have sex until he keeps his promise. They get irritated but agree.

Today is Day 4.

Me and him slept in until she got home. I didn’t ask again today. Yesterday he mentioned in front of her that I’m bothering him about it and she chimed in that if I leave him alone he might try harder.  We woke up. He instantly went to the living room to give her attention didn’t even say good morning to me. She took a nap after work.

Hours later still nothing. I took a shower with him. We tried for a whole 2 minutes. He got soft. We got out of the shower and he said after we get out the shower but she’s sleeping. So she wakes up and she asks him to shower with her. They have sex even tho we have not still! And he tells me its ok. Don’t get mad. This is what you always do. So they fuck and its 3am and we still haven’t.

She’s now going to bed which means he wont want to. They’re talking about how we should try again in the shower and they don’t want a mess on the futon. I don’t know what to do. I feel like I’m being ran over. It was my relationship to begin with. She has made no effort towards me but is infatuated towards him.

Response:

So, okay, there’s a lot going on here.

Honestly, why are you with these people? I want to be delicate about this situation but it’s really really horrible. This is a really horrible situation. Really horrible. You’re being treated terribly here. I know that there is a kind of midway point between you know — people can overreact.

People can have very insecure, very instant emotional reactions to things especially in polyamory. Especially when there’s this attempted triad situation and it feels like there’s not a balance of time being spent between both people. But you don’t respond to that, by gaslighting somebody,

So it can be possible that two types of realities exist where, yes this person is having an intense emotional reaction that maybe they could learn to regulate themselves a little bit more and therefore not react so emotionally to the situation, because they are in a situation where they’re actually safe and they’re thinking that not safe while also — yes maybe we need to have a bit more of a talk about things and work things out.

You could be in a situation where this whole entire situation can be different and he could be spending equal amounts of time with you as you would with this person and you still get very upset. He still would be unjustified in saying that you’re irrational and that you just need to get over it.

That’s not an acceptable response, even if you are being irrational. Because people don’t regulate their nervous systems or learn to calm down or learn to trust or learn to feel safe with people who are basically telling them that they are being ridiculous. That’s not a response that helps anybody come to terms with a situation, and that may be how he feels and it may be frustrating for him, and that’s fine too. But in this situation in particular, you’re not overreacting at all.

You’re basically being ignored. You’re basically being completely rejected constantly and a certain amount of rejection will happen in any relationship. Most people are not going to always match up exactly when it comes to wanting to spend time together, when it comes to having sex. Two people aren’t always going to have matching identical desires so rejection is normal and will happen. That is fine.

However, when you’re constantly being rejected, not only for sexual things but also just for time spent with somebody that is going to impact you. And you’re going to be upset by that. And that is perfectly valid. And I think that the things that you need to ask yourself first and foremost — do you want to be with someone who you have to beg for them to spend time with you?

I feel this so hard, because I don’t know what kind of environment that you grew up in or what kind of situations you were around. But for me, I always felt like, if somebody wasn’t calling me names or beating me up, they were a good partner and that’s what a good partner was, and I always thought that anything that I wanted was an add on. Anything that I wanted wasn’t standard or acceptable.

And so I had, not this situation, but I had a similar situation where I was with somebody that I felt like every time I tried to ask them to spend time with me, or hang out with me or anything they would react with disgust, or frustration, or they just obviously didn’t want to spend any time with me. And because it wasn’t an overt rejection or an overt dumping, I put up with that for a very very long time.

Because I thought maybe if I just ask them right or hit them at the right time or if I— you know. I blamed myself for that reaction instead of realising, hey, do I want to be with somebody who isn’t enthused to spend time with me? No, I don’t. So, really think about that. You’re sitting there and even when it comes to sexual situations, you’re like “he could pretend to enjoy it”. Do you want someone who’s pretending? Do you really really want that?

Do you want someone who is with you out of some type of emotional manipulation or guilt, and who is pretending to like you? Do you really really want that? You don’t want to be around somebody who was only spending time with you because they promised, and all of the rules and situations like when you’re asking them not to have sex because he hasn’t had sex with you and he promised… while I totally get that, You’re not going to be able to fix his shitty behaviour by restricting what they do together.

And it’s not her responsibility or her fault that your boyfriend is behaving in this way, but she’s also not helping by basically contributing to your gaslighting by basically saying, “well maybe if you left him alone he would try harder” bullshit. Obviously, okay it’s fine for him to feel bothered by you if that’s how he feels. Okay he feels that way. But equally you need more time with him and if he doesn’t want to give you that, then he could also do something about that and he’s not.

Instead he’s telling you that you’re a irrational. Oh he keeps promising. Oh, we’ll do that we’ll spend time. This time we’ll spend time. He’s not being a grown up about it and going, “I don’t want to spend this time with you”. You know he could say that overtly to your face, instead he’s just pushing it off and pushing it off and then basically saying that you’re doing it wrong and that’s why he doesn’t want to spend time with you. Bullshit. Bullshit.

Ask yourself if these are the kind of people that you want to be in a relationship with? I know you’ve clicked with this person. You’ve been together for two years. Hopefully he hasn’t spent the entire relationship being this way but even if he hasn’t, he is now showing a side of himself that is really not great. If there’s any side of himself that’s basically going to

ignore you or treat you poorly then, do you really want to be with this person?

I think that there is an element and a part of, you know— you say you think you have borderline personality disorder. There probably is definitely things for you to work on in terms of feeling more secure, but this is like a perfect example of when I talked about how you can be the most secure person in the entire world, and have the best self esteem in the entire world. But if you’re with someone who’s treating you poorly, you’re still going to feel like crap. There’s no amount of self love, and, you know, self care that’s going to make up for being in a situation where someone is completely ignoring everything, and not treating you right which is what is happening here.

Of course there’s an element where you know you have some anxious attachment stuff going on, where you could work on that. But you need to work on that in an environment where you’re with someone who actually wants to be attached to you and someone who actually wants the best for you. You can’t fix that in a situation with people who don’t want the best for you or don’t care about you.

There’s a brilliant piece about— I don’t know if you’re familiar with nonviolent communication, but it’s a whole way of phrasing things that’s supposed to be really really helpful, and someone has pointed out how with nonviolent communication you assume that everyone who is communicating doesn’t mean any harm.

And how nonviolent communication can actually help abusive and horrible people because they do mean harm. And when you assume that they don’t mean harm, that is actually giving them a benefit of the doubt you shouldn’t give them. So you could work on all of these parts of yourself but you can’t do that in this environment. This is terrible, like I’m not saying he has to have sex with you every time you asked him to. I’m not saying yes to drop everything to spend time with you, but he needs to be better at communicating that he doesn’t want to and be more honest about that if that’s the case.

So then you can make a decision. “All right, do I really want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be around me?” This is such a bad situation. I feel so bad for you because you’re sitting here, begging for time for someone, and begging for attention from someone who is just like telling you not to get mad because he’s not meeting your needs and he’s also— this is like one of the most painful aspects that you can have in polyamory in my opinion and in my experience is seeing your partner give something to somebody else that you want from them that they refuse to give to you. That hurts so much.

That is so shit. And it’s so painful, and you’re sitting here watching him basically give time to her and give none to you. And that’s — ugh, don’t be in this situation. Honestly that’s my best advice. Leave, both of them. Both of them. This clearly isn’t a triad situation. Y ou didn’t even want to be in it to begin with. They just decided that this was a triad relationship, and no effort has been made on her part to form any kind of bond with you. So, just leave this situation.

It’s such a bad situation in so many ways that you deserve much much better than this. I feel so bad for you. This is horrible. You don’t deserver to be treated this way. This is absolutely terrible. These people— I’m sure that there are obviously positive sides to their personalities and, but this is a truly despicable way to treat somebody.

So to recap, ask yourself if you really want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you and who puts off being with you, who complains about being with you, who responds to your distress with annoyance and with gaslighting behaviour, basically telling you that you’re irrational. You can acknowledge and validate someone’s feelings in the moments even if they aren’t rational. If you feel like, “Oh, I think you’re gonna leave me”. Okay. You can, as a partner go, “It’s okay that you feel that way and I see that you feel that way. Here is why I’m not going to leave you. This is what I feel,” and, you know, that is a helpful response.

Saying you’re irrational and you’re just jealous and you’re just insecure and you just need to get over it. That is not a helpful response, regardless of whether or not someone is actually under threat of their partner leaving them. That’s not helpful regardless. Ask yourself if you want to be with someone who responds to your distress in that way, because that is rubbish.

And then, yeah. Last but not least, you deserve to be in a better situation than this, and you should absolutely leave because you didn’t want to be in a polyamorous relationship. This isn’t really a polyamorous relationship in my opinion. I’m not trying to be all no true Scotsman or anything but this isn’t— If you didn’t consent to it and you felt forced into it— It’s one thing to try polyamory because, and I think that you were open to the concept, but it just doesn’t sound like this was actually polyamory.

It just sounds like he wanted to be with this person, you know. Polyamory isn’t cheating with permission. That’s not what it is. This isn’t a situation that I would describe as polyamorous. This is highly unethical. And it’s hurting you. And you shouldn’t have to deal with that you should find someone who responds to your distress with empathy and compassion, who wants to spend time with you and who is excited to spend time with you. That’s what you deserve. You deserve someone who is ecstatic about spending time with you and you can find that and you will find that, but not with these two people.

So I hope that helps and good luck.

How to ask for reassurance

Much of the advice I have seen about dealing with jealousy in polyamorous relationships involves telling your partner so that you can communicate about it.

When I tell my long term partner I am jealous of him and his girlfriend it makes him very sad, and he begins to avoid me. We have had an open relationship for many years, but only late last year decided to try being poly[am] (he met another women he developed romantic feelings for).

How can I communicate to him that I am jealous and sometimes ask for his reassurance without making him feel bad? If this can’t be done, how else can I seek reassurance and/or learn to deal with my jealousy on my own? I don’t want my jealousy to be the cause of the end of our relationship.

I suppose it comes down to the reasons you’re feeling jealous and what in particular is sparking it. Obviously your partner is going to feel sad that you feel unhappy and feel pressure to end the other relationship to save you from pain, but a lot of times when people say they feel “jealous” this ends up covering a whole range of things that, in my opinion, aren’t actually jealousy.

You can address this by trying to break it down. What is it that you are actually feeling?

Wanting what you don’t have

To me, jealousy would be specifically that you want what he has — meaning that you want to have another relationship but don’t have one. If that is the case, I don’t know as that going to him for reassurance would actually be helpful. It’s sort of like if your partner had a stable, high paying job and you didn’t and you felt jealous of that. You’re allowed to feel things and may very well feel frustrated by that kind of thing, but going to them and saying, “I feel jealous of your luck or ability” might actually not help anything because there is nothing concrete they can really do.

If you wanted a relationship and were jealous of your partner having one in that sense, I would say that you should explore some of the reasons why you feel like you have to be in one, whether there are avenues in your life you may be able to receive more love and attention (even if it’s not romantic) and if you could see a therapist on your own to speak about some of what may be a justified unfairness. Especially if you have a partner who socially may find it easier to fit into many communities where you may be disadvantaged. Those are all things that would probably be more helpful than going to your partner and asking for reassurance.

