Be your own game changer

I’m a 38 year old White British cis pansexual woman. I met my partner B in January 2020. We are currently in a closed V dynamic. B has a long term, live in partner called J. We have had periods where we have both dated other people but that’s not on the cards in the near future. B and I started out having an affair. I ended my relationship with a long term partner shortly after meeting him (this was a planned break up – B was not the cause). B subsequently moved from cheating to opening up his relationship with J, provided he agreed to her two conditions -he is out of the house at least two nights a week to give her time to herself (ideally fixed nights, she likes routine) and she wants a strict ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ rule where he is not permitted to discuss any other partners with her. (I am sure you can spot the red flag here!!)

For fast forward to the present day… B and I have established an extremely close, loving, intimate relationship. I am very much in love with him and I think he feels the same way about me. He stays at my home 2-4 nights a week. He is contributing to my household financially. We are in the process of meeting each other’s friends and hope next year to meet our respective families. He refers to me as his girlfriend (although I prefer partner!) He is kind, patient, generous, thoughtful, loving, funny, outgoing, empathic, emotionally intelligent, supportive, an exceptional communicator, extremely flexible and open-minded (unlike me, who tends to be fairly rigid!). He allows me as much time and space as I need to talk about ‘issues’ (I need a lot of both!) He always tries to offer me reassurance when I am struggling. He is extremely honest and never shies away from saying hard things when they need saying, even when he knows I don’t want to hear them. He calls me out when I’m being a dick.

Whenever I present a problem or a barrier (which I do a lot being an anxiety -ridden overthinker!) he works with me to find a solution and compromise. Pretty much everything I ask of him, he will find a way to do. We have a lot of in common and we laugh so hard together. We talk about everything from feminist critiques of Disney to TERFS to art to pegging. My friends think he is wonderful. I honestly couldn’t ask for a more amazing man to share my life with. I absolutely adore him. In many ways, this relationship is working really well for me. I feel like my fundamental needs are being met. I am seeing him the perfect amount and we spend quality time together. Our sex life is amazing. I don’t have much interest in the relationship escalator, although I would like to cohabit again one day I think. So, what’s the problem I hear you ask?!?

The problem is that I am finding it nearly impossible to cope with the ‘V’ dynamic and it is seriously making me question whether poly[am] is right for me at this point in my life. I feel anxious, hurt, jealous, insecure, angry, resentful, worthless, expendable, vulnerable. I am acting out a lot – having emotional outbursts etc. And it is having a huge impact on my mental health and the happiness of the relationship. While he is extremely patient, I can see he is starting to find it draining to have the same cyclical conversation over and over again. Surely if poly[am] was right for me, it wouldn’t be this hard?! What I want, in my heart of hearts, is for him to leave her and be with me in a monogamous relationship (well, monogamish – I am interested in some degree of openness). We have spoken about it at length, including a very upsetting conversation where I asked him if he had to choose to keep only one of us, who would he choose.

And he said her- because of the longevity of their relationship and their bond. That has haunted me every single moment since he said it. That if it came to it, he wouldn’t choose me. He was furious that I asked him that and said the only reason that would happen is if I gave him an ultimatum and forced his hand. Wherever I turn there are reminders of their relationship and bond. He talks about her constantly and even when he doesn’t mention her directly, he says, “we” and “us”. I know there is no point asking him not to – it is second nature to him because they have been a unit for 14 years. Even if he doesn’t mention her name, she is still there, in everything. He does it without thinking. They have been together so long, how could he not. But this is exactly what I am jealous of and feel threatened by.

I feel like I am on the outside looking in with my nose pressed against the glass. His everyday language is bound up with the bond they share. And that bond is the reason he would choose her over me. They are literally two halves of a whole. Their lives and identities are so enmeshed – it feels like she is omnipresent in our relationship. And even this everyday language just reminds me that he would always put that bond first, including if it meant losing me. I can’t compete with this shared history. I feel like he is more invested in preserving that shared history and bond over investing in a future with me. It just plays on all my insecurities that I am not good enough, that I am easy to leave.

It hurts me that he would choose her over me – despite the unhappiness and loneliness I know he has felt with her, the lack of physical touch, sex and emotional intimacy between them, the fact she doesn’t want him in the house, her coldness and the horrible things she says to him. He would still choose her. While she is constantly in our relationship, he gets to compartmentalise me. He pretends I don’t exist when he is with her. They get to preserve the illusion of monogamy and retain their couple status.

I am so far away from compersion. I am seeing poly[am] as a problem and her as an issue to be managed and I am struggling to see their relationship as a source of joy or something positive. I know that monogamous structures don’t leave much room for compassion and empathy for a metamour but I am being barred from the benefit poly[am] offers in this area too. I feel so jealous and resentful of her. I am finding it hard not to see her as a problem to be overcome, as the enemy. I know I need to try to shift the negative feelings I have for her if I have any chance of accepting this situation. I have suggested to him that a way to help address my issues would be to re-negotiate DADT with her so she is at least aware of me.

He has refused to do this and became very defensive when I asked him whether he thought she was really ok with being poly[am] or just agreed so she didn’t lose him. I strongly suspect that if she was aware of the depth of our relationship, she would not be OK with it. He said he would revisit my request next year, and will consider telling her about me around June time, which I suspect is his way of making sure he has a safety net of an established relationship with me to fall back on if they break up. He has also said that at some point in the future, our bond may be strong enough that the ‘choice’ question will have a different answer. He has basically said that I need to be patient and consistent, keep focusing on building a strong, happy relationship and that will give me the best chance of having what I want.

But it is a chicken/egg situation – in order to have a chance of getting what I want, I have accept being second choice now (and possibly forever) and that makes me feel deeply insecure. In order to continue with the relationship, I need to feel secure. I know I have a commitment from him that he is invested in us and wants to build our bond, that he will find a way to meet my needs as much as possible, that he will support me and help me – none of it feels like enough for me to feel secure. Because ultimately, the fact remains that he will put her first.

I do think B is involved in poly[am] because he wants us both and this is a way to do that, not necessarily because he is totally wedded to the structure or even really gets it (not that I do either!) He told me he sought out an outside relationship to a) preserve his relationship with J and b) address an unmet need (rather than because poly[am] itself is enriching). And my concern is that should I stop meeting that need (e.g. for excitement and passion) or if I continue to pose a threat to their relationship, I will become redundant. I believe that had J not stopped having sex with him, he would not have sought out another relationship. He did so because something was missing, not because he really wanted to be poly[am].

I think this set up is a way of having his cake and eating it too. So when I try to negate the voices in my head that say I am not enough and that’s why he won’t leave her and I try to frame it as not being about me, but about his poly[am] identity, this falls down. I can’t see it as part of his identity, I see it as a convenient way to have what he wants. I am still left feeling like I am being used to help mend / preserve his relationship with J. I feel like he uses our relationship to escape the problems in theirs and to address unmet need. I worry that by bringing brought into an existing relationship that has problems, it will make things worse.

I feel like my position is unstable. And I run the risk of bearing the brunt of those problems if things go wrong between them. Although it is possible that this situation will expose the problems between them, they may become insurmountable and they will end. Even though he has told me he does not see me as being a ‘prop’ for his relationship with J, I struggle to see myself as anything but when he tells me he would seek to preserve what he has with her over me. And I think it is really clear that if I was exerting a direct threat to the relationship – e.g. if I told him to choose, he would choose to protect what he has with her.

He feels that I am unhealthily fixated on this ‘choice’ thing and it is sabotaging the relationship. Every time I highlight my lack of certainty that I can cope and dredge up the choice issue, I undermine our relationship and I move us further away from what I want us to be. I am making him feel less secure and safe and like he can trust me. And I think I am also making it easier for him to choose her because I am ruining the quality time we have with these cyclical discussions and probably annoying him. He is right to say that the only reason he would have to choose would be if I made him. So unless I decide that is really what I want, I know need to stop – I need to stop bringing it up and I need to stop obsessing about it.

Right now, he is choosing me – he chooses to come here every week, he chooses to spend time with me, he chooses to think about me and contact me, he chooses to buy me thoughtful gifts, he chooses to eat with me, he chooses to have sex with me, he chooses to introduce me to his friends. He keeps showing up and he keeps trying to show me that he loves me. Maybe all I need to do is let him and do the same. I can see this has become a vicious cycle – I fixate on it, that stops me seeing the positives in our relationship, I am less happy, I talk to him about it, it reaffirms the current situation, I am even less happy, he feels less secure as he is worried I can’t cope, our relationship can’t grow because we both feel insecure, the inequality persists. I have the power to break that cycle. I can choose to focus on what we do have between us.

I can choose to ensure the quality time we spend together is focused on doing things that increase our bond and intimacy. I can choose to accept the love he is offering and the tangible things he does to show me how he feels. I can choose to integrate him into my life and allow him to integrate me into his (without pushing him for more than he is able to offer). I can choose to continue to be open hearted and honest; share my worries and anxieties without continually re-visiting the ‘choice’ issue. I can let him do what he does best – flex around problems and knock down barriers. I can choose to ask for reassurance about what I mean to him and comfort when I am feeling hurt rather than talk about his relationship with J.