Fear of being replaced

However, when most people say they “feel jealous” when they are trying polyamory, more often not, they are feeling a fear that their partner will leave them and they are seeking reassurance from their partner. I feel like, if your partner pulling away is exacerbating these feelings, then that might be what you’re actually feeling. Splitting hairs on the definition of “jealousy” aside, if this is what you’re feeling, assurance from your partner can help, but it may also help to identify and face your worst fears.

Unless you grew up in a different society, you were likely given very mono-centric messages growing up that endorse the concept of “the one”. We’re encouraged to see relationships, love and sex as a competitive sport we can only succeed at if we look a certain way or buy certain products. The style of monogamy that society wants us to live that puts romantic love above all else compounds the importance of this competition.

Even when we move away from monogamy, we can still feel like we can be “replaced” by a better model. And sometimes, in an effort to comfort us, people trying out polyamory can reflect these concepts through rules like, “I’ll only ever love anyone but you” or trying to reinforce the value of one relationship by devaluing others.

Recognising you grew up in a society that encourages you to compete with others and that it’s just not as simple as that is part of exposing that fear for what it is. Because, especially if you have gone through any kind trauma in your life, your brain will be wired for survival in such a way where it will encourage you to believe that if you behave in x, y, z ways, your partner will stay with you.

Facing what you can control

Mostly when people are jealous and scared in or out of polyamory, they’re afraid their partner will leave them for someone “better”. Polyamory makes this fear more pronounced because, well, your partner actually sleeping with or developing feelings for other people makes this look like a more likely scenario. But in reality, people fall in and out of love all of the time, regardless of whether they are polyam or not. People dump and leave people they have been with for decades, married to or had children with. There is very little you can do as an individual to completely prevent this.

It seems contradictory to throw your hands up and “give up” in a way and a lot of polyamory advice would encourage you to look inward and see your own inner value and recognise that you are unique and your partner has a good reason to be with you — and while I think there’s no harm in building your self esteem, the fact of the matter is this advice reinforces the idea that someone is with you because of an innate value you have and that, regardless of what it is, must be maintained to keep that person around.

It abates the fear you have that someone will leave you because you aren’t good enough. But instead of saying you’re good enough and great and why would anyone ever leave, maybe flip it on it’s head and ask yourself if you can really control whether or not someone leaves you? Obviously, you could choose to be a mean, cruel or just neglectful partner and someone will leave you — you can control your actions. But your actions aren’t always going to control other people’s emotions. Especially when they cannot always control their emotions.

Your partner can and should generally offer you reassurance that they love you especially on days when you’re feeling down, but also it helps to remind yourself that the responsibility to keep someone around doesn’t depend on what you have to offer them. You’re not a product for sale. You’re a person and you’re complex. And the last thing you want in your life if someone who refuses to see your complexity. When you remove the responsibility to entertain and keep someone around with your value from your shoulders, the anxiety you experience when you fear they may leave lessens.

In summary

So, to sum up, addressing jealousy greatly depends on what it is that you’re feeling. If you are actually craving another relationship and you’re frustrated your partner has one, finding a place to vent that frustration, focusing on the positive aspects of your relationship, and seeking some attention and love in other forms may help address that.

But if you’re feeling something else — such as the fear you will be replaced or your partner may stop loving you — realising what little control you have over that situation will probably help you stop fretting over how you can or can’t stop it. Even when it comes to coming to your partner for reassurance. While you need to be able to give your partner space and also not solely rely on him for all of your emotional reassurance, if he is the kind of person that wants someone who he doesn’t have to give any emotional reassurance to (which is really unrealistic) then you’re not going to be able to change that through your actions.

Figure out what specific things you’re afraid of and ask him to give reassurance based on that. Find other sources of comfort in your life where you can. Absolve yourself of the responsibility to keep people around. Accept that also he may feel sad about you being sad — and unless he’s threatened to leave you for that (in which case… not sure if you’d want to stay with someone who threatens that anyway), feeling sad may just be how he copes and it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to leave you because of it.

If therapy is accessible for you, seek out a polyamory friendly therapist to work on some of the emotional things you go through when you’re feeling at your lowest. Research a bit about nervous system regulation and attachment theory so you can identify things in your past that may be ringing alarm bells now. And last, but definitely not least, being okay with not being okay.

I wrote a bit more about this in detail when I wrote my polyamory introduction article and that might help, but overall it’s okay for you to feel anxious and scared. That doesn’t mean you can’t do polyamory and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.

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 56: Escalating Past a Metamour

Your partner is escalating your relationship and it’s making your metamour jealous. What can you do?

*A metamour is a person who also dates your partner who you do not date.

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

Discussion Topic: What does an “escalation” in a relationship mean to you?

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

Episode 56 – Escalating Past a Metamour

Your partner is escalating your relationship and it’s making your metamour jealous. What can 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. Discussion Topic – What does an “escalation” in a relationship mean to you?

 

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

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

My metamour, Kay, suffers with depression and anxiety, I feel it would be unfair to omit this. They have been dating our partner, Pip, for a year longer than I have. My relationship (friendship) with Kay started to go downhill a year ago, after they found out that Pip and I were fluid bonded and regularly had sex without condoms. Kay has another partner with whom they are fluid bonded and have been for several years.

Since then Pip has suggested that we move in together, introduced me to their parents, and planned a big holiday for us to visit their relatives in another country. The last time I met Kay it was clear that they were blaming me for “plotting” these relationship escalations, even though they were all initiated by Pip (which it turns out they had failed to mention). Kay told me that they had a fear I was going to change to being monogamous and “drag Pip down with me”.

I feel it isn’t my fault that between the two of them they had never had any of these discussions about how their relationship could escalate, despite over 2.5 years of dating. I said I thought it was pretty normal to at least discuss these kind of escalations by that point in a relationship. Kay said “it’s always going to be unfair if one partner is always planning ahead then the other partner never even gets a chance.”

I feel really stuck in the middle here, and unfairly blamed. I don’t feel I can break it to Kay that all of these ‘life events’ were initiated by Pip. Then they would want to know why Pip hadn’t sought out the same things in their relationship. But I feel like I have to either do that or just pretend to accept some “blame” for things moving forward in my own relationship with Pip.

This all happened just before lockdown and I’ve had very little interaction with Kay since the climax of this whole saga. I know that this all makes the situation really awkward for Pip but I don’t know what to do to make it better. I feel like I don’t want any kind of relationship with Kay right now.

Response:

Right. So, initially when I’m reading through all of this, my first instinct is to be like don’t have any relationship with Kay. You don’t have to have any kind of friendship or anything with Kay. But the thing that kind of really bugs me about this entire situation is you are doing Pip’s work for them. And that’s really not cool. I would have just outwardly said straight to Kay’s face from the beginning that they started to blame me for all of this that this was initiated by Pip, and if they had a problem about their relationship with Pip, then they needed to go speak to Pip and not to me, because I have no control over that.

I would have outwardly said that. It makes Pip’s life awkward? Tickity tough. Okay? Pip’s life is awkward then and that is a

direct consequence of Pip not having those discussions with Kay. Especially if Kay is going to talk to me. If we’re going to talk, and we’re going to have a friendship and you’re going to start blaming me for stuff that’s not my fault, I’m going to immediately tell you who initiated this stuff. And I’m not sure why you haven’t done that.

Okay, it makes Pip’s life awkward. Big deal. Pip made Pip’s life awkward. The second that Pip decided not to have these discussions with Kay was the moment where Pip made Pip’s life awkward. Especially if Pip knew that you and Kay were talking. At what point does it make any sense? So, yeah, two things.

First and foremost, you are not required to have any kind of friendship or relationship with Kay if you don’t want to. And I know. I’ve gone through depression and anxiety myself. Anxiety is something that I’ve got. It’s tough. I get it. But that is something that you can, especially if the anxiety is technically kind of being caused by you (which it’s not really). But I can understand from Kay’s perspective feeling really anxious about the way that your relationship is escalating and feeling like that’s not happening to me and wondering why.

I can get that. That’s a totally logical reason for having that. However, if Kay is using you to voice these concerns, you can set your own boundaries and it doesn’t have to be like an either or situation. It doesn’t have to be like “Excuse me Kay. Fuck off. Never speak to me again”. Doesn’t have to be like that. But you can set very clear boundaries with Kay and it’s understandable they have anxiety. It’s understandable that they have these problems, but you’re not their therapist and you’re certainly not Kay and Pip’s couples therapist at all.

So you can very clearly say to Kay, “If you have a problem with what’s going on in your relationship with Pip, then you need to speak to Pip or a relationship therapist and not to me”, because that is unfair to you. It puts you in the middle of a situation that you have a stake in, and it would be no different if you and Kay and Pip were all friends, and you went to, I don’t know, Disney World with Pip and Kay was really upset because Pip had always said that they would take Kay to Disney World. And instead of going to Pip and saying “Hey why didn’t you take me to Disney World?” Kay came to you and said “Hey why the Pip take…”. It would be the same if you were friends.

You wouldn’t want to be in the middle of this, so don’t allow yourself to be. Put very clear boundaries down with Kay. You don’t have to be like “Fuck off forever and never speak to me again”. Because I do kind of think that, you know, maybe there are other things you have in common. Maybe even a casual cordial friendship is possible between the two of you. It’s just

that because Kay is using this as a means to voice their grievances and their relationship with Pip, it’s very difficult to be friends with that. So make that very clear and very known.

The other thing that that Kay said that you said, “it’s always going to be unfair if one partner is always planning ahead and then the other partner never even gets a chance”. The problem that I have with this kind of mindset, again we were discussing about the relationship escalator and about how there’s this thought process within monogamy where it’s like okay you meet, and then you are together, and then you decide to move in together and then you have babies, and then— you know all of that progression. The reason why that’s so complicated within a polyamorous framework is because some of that is contingent upon there being only one person who does that.

It’s going to be very hard for someone to live that kind of life and progression if it’s only one person. And the thing of it is, all of the relationship escalating things you’ve mentioned about like going on trips together, meeting their parents, and moving in — I mean, some of those things may be things that Pip only wants to do with one person, but they aren’t necessarily completely limited to one person. Like they could be things that Kay has done as well but if Kay wants to be the first and if Kay wants to be the only then that’s always going to be an issue. And that is something that Pip has to address with Kay, not with you. This is not your battle to fight.

So yeah, the first thing is that you need to set clear boundaries with Kay about what can be discussed. And if you have to get really blunt, and really honest about it then do, because it’s your right to say, “Look, I’m not involved in this”. You can’t control if Kay wants to blame you. There’s nothing you can control about that, but you can absolutely control how much you hear about this kind of stuff, and you can absolutely say “Listen, if you continue to have discussions with me about your relationship with Pip, and about how unfair you think all this is, then I will not speak to you anymore, because I am not the one who you should be talking to about this. If you feel like Pip is not treating you fairly then you need to speak with Pip and leave me out of it”. And you can make that very very very clear so that Kay either decides to stop speaking to you altogether, or decides to stop speaking to you about this.

The second thing that’s kind of going on here that I don’t think you’re really focusing on is that you are bending over backwards to make the situation easier for Pip. Why? Why are you doing that? Pip should be the one who’s talking to Kay about this, and you have that realisation. In your letter you’re talking about like, you know, Kay— all of these things were initiated by Pip which they had failed to mention to Kay and you don’t understand why in their 2.5 years of dating they have never had that discussion and it is not your fault that they’ve never had that discussion. It’s Pip’s fault, in a way. It’s also Kay’s fault a little bit. It’s like both of them.

Pip’s not doing anything and Kay is talking to you about it instead. They both need to stop it. And I kind of feel like you’re holding Kay super responsible in a way that you’re not holding Pip responsible. Pip should that share some of this blame as well. And you’re kind of just like “I don’t want to make things— All of this is gonna make the situation really awkward for Pip”. Tough shit. Like honestly, I do think you need to be a little bit more talking to Pip as well as telling Kay like “Look these are my boundaries. I’m not going to have this discussion with you. If you have a problem with the relationship that you have with Pip then you need to speak with Pip”.

Equally, you can go to Pip and be like, “Kay is talking to me about this stuff. You need to talk to Kay. You need to do that because I am not the one who’s going to be put in the middle of these situations. It’s not fair to me. You need to do the work that you need to do with Kay, so that this is addressed, and so that she stops coming to me. There’s something clearly going on in your relationship which is not my business, but it’s being made into my business. So please do something about that”.

You’re allowed to do that. You’re allowed to hold Pip a little bit responsible because it isn’t your job to fix the situation. You say you don’t know what you can do to make it better. You can’t do anything to make it better. Pip is the person that needs to do something to make it better.

So to sum up, two things. First thing you need to put more boundaries in between you and Kay when it comes to discussing this. You can absolutely say, “I do not want to discuss this with you”, and you need to say that if that’s how you feel. And then Kay can either choose to continue whatever friendship that you would have had without this or Kay can choose not to talk to you, but either way you were allowed to put that boundary in.

Second thing, you need to give Pip some of the blame for this. Be a little bit more annoyed with Pip than you are with Kay because this is Pip’s relationship which Pip is not clearly not addressing, and you can say to Pip directly, “Kay is coming to me and talking to me about this stuff. Why? You need to talk to Kay. You need to figure this out because it’s not fair for me to be put in the middle of it,” and you can say that 100% to both of them. “It’s not fair for me to be put in the middle of this”.

If you have to sit them both down, I mean I don’t think you can do that with lockdown, but like if you have to sit them both down and be like, “I don’t want to be in the middle of this anymore. Discuss amongst yourselves,” you’re allowed to do that. I’m sorry. I’m just really annoyed on your behalf because you shouldn’t be put in the middle of this. This is absolutely… And the fact that you can’t even say overtly to Kay… like “Pip is the one who initiated this stuff”. Say that. Just say it. So what if it makes Pip’s life awkward? It’s making your life awkward and it’s not even your fault. You don’t deserve that.

Anyway, I hope that helps and good luck.

 

Getting over a partner’s sexual history

I am 34 years old, female and since more than 10 years I am in an open relationship with my boyfriend. We follow the concept of a “primary relationship” (so most of our daily life we live like a monogamous couple) but we are free to have external sexual contacts. Most of the time we meet people from our broader circle of friends and sometimes we meet people that have nothing to do with our hobbies or social surroundings.

Our relationship has a very solid ground, but (as you can imagine) the openness keeps us emotionally busy from time to time. Especially I am struggling with the classic feelings of jealousy, fear of loss, conflicts of consensus and so on. But I (and we) managed to conquer most of it and I am much more relaxed compared to our first years.

There are still many “construction sites” we need to work on, but there is not much which deeply makes me feel insecure when it comes to our future. Only this one thing keeps eating me from the inside (if that’s a correct English metaphor): the fact that my boyfriend had (and I assume also will have) a large number of female sex partners, I would say the double of what I experienced. And I am aware that neither will I turn him into a different person (like, a less sexual/attractive person) nor do I want to restrict his openness.

What makes me feel desperate is the simple fact that there are so many people out there in this city, who know how my boyfriend looks naked and what it feels to be in bed with him. It concerns me so much that I already evolved a type of paranoia. Sometimes I even look at people in the metro thinking “who knows, maybe even she was already in bed with him. Who even did not go to bed with him?”. It’s absurd, I know. And I am also aware that there is a notion of sex-negativity coming with it, that I can’t avoid.

Though I am exaggerating a bit, it is still true that many women surrounding us where in bed with him, and it is overwhelming me constantly (even though there is no current case), every time I think about it. It automatically leads to feelings like inferiority, helplessness and anger. It has the power to make me lose my ground, to feel insecure about my role or my place in our relationship until I am no longer able to feel why I am special or not in the place to be compared with others. It’s like I don’t know how to act or to think about that fact. I don’t find my position.

And so many times when I find out about “another name on the list” it just weakens me a lot and I would just like to feel indifferent about it. But the feeling is too strong that I feel beset, and that way too much people are too close to my life and my relationship. I think it’s not the problem that I cannot handle it at all, it just feels like it’s too much, that my patience is always challenged and that I don’t have enough “openness battery” to digest these informations.

In a way I feel so dumb and also “poor” being on his side, having to arrange myself with his quantity of intimate contacts. I think one big factor of the whole story is my strong strive for justice, balance and equality. In my head and heart it feels impossible to perceive our roles as equal when I have to face so many more people around us that have been sexually involved with him. In my ratio I know it has nothing to do with a number, but more with the way how we treat each other and so on. If I could make a wish I would like to have a recipe how to not take it personally that my boyfriend does what he does and how to feel unimpressed by all these women.

Long story short, until now I didn’t find any articles or podcasts referring to that problem. The question of not feeling devalued just because your partner has a large number of sexual contacts, that most of the time are part of our circle of friends. And let’s imagine the future will be different. Let’s imagine my partner will calm down a bit because of changing life circumstances (which truly is the current perspective), how can I arrange myself with his past?

How can I evolve a relaxed feeling about many people out there knowing my boyfriend in a sexual way? I simply don’t know how to find peace with this fact and I just want to be aware of it without getting deeply desperate every time I think about it for some minutes 🙁 I am talking to my therapist about it since some time and still we don’t find a way out. And also we are seeing a couple therapist since two months now and it’s great, he is great. But still, I was just asking him about my problem today and he didn’t have concrete ideas of how to help me out.

I hope I managed to make my point.. there is much more I could describe and tell you about, but I suppose in the core you know what I am talking about. Also it’s not that easy for me to express myself in English..

I would be really happy if you have some ideas or suggestions for me and maybe some reading advices. Because, being honest, until now your writings gave me the most satisfying perspectives. Because you seem to take everything into account, while being authentic and very close to the emotional reality of many people, without idealising anything. I like that 🙂

There are a variety of issues that are going on here. First, I want to say that it’s not necessarily completely unreasonable to feel insecure about the number of sexual partners your partner has had. There are a lot of cultural factors that would encourage you to feel this way in addition to some of the issues going on in your current relationship.

It’s worth remembering that, unless where you are located is wildly different, we are encouraged to see partnership as a competition where we consume to be “the best”. Even if you don’t logically believe this, you’ve likely had a lot of messages throughout your life telling you that you need to be X, Y, or Z in order to be attractive and gain a partner. For women in particular, there is a lot of pressure to somehow be both sexually experienced but not have sexual experience.

Even if you are a woman who doesn’t buy into those ideals, it can be hard to escape that pressure. Women are also encouraged to believe that their true value is what they can add to a man’s life and that their primary goal in life, beyond careers and anything else, is attracting and keeping a man. And that’s just for starters.

You have a relationship where you are a “primary” and while there may be many upsides to this way of doing this, it does mean that there is essentially an MVP slot in his life that only one person can fill. When you create this type of hierarchy, with it comes the fear that you will replaced by someone else and it does compound your fears.

When you’re coming from a monogamous-centric culture, you have to remember as well that it’s taught you that exclusivity is the ultimate sign of devotion and meaning. Given that, we can feel like we are only special with someone if they are exclusive to us in some way. I think this has a knock on effect when it comes to sexual partners.

Without a doubt there is an aspect of sex negativity and even some slut shaming that is impacting how you feel about the number of people he has slept with but it seems less motivated by shaming him or seeing him as disgusting and more of a concern about what it means for the meaningful times you have with each other.

Something that might be helpful is reminding yourself of your own experiences. It doesn’t take away from your experience with your partner when you have sex with other people. He doesn’t mean less when you have other experiences. And it might be helpful to remind yourself of that. I wrote a polyamory intro article that might help you figure out how to reframe your fears and find an anchor that can bring you back when you’re afraid.

It might also be helpful for you to remember that there is an aspect of your brain that is trying to prevent you from hurting or feeling pain. Especially when you are out and about and your brain decides to go into a bit of a spiral wondering about who he has or hasn’t slept with. While I can’t say what’s true for everyone’s anxiety, I can say that my anxiety is usually trying to help in a sort of weird backwards way. It might be that your brain thinks worrying about this is going to change something. It’s less about stopping yourself from having these thoughts or feelings and more about recognising what their goal is and realising that worrying about this isn’t going to change anything.

In addition to working with your own personal therapist about these issues, I think what might be helpful for you is to reframe your fears and think about them within the context of the world you’re living in, the pressures you might be facing, and the culture you’re around. Your partner could also provide you some reassurance about how important you are to them and what your relationship means.

Lastly, give yourself a bit of a break, especially since it doesn’t sound like you’re using these emotions as a reason to control your partner’s behaviour. You’re aware it’s an issue and you’re trying to work on it. That’s the best you can do. Having these feelings doesn’t mean you’re a bad person and it’ll be harder to work through these feelings if you’re punishing yourself for having them.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Comments from the therapist

A reframe that occurred to me: Look how desirable my partner is! I must be hot stuff for him to choose me as his primary!
I focus on the power of being consciously chosen by partners as way to help soothe anxiety with some of my clients. I wonder if her thoughts tend towards comparing herself to these other partners and thinking she’s lacking, rather than thinking how magical she must be for him to prioritize her.

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Episode 55: How Much is Too Much?

How much is too much to know about your partner’s other relationships? Where is the line?

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

Discussion Topic: Do you believe in first impressions?

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

Episode 55 – How Much is Too Much

How much is too much to know about your partner’s other relationships? Where is the line? 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 – Do you believe in first impressions?

 

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’ve started listening to your podcast on and off in the last few months.

One thing that I notice is a recurring theme in your advice is that you often say it’s none of their business to know all this stuff about any of the relationships that the letter writer is not involved in.

What I’m curious about is: where is the line? How much stuff is enough to know?

When I’m in a relationship with someone, it’s important to have *some* kind of understanding of each of our existing/potential relationships in order to navigate the dynamics that arise and even just from a logistical point of view when planning out time for each other.

When meeting someone new I want to know what kinds of relationship/s they have in their life so that I can see how they relate to their partner/s, what kinds of boundaries they may have in place, whether what they have to offer is something I am interested in. These are difficult things to figure out if there’s a cone of silence around all their other relationships.

One time my partner and I tried a mutual agreement of non-disclosure with our respective new relationships. In hindsight the complete lack of transparency was the biggest driver of it hurtling into disaster. Where we would normally give basic updates on how the relationship is progressing and how we feel about that person, there was absolute silence and we both projected our insecurities into that empty space. It was horrible. My partner and I learned the hard way that too little knowledge did not work, and had we been able to provide each other with the updates that we normally would, it would have headed off a lot of the insecurities that all of us were feeling.