I can choose to stop comparing myself to J and stop comparing what we have built in a year with their 14 year relationship. It is like comparing an apple with a pineapple – they are both fruit but have completely different flavours, textures etc. One is not ‘better’ than the other – they are just different. I can choose to focus on the unique things that make our bond special and precious to him. I know that the only chance I have of being a ‘we’ and an ‘us’ is to persevere with the relationship and show him he can build a life with me. And to trust that over time, things will shift in my favour. To allow things to take shape naturally and to stop pushing and trying to control I have the power to do all these things. I have no power in their relationship. I can’t change the past and their shared history. I can’t change what they have now. I can’t change his feelings for her. I can’t push him into changing his relationship with her.

If there are going to be changes, they will happen naturally. I cannot push him to change their relationship. All I can do is work on ours. All I can do is love him the best way I know how. The only thing I need to do is fight for the relationship – but it is a gentle and quiet fight. It doesn’t require massive gestures or huge changes. All I need to do is keep showing up, keep loving him, keep opening my life up for him, keep building our foundations. I need to practice patience. I need to sit with the uncomfortable feelings. I also need to recognise that while being poly[am] throws up complications that wouldn’t be present in monogamy, the reality is that we are in a new relationship. And the things I want literally just take time. If J wasn’t a factor, I am unsure if I would be pushing for them. I am pushing for them because I feel jealous and insecure and I am pushing for ‘parity’ to help me manage those feelings.

But parity is impossible because I literally can’t have 14 years of a relationship in a year. I do think it is possible for me to become enmeshed in his life but this will take time. And it won’t happen as a result of me trying to pull him away from her or push him into actions he doesn’t want to take. It will happen because I am pulling him towards me and our love. It will happen as a result of me being consistent and patient and loving. And I need to remember – 6 months ago he made a massive change in their relationship, primarily for me. Although I did push that change, if he really hadn’t wanted to he wouldn’t have. He would have let me walk and he didn’t. So there is nothing to say that he won’t make other changes in the future. But I know that choice to make change has to come from him. I can plant seeds but ultimately, I cannot compel him into acting.

By continuing to push him and hurt him by focusing on the ‘choice’ issue, I am actively moving us away from having the relationship I want. I am actively making it less likely that our relationship will grow. I am focusing my energy on the wrong things and actually diminishing our relationship rather than allowing it to flourish. And I am hurting myself and the person I love in the process. All I need to do is let go of the things I cannot change and focus on the things I can. I know all these intellectually and logically but I cannot do it. I keep trying and trying and it is getting harder as my feelings for him grow. He asks me regularly – if I am so unhappy do I want to end things? Again this just highlights the crux of the issue for me – rather than agree to the actions that would make me happy, he would choose to let me walk away.

What I want, deep down is to feel like his priority and ‘first choice’. I want him to put me above her. I want to be his anchor and his everything. I want to be ‘his person’ – the person he calls first when he has amazing or awful news. The person he would call if he had ten minutes before he died in a plane crash. And I don’t feel I am his person because she is. But I also appreciate that this is part of the monogamous framework we are conditioned to believe in and uphold. And we are also conditioned to believe that unless we have the ties of commitment, you can’t be that person’s priority. In books I have read on poly[am], there is this concept of ‘game changers’ – people who come into your life and have such a profound impact on you, they force you to reassess your life and relationships. Often with the outcome being a major change takes place.

I want to be the person that shows him he can be happier, he can have a loving, sexual intimate relationship. I want to be the person who helps him see the world in a new light. I want to be his game changer. I know that in part, he sees me as that. He thinks that had I not introduced poly[am] to him that he would have been stuck repeating old patterns or got to the point of ending it with her. I know that one outcome for meeting a game changer is that they can make an existing relationship happier, which is what I think has happened here. Because of this arrangement, he has been able to preserve his relationship with J, while getting other needs met by me. And I know he is happier in many ways.

But I want my influence to go beyond that – I want him to realise that what we have, what I offer, our love and connection, are so amazing that it is untenable to stay in the relationship with her. And that has not happened and I don’t know that it ever will. I recognise that part of my desire for that is ego / pride and the want to be ‘the winner’. I think it comes from a place of inadequacy and low self esteem. And I don’t want my relationships or life to be determined by those things. Within all this is another thing I am torturing myself with. If I love him, why would I want him to end a relationship that makes him happy to serve my ego? If ending would make his life less positive? And would break his heart? I feel like a terrible, selfish human who has no business loving anyone.

So I feel I am left in an awful position – stay and compromise on what I want, tolerate feeling second best, invest in the relationship in the hope he will eventually see the light and choose me. Or walk away from this amazing man that I love deeply. Do you think that someone who is struggling so much with the basics of being poly[am][am] ever stands a chance of being happy in this dynamic? Is it worth the work and the pain? Or should I just cut my losses and leave him so I can find someone who is more aligned with the kind of relationship I want? Do you think it is the nature of the dynamic (the DADT, the fact we started out having an affair) is the issue rather than poly[am] itself? As this is my first real poly[am] experience and I have no close poly[am] friends, I am really struggling to find a way through this. I do plan to start attending a poly[am] support group (virtually for now!) and once my NHS psychotherapy has finished next year, I can pay for some poly[am] focused therapy.. I am just not sure its worth it….

In short, your boyfriend is right in some regards but he’s also very, very wrong on others. Here are some of the things I’m going to address about this situation.

  • Cheating and choosing
  • Being truly secondary
  • Focusing on the good
  • Changing your own game

Cheating and choosing

First let me say that it speaks volumes that you think the biggest red flag about this situation, or the one worth mentioning, is his wife wanting a DADT relationship and not him cheating on her to get his needs met. I do not blame her for wanting to not know what he’s getting up to or not want to know about you. If I were giving J advice, I would have told her to leave him and not stay in a DADT relationship because he’s not worth the struggle and pain she’s probably going through right now. She’s trying her best to insulate herself probably because, if there is a lack of sex in their relationship, she feels guilty about it. But she shouldn’t have to stay in a relationship she doesn’t want out of guilt.

If you start a relationship out of cheating, even if you as the “mistress”, for lack of a better term, get everything you want, you will have to deal with the reality of the situation which is that, not to repeat a cliche, you can lose them how you got them. He is someone, however wonderful you think he is, who, instead of facing the difficult consequences in life and facing a breakup, would rather cheat and be dishonest to a person he loves instead of telling them the truth. And that does not bode well for you. Because if he’s willing to lie to someone he’s been with for 14 years… then yeah. He’ll lie to you too.

The other issue here is you did sort of open Pandora’s box when you asked him to choose. And this is another opportunity he could have taken to realise that polyamory or at the very least a setup where you are secondary, and I’m not putting it in quotes because he’s literally told you that you’re there to fill the needs his main partner can’t, it’s not something you want. If someone asked me to choose, even hypothetically, between them and my partner, I would seriously consider ending the relationship because asking me to choose represents a fundamental problem in the relationship.

Being truly secondary

You are fixated on his answer to the question of who he would choose no doubt, but you only asked him that question because of the position he fully admits you have in his life. For some people, the titles of “primary” and “secondary” represent how much time a person can devote to certain people or how much expectation is involved in that relationship and these titles should be jointly agreed on. You have not and do not want to agree to being a secondary. And he willingly admits to you more than once that he has no plans to make you anything other than someone he can escape to.

You know far too much about his other relationship, especially given the DADT status of it. I’m pretty sure his wife, as you’ve mentioned, knows nothing about you. But you get to bear all of the emotional processing from his relationship while you will never get what he must know you want, which is being a primary partner. When he refused to leave his wife despite them not being compatible anymore he made the same choice as he’s making now. He will not leave you even if he knows that you are unhappy and aren’t going to get what you want because he’s getting exactly what he wants.

For some people, this arrangement wouldn’t be a problem, but for you it clearly is. And you’re giving him all of these kudos and back pats for being patient with your emotional outbursts when… he’s contributing to them by giving you way too much detail about his wife. You spent several paragraphs detailing how wonderful everything is, but the vast majority of your letter directly contradicts that. I have no doubt you have feelings for him, but sometimes we give people a little bit too much credit for what they should do in a relationship anyway, especially, and what I notice the most, when it’s a man.

Unless his wife dies in a freak accident, you’re not going to be his primary. He’s done everything but bite the bullet and break up with you since that’s not what you want. He has told you outright. You only asked the question about his choice because of his willingness to admit that he isn’t that interested in polyamory as a dynamic, he just didn’t want to break up with his wife. Polyamory isn’t about collecting a series of unfulfilling relationships until you reach a level of permissible stasis and that’s what he’s doing. You’re going to have to face that reality in order to make a choice.