So I guess I would like to know, in your opinion, what kind of stuff, and how much stuff, do you think is appropriate to know about the other relationship/s that your partner is in?

Response:

Okay, first of all, when I’ve said in my podcast or columns— when people have asked me questions and I’ve said “You know too much”, or “You’re too involved”, almost in every case, that isn’t what you’re talking about here. You’re talking about wanting to know about logistics, or things like that. There’s kind of an in-between between Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and knowing every single thing, beyond a point where it’s kind of like, is there any privacy in these relationships?

I’m not advocating for people to operate on a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell basis which is what it sounds like you were actually operating under. A very strict agreement of complete non -disclosure. That isn’t what I’m what I’m saying. That is pretty much Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, other than the fact that you may know that your partner is in this other relationship. It is kind of a don’t ask don’t tell setup. That’s not necessarily what I advocate. What I advocate is supposed to be contrary to the advice that or the instinct that people have to know everything about another relationship.

And I do kind of think that’s working in this situation that you’re describing. People tend to think that if they know everything about the other relationships that their partners are in, they can prevent something bad from happening in their relationship. The reason why I don’t think this is good is because, ultimately, there’s only so much you can control. You cannot control the relationships that your partner is in, and sometimes when you want to know about that relationship, it stems from a desire to want to counteract the anxiety by controlling everything, or wanting to know as if  that’s going to help you foresee something bad.

It’s a preventative measure, and what I’m saying is that, that can’t prevent it. When you are in a relationship with somebody and they’re in relationships with other people, those relationships that they have with other people should have a reasonable respect of privacy. It isn’t sometimes very fair when you know your partner is disclosing stuff about their other partners to you, to those other partners.

It’s a balance between the privacy of other people and also— sometimes I feel like people want to know those details because they don’t want to actually hold their partner accountable for their decisions. And it’s used way too much as an excuse. So for example, if you are dating Person B, and they are dating Person C, they could say to you that person C is getting really upset every single time this happens or that happens and what I feel like is going to happen is you’re going to blame Person C when Person B makes choices based on Person C’s actions, instead of going, “Okay, I get—“ You know your partner’s welcome to tell you that their other partner is getting upset yada yada.

But ultimately it’s them that’s making a decision based on that information. It’s them that is choosing— if they are choosing to change your relationship because of what’s happening in other relationships. The thing that I worry about with being like “This is what’s happening in this relationship and this is what’s happening in that relationship” is that rather than being used as a way to talk about dynamics, it’s being used as a way to blame other people, for what you are choosing to do. And that’s why I don’t particularly advocate it. I think that it’s— it tends to be a way that people use to try and avoid things, and sometimes I think it causes more problems.

Yes, you have filled this void of not knowing with your own insecurities, but knowing that isn’t going to solve the problem which is the insecurity. The problem really isn’t this void or what’s in it. It’s the fact that you feel like you need to have this information, and if it’s not there then you’ll put it there, in order for you to feel comfortable and safe and secure in your relationship. And I do genuinely feel like, regardless of whether you have no information and you’re putting information in there or you do have information, the initial problem is that you feel like you need to know this, to solve the fear and the insecurities and the doubt that you are experiencing, and that is the issue.

That is the real problem. Not whether or not that information is there. It’s the fact that you feel like there should be something there for you to feel safe and secure in your relationship but that is kind of what it boils down to. Now there’s different things that you mentioned along here. You said “It’s important to have some kind of an understanding of each of our existing potential relationships in order to navigate the dynamics that arise even just from a logistical point of view and planning out time for each other.” You can have a partnership with someone who communicates to you how they do relationships, without necessarily knowing tons about other people.

So for example if I had a new partnership and I would say, “Okay, this is how my life is organised. I have a partner that I live with. Generally speaking, that partner that I live with does tend to take up a lot of my time because we live together, and there’s logistical planning. However, in terms of how I do relationships, I am not a person who believes in prioritising anyone just because I’ve been with them longer”. So I would highlight to them that if they feel like I am not giving them the time that they need or if they feel like that I am prioritising my relationship with the person I live with over them, then they need to highlight that to me because that is not what I intended.

However, what I would say is that I do have a disability, I do have a condition which makes my energy levels low. I don’t always have access to the best transportation because I can’t drive, things like that. Like they have to — depending on where they live and where they are in their life — you know, if I if I had another partner that basically wanted me to be their primary, that wouldn’t work. I don’t have the time or energy for that. So it’s about figuring out what your individual preferences are, what your commitments are, what all of those things are.

I don’t need to tell them, intimate details about my partnership with the person that I live with in order for them to get a good understanding of what place they would have in my life, and I don’t even know what that would entail. Like what is it about my partner, and my relationship with the person that I live with that you would need to know in order to understand things? You need to be able to trust me when I say “This is the time I have. This is the place that you would occupy in my life. This is how I operate”. You would have to trust me in order for that to work.

Maybe you don’t immediately trust somebody’s word. You need to see it in action in order to get a good idea of it. So that is… that’s one thing I’d say about that. Somebody can pretend like they are and this is, this is actually— it’s quite funny that this comes up because for a very very long time I felt like relationship anarchy was just something that people who didn’t want to take responsibility used as a cover for, you know, to say I don’t have any priorities when actually they do. I have kind of since come to believe and understood relationship anarchy a little bit better and what it’s supposed to mean, even though I think that people don’t always use it to mean that in a similar way to anarchy in general.

People can lie about things you know. They can say, “Well, I don’t have any primaries. I don’t really…” you know, and then make decisions that counter that but the thing of it is, you can’t prevent everything. You can’t prevent yourself from getting in a relationship where your needs don’t match up, where somebody isn’t honest or maybe doesn’t even know. Like some people just aren’t self aware enough to know where they’re making their decisions and why. So that’s a possibility. And there’s nothing that you observing them in their other relationships or knowing any details about that, isn’t necessarily going to prevent that.

And you have to understand that part of entering into multiple relationships includes the risk that those relationships will end. That’s just part and parcel of the risk. So I still think that you wanting to know the dynamics of someone else’s relationship is partially a way to shield yourself from heartbreak, and you need to maybe— all of this is a very anxious response, which is understandable.

It’s totally understandable that you would want to try and protect yourself. That’s not a bad thing. But ultimately, this is creating a lot more problems than there needs to be. Now when you talk about you and your partner tried this mutual agreement of non-disclosure with your respective new relationships, the lack of transparency was the biggest driver of it hurtling into disaster,

Okay, you would normally give basic updates and how the relationship is progressing and how we feel about that person, but there was an absolute silence. We both projected our insecurities— how does another relationship increasing in terms of feeling and how you feel about that person how the relationship is progressing — progressing into what?

If you’re feeling this fear it’s because you haven’t talked about what relationship progression means. It means different things to different people. Are you on the relationship escalator? Is one of you expecting to marry someone else? Like, that’s the discussion that needs to happen. That’s what you need to work out with each other, is where you fall into each other’s lives and you have to trust each other to talk to each other if that changes.

But having regular updates. I mean, If someone asked me that like, “How is your relationship progressing? And how do you feel about that other person?” I would feel really… what do you mean progressing into what? I have no intentions upon getting married. I have no intentions of having children. I have no interest in purchasing property or any of the other sort of general milestones people have for “relationship progression”. So what does that mean to me?

You’re asking these questions because you’re afraid of your partner falling in love with somebody else and you being replaced. That’s what it feels like. And whether or not you have this information— I’m sure It felt great. I’m sure when your partner said “Well I don’t know if I love this person yet, but we’re seeing how things go”. I’m sure you felt very relieved by that. I don’t doubt that for a second, and I’m sure when you didn’t have that information, you started to panic.

But the issue is the panic. The issue isn’t the information being there. It’s the fact that you feel like you need this for some reason. Why? Why do you need that? Can you not work together to sort out your insecurities and figure out why you feel so anxious? How do you reestablish a relationship with each other that means that you don’t worry about things like that? You don’t need updates like that. You have to also accept that regardless of getting these general updates, at any point in time your partner could be like “No, I’m done. I’m done with our relationship”. These updates are not going to prevent that.

These updates are not going to shield you from that. It’s not  going to make it easier for you, even if you like— okay, your partner’s like “I just met this person,” next update, “I’m dating,” next update, “I’m starting to fall for this person,” next, update “I love this person”, next update, “I don’t want us to be together no more”. You really think that the progression of those updates is going to somehow prepare you mentally for losing that partner? It’s not going to.

Your brain is trying to help. It’s trying to do something with all of this fear, understandable fear that it has that you will lose your partner, but these updates aren’t going to— They will temporarily make you feel better, no doubt. No doubt. But you need to address the fact that you’re filling what you see is a void with insecurity— You need to address that and figure out how you counteract that insecurity, instead of just trying to feed the information in, because it’s, it’s not actually— it does make you feel better and temporary, but it’s a temporary solution.

It’s a band aid over gaping wound. It isn’t fixing the actual problem. And that’s why this situation devolved the way it did, because when you can’t— you know, you need that and you haven’t addressed the core issue. So when you don’t get that information for whatever reason and you might not. You might not get that information. You wouldn’t when you don’t get that information all of a sudden you’re filling it with insecurities and you’re scared so you need to figure out why it is that you and your partner— Either you know, if you felt insecurity on both sides which it sounds like that was the case.

You need to figure out how you build up more trust with each other, rather than trying to fill up with regular updates. You don’t tell me how long you’ve been with your partner so I’m not sure if this is necessarily new. And even if you have been with them for a long time, if you’ve just started trying out polyamory it makes sense as you would have all of these insecurities. But yeah, I can’t give you a hard and fast answer, of what kind of stuff and how much stuff is appropriate.

It’s not necessarily about what kind of stuff or how much stuff. It’s about what’s the purpose of it is? What is the point? To try and stave off fear and anxiety? Because if the point is trying to stave off fear and anxiety, I don’t think that’s useful, because in the long run, it won’t prevent anything, and sometimes knowing these details can trigger more anxiety. Sometimes if you’re, you know— if your next update is “I’m falling completely head over heels in love with this person”, then it might be your brain goes, “Wow. They fell in love faster with this person than they do with me. What’s going on?”

Sometimes more information is more for your anxiety to work with. Ultimately it comes down to what you and your partner are with comfortable with. If you’re comfortable with regular updates, then you know, who am I to tell you to stop doing that? If it’s not a violation of the privacy of the other person who is involved and you should always check that and you feel comfortable with that, then go ahead. But the one thing that I would just say is that it’s not necessarily about, you know, how much or what not to know.

It’s about whether or not it’s actually serving you to know. Is it actually solving the situation? Will it actually do what you are trying to prevent? Will it prevent what you’re what you’re trying to get it to prevent? Because usually I feel like people are sharing this kind of updates or sharing this kind of information in order to prevent something from happening that it cannot prevent. And that is why I tend to tell people that they’re too involved, because they’re trying to be too involved, to be able to stop their partner, leaving them, and ultimately they cannot do that through this method.

They can’t do it at all. If somebody decides to leave you, short of locking them in the tower, which isn’t really going to fix the situation, you can’t stop that. You can’t stop your partner from leaving you. You can’t stop your partner from falling out of love with you. None of that is a thing that you can control and temporarily as I said, if you haven’t already read it I wrote this article called “13 mistakes people make when trying Polyamory”. I suggest you check it out as well.  One thing that people tend to do is that their brain in these types of situations, says, “What can I do to keep this person in my life? Because I’m afraid of losing them. I know I’ll do X, Y Z”.