Focusing on the good

Throughout my columns, I’ve talked a lot about sitting with discomfort because for a lot of people, polyamory will cause a lot of discomfort. A lot of people will have to work through basic fears and anxieties and rebuild the foundation of trust with their partners. But how can you tell the difference between you having discomfort because you’re doing something new or because polyamory isn’t what you want. Ultimately I think it comes down to your anchor.

I talk about anchors in my intro to polyamory article and I think it’s one of the crucial steps that are necessary in figuring things out when you’re starting out. Your anchor is the reason that you are invested in polyamory or interested in it and it cannot be to save a pre-existing relationship. Had your boyfriend worked out his anchor or been encouraged to, he would have realised that polyamory wasn’t for him. And throughout your letter it’s hard to spot whether or not you’re invested in the structure or if a good deal of your insecurity is being caused by a combination of the fact that your relationship was born from cheating and you literally have a partner who is telling you that your purpose is to keep him from having to leave his wife.

You choosing to focus on all of the good aspects of this person isn’t you finding an anchor, it’s you trying to blow air into a life raft with a massive hole in it. There’s always going to be upsides to a relationship. There’s always going to be positives you can focus on. Very few relationships are 100% terrible and if this one was, you wouldn’t be struggling so hard to stay in it. Focusing on the positives is the opposite of finding your anchor because it’s entire purpose is to preserve the relationship you have with him and the end result could mean sacrificing a positive relationship you have with yourself and your own mental health.

Be your own game changer

I won’t comment on Franklin Veaux other to say that I suggest you google his name and see what people who have been in relationships with him, even the people he wrote that book about, have to say about him.

All of your focus is on bettering his life with absolutely little attention paid to benefitting your own. I feel like you’ve been affected by some of the dominant polyamory advice in that you think that wanting to be his primary or his special person is somehow a vestige of insecurity or mono-centric culture you need to shed. Wanting monogamy does not make someone insecure. Monogamy is a valid life choice for a lot of people. Wanting exclusivity or to be special to one person and for them to be special to you is not a sign of insecurity or even a problem. It’s a perfectly valid want in the same way that wanting a child because you want part of your legacy to carry on doesn’t necessarily mean you’re terrified to an unhealthy level of death and dying.

It’s okay to want something for yourself. Your letter almost makes it sound like in order to be the perfect partner you should just be happy with everything, have no needs and give your partner no problems and… as someone with anxiety who feels constantly guilty about the way my anxiety impacts others… I can relate. The problem is not wanting to be this guy’s primary or to be special to this guy… it’s the fact that it’s extremely unlikely you’re not going to get it and your “emotional outburst” are your brain telling you that you’re on a path to destruction.

I can’t tell you if polyamory is ultimately right for you. It’s possible that you could thrive easily in another V style relationship where your partner chose you not because their relationship was going south but because they value you. It’s possible you could cohabitate with 3 other partners who have other partners themselves and spend nights out and feel comfortable and safe being alone because you’ve been able to work on the part of you that felt scared when they weren’t around.

But I can tell you one thing — you’re unlikely to figure out what works for you while you are waiting for a future that is unlikely to come. And furthermore, even if it DID come, you would still be in a relationship with someone who will lie to your face rather than break up with you even if your relationship is failing. Perhaps a part of you finds some security in that. I remember hearing a song that said “If you don’t love me, lie to me” and my mother telling me that she hoped that if her partner ever fell out of love with her, they’d lie to her and just stay with her. I can’t say that’s something I want personally but I can see why that would be safe for a lot of people.

Stop trying to change his game and be your own game changer. Accept the scarier parts of any relationship whether it be monogamy or polyamory which is recognising that, outside of being an asshole, you cannot force someone to love you or stay with you and that you’re capable of taking care of yourself even if you lose someone. Someone once told me that our anxieties quite often aren’t actually about the things we think they are. So if you’re afraid of losing your partner, what you’re afraid of isn’t actually losing your partner, but that you’d be unable to cope if it did happen.

You need to shift the focus from this guy onto yourself. Focus on making yourself happy. Focus on building your own resilience. Focus on trusting yourself and your gut and loving yourself and you will find it much easier to walk away from situations where you are not being as valued as you want to be. Put as much energy and effort into you and you are into this relationship and I think you’ll know then what you should do.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Episode 68: Mismatched Labels

If your partner is polyamorous but you are non-monogamous is your relationship doomed?

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

Discussion Topic:

What is your ideal polyamory or non-monogamy set-up?

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

Episode 67 – Mismatched Ideals

If your partner is polyamorous but you are non-monogamous is your relationship doomed? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – What is your ideal polyamory or non-monogamy set-up?

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

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

Podcast transcript

I’m a cisgender straight woman. My partner is a straight cis man and his other partner is a cis bi woman. My partner and I began our relationship four years ago as a casual physical relationship. We lived an hour away from each other. He was recently out of a bad relationship, and made it very clear that he was with many other women. This was fine, but we really clicked and quickly fell in love. He’s done a lot of healing and we’re doing well. I moved across the country a couple years ago and we didn’t know how things would go but we realised that we were still just as in love. 

With the pandemic allowing me to work from home, we have recently moved in together. We knew that we were not monogamous, but we are non-monogamous in very different ways. I prefer to have very casual partnerships and hookups. He needs an emotional connection with other partners. He also needs love and companionship and reassurance in a way that sometimes feels to me like a quantity over quality, but that is not how he sees it. 

When we first started talking about moving in together, I asked him what we needed to talk about as far as other relationships. He said that we didn’t really need to because there weren’t any. I assumed that he meant that he was not interested in other relationships. Since we’ve moved in together, I’m quite happy with him and just not interested in other partners. I thought we were in the same place. He told me a previous partner had ended their romantic relationship. It was very clear to me however that they both still wanted each other. He went over to this person’s house for a game night, I asked if he was coming home, and explained I would be uncomfortable staying at the apartment by myself, and he said he wouldn’t do that to me. 

I understood this to mean he would not be spending the night with other partners. A few weeks later he told me he would be spending the night with her 48 hours later. I was crushed and betrayed. I felt forced into a situation I had not consented to. We have since had many conversations and understood that we both made assumptions based on desires we had not expressed. He is a very direct and frank person who understood the thing about spending the night to apply to that particular night. I don’t resent him for anything except not talking through things more before we moved in together. 

My main issue is dealing with the other partner. I want nothing to do with her, I don’t want to be reminded of her existence, and when he’s with her I’m a mess. I feel like this would feel different had we talked about how things would work first, and now we have, so I don’t expect this to happen again. But what’s done is done. And this person who did nothing to me is someone who is a source of so much pain. I don’t know how to get past this. We are all part of the local activist community so I can’t totally avoid the other partner, and would not want to have to explain to anyone else why I don’t want to be around her. I just feel lost. To provide more context they are both polyamorous, my relationships tend non-monogamous but I’m definitely not polyamorous.

My partner has had death threats due to his activist role in the community and people have showed up at our home looking for him. That has changed how I view our time together, as I worry each day will be his last and it makes me want to hold on tighter, even though I don’t think that’s helpful for our relationship

Response: 

First thing that I would say is that, you kind of have it right in that there wasn’t a lot of discussion before you moved in together about how you would deal with other partners. And I don’t necessarily think that it’s fair for you to resent him for that, because it’s possible… I think he at the time — and this is kind of a problem that a lot of polyamorous people have and this is why, in the article that I mentioned earlier, I really encourage people to think these things out before they become an issue.

Because I think a lot of people think, “Well, there’s not a reason to talk about it now because it’s not happening now”. And to be fair for some people they don’t necessarily know what they’re going to feel or how they want things to happen if they’re not currently happening. So it can sometimes be really difficult to have that discussion. I do think that you both need to have more of a discussion about your shared space, what that means and what is realistic. Even if you were completely monogamous, I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s realistic that he can’t spend the night somewhere else.

With family, with friends, people even in monogamous relationships don’t spend every single night at their house with their partner. So it’s not really a realistic expectation. With the added bit that you’ve contributed about how he said death threats, and how people have showed up at the house — that is an absolute concern and I can understand you not feeling comfortable being home alone because of that reason.

There has to be more discussion about that and how you both work that out because it’s not sustainable or really fair even, like I said, even if you were monogamous to expect him to spend every single night at home with you. Because it’s just— He might want to say to my at a friend’s. He might want to stay tonight with family. Even if he didn’t have other partners. It’s not a really realistic expectation so you’re going to have to figure out how you work through that. If he’s had death threats, do you need to move? 

Is that a realistic solution to what you’re facing right now? That is something that you have to kind of work out with each other. Even if he is totally willing to stay every night at home with you, I really don’t see that being sustainable. I would say that’s even too much for, like I said a monogamous relationship so that’s the first thing.

I think that a lot of people in your situation where things haven’t been discussed, and you know sometimes like I said you don’t know that you have a boundary until it’s been crossed. And that is painful and difficult. I find that in a lot of these situations where this happens, it’s very very easy to displace your anger or displace your discomfort or displace everything onto the metamour. And I do think that that’s what’s happening to you. For those who don’t know a metamour is the basically the person, the other person that your partner is dating or the other people that your partner’s dating are your metamours — that you’re not dating. 

You probably are going to find it harder to hold the same anger for your partner that you can easily hold for this metamour because even though you’re all part of the same community and you sort of know of this person, you don’t have any other context. You don’t understand what’s going on with this other person. You don’t understand how they feel so it’s quite easy for you to just take all of those feelings and go, “I’m gonna throw them on to this person, and then I can kind of get my anger and frustration and with a situation out by kind of basically taking it out on her”. 

And I think you do realise that. She’s done nothing to you. And you don’t necessarily want to have to make it awkward for her, or make it awkward for the people around you, but it might help for you to realise that it’s okay for you to be pissed off that this has happened and that you and your partner haven’t really talked about this. And when situations like that happen where you like, “Oh, actually I don’t want you to ever spend the night anywhere else” and he thinks it’s just for that one night… there needs to be more discussion. 

And I do think more discussion about this is going to make that anger, a little less intense. I think that you have some serious incompatibilities with your relationship expectations that really need to be hashed out. You saying that you are definitely not polyamorous and he is. This is a problem. Two people who are non-monogamous aren’t inherently compatible just because they’re both non-monogamous. If you have completely different definitions of how you want to pursue things that will always clash if you cannot actually find some areas of compatibility.

You already kind of said that you kind of see things as casual, and he doesn’t. He seems to have a little bit more of a kind of a relationship anarchist approach or a kind of wanting multiple deep romantic connections. You’re always going to struggle with that because if you see other people as casual and him as serious, you’re creating a hierarchy where you are the most important person and he may not feel that way. And if you think that you are the most important person, you are going to then feel threatened by anybody else, because you are creating this hierarchy that doesn’t necessarily exist for him. 

However you want to judge his expectations of quality over quantity like that —  That for me is a little bit of a worry because you not only have separate concepts of what you want your relationships to be, but you are kind of judging him a little bit in how he goes about it. I think, as a person— I am more like your partner in that I don’t see other relationships with casual. However, I have been with partners who do have a lot of casual relationships, and it’s really ironic because easily, someone could flip that on you. Even though you aren’t necessarily seemingly pursuing other relationships, the idea that you would want something casual instead of something deep someone could equally judge you for that. 

We all have different needs. We all have different wants. We all have different things that we want in our life and just because somebody— a lot of people judge polyamory and non monogamy or even bisexuality for supposedly being greedy or supposedly wanting more and therefore, that being a problem. So I think that you just kind of need to be a little bit careful about how you’re looking at it. You can have differences and how you want to approach things. That’s absolutely fine. It’s okay for you to want one relationship that has this specific meaning and other relationships have a different meaning. 

It’s okay if he wants to have multiple deep romantic relationships. There isn’t necessarily one right or wrong way to approach it. It’s more about how does that work with each other? Because I know for me when I have had partners who have had more casual partnerships or who see me in a different light, or even not even necessarily about casual versus serious but when I’ve had partners— I’m a kind of introverted. A Stay At Home kind of person. I don’t like parties. I’ve had partners who are extremely extroverted and love parties. And I used to feel really scared because I thought, “Well what if they find somebody who’s  “better” than me because they like to go out and like to go to parties?”

And that made me really scared for a long time because I thought that I would be replaced by that. I didn’t understand that my partner was like “Hey, I like to stay home with you. And I like to go out and do other things”. There’s not an either or hierarchy there. You’re kind of creating that. So you have to kind of understand that when, in your mind you’re operating from a basis of one relationship has this meaning and others are casual, he is not operating from that mindset and you’re going to have to kind of remember that when you’re thinking about this. 

Because that’s what’s freaking you out. You are afraid that you are positioned as the “most important” is going to be challenged and that you could be replaced. The thing about it is is that if he’s going to replace you, regardless of  the seriousness of any relationship. If he is going to replace you, that isn’t something you can necessarily control or stop, especially by trying to control whether or not he sleeps over at somebody else’s house or not. 

Your brain is kind of trying to protect you by thinking that this little thing of him sleeping over at somebody else’s house is going to— you know if you can keep him around you somehow. You can prevent— you’re not going to be able to prevent that. You just aren’t. You can’t prevent somebody, you know I mean yeah obviously you can be a decent partner and be a nice person and not treat your partner like crap and that makes it more likely that they’re going to stick around and be with you. 

But outside of that there really isn’t anything that you’re going to be able to prevent. So you need to kind of ask yourself, “what is this kind of rule of him not being able to sleep over at somebody else’s house? What is that actually going to prevent?” Now you have brought up a side situation, which again like I said, the death threats and serious concerns over your safety, that is understandable and you may have to be in a situation where he can’t maybe randomly spend the night away but if he gives you enough warning, then you can stay at a friend’s house or whatever is actually sustainable.

But ask yourself if you can really prevent that and think about the ways that you look at relationships differently, and whether or not you can actually be compatible. Because I do think that it is workable. I don’t think it’s a complete in compatibility, but I don’t think that you can expect him— I don’t think you can expect him to see things the same way you do. And I certainly don’t think this not being able to stay at other people’s houses is really realistic or sustainable. So you have to really think about again like the question I put forth at the beginning of the podcast, what is your ideal situation? What is his ideal situation, and how can you combine those? Can you combine those?

Are they so different that basically you’re always kind of going to be butting heads about what each other wants. More discussion needs to happen because I think that’s been your problem throughout this entire relationship is that — you know and I don’t think that he is doing it maliciously so I do think that you kind of need to let go of a little bit of the resentment towards him about that like yeah it would be great if you all chatted about it, but especially when it comes to non-monogamy or polyamory or whatever you want to call it, there isn’t really a guidebook. There isn’t really a clear ideas about what you should or shouldn’t talk about and a lot of people don’t necessarily know for sure what they want until they start to have experiences. 

So, you know, it’s not necessarily that he purposely didn’t talk to you about this to spring it on you. You have to kind of assume he’s in good faith in this, but you do need to have more discussions about what you both want, what’s realistic, and not just kind of go with the flow of what’s easy. Because I do think you’ve kind of slid into that a little bit. 

So yeah, just to sum up — again more discussion about your shared space. Really really challenge this rule that he’s not allowed to sleep at somebody else’s house or he has to spend every night with you. That’s not realistic or sustainable even again for a monogamous relationship, it’s just not — It’s just not realistic. If there is a serious problem with your house and the safety of your house that needs to be addressed you both need to address it together in a way that isn’t, “Well you just have to stay here every night”. Because again if he’s realistically if he’s getting death threats, and he you know if somebody is going to show up at your home, it’s not necessarily going to be better if he’s there. 

And obviously calling the police isn’t always a sustainable solution for everyone and they’re not necessarily going to do anything but you have to have that discussion. Realise that you’re displacing a lot of anger onto your metamour. I do think that you’re going to have to sit in a little bit of a discomfort when you’re kind of in community spaces and kind of work through that. If you want to have a discussion with her and just say, “You know, I’m feeling a little bit sensitive right now, and I would appreciate some space”. That’s totally fine. You may not be able to have that discussion in person or — I would not get your partner to do it. I think it’s something that you should do on your own. Maybe if you can chat with her online. 

Realistically, if it’s kind of pandemic times there shouldn’t be big community meet-ups anyways but it’s okay for you to avoid her a little bit but realise— I think it’s fair if she starts asking questions, is kind of confused, it’s okay to say “There’s been an issue between me and my partner and I’m just feeling a little sensitive and I just need a little space”. That’s fine. That’s okay. 

There are some serious incompatibilities with your relationship expectations if he’s polyamorous and you’re definitely not. You really need to talk about your relationship ideals and how you can realistically combine them and also try to bring that up again and again with your emotional experience because you are working within the framework of your own emotions and it’s easy for you to assume that because one relationship for you is more serious and others are casual, that he’s thinking the same thing. 

And so when he goes off and spends time with other people, your brain is going, “Wait a minute, we’re supposed to be the serious one! Are we casual Ahh!” And you’re kind of freaking out a little bit about it because you’re assuming he sees things from your perspective, and I’ve done that too. I’ve definitely done that too. I’ve been really bad at it, especially when it comes personally for me, when it comes to sexual related stuff, feeling really worried that I’m going to be not important or not as good as other people or not as— especially with my disability.

Especially with, you know, being non binary, being worried that I’m not, you know as real as other people is a huge problem that I’ve had before. It’s very easy to forget that other people just have different ways of looking at things, especially if your way of looking at things is so different. I don’t think it’s completely impossible but you will have to kind of continue to remind yourself of that. 

And if you can find a polyamory friendly therapist to kind of chatting through like whenever these feelings start to bubble up. That would be a really good thing to do, but I think overall if you both have a little bit more of a realistic talk about what your expectations are and what you think— you know, I know you can predict the future and I know that sometimes, you know, things are a little bit up in the air, especially with pandemic stuff happening and that really putting a halt on a lot of things. I know it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen. But if you can see if you’re both kind of heading in the same general direction, that might give you a little bit more stability that might make these other experiences less intense. I hope that helps and good luck. 