And it’s an easy solution. It’s much easier and nicer and less traumatic and less scary for your brain to think that if you do X, Y Z, then your partner won’t leave you. Now you can be a complete and total asshole, obviously, you know. The best thing you can do to keep your partner around is by being respectful person, treating them well, treating yourself well — all of those things. But outside of that there isn’t anything you can do and your brain will trick you into believing that you can do things in order to temporarily relieve some of that fear and anxiety.

But the problem with this is that in the long run, what this inevitably ends up meaning is that you lost that relationship because you didn’t do X, Y Z and other relationships that you’ve had, you’ve lost because you didn’t do X, Y Z. This mind kind of like temporarily anxiety relieving thing ends up really screwing you over in the long run because it blames you for the things that happen in other relationships that you could not control, and that’s the problem with that mindset. It doesn’t prevent the thing you want it to prevent and it ends up creating more blame for you.

So yeah, basically to sum up, there isn’t a hard fast rule, other than the privacy and respect for the third person and, or the other person or people that your partner is dating about what to disclose or how much to not know. The only thing you really need to consider yourself with is what will knowing this information do? What problem will this solve? And will it actually solve that problem? Because, in the example you gave, the problem is that, you know, you see this void. You’re filling this void with anxious thoughts and you think that replacing it with updates will fix it.

When the actual problem is that you feel like you need this information in order to feel secure in your relationship and that is the actual problem. And that is something that you should think about. How do we build security between each other? What is relationship progression? What does that mean? What is the end goal? What is the ideal situation for yourself and your partner? Do your ideals …. you know this is my ideal polyamorous situation and this is your partner’s — do they mesh up? Are you compatible? Because at the end of the day, you know, that’s kind of what you’re asking with a relationship progression.

You’re afraid of being replaced. You’re afraid of things changing. You can’t prevent that. You need to discuss with each other, what your situations are and if you want it to change and also respect that even discussing that and knowing that doesn’t mean it can’t change in the future. Shit happens. Life happens. The only thing that’s constant is change.

So, you can’t ultimately prevent it. You have to sit with that discomfort and be able to get used to it and trust your partner that if something were going to change in your relationship and change in your expectations that they would discuss it with you, and that they would be there to support you. Because if you don’t feel like that’s the case, then that is ultimately the bigger issue than knowing about what’s going on in other relationships.

I hope that helps and good luck.

 

The definition of love

So I’m monogamous one hundred percent I want no one else but my man, he thinks monogamy is not natural, and sex is sex and primal and you can be in a relationship with one person and fuck someone else and that’s ok. Well to me it is not ok. It makes me feel less than, like I’m not good enough, like I’m being replaced. It makes me sick. He says he doesn’t have the desire now but I don’t think I can be ok with it. I want to be the only person he is with etc. Can someone help me understand how the term ethical non monogamous? Really those words are a contradiction. He doesn’t want to date anyone else. He’s talking about sex and only sex so what exactly is it?? I think it’s cheating. I think he must not love me….

There are billions of people on the planet. To say that either monogamy or polyamory is suitable for all of those people with their diversity of lives and needs is ridiculous.

As far as “natural” goes, I’m pretty sure that vaccinations and antibiotics aren’t “natural” either and I’m pretty sure that plenty of deadly poisons are. While evolution in terms of the way that human societies have worked in the past may influence some of our proclivities today, human beings are such social creatures and we don’t know everything about how our brain forms and develops.

We speak of “nature” and “nurture” as if they were oil and water but personally I believe these two things meld — because they have had to. Humans, like most other organisms, are adaptable, mutable creatures because we have had to adapt to certain environments to survive. We are also extraordinarily social and learn through social bonding — which is why solitary confinement is torture and why neglecting children in developmental stages can be catastrophic. Trying to pull a “natural” version from our “nurtured” version simply doesn’t work because they are meshed together. I always find it funny that we’re absolutely happy to regard things like monogamy “unnatural” and not… you know, misogyny. But, hey ho.

Regardless, you know yourself better than your “man” does. For him, perhaps sex is “primal” (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean). Perhaps he is capable of being in one relationship and having sex with multiple people without it having to mean something. But sex means something to you within the context of a relationship and that is valid.

And it also makes perfect sense you would feel sick or replaceable. While I think it would undoubtedly be beneficial for you to question the narrative that a monogamous centric society has told you is true — because it’s wrapped up with a lot of other misogynistic and other problematic concepts — monogamy itself as a practice isn’t inherently a problem. And if it’s what you want, that is valid.

The key word in “Ethical Non-Monogamy” is the word ethical. Polyamory or ethical non-monogamy is about all of the people involved being informed and consenting. You being told that you should allow him to have sex with others because it’s “natural” and he has no problem with it… I wouldn’t necessarily call that ethical. People involved in this dynamic want to have this dynamic. It doesn’t sound like this is what you want and my guess, from the pop evopsych bullshit your boyfriend is trying to pull, it’s unlikely he will see it as okay for you to have sex men other than him…

If this is not something that you want, then that is valid. You don’t have to understand ethical non-monogamy. And even if he doesn’t want to date anyone else and just wants to have sex with others, you don’t have to accept that or want that. Follow your heart. If what you want is a monogamous relationship where neither you nor your partner has sex with others than go for that. Don’t force yourself to accomodate someone if it’s not what you want.

I hope that helps and good luck!

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Episode 54: Sacrificing Too Much

When you’re trying your best with polyamory but it feels like if you don’t get it right, you may get divorced.

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

Discussion Topic: Should you sacrifice for your relationship? What is worth sacrificing?

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

Episode 54 – Sacrificing Too Much

When you’re trying your best with polyamory but it feels like if you don’t get it right, you may get divorced. 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 – Should you sacrifice for your 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:

My partner and I have been married for almost 2 years now. I knew from the first month that he was into the polyamory lifestyle, which I was willing to investigate when the time was right for me. I come from strictly monogamous relationships, so it’s been rough on me.

I agreed to try and attempt his lifestyle, so he does not feel the need to suppress his lifestyle to make me happy or whatever his reasoning may be. We tried just having threesomes with no feeling attached, and it didn’t work for me. Seeing him involved with another was too overwhelming for me in that sexual matter. Even though it was equally decided and welcomed, I couldn’t do it. It broke me, mentally, for a little while. But I bounced back once I did my own research on polyamory and the benefits that can come with a relationship shared by us with the same woman. He strictly wanted FMF in which we all dated each other exclusively.

The first relationship went okay, but I couldn’t view her as my girlfriend. I could kiss her, but there wasn’t a feeling or connection to me. It felt as if I was just kissing a friend, who was a girl. I just felt like I lacked the friendship of a female companion and she gave that to me, because I really don’t have friends that I regularly speak or hangout with.

Shooting forward a few months, we talked about opening up again to another woman to join. I said I have no desire as of this moment to open up again, but it could change in the future. He came to me feeling he has “sacrificed enough” for this marriage and that we need to talk about if this marriage continues. I feel as if I am in a predicament here.

I love this man to pieces, more than I ever thought I could love someone. I don’t desire having someone, so I talked about him dating the said woman he had interest in all of a sudden. My issue is they have a past relationship from years ago and that makes things harder for me as well. I set boundaries that I would have if this was to start. But now, I’m second guessing myself. I don’t think I can do this type of dynamic but at the same time I feel as if I have to in order to stay married to the man I love. I don’t want to lose him, but I don’t want to be unhappy either. This idea of him dating another, makes me extremely unhappy.

I’m at a loss, and I don’t know what to do. I want to tell him, but I’m so scared that he will just tell me to “leave then”. I would like some guidance on how I approach this situation and explain to him that I have changed my mind on it and that new feelings have erupted without sounding like a total bitch for changing my mind.

Response:

So there’s a lot of things going on here.

First and foremost — and I wrote about this in the article about the 13 mistakes people often make when they try polyamory — and it’s, you know, it’s splitting hairs a bit, but a closed triad, which is what your husband wants, a polyfidelitous triad that is closed isn’t— I mean, it is polyamory in a sense, but I think a lot of people would argue that polyamory specifically is about every person involved being able to have multiple romantic relationships as and when they choose.

And him sort of inserting that, not only do you have to be polyamorous which you’re already gonna struggle with if it’s not something that you’re automatically interested in, but you also have to specifically want to date the exact same woman that he wants… And she has to be interested in you both as well. This is a recipe for disaster, to be honest with you because— and it’s something— it’s specifically called “unicorn hunting”, which is something that couples who open their relationship do all the time.

They think it’s safer to find a bisexual woman who is interested in both of them magically who they likely will chuck if things don’t work out. It’s a huge phenomenon. There’s a website called “Unicorns-R-Us” specifically about this phenomenon. And I think it comes from a place of fear. I think that a lot of couples are, you know— When you go from monogamy to polyamory… Polyamory isn’t monogamy plus. It’s not an upgrade. It is a completely different way of doing things. It’s the difference between living in a city and moving to a rural farm and having to wake up and feed chickens every day.

It’s a completely— as you said— lifestyle, as much as I deeply despise the word lifestyle for no reasons that have to do with you. It is a very different way of doing things. And you can’t just go from monogamy and a monogamous mindset into, “Okay we’ll have threesomes and we’ll just add one more person to this dynamic”, as if that’s simple. So, already he doesn’t sound like a person who is familiar with polyamory or who has done the research. You’ve done the research, and you’ve attempted to do the research.

If he had done at least a little bit of research (and I’m surprised you wouldn’t have come across it as well considering it’s a very very very well known and despised phenomenon) you would realise that this desire for this polyfidelitous triad of two women and one man is very very typical, stereotypical, ridiculous and not realistic in any way shape or form. As you see through your experience. He found someone he wanted to date. You weren’t that interested. And that’s kind of usual.

Triads can form just by happenstance like, especially if you and your partner have similar sort of types, more or less, you can end up being attracted to your partner’s partner. They can end up dating you. It can happen organically but it should happen organically, and it should be that you are discussing the dynamics of this. But you’re not. He’s just sort of been like “Right, if we’re going to do polyamory it’s going to be a triad. I’m going to get another girlfriend basically and you like her too and that’s how it’s gonna be”. And that’s not really what you want.

It’s not only unrealistic for you to just totally be okay with seeing your partner have sex with another person in front of you —because a lot of people aren’t okay with that. And that’s fine. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, but then also to add the added pressure on top of the fact that you also have to want to date his girlfriend, it’s… yeah, it’s just not a good way of starting. It’s a bad, bad way of starting. It’s not safer. It’s just— it sounds like it’s just what he wants basically because he wants two girlfriends.

Like, I’m gonna be blunt. He doesn’t sound like he cares what you want. He wants two girlfriends, and he probably doesn’t want you to have another boyfriend, which is fucked up and stupid. And sorry, maybe I shouldn’t say it that way. It’s foolish. It’s foolish and smacks of insecurity. I mean just read anything on the internet about unicorn hunters… it’s just not a good place to be in.