Becoming a third

Up until 2 months ago, I had no previous experience with poly[am] dating or poly[am] relationships. What draws me to solo poly[am] is I have very deep needs around emotional connection and physical intimacy, but I don’t want kids or to raise a family, I enjoy living alone, and I love a lot of alone time. I’m also not a very jealous or possessive person and believe that love is not a zero sum game. If I give love to one person, it doesn’t mean I have less to give to another.

In June, I stumbled into possibly becoming the third in a heterosexual relationship that’s exploring opening up, as the man leans poly[am] and the woman more oriented towards monogamy. When the two of them met (we’ll call the man C and the woman B), C was dating another woman. C + B continued to date each other while C was with a third for about 10 months. For the past 9 months, it’s been just them with each other. Around March of this year, they decided to slowly explore opening things up as a couple.

The first photo in their profile was just the man and we matched, before I realized they were looking for couple’s play and threesomes, neither of which appeal to me. C suggested the 3 of us all meet up anyway for a picnic. We did and had a really nice time. They immediately asked me out on another date, which was lovely too. We had a productive conversation at the end of the night and B shared she was fine with C and me having a solo date, since I’m heterosexual and not interested in bisexual exploration or threesomes.

C and I both love developing emotional intimacy through texting and stayed in touch throughout the day, which then developed into daily sexting as well (more sharing of erotic desires and what we wanted to experience with each other than overt sexting.) I think the quick intensity of our feelings caught B off-guard, especially after learning about the length of our first date and an act of physical intimacy we shared (a cock massage, no orgasm or ejaculation). It was an act that was permitted while he was dating the third previously, but they hadn’t talked extensively through boundaries and violations related to him and me and the woman felt very hurt.

She was triggered and upset and asked for C not to be in touch with me for 2 weeks while she sorts out her feelings and needs, which she’s not clear on. She seems to also not be clearly attuned to her boundaries, so she lets things go, and then feels violated and activated. I have a deep need for communication in a relationship, especially during conflict— her 2-week request felt more about regaining control than equilibrating and processing her emotions. And C’s inability to show care and attention towards both of our needs and set his own boundaries versus taking on B’s were both red flags. What it communicated to me was:

1. C is not able to be/chooses not to be emotionally available to me when B is triggered
2. C is not able to be/chooses not to establish his own boundaries while holding space for B’s emotions- instead, he takes on hers (enmeshment)
3. Because they lack clarity on the shared boundaries of their openness, I’m receiving mixed messages and also fearful/distrusting energy, as if I’m a threat.

One more major concern: Because B has a lot of fears about opening up, she asks for reporting from C on our interactions and dates, which C provides, sometimes without asking me first. I addressed the privacy consent breaches with him and he was very apologetic but B’s need to know makes me feel like I have no privacy.

C also runs every activity by B for approval (“Is it OK that I rub her body during our date?”) I know some poly[am] couples place rules on what a specific partner can do with a third, but the notion that someone else can determine what I do with my body or what types of pleasure I can experience feels very wrong and out of alignment with my values and beliefs.

We’re regrouping after the 2 week pause next week. I really like C on his own, in a way that I feel just a few times a decade. But his partnership with B seems enmeshed, co-dependent, and hierarchical (I practice egalitarian poly). They did just start seeing a couple’s therapist with experience in polyamorous relationships, and they see individual therapists. I’m leaning two different directions re: our regroup conversation:

1. Share how much I enjoyed our time and suggest I’d be open to exploring reconnecting in a year, to give them time to align on their relationship vision and cultivate healthier relational skills

2. Go in with zero expectations and share what I would need to be different to continue exploring it:

That my privacy is protected (I’m fine with sexual activity at a high level being shared. I’m not comfortable with reading texts that I send verbatim or sharing any specific details of a sexual act without first asking for my permission)

That we operate from a place of mutual trust and respect; there aren’t restrictions placed on my sexual or pleasure experiences, our communication, or our emotional connection. And C does not run each relational act by C for approval.

That C is able to be both emotionally available to me and B, even when B’s triggered, and can simultaneously show care to our different needs around conflict resolution and communication.

That I am treated as an equal, positive, and a valued part of their lives.

Note: I can’t see them agreeing to these but I think it’s important to voice our truth 🙂 I’d value your perspective and how you would opt to proceed with a regroup conversation, if this situation was yours.

I wrote about this phenomenon previously in my article about why couples tend to want triads. I don’t think triads are necessarily bad or even doomed to failure, but generally speaking couples who seek to have a triad, especially a closed one, are doing so because they think it’s safer. And it demonstrates they haven’t done the work necessarily to address their fears or don’t have good communication and… this is the natural result.

That’s not to say here that B is wrong for her feelings, but C does not know how to deal with what’s going on between them without letting it affect your relationship in multiple ways including allowing her to dictate the terms of your relationship and also in the privacy violations.

It’s not really clear from your letter if they had a couple’s profile and said specifically what they were looking for, but I think that it was probably best for you to step out of that situation then — because what they want is something that you can’t provide. And furthermore, if you come across any other “poly[am] couples” who place rules on what their partners should do with others, and call people “thirds”, you should run for the hills. You’re not a “third”. You’re an equal partner to B and he’s not treating you that way.

You can give him an ultimatum and ask that he practice a more egalitarian form of polyamory, but ultimately that doesn’t seem to be what they were looking for from the start and, unless both of them want it, it’s not something you’re going to get.

I would hesitate to say his partnership is enmeshed or codependent — after all, it’s quite understandable to struggle with polyamory and to believe prioritising “the couple” or making these kinds of rules will fix what they can’t fix. They sound like they’re making mistakes to save their relationship and don’t have some great communication going. That can be addressed and fixed… just not by you.

Honestly the best thing you can do is separate yourself from this situation and wait until he contacts you and is able to have an actual separate relationship. Make the needs you’ve written down known and make it clear that a relationship cannot happen until these happen and make sure, if you try it again, you are real about backing away if you aren’t getting what you need.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Episode 67: Temporary Monogamy

Can an aversion to non-monogamy come from relationship anxiety and trauma?

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

Discussion Topic:

What have you changed your mind about in terms of how you want to live your life?

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

Episode 67 – Temporary Monogamy

Can an aversion to non-monogamy come from relationship anxiety and trauma?  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 have you changed your mind about in terms of how you want to live your life?

 

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

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

Podcast transcript

I am a queer, AMAB, non-binary person, and most of my adult life I identified as a cis gay man, which I mostly still pass as (at 27 yo). I have never considered or wanted to pursue non-monogamy before in my life.

A bit over a year ago, I met Dean. Dean is queer and has sexual and romantic attraction to people of all genders. I was instantly smitten by him and asked him out after meeting a few times. A month into the relationship, when things were clearly getting serious, we had a discussion about what kind of relationship style we wanted. This was something I was nervous to do because I could tell from our talks that he thinks about sex and relationships very differently than I do.

For him, romantic, sexual, and platonic relationships can all overlap, and our relationship is one that happens to be sexual and romantic and exists in the quilt of his many other friendships, etc. I have deeply emotional and intimate friendships too, but they are all platonic. Sexual and romantic attraction are inseparable for me. Dean is 25 and never has had a long-term or committed relationship like ours before.

In that conversation in the early part of our relationship, he said he had “never been interested in monogamy before,” but agreed to have a monogamous relationship with me. I immediately started seeking therapy from a sex therapist for help understanding my deep aversion to non-monogamy and past sexual and emotional trauma, because I love him, really want our relationship to continue, and quickly realised I have relationship anxiety.

I wanted to prepare to be able to consider a request from him for non-monogamy at some point. I didn’t brush this potential problem under the rug. I’m still working on this though, and in seven months of therapy I have really only gotten better at talking about it and recognizing that my anxieties stem from past relationship traumas. I’m working on managing the anxiety, and Dean has been so supportive and caring through that.

In our sporadic check-in conversations since, Dean has said he hasn’t felt like he’s sacrificing anything to be with me in a monogamous relationship and he feels fulfilled romantically and sexually by our relationship. That is, until this past week. Two friends of his have been dating for three years and one wants to pursue non-monogamy and the other doesn’t. The one says “she doesn’t think monogamy” works.

In our conversations about it, I could tell Dean agreed with her. When I asked him directly, he said that was true, which really hurt me because I feel like our relationship is “working.” We’re still in the “honeymoon phase” but I’m stupidly in love with him and we have a relationship in which I feel really safe, loved, and cared for (despite my anxiety). Now he says ultimately he does want to have a non-monogamous relationship, and I still feel like I can’t give that to him. The idea of him with other people makes me feel really horrible–debilitated even–and wracked with anxiety.

I don’t feel like non-monogamy is wrong or gross. I feel excited that there are people who are happy and thriving in consenting non-monogamous relationships. As a queer person, I understand the liberation of loving who and how you want to. I also reject a lot of the gross power dynamics and toxic possessiveness and jealousy that pervades a lot of (white cis hetero) monogamy.