I don’t think that your motivations for trying polyamory are necessarily bad but the thing that concerns me is the second thing that’s kind of a problem with this scenario. You are terrified of losing him. And so your motivation for trying polyamory is not that you have any individual personal interest into it. You just don’t want to lose him. And even in monogamy I think that being in a position where you’re willing to do anything to avoid breaking up with your partner is not a good place to be.

Sometimes, two people, as much as they love each other and as much as they want to be together, sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Sometimes you do have to break up. And sometimes when we are so desperate just to keep hold of a relationship, we end up doing things that hurt us more than if we would have just broken up when we realised we weren’t compatible. And that’s what worries me about this situation. You are willing to put yourself through anything if it means holding on to this relationship.

Even if this relationship might not be worth holding on to. You have to value the relationship that you have with yourself over any relationship, more or less. You can’t be willing to sacrifice everything for a romantic relationship. It would be one thing if it was your child and a person who depended on you to live, you know. That makes sense. It makes sense to sacrifice your happiness for your child because that’s kind of a part of parenting.

For a romantic relationship to another grown ass adult, like— okay yeah we make compromises with each other, but you are too willing to go through whatever hell you have to go through just to keep him in your life. And that’s not really a good place to be monogamously or polyamorously. It’s never a good place for you to be totally willing to give up everything about you and yourself, just to keep someone in your life, as much as I understand it. And I don’t think that makes you a bad person.

I think that that’s quite typical, especially if you’re a woman, to be quite honest. You are encouraged by society to give up everything for love and that love is the thing that you have to give someone else and that is where your value as a person lies. And no. It’s just something that you really need to think about. You need to care more about yourself and your mental health and your well being than being willing to sacrifice everything for this person. If you had a individual personal interest in non-monogamy or polyamory it would be one thing.

Like if you were like “Well, I’m interested in dating other people” or even “I’m just interested in sleeping with other people”— if you had a little bit of something or even “I like my alone time”, a little bit of individual personal interest can go a long way. You don’t have that. You don’t have any interest in polyamory or non-monogamy. You are purely doing it for him. And that is always not really going to work because, you might have a woman that

you really like and who is more than just a friendship companion for you. I mean, I’m trying to scroll back and see if— I’m assuming you’re bisexual.

Maybe you aren’t. I don’t know. I’m hoping you are, and he’s not just forcing you the date someone who you’re not going to have any interest in whatsoever but you may find someone you fall in love with because I do think that plenty of monogamous people can and do fall in love with multiple people. It’s just that that’s what they choose for the lifestyle that they want. And that’s legit. But you can’t force yourself into this situation, especially if you have zero personal interest in it. You have zero personal interest in it. It’s just not going to work.

And the last thing, which is certainly not the least thing — the biggest problem I have with this entire situation is the way that your husband is basically twisting your arm. Now, polyamorous people can end up dating monogamous people, and they can go, “You know what? I want to do polyamory, but I really like this person and I want to keep them in my life so I’m going to give up polyamory essentially for this person”. And the thing is, is that if you decide to do that, that’s fine. You can later on down the line go, “Hmm, actually, I thought that I could do this but I can’t. I’m sorry.”

What I have a problem with is specifically his comment about how he has “sacrificed enough” for your marriage. That gave me rage face like… sacrificed enough for your marriage? You are the one that’s been sacrificing. You are the one that has been trying polyamory, even though it’s not something that you want. You are the one who agreed to his weird triad dynamic, which I don’t know, maybe you had an interest in. You are the one that’s been sacrificing. And then the second that, you know, you’re talking about opening up again, and you’re like, “ooh, I don’t know if I want to do that”. Now he’s like, “oh, I’ve sacrificed enough!” What the fuck? What the fuck, honestly?

Because here’s the thing, if he approached you and you entered into a relationship, and the marriage, and you were like, “I’ll try polyamory, but I don’t know if it’s for me”. At that point, he should have been like “Okay, there’s a chance that this person will not be into it and we will have to go back to monogamy”. He has to accept that when he decides to be in a monogamous relationship at first with you and you try polyamory, there is a chance that you will find them you went into it, that’s legit.

If he wanted to be with you and he was fine accepting a monogamous marriage and doing all that in the beginning, then he should have accepted as well that there was a chance you wouldn’t be into it. But here he is later on down the line, talking about how he sacrificed enough for this marriage. And that basically threatening you with divorce if you don’t do what he wants. And it’s one thing for him to be like “Okay you don’t really want polyamory, I have figured out through this experiment that I actually really do want it, and I can’t do monogamy so now’s where we should really separate”. That’s one thing.

That’s a mature decision. An unfortunate and sad decision definitely but a mature one for him to make and go “Okay, you know, it’s not really something that I want”. Fine. That’s fine. For him to turn around when you say, “Look, I’ve tried polyamory thing. I don’t think I could do it. It’s upsetting to me. And it breaks my heart” and for him to go “Well then we’ll just have to talk about where this marriage is going to go”. What the fuck? Like honestly I’m furious on your behalf. He’s basically— he is threatening you.

And you need to ask yourself if this is the kind of person you want to be with. Like honestly it’s not even like— I’m not even going to get into the fact that the person he’s interested in having a relationship with is someone he has a history with. That’s neither here nor there. That’s an issue that could have been handled separately to this, but the fact that he is literally saying that he sacrificed enough, like… Fuck you. If he didn’t want to be in a monogamous relationship with you then he shouldn’t have gotten married to you. I don’t know what was agreed on from the— I mean you said you knew he was interested in polyamory, but he had to accept when he was going to be married to someone who hasn’t got an interest in it, that if they try it, they may not want it.

And he has to have the maturity, if he desperately wants polyamory and doesn’t want to do monogamy, to say to you. “Okay, you don’t want to do this, I do. Clearly we need to break up”. That’s different than “Well we’ll just have to talk about how the marriage is going to continue”. That’s so shitty. That’s so shitty and it’s putting you in the position of having to break up with him, which isn’t fair. Like it’s just not fair.

You don’t want to do this. Like point blank, you don’t want to do this. And if he does, then he should be one to at least say, “Hmm, maybe this isn’t going to work out then” in a nice way or you know even if he didn’t want to make the official cut and dump you— understandable. It’s very different to having a conversation with one another and saying, “Oh my god, well, I understand you don’t want to try this”. And he should be willing to listen to your boundaries. He should be doing as much work as you’re doing to try and make something work but he’s not. He’s not, and it’s just such a trash situation.

Because to be quite honest with you, even if you went to him and was like, “Actually, do you know what? I definitely can’t do this. That’s where I’m going”. Even if he were to be like “Alright then I guess I’ll give it all up”. I don’t know if you should stay with him at all. Even in a monogamous situation, you need to really really look at this. This is a person who is 100% fine with threatening you in this way, and ask yourself if that’s someone that you really want to date and be married to.

If he’s willing to do this to you over polyamory, What else is he willing to do in terms of threatening you to get you to do what he wants you to do? Like, really, really think about that, and I know you don’t want to leave him. But, like, honestly, do you really really want to be with someone who treats you this way? This is an appalling way to treat somebody. It’s really gross. If you come to him and say, you know, you say you’re scared to come to him and tell him you don’t want to do this and he’ll say “Leave then”. Why doesn’t he leave? Why doesn’t he leave then?

But he’s putting it on your shoulders. It’s such a shitty way to behave like, really, and you think you sound like a bitch. You think you’re a bitch for not wanting to do polyamory when you, from the very start were monogamous and didn’t have any interest in it, and at least gave it an attempt, and it doesn’t work for you, but you’re somehow a bitch for that? How does that work? You’re not a bitch for that. You’re not a bitch for changing your mind. You’re allowed to change your fucking mind like come on.

Honestly just think about this for a second. You are allowed to have the life that you want to have. You are allowed to change your mind. You’re not a bitch for changing your mind. And the fact that like he’s just willing to let you sit there and be miserable. If you didn’t break up with him and you just said, “I don’t want to do this”, and he just shrugged and went ahead and did it. That is a person who was totally fine with you being miserable as long as he gets what he wants from you — is that someone you really really want to be married to? Like, think about it, just for a second.

Because I do think that if you just step outside of the situation and stop being mean to yourself. Stop thinking that there’s something wrong with you for not wanting to do this. There’s nothing wrong with you. Just because you don’t want to have another girlfriend in between the two of you, just because you don’t want to have threesomes, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. That doesn’t mean there’s some sort of character flaw that you need to work out. That doesn’t mean that you’re broken or that you’re too jealous or you’re too insecure. Sometimes you can just not frickin be into it. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you.

So if you just take a step back and go “Okay, there’s nothing wrong with me, this is just what I want. In the same way if I didn’t want a suburb, or you know did want to have kids or didn’t want to have kids” — like if you put this situation in the frame of wanting to have children, and he wanted to have them and you didn’t, or you wanted to have them and he didn’t. Imagine thinking you’re a total bitch if you change your mind about having children. You’re not a fit for that, or thinking that like, you know, he’s sacrificed enough if you’ve changed your— like this is just… Yes, I’m going to be going on and on about this because I’m furious on your behalf.

It’s absolute ludicrous for someone to treat you this way and you should not put up with it under any circumstance. So, let me try to sum up, without going into a big whinge again. One. His whole concept of this triad ideal, this polyfidelitous triad is unrealistic stereotypical. Look up unicorn hunting. It’s a thing. It’s it’s not a realistic thing, it’s not safer and it’s not necessarily better. And that’s also just generally not an open thing to just— basically what he wants is to have another girlfriend who you also like, and you don’t get to have anything else and that’s not fair. So it’s just completely unrealistic, borderline misogynistic. It’s codswallop basically.

Second thing is that you don’t have a true individual motivation for trying polyamory. What you have is a fear of losing him. And that, in and of itself isn’t a good motivator. And the problem is is that your fear of losing him is going to make this situation hurt 10 times more than it would if you just ended it, as much as that may or may not sound logical to you in this moment. It’s actually the truth. Dragging it out long, forcing yourself to witness things like him sleeping with other people, kissing with other people, you trying to form a relationship with someone that you just don’t feel anything for— It’s also not fair to that third person.

You don’t have an individual motivation to try polyamory, and that in and of itself is going to cause you a huge amount of struggle because you there isn’t anything, especially in the closed triad situation where you’re just supposed to like this other girl and you don’t get anything else out of it. There’s truly no motivation for you to want to do it as an individual, which is going to spell disaster.

And last but not least, this is somebody who was threatening to end your relationship if you don’t do it, and won’t even have the courage and the decency to realise that you both have different wants in life, and to do the right thing which is to initiate a breakup as an end is instead attempting to twist your arm into doing polyamory, and you really, really need to ask yourself if someone who is perfectly fine with forcing you into a dynamic that you are unhappy and uncomfortable in if that is really the kind of person you want to be married to.

Because that person isn’t treating you right. You know you can’t help it if he’s really into polyamory and you’re not. You really can’t help it but you can handle that situation in an adult and decent way without forcing someone into it. Forcing someone into polyamory doesn’t work, and it isn’t really polyamory. It isn’t really open and isn’t really consensual. It isn’t really anything that most polyamorous people would say is part of the tenants of polyamory. It’s the opposite of that. You know this isn’t polyamory. This is like a harem he’s trying to grow. So you really need to ask yourself if this is the kind of person that you want to be married to, because, even as I said, and I’ll say it again. Even if you were to go to him and call his bluff and say, “I don’t want to do this”, even if he were to say “Okay fine. I won’t date her. I’ll just be monogamous”.