I just don’t want non-monogamy for me, both for practical reasons (I am introverted and busy and don’t want to dedicate that much of my energy to maintaining multiple romantic/sexual relationships), and because that’s just not how I feel about romance and sex. I can feel within me the ability to love other people like I love Dean at the same time, but I find so much joy, vulnerability, safety, and love in waking up every day and choosing him and being okay with not knowing those other possibilities!

I feel so good about that decision. No FOMO here. I don’t think I will feel good about that anymore if I don’t feel like that is reciprocated. These feelings also make it really hard to understand where desire for non-monogamy is coming from in others and empathise. For people I’m not dating, that’s okay! I don’t have to get it! Now I am struggling and feeling deeply like I am “not enough” for Dean.

Dean says this is part of who he is. I really really want to be able to give that to him and to stay with him, but when I think about opening up our relationship, I immediately feel deeply violated. I can already feel myself turning into the most nasty, toxic, insecure horrorfest when I think about a life where he is seeing other people. I don’t want that for either me or Dean!

He says he doesn’t need non-monogamy to happen now, and he wants to be okay with this being unresolved, enjoy our relationship together, and figure it out as it comes. I feel like it has put an expiration date on our time together, I just don’t know when that date is, and this is going to be an enormous elephant in the room from here on out.

And now it doesn’t feel like therapy is working towards feeling free of trauma and societal expectations so I can have an informed and reasonable conversation over opening up the relationship IF that happens, but that I have no choice but to work to change who I am for WHEN this happens.

Anyway, I guess my question is what can we do? We both want to stay together a lot. I am trying to be open with Dean (who I trust deeply because he is a good communicator and has always been honest with me) and talk about it, but it feels like we are at an impasse, and also feels like fixating on it will wreck any other joy that we have. It also feels cosmically unfair! I don’t know what to do. Thanks for reading this ridiculously long email, and apologies for not keeping it more brief.

Response:

There’s obviously a lot going on here. I super related when you said “cosmically unfair”. Just because I’ve been in a lot of cosmetic unfair situations myself, I think that the first thing that I would do if I was in your situation and what I encourage people who are in this situation to do is ask yourself if you can see yourself being monogamously with someone who has a time intensive career or hobby. And the reason why I asked this is because I think that even if you are monogamous to someone who is polyamorous — and that does happen. You can have someone who is monogamous to a polyamorous person and doesn’t date other people.

The biggest difference between a monogamous relationship and a non-monogamous relationship is that someone who is non-monogamous will not be spending the vast majority of their time with you, and a monogamous relationship can have this. I think when you have someone who is a lawyer or a doctor or someone who works long hours, or who might be away for long periods of time, that is something that even if you are monogamous, you might not be able to deal with. So, dating that person won’t work.

Another kind of thing to think about is like long distance relationships. A lot of people can’t do them monogamously or not. So if you can see yourself being with someone who has a time intensive career or hobby or isn’t around all the time or isn’t fully focused on you, that is the first small step. The feeling of anxiety and being like wracked with all of this kind of tension when you think about your partner being with someone else: I don’t think that that’s necessarily a sign that you can’t do non monogamy, because there’s some people who really— they’re voyeurs and they really like the idea of their partner— and they think about it and it’s hot.

Some people even if they are non-monogamous don’t think about that and they’re not necessarily interested in that. And that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a don’t ask don’t tell situation, but they don’t sit there and dwell on it. It’s not something that they’re interested in. So I don’t think you should definitely see that as a sign that it’s not meant for you. Especially because you do think that some of those feelings are coming from past relationship traumas. So I don’t think you should see that as a bad sign.

If you decide okay, he doesn’t have to spend all of his time with me, that’s fine, that’s kind of like a first step. I think that the next step is: is there something, anything about that situation, that could be of a benefit to you? And it’s funny that you say that you’re introverted and like busy and that’s like a big reason — that is kind of the reason why I am interested in polyamory, or non-monogamy, actually. Because I am introverted, because I don’t like partying, I don’t like dating. I don’t like. I’m not attracted to many people I don’t have what a lot of polyam people seem to have which is, “I just like so many people”.

And I’m not making fun of them just saying that like I’m not like that. I’m not a free love hippie type of person, I don’t fall in love with everyone that I see. I’m barely ever attracted to anybody, to the point where like, if I get a crush, I’m like “oh my god it’s happened again” because sometimes I think I will never have another one. That’s just me and the reason why I’m interested in polyamory is because, if I am interested in somebody else, then I want the freedom to be able to pursue it.

And I want to also be able to have friendships that are close that could maybe become non-platonic without having to worry about it being too close, or, you know, being a bother like all that toxic shitty stuff you mentioned about not necessarily inherent to monogamy itself. But all of that stuff that brings up. It’s just a lot easier. Also I like being alone, and like my partner going off and being with somebody else… Even if I want to live with another partner and I want to wake up with next to them, you know, sometimes I also like my alone time, so that can actually work quite well.

Just because you’re not like a like social butterfly, doesn’t mean that it won’t work for you. When you try and separate this, that feeling of not being enough all that anxiety that is one thing and I do think that is something that you can work through. And that also quite an understandable feeling of not being enough but I’ll get to it in a second. If you can separate yourself from that and think purely as an individual. What is a benefit that you could see for yourself in a non monogamous setup? Even if it’s just having the house to yourself once a week.

There can be some benefit to you because like I said, there are situations where people are monogamous to a polyamorous person, and that does work fine for them, but they just have to be okay with them not spending all the time in the world with them. And also, there has to be some kind of benefit for them. And it can’t and really shouldn’t be a benefit that involves keeping this relationship and that’s going to be really hard for you in this situation because it does kind of seem like that’s the biggest reason that you want to try is to keep Dean in your life.

But there has to be something separate to that, because there’s an issue that I’m seeing — from the get it seems like Dean has made it clear to you that in terms of how he sees relationships, he doesn’t see romantic sexual partners as being better or more important than friends and stuff like that like it’s all kind of mixed. And I feel like you’ve kind of ignored that a little bit in your head. He’s agreed to do monogamy with you but just because he has agreed to be sexually and romantically exclusive with you, doesn’t necessarily mean he’s changed his mind about how relationships work.

And even if he continued to be monogamous with you that is still a big issue, because you’re kind of assuming a hierarchical structure in a way that isn’t even there now. Like you’re kind of allowing this agreement to do monogamy, sexually and romantically, to redefine it in your own head, to give you a kind of a false sense of security of what this relationship means in context with the other relationships that Dean has.

If you kind of remove that web of safety that you’ve kind of put that isn’t really there, you’re already kind of in a relationship with someone who isn’t necessarily going to prioritise you or believe in prioritising a romantic sexual relationship over other relationships. It sounds like that’s the way Dean does things. I could be wrong, but it does sound like that’s the way he does things so you might be kind of pulling the wool over your eyes a little bit right now already.

So thinking about “okay already, I’m kind of doing that”, thinking about that, and trying to understand what benefit you could get out of it might be a little bit helpful. If you can find a benefit for it that’s just for you, that is something that you can hold on to, when you’re dealing with this stuff.

The next big thing is that you not feeling like you’re not enough. It’s a very very understandable thing. Going through the process of trying to figure out what it is that you could— you would want out of Non-Monogamy as an individual might make you empathise a little bit more with the desire for non-Monogamy and maybe that non-Monogamy isn’t for you. But it’s not about not being enough, and it’s really hard to explain that.

The best way that people have been able to explain that to others is using the example of like if I go out to eat. If I want to go out to a restaurant, it doesn’t mean that my partner is a shitty cook, or that I don’t like it when they cook for me. Another way that I always encourage people to think about it because it’s probably the easiest kind of example for a lot of people, if you have one child having another child or wanting to have another child doesn’t mean that that one child is not enough.

And you can even think about it in terms of your friends. You might have very close— and you said you have very close emotional relationships with your friends. Wanting another friend or building a relationship with another friend doesn’t mean that the friends you have are shitty or that there’s anything bad about them. And we are encouraged within the society that we’re in, even if we’re queer, even if we try to break free of it, we are encouraged to think of love as a scarce resource that we have to compete with each other for.

And that if, you know, finding a one partner means that everyone else doesn’t get that and that that scarcity is what you need to find and therefore need to buy all these products for blah blah blah. If you challenge that idea in your head and you try to think okay. There might be situations where in a way you aren’t enough. There’s always going to be somebody out there that’s better at something than you regardless. But it’s not easily about that for most non-monogamous people.

They don’t choose it because one person isn’t enough for them. They may identify that they have a personal need for non-monogamy and variety, and therefore communicate that in a way that is “well one person isn’t enough for me”, but it’s just a little bit more complicated than that. The other thing that might also be helpful for you and understanding your anxiety and understanding whether or not this is for you is that monogamy and the way that it’s encouraged in society gives us a false sense of security.

And you can look this up when it comes to like “the relationship escalator” and everything else, you end even in this relationship that you’re in now you have assumed your safety in this relationship because monogamy itself, as well as all of the signs of “progression” in a relationship a lot of things are kind of built on this cultural script. Going through the script, even as a queer person, going through the script is, in a way, encouraging to us, it shows us that our relationship is “committed” that things are more rooted, that things are grounded, that everything is going by the script. So is fine. It’s safe.

There are people who have been together for 20 plus years, who break up. All relationships have an expiration date. There are no guarantees rather in life that anything will last. Just because you’re monogamous doesn’t mean your relationship will last. And also, if your relationship doesn’t last, it isn’t immediately a sign of failure. For me that has helped my anxiety. If anything. Realising that I have not as much control as I think I have, and that I need to, because my anxiety works on trying to make me think I have control over situations, because I’ve been in a lot of situations where I haven’t had control, and that’s been scary and I’ve been hurt yada yada yada.

But the point is, you can’t control every aspect of everything. And you could break up with Dean, go and find someone who definitely wants to be monogamous for them with them for 50 years and get cheated on. Nothing is guaranteed. So you shouldn’t assume that there is somehow more safety in monogamy than there is in non-monogamy.

To just challenge the person who said “monogamy doesn’t work”. I really hate that. It does work for some people. It depends on your expectations for what you want in monogamy. Like if you want a relationship where the other person never has a sexual thought about another person but you. Yeah, probably that doesn’t work. But monogamy in and of itself as just two people who don’t date other people. That does and can work for a lot of people. It really irritates me when people say that. Monogamy does work and it might be that monogamy is what works for you. And it doesn’t have to be because you’re traumatised.

That’s another thing that I want to say. Yes you might have a lot of traumas connected to the idea that your partner doesn’t want you. Even within the context of a monogamous relationship I would still encourage someone who felt like they weren’t enough to explore those thoughts, question the assumption of the safety that monogamy brings them, to build a relationship with themselves where if they aren’t enough as their partner does leave them. They are still safe within themselves.

But, it doesn’t work for everyone. Choosing monogamy doesn’t mean you’re insecure. Choosing monogamy doesn’t mean that you are traumatised and broken and just need someone to commit only to you because you’re too jealous or anything like that. That’s just not the case. It is a choice that some people want to make just like some people want to be child free. Being child free doesn’t mean that they’re scared to have kids. That could be one reason why people would choose to be child free because they are scared that they will pass their anxious shit on to kids, raising my hand here.

But that isn’t the only reason and that also doesn’t mean that people should have kids anyway. Equally, choosing to have children doesn’t mean that you’re afraid of death, and that you are obsessed with your own ego and want to pass on your legacy. There’s different valid reasons for why people choose different things in their life, and it doesn’t mean that there’s a problem with them as they choose it.

So, it may be that you just want monogamy, and as you’ve kind of explored it a little bit already in your letter. It might just be what you want because that’s the lifestyle that you want. When I’ve asked you if, can you see yourself being with someone who has a time intensive career hobby if you said no, then no. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It’s just not what you want. So if it’s not what you want then you shouldn’t try to shove yourself into a box. And, and do it. If you don’t want to.

As you said like the therapy isn’t going to help you if you feel like it’s not a choice. So, yeah. The other thing is, I am a little bit worried and I understand Dean’s like 25 and hasn’t had a long term relationship before. But the thing that really worries me about the situation is that Dean agreed to monogamy in a way that made it seem like — to you at least — that it was going to be the choice. And only didn’t really bring up until two weeks ago, that “hey actually at some point I may ask for non-monogamy”. And it would be one thing if from the beginning when Dean said “You know what I’d like to try monogamy, but I don’t know if it’s something that I’m going to want to do for for a long time.”

If he had presented that to you from the beginning, then I would have been like okay well he’s been fully honest about that. I don’t know if Dean’s being honest with himself. And I think that this confrontation will not really confrontation but this. Basically, seeing this breakdown in a relationship between your friends and then go “actually do you know what I think I do want Non-Monogamy!” It’s not going to be easy for you to just relax and smell the roses. When stuff is shifted like this, that’s really hard to deal with. You’re being pushed and pulled out of your safety and comfort zones. And that’s hard regardless of whatever lifestyle you decide to choose.

I hate the word lifestyle, hate it, but it is kind of a lifestyle. But the point is, like — I don’t think Dean did it maliciously doesn’t sound like Dean did it maliciously, however, that is still a really big concern. If he wanted to have to try monogamy. I feel like he should have made it obvious to you from the beginning that this was a trial. And it doesn’t seem like it was obvious to you. It seems like you thought “okay we’re doing monogamy, but I’m just preparing myself, to see if I might be able to do non-monogamy, and maybe who asked for it the future”.

But you haven’t had that signed, sealed and delivered. Now you’ve had it signed, sealed and delivered — that’s very different and it’s— to just be like, “well, we don’t know where this is going, just like relax” like I do think that sometimes you can just have a relationship and just because it ends doesn’t mean your failures, and that you don’t have to expect a relationship to last until one of you dies. But it’s like you said, it’s like the elephant in the room now. And it’s put an expiration date that you didn’t really think about. I mean, all relationships have an expiration date, but it put a new dimension into this that you didn’t factor in.

And it is a sudden thing and so it is very difficult for you to feel safe and comfortable with someone who has kind of just shifted their mind a little bit on something that’s quite huge. A good example to compare it to is, is the decision on whether or not to have kids and I think that’s just such a good comparison because if you had agreed “okay we were definitely not going to have kids, because I have all this trauma about children and I don’t know if I’ll be able to handle it, but I’m going to go to therapy and see if I can work that out and in case one day you asked me if we can have a family” and then all of a sudden he’s like “yeah definitely I’m going to ask you to have kids one day”.

That’s very, you know, like — it worries me that he doesn’t realise how jarring, that is for you. Because it’s going to be hard enough to kind of cope with attempting this on top of having to also deal with the fact that he’s kind of changed the game on you a little bit. So, to sum up my response to this — ultimately I can’t tell you whether or not you can, or are non-monogamous. Some people feel innately non monogamous. I don’t personally necessarily feel that way, but I do feel like monogamy isn’t something that I would ever want. However, there are things that you can go through, as I’ve said, that can give you an indication of whether or not this type of way of doing things, is something that you can do, even if you were monogamous to a polyamorous person.

And those are the things I said: can you see yourself being with someone with a time intensive career hobby where they don’t spend all of their time with you? Can you find a personal benefit to non-monogamy that only applies to you, that isn’t saving this relationship, even if it’s being home alone every once in a while? Because like I said being introverted can actually work really well with non-monogamy. You don’t have to be a social butterfly, or a free love hippie to be interested in it.

If you can find a benefit and if you can see yourself being with someone who has a time intensive career or hobby and can accept the fact that Dean won’t spend 100% of his time with you, then I think you might want to consider working on this concept of unpicking your assumptions about safety in monogamy, really challenging yourself a bit on the assumptions you’ve made so far in the relationship that because Dean is sexually and romantically monogamous to you that that suddenly means he defines relationships, the same way you do because that isn’t— I don’t think that’s true. And I think there probably needs to be more discussion around that.

Challenging some of the safety assumptions that you have will really help. I wrote a article called “13 mistakes people make when they try polyamory”. I think that’s what it’s called. You can find it on the website. That talks about the beginning steps of finding your anchor, challenging some of your fears, challenging some of the assumptions that you make that can really help cope with the anxiety of it. I don’t think that just because you have anxiety or disgust or fear or worry when you think about your partner being with other people that that means that you can’t do non-monogamy.

Because that can sometimes be just part of what you’ve learned about the scarcity of love from the culture that surrounds you. Another thing is, I do think you should potentially find a polyamory friendly couples therapist for you and Dean, even if Dean is a good communicator as you said, it’s a little bit worrying that Dean— It seems like there was a miscommunication. I’m not saying it’s wholly Dean’s fault. I think that there’s some assumptions made on both sides but it seems like when you agree to monogamy your assumption was that non-monogamy might come up, but that it wasn’t a definite, and now it’s a definite and you need to address that. miscommunication.

Even if it’s that Dean didn’t really realise that it was that important to him until now. It’s something that you have to work out together. Like how important is it actually? And there’s another bit in the article that I mentioned and what I advise people generally when they start out in non-monogamy is thinking about what their ideal situation is, and seeing if there’s compatibility. Because both of you could be non monogamous but still not compatible. Being non-monogamous doesn’t inherently mean that you’re compatible or that you want the same things in life. So working out what the ideal state is can then help you get further down that road.

I think that if you can— If you’re fine with him not spending all this time with you. If you can work on some of these feelings of not enough and challenging some of your assumptions of safety. If you can find a personal benefit out of being polyamorous, or non-monogamous for yourself. And if you can have discussions with Dean about why this miscommunication happened, and figure out how to avoid it happening again. Then, it might work out. You might be able to try being non monogamous.