I would still really really think about — because if he’s showing this behaviour now, with regards to this, unless he is saying, “I shouldn’t have done that, I apologise for that. And I’m going to therapy or I’m going to do X, Y Z to address that behaviour and stop that behaviour”, unless he is fully willing to apologise and not do that again, you need to be aware that he is going to do this in the future. It’s not a one off thing. If he’s perfectly fine with twisting your arm into doing this, then he will twist your arm about something else. And you need to think about if that is something that you really want in your life, and if you deserve to be treated that way because you don’t.

I hope that helps. Sorry for my rantyness, it’s just, yeah, I’m really annoyed on your behalf. I hope it helps and good luck.

Knowing too much

I am a 40 year old solo poly[am] woman in a relationship with a poly man who is in a long term nesting relationship with his common-law wife. They have been together over 25 years; I’ve been with him for just over 3.

I’ve heard you tell readers on multiple occasions that you should not know too much about the inner workings of your partner’s other relationships. I agree with this fully, now that I’ve had the painful experience of doing just that. Three years into the relationship I am really struggling with the consequences of that and I hope you have some advice about where to go from here.

When I started dating my partner, I was brand-new to poly[am], and I was fascinated with the concept right away. I read everything I could find about open relationships, and I asked him a lot of questions. We became very close in a short period of time, in part because we talked about everything. A few months after we fell in love he went on a 2-month trip with his wife and kids, and we communicated mostly by email. We wrote long letters to each other sharing the most intimate details of our lives.

I learned the reasons that he pursued polyamory, which included feeling lonely in his marriage and the lack of sexual compatibility with his wife. He never said anything negative about her, and he clearly loves and respects her and is grateful that she agreed to polyamory even though she much prefers monogamy. Learning this made me feel closer to him, and I assumed that the more I knew about the history of their relationship and the ongoing struggles, the better I could support both of them.

However, about a year into our relationship I started really resenting his wife, mostly because I wanted to be able to spend more time with our shared partner, and I saw her as an obstacle to that. Eventually I realized that he wasn’t taking responsibility for his choices, and I asked him not to scapegoat his wife because it was damaging my relationship with her. To his credit, he did stop, and things got better for a while. He negotiated spending a bit more time with me, and I was very happy with that.

Unfortunately, my feelings towards his wife haven’t fully recovered. She and I have a cordial relationship. We interact only when necessary. I have dinner with them and their kids every once and awhile, but I find it extremely awkward. She is pleasant enough and I don’t think she has anything against me personally, so I’m pretty sure this is all my stuff. Although I’ve asked my partner not to tell me when they are going through a rough patch, it ends up being pretty obvious because he’s an emotional guy. He’s also extremely honest, which is a wonderful quality, but it means he perceives that not telling me what’s happening in his life is akin to lying, or at least “don’t ask don’t tell” — which is fine for some people but not how either of us want to operate.

They seem to go through a lot of rough patches. They’ve talked about separating many times. I know that they won’t break up, because they are both very family-oriented and things would have to get very bad before they would put their kids through that.

I get very triggered when they are re-evaluating their relationship. I worry that one of these days she will ask him to choose between their family and poly[am]. That may not be true, but it’s my fear, and it causes me a lot of anxiety and guilt.

I’ve explained all of this to my partner, and he feels terrible for the pain he has caused me. We are trying to figure out how to maintain our close emotional bond without triggering me. It seems obvious that we just shouldn’t talk about the things that trigger me, but it’s not that easy in practise. And even if we can manage to do that, how do I get over my negative feelings about his wife and their relationship?

In some ways, you have opened Pandora’s Box a little bit because you have been let into their relationship in a way that puts you in an awkward position, but I do think that ultimately your feelings aren’t really about her so much as they are coming from a place of instability in your relationship, which is why they haven’t recovered.

It seems like this is less about her actions and more about his. You don’t seem upset that he went on a two month trip with her and his kids, though he did communicate with you, and then you had to negotiate for more time and he initially blamed his partner for that. You haven’t really overcome that because he gets obviously upset when their relationship is in turmoil. It seems like you’ve not really had time to breathe in that regard.

He can tell you when they’re going through a rough patch without giving you details. He can also reassure you that he does not have any plans to throw you out to save his marriage — if that’s something he can promise. Personally, I feel like in my relationships I would never tolerate one of my partners demanding I dump someone else. That would be an absolute no no for me.

The problem is that, if he is willing to get rid of you if polyamory becomes a problem in his relationship, then he isn’t going to be able to promise that to you. And then you will begin to feel anxious and scared about every up and down in their relationship and then, to a certain extent, resentful of his wife for “causing” the problem. You have a relationship with him whereas you have little in the way of a friendship with her, so it makes sense that it’s easier for you to be upset and angry with her than with him.

There needs to be a combination of you sitting with the discomfort of being afraid of what you can’t control, which is their relationship, but also some reassurance on his part — especially if he wants to be able to tell you when they are having issues or be honest about it. If he can’t give that reassurance or promise… then your anxiety isn’t just happening and this isn’t about her. It’s about your relationship.

So, to sum up, I think this really is less about her and more about the uncertainty you have. If he does reassure you that he wouldn’t accept that kind of ultimatum from her and you still have these feelings, it might be worth consulting a polyamory friendly relationship therapist to work through what specific things are triggering you and figure out how to sit with this discomfort for awhile until the balance is set right. But if he cannot give you that reassurance, it might be worth working with a therapist on how to manage boundaries on your part.

I feel like if he can’t give you a reassurance that he’s not going to chuck you when his relationship goes south, then you’re definitely going to have to maintain more boundaries with hearing about his other relationship because it’s going to, for an understandable reason, make you feel extremely anxious whenever they are going through a rough patch. And you may, in the end, want to consider whether or not you want to be with someone who has no problem chucking your relationship out to save another.

I hope this helps and good luck.

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Episode 53: Forgiving Mistakes

You have a metamour who thinks someone you’re dating is a bad person. What do you do?

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

Discussion Topic: What do you think about forgiveness? When should one be forgiven?

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

Episode 53 – Forgiving Mistakes

You have a metamour who thinks someone you’re dating is a bad person. 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. Discussion Topic – What do you think about forgiveness? When should one be forgiven?

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 married, and my husband has two other partners in addition to me: his partner Anna of 3 years, and Lisa of 1 year.  I get along well with both his partners and hang out with them semi-regularly. On my side, I have one other partner I’ve been dating for several months now, Zach.  When I first met Zach several months ago, we instantly clicked.  He seemed very thoughtful, mature, and we had great chemistry. After our first couple dates, he briefly met my husband at a party we were all at, and my husband said he felt “good vibes” from him.

A few days after that party, my husband had a date with Lisa, and he told her about meeting Zach.  Afterwards, Lisa contacted me and said she wanted to talk to me about him. When we spoke, she was really upset and was crying. Apparently, Lisa briefly dated Zach a year earlier, and they saw each other for a couple months. She told me that he violated a boundary of hers twice. She wasn’t comfortable telling me exactly what that boundary was, but she said she felt very manipulated and didn’t think he was a good person.

Obviously this was super concerning to me, but it was also confusing. In my few interactions with Zach up to that point, he’d been respectful of my boundaries, very communicative, and very careful. What’s more, my husband’s other partner, Anna, was seeing him casually at the time I met him, which I took as a good sign. I decided to continue seeing Zach and to form my own impressions. However, I took Lisa’s words to heart and proceeded with caution. I also asked Lisa what her boundaries were if I continued dating Zach, and she said she didn’t want to be around him at all, and didn’t want him to contact her. And I agreed to honour that.

Lisa had also told my husband that Zach violated her boundaries, and of course, my husband was upset by this. It made him understandably uncomfortable with Zach.  In the past, my husband has been friendly with my partners and has been open to hanging out with them, but after talking to Lisa, he didn’t want to engage with Zach any further.

Fast forward several months, and my relationship with Zach has grown. I’ve been moving very deliberately and slowly, because I was worried NRE would cloud my judgement. But he’s been 100% respectful of my boundaries; we have excellent communication, and I feel very safe with him, both physically and emotionally.

Because of this, my husband has become more comfortable with Zach, and he appreciates how he’s been a good partner to me. But he still doesn’t personally want to engage with Zach at all because of Lisa.  Lisa really values loyalty, and my husband told her that he wouldn’t pursue a friendship with Zach out of respect for her.

But as my feelings for Zach grow, I’m wanting to bring him into my life more. I recently asked my husband if he’d be willing to meet up with Zach and his primary partner (who I’ve met and love), but my husband isn’t comfortable with this. He’s worried that if he hangs out with Zach at all, Lisa would view it as a betrayal, and he’d be compromising his integrity. I know you can’t force your partners to hang out and be friends, but I also feel like my husband hasn’t given Zach a real chance. The only interaction my husband ever had with Zach was at that party all those months ago.

I don’t need my husband and Zach to become besties, but I would like to be able to all hang out together on occasion, like I do with his partners, and like my husband has done with my past partners. Also, it’s going to be hard to involve Zach in my life more if I can’t bring him around my husband.

I’m frustrated and don’t know what to do. I’m trying to respect everybody’s boundaries, and I understand why my husband feels uncomfortable.  But I also feel like I can’t grow my relationship with Zach the way I’d like to because of his history with Lisa.  My husband and I still don’t know exactly what happened between the two of them, but the shadow of it is having a very real impact on both my relationships now.

Response:

Now I want to say before I start that you did send me a little bit of extra information which you didn’t necessarily want me to divulge. I’m not going to divulge too much of it but one thing that I do think is really important to this is that you did highlight that there is some BDSM elements that are involved in this and I think that is actually really, really important so I do think that needs to be part of my response.

I’ve been in this situation so many times, both like as a person who has experienced some unsafe behaviour from someone and as a person who is friends with someone who has experienced unsafe behaviour from someone. I’ve been in this situation, and it is quite difficult and this quite frustrating. There may be a situation where you accept that. Zach just won’t be able to hang out with your husband, and that is what it is. That might be preferable to what I might suggest here. Because the thing about me, if I place myself into this situation, I really don’t like tiptoeing around things.

And while I wouldn’t want to press Lisa about what happened to her, based on the information that you’ve given me, I feel like I would really, really want to know, and I would really, really have a hard time— it’s not necessarily that I wouldn’t believe Lisa because her experience is her experience. But it’s the fact that, especially with the BDSM element that you mentioned — and even I think without the BDSM element — people fuck up. People make mistakes. And people have to be given some ability to atone for those mistakes.

It’s not a sustainable community solution. And I know that it’s a big thing especially within BDSM communities to be like “As soon as someone’s abusive we chuck them out and the community is all safe”. It’s not a sustainable solution. It’s really not, for all people because you create this environment and myself and any autistic person will be able to tell you there have been so many times when we have fucked up. We have broken some type of social rule. We have messed up, and not understood and people have responded by isolating us. And they have responded by kicking us out of spaces, sometimes not even telling us what we did.

I have gone through this on a social justice level of going into places, making mistakes, as we’re wont to do, and people’s responses, either being kicking people out, just absolutely trying to verbally eviscerate them, or just you know, as if we’re not yelling at people for the same mistakes that we made. I know this is a boundary violation. I know Lisa is upset about this. And I’m not saying that you need to force Lisa to confront Zach, but a frickin conversation needs to happen here. It just needs to happen.

And it’s a conversation, not necessarily between Lisa and Zach but a conversation between you and your husband and Lisa and Anna. I just I feel like it’s a little bit, you know… nobody’s talking, and we’re all trying to— and the thing that makes me a little worried is that I have witnessed people utilise this element that we have created— like I said in the discussion question I talked about. We, we need to stop recreating these unjust systems.

We live in a society that has an unjust system, a system that takes people who have done wrong things and bad things and I’m not saying that you know, yay, murder is great! No, but what I’m saying is that the system isn’t a just system the idea of separating a human being from from everyone, and closing them often segregating and humiliating them isn’t always a just solution and isn’t sustainable, you know.

Lisa’s still upset. And maybe there’s a conversation that can happen where Zach can understand that what he did was wrong and if he is someone who was willing to listen, if he is someone who is willing to say “oh shit I’m sorry”. You have to at least give somebody that chance. Like, you know, I’m not trying to tell you to tell Lisa what to do. Lisa has to decide. She’s perfectly in line to say, “Listen, I don’t want to hang out with him. I don’t want to be around him”. I’m in the same way about some people.

People who I gave the chance to apologise, who did not apologise and who decided to continue their behaviour. I wish the best for them, but I don’t want them near me, and I have the right to say that. However, when it becomes about “loyalty”… I just feel like that is… that is something that needs to be discussed. It’s not about telling Lisa that she has to tell Zach that he did something wrong, so that he— I mean… I feel like given the additional information that you’ve given me about exclusion from communities and spaces… I just feel like people fuck up. If he hasn’t apologised for it then you need to dump him. If he’s been told that he did something wrong and he refuses to acknowledge it, even if he’s nice to you, I think I… yeah I’d be done with that. And it’s hard because nothing’s happened to you thus far with him.

But it sounds like, from the additional information that you sent to me, that he has no fucking clue that something bad has happened. Maybe there is a Lisa out there for me. Maybe there is someone whose boundaries I’ve violated who is not telling me that. I can’t fix that. Nobody can fix things that they don’t know about. I’m not the kind of person that would be like “Okay. Fuck you, I don’t care”. Like, I’m not that kind of a person. The second that I find out that I fucked up, I try my best to apologise. I don’t get it perfect. I’m not perfect.

But in the past in situations where I have— someone’s basically told me “You have violated this boundary. You made me feel bad or you did this”. I have tried to apologise. I’ve done my best, and I have tried to learn from that experience. You kick somebody out of the community like this and especially if they don’t know, like, if they are– if they don’t apologise and they refuse to listen then fine, I don’t have any problems with saying, “Fuck this person then”. If they can’t be arsed to be, you know, if they if they can’t be arsed to actually say that they’ve done something wrong and actually do something about it, then that’s fine.

It doesn’t sound like this has been a situation with Zach. I’m not saying he didn’t fuck up. He probably did. There is a brilliant person on Instagram named KinkyBlackEducator, I believe that’s their Instagram username and basic guides about BDSM that they put out talk about how consent violations can and do happen. And we just have to talk about it in some way. And like… again, I’m not telling you that you need to tell Lisa that she has to confront Zach. That’s not what I’m saying. But you got to talk about this loyalty thing.

You can totally honour the boundary of not having to have Zach   anywhere near Lisa. That’s fair. But it’s not fair for your husband to basically feel like he can’t be friends with Zach and can’t even interact with him without that being some insult to Lisa. Like that has to be discussed. And maybe in that discussion you can put forth the point that in your interactions with Zach and surely in Anna’s interactions with Zach, he’s never done anything and it’s not to say you don’t believe her but it’s that maybe he would apologise. Maybe all of this trauma could be resolved, or at least some type of justice can happen, rather than just, you know, locking him away. Maybe we can actually solve the problem. You know what I mean like, I just think that that is to me what accountability is and what needs to happen more often in communities that isn’t happening in so many communities.

In so many communities, it’s like you fuck up once and BLAH. I just feel like, especially when you’re talking about, you know, nobody walks out of the womb knowing how to, knowing all the tips and tricks on everything. We all fuck up. We all make mistakes. It is not—Yeah, Okay I’m going on and on about it. Basically you get my point. I think that you can make that point. It just doesn’t work. And this is a good example of why it doesn’t work because now your husband is insulting Lisa by being friends with Zach and we— that conversation just needs to happen. And you need to figure out if that is actually how Lisa feels and understand that there are multiple situations I have been in Lisa’s situation.

I have had somebody who… actually I think I was lucky enough to—  thank my lucky stars I never had a scene with them but I have, I have been around somebody who showed me that they were very unsafe. And this was somebody who was a community leader. It was somebody who everyone loved, because they were very charming and charismatic and it felt like I couldn’t go to any community events they were at. It felt really hard because I didn’t want to, at the time I didn’t want to get them blackballed from anything.

I didn’t want to get them kicked out of anything, but I was frustrated by the fact that this person was continuing to mistreat people, and nobody was holding them to account. And so I can totally understand how Lisa feels. I think I asked you in a follow up questions to get a gauge on whether or not Zack is kind of popular and has some social capital to get away with treating people like shit constantly again and again and again without any— That’s the thing about this like a thing that we like to think that we do, which is that we get rid of people who are toxic, but I don’t think that that’s always true.

I do think that sometimes people have the social capital and the privilege to get away with being toxic again and again again without, without any consequences. So I understand being in that position. I understand.  I tried to avoid putting people in the position of defriending somebody just to prove their loyalty to me because I don’t like that. That loyalty thing is a bit… It’s a bit suspect, to be honest because. Yeah, I just, I just feel like even in that situation I understood why people were friends with them. I understood why and even in my personal life situations where people have sexually assaulted me, I didn’t necessarily blame people for still being friends with the people who sexually assaulted me.

So, I don’t think accountability and justice comes in the way of just completely isolating a person, especially if we if they’ve never been given the chance to actually know that they fucked up. And this is the kind of thing that I just think, you know, I feel like I’m going on and I don’t know if that’s really helpful. I think that that is something that’s worth talking about with Lisa, having that discussion with her. If she gets to a point where she’s like, “No, nobody your husband can’t—“. Basically tells your husband, who we can or can’t be friends with or threaten— you know then your husband has to make that decision.

I think I’d feel very uncomfortable… I feel very uncomfortable with people telling me who I can and can’t be friends with, because that isn’t a good sign for any kind of relationship. Any partner telling you who you can and can’t be friends with or basically creating a situation where if you’re friends with somebody, then they— I just yeah I just don’t think that that’s a good situation to be in.

So it’s a discussion that you and your husband need to have with Lisa potentially with Anna there too because she has also dated Zach. And I think that that’s an important key factor. And then I think that you’re going to have to think about a future where Zach can’t be as involved in your life, and you’re going to have to think about whether or not you want to tell them why. I would really really struggle to not tell Zach why. Like, I just would even if I thought it might lead him to have a discussion with Lisa, as much as she wouldn’t like that, I kind of feel like I would have— I would feel like that’s dishonest for me, like, like what am I going to say? Like how? Yeah, I just I think you need to think about are you going to tell Zach, because I think he will notice. I mean unless he’s the kind of person who’s like “Ahh I don’t need to be friends with your husband. I don’t need to hang out with all you whatever. It’s fine”.

If he’s that kind of a person then you kind of don’t really have a problem. It’s more or less just unfortunately, you’re in that situation. But if he does want to be involved and you’re sort of like “Nah, you can’t come to my house because…”. You have to keep making up excuses that basically creates a situation where you’re lying to him. And I yeah I would, I’d really struggle with that. I would just have to be honest with him and tell him like. I just couldn’t pretend like everything was fine when it wasn’t. So yeah, let me try and wrap up, and some up in some kind of way because I know I’ve just— this is a subject that I feel a lot about because I’ve been in so many situations and it’s a thing that I feel like, especially social justice communities we’ve— It’s just a thing that happens and I’ve seen…

I’ve been the person who is sick and tired of someone who has all of the social capital and treats people like shit continuing to be allowed to be in charge of everything. I’ve been the person who has, you know, been told that they fucked up three years later after the fuckup happened and just felt so frustrated that they just didn’t tell me when it happened and I could have apologised then and feeling all of this self hatred and shame for a mess up that I did and trying to learn better and am better now but just, yeah, I’ve just been on all sides of this. I’ve also witnessed people, people I care about, you know, get doxxed online because somebody decided to use these types of communities against them so I have a lot of feels.

Anyway, sum up. Let’s sum up and shut up. It’s a conversation you need to have with your husband and Lisa basically is what I feel like, and you need to figure out this loyalty thing, and figure out if Lisa can understand that you haven’t had a problem with Zach, Anna hasn’t had a problem with Zach, your husband hasn’t had a problem with Zach, you will not be forcing her under any circumstances to be around him in any way shape or form. But you have to be able to do your stuff on your own. It’s not fair for her to tell you all who you can or can’t be friends with, and you will be keeping a close eye on him.

And maybe offer some type of community accountability process, where if she doesn’t want to confront him maybe you guys can. Maybe you can make him understand what he did. And then, if she lets you do that, maybe you can see if he’s apologetic or not and if he’s not apologetic and maybe this whole point is moot. Because you’ll basically be like alright well you know that you’ve done this wrong and you don’t care. That will kind of make you figure out if he’s really safe or not to be around because just because— and I will add this as a major addendum, just because he’s been safe around you thus far does not mean he will not change.

There is a book which I constantly, constantly, constantly recommend called “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft and I think that every single person should read it. Like it’s such an important book and it explains to you how abusive natures work. And there’s one thing in the book that’s just, like— there are a lot of abusive men who don’t get abusive until their partner is pregnant. How’s that for a mindfuck? Just because he’s not been horrible to you, doesn’t mean he can’t be. So, that is a very real thing.

It’s also very very very important that you not treat Lisa as if she’s lying. It’s important that you acknowledge her and  I feel like you have done but throughout this process of having this conversation with her. It’s important that you don’t take her complaints lightly. And last but not least I think that you need to accept that there may be a situation where you are just not, you know, Zach is not going to be in your life in the same way. Like if Lisa says, “Absolutely not. I consider it betrayal. I consider it a problem. I don’t want you interacting with him”, and your husband decides to comply with that. Then you’ve got to decide what you’re going to do. Are you going to be fine with that?

I mean, you might have to accept that that’s where the situation is. And if you decide to accept that’s where the situation is, then you know, are you going to tell Zach? Are you going to not tell him? So, I mean you don’t even know what it is technically that he’s done but you need to think about that as a real possibility if Lisa decides like “Nah I’m not I’m not having it”. Which is fair enough for her.

I’m trying to sum it up. I think that the loyalty thing is, and I don’t know— is this something that she’s actually said? Has she said “you cannot be friends with Zach” or has your husband just assumed that she would be upset if he was? So, you know, that’s why this conversation between all three of you needs to happen, because it’s— maybe everyone’s going on hearsay and no one’s actually having a conversation about it. And so that needs to happen. I tried to sum up, this is a… this is something that really affects me so it’s kind of hard for me to keep things 100%, like straight in my head, but I’ve tried to set everything up.  Hopefully this helps and good luck.