You might be able to deal with some of these fears and stuff that you’ve been through before and push through that. I wouldn’t say that you’re always going to be happy because anytime you start something new or try something new or change up what you’re doing and you don’t have a cultural script to go by, you’re going to be frickin nervous. It’s going to stoke anxiety. Don’t expect it to be easy. But I don’t think that just because it gives you anxiety that it’s not worth trying. Or that it’s not something that you can do just because you feel anxious.

So yeah, if you can go by the steps, give it a try. If from the out, you’re like, “Nope, I wouldn’t date someone who’s in the army. I wouldn’t date a doctor or a lawyer who was all the time at the office” or whatever then I just don’t think that even the kind of monogamy that you would want with other monogamous people would work for you, let alone this relationship and you might have to— If you can stop and enjoy the roses, if you can

enjoy the aspects of a relationship that you have with Dean, understanding that it might come to an end, then, do that.

But it sounds like that— if this is not of any interest to you whatsoever — it does sound like that would just be a little bit of a waste of your time. Unfortunately, if what you want is to find one person and settle down and do that whole shindig, then there’s no point in wasting your time. You know, maybe you have to kind of what they call de-escalate your relationship. Be friends and define your relationship that way until you find that person that you actually want to do that with. But yeah, I can’t tell you if you can or can’t do, non-monogamy.

It comes down to a couple of things that you have to be real with yourself about. And it’s really hard. And, if there’s one way that you feel strongly, don’t ignore your strong feelings and stay because even if you think, yeah, breakups hurt. It’s not a fun thing. It’s a sucky thing. But it’s always much much worse to sit and let resentment fester or to sit and try and lie to yourself and pull the wool over your eyes and think that you’re safe. When you’re not or think that things are going the way that you want. When you’re not. It’s always much much worse for to do that than it is to break it off, in my experience. So yeah, I hope this helps and good luck.

Preventing hurt feelings

I am fairly new to the world of non-monogamy, having only been introduced to it in May 2020. Through learning about the different constructs that can be applied to a designer relationship I have discovered that this lifestyle could suit me well. Mostly as it encourages me to address the multitude of insecurities and other personal issues that make non-monogamy difficult. For the first time ever I am able to be compassionate towards myself and not just others, I am cultivating feelings of self-worth and getting closer to being able to allow myself to be present with my emotions instead of running away or numbing with substance abuse.

I care about the person that introduced me to non-monogamy deeply on many different levels and have communicated that we above all wish to safeguard our platonic friendship. We have also talked about their reservations with continuing the partnership on an intimate level as they are scared of hurting other people’s feelings. However, When I told them that I am a big boy and can handle change in circumstances they seemed to agree. The issue was then raised about if they were to flirt with someone in front of me how would that make me feel?

And upon reflecting on this dynamic I would personally like to get to the point where I could be in the same place as my partner and be fully comfortable with them flirting and then going off to explore an intimate connection with someone else. I feel compersion for friends and ex-partners in those circumstances and feel like it is possible to reach that level with a current partner but only if I have come to terms with my insecurities and know that I am enough to make myself happy.

To answer your question short and sweet: you can’t. You can’t completely assure someone of how you may feel in any given situation. You can, if you have experienced that situation before, give an estimation of what you think you would feel based on previous experience, but you can’t assure someone that you won’t feel anything about them being intimate with someone in your immediate presence.

But that’s not what necessarily concerns me about your letter and there a couple of things here that need to be addressed.

Polyamory will lead you to security

The first worry I have about the way you’ve expressed your letter and wants is that you feel that non-monogamy is going to lead you to a better place as a person than monogamy will. While I don’t doubt that non-monogamy brings with it different types of challenges, I really really discourage people whenever I can to view polyamory as some type of bootcamp for their emotions.

Why? Because the given assumption is that polyamory leads one to a Vulcan-like state of detachment from their emotions. There is a strand of beginner polyamory advice that is almost cult-like in it’s insistence that while there is supposedly “no wrong way to do polyamory” all of it’s suggestions point to the only and ideal way being detached, balanced and guru-like, giving off the impression that having or feeling emotions makes one “bad at polyamory”. And this, without a doubt, is not only an impossible expectation, but not fair.

Far be it from me to leap to complete assumptions about you, but I do wonder, if numbing your feelings with substance abuse was an issue for you in the past, if you are not just looking for another way to numb your emotions. And the polyamory advice often given seems to endorse or encourage the idea and promise a sort of zen like tranquility. I don’t think that’s the case for more people, nor do I think it should be the aim.

If you are practicing or wanting polyamory because you think it will bring things into your life that you as an individual will enjoy — great. But if you are practicing polyamory because you think it will make you a more mature, emotionally responsible person… well… that’s sort of like someone having a child because they hope it will make them a better person. Adding more relationships to your life doesn’t make you any better at coping with emotions. And throwing yourself into the deep in will not help you swim better.

Emotions represent insecurity

The second issue I have with the assumptions your making is that, if you should have any feelings seeing your partner flirt or go off to sleep with someone in front of you, that this is an immediate sign of insecurity — which is pretty much what a good deal of polyamory blogs will tell you. But this is not the case.

People have feelings about seeing their partners with other people for all sorts of reasons that are not as simple as just “being insecure”. For many people, they are afraid to lose the partner they have and this is a completely understandable reaction to have. Depending on the context of your relationship, if you have a brand new attachment with someone or you have a history of trauma where people have abandoned you or betrayed you, you may be reacting emotionally based on that lack of foundation or your personal history. These in turn may make you feel you aren’t good enough — but it’s not necessarily just a matter of personal insecurity.

I think, for the vast majority of people raised within a monogamous society, they are not going to be able to see their partner flirting with someone else without feeling at the very least some of the intrinsic fear they’ve learned by being in a society that’s told them that love only means something if their partner is sexually exclusive to them. Not only would I tell you that you are going to feel that way but I would tell you to expect to feel that way and, instead of trying to prevent feeling something, try and learn how to sit in discomfort, figure out what it is your afraid of, challenge some of the assumptions those fears are making or… avoid all of that together and, if at all possible, don’t be there to witness it.

Unless you both have the same social circles or go to the same parties, there’s no reason to purposefully put yourself in that position if you don’t want to. While you shouldn’t avoid doing things you want to do because you fear having a reaction, you also shouldn’t put yourself into a situation you know may be uncomfortable if you don’t have to. There are no awards to be won here for emotional endurance, I’m afraid. So why do that?

Don’t assume that having a reaction to your partner going off with someone else is about your personal insecurity. If you pursue polyamory, you’re going to be trying something without the same cultural scripts as friendships or monogamy and that in and of itself is enough to make one anxious on top of establishing a new bond of trust with someone and trying to counteract all of the social conditioning you’ve had that’s told you that sexual interest is something meant exclusively for someone you are interested in and only them.

Not to mention, the idea here is that there is some type of linear achievement you can have where you may in the past have feelings when you see your partner go off with someone else and then you progress to a level where you do not — and this is a false expectation. You may have no problems with one person but problems with another. You may have no problems and then suddenly experience a traumatic event and then have loads of anxieties you didn’t before. Life isn’t a linear progression in terms of our mental health. We go all over the place depending on what’s on our plates at any given time. Expecting to reach this “level” in a way isn’t fair on yourself or realistic.

Compersion is the ideal

Last but not least, you mention a topic that’s drawn much contention from me — compersion. I get why people use it. I’ve actually felt it now! You hear that readers? The compersion curmudgeon has felt compersion for the first time. Wild.

However, the problem I still very much have with this concept is that, again, while we say “there is no one right way to do polyamory” or “no wrong way” — whatever — compersion creates an ideal and you are creating an ideal that you just not may be able to do either because you just don’t feel compersion or because you do have an emotional response to someone you like going off with someone else — whether it’s fear or FOMO — and you can’t stop yourself from feeling.

I worry that by desiring this state, you are basically setting yourself up for failure. Compersion is great to feel, as I now actually know, but if you don’t have it or you are scared to lose your partner, this does not represent a failure on your behalf. Don’t let this be your goal. Let it be a nice bonus if and when it happens.

You are enough but you aren’t an island

Lastly, I want to address the sentiment you have in terms of your insecurities. “I am enough” is a wonderful sentiment and I don’t want people to feel like they are dependent upon others so much that they stay in relationships that hurt them because they think they deserve the mistreatment or because they don’t believe anyone else would love them.

However, there is a problem within much polyamory writing that promotes the idea of a kind of bootstraps mentality where if you have a problem, it’s only your problem and yours to deal with. This type of self-sufficiency paves the way for people who behave abusively to take as much advantage of others as possible and then gaslight people for attempting to reach out for help.

Human beings are social creatures and our nervous systems regulate either by us learning our own ways to self regulate but also by co-regulation with others around us. We have survived as a species for this long not because of brute strength or some type of weird survivalist individualist Mad Max type of concept — but because we formed communities and helped each other. There is a “Western” concept of individualism that creates a lot of problems when people are so focused on individuals that they forget that our communities are also important.

Bottom line, if you feel you cannot reach out to your partners for help or talk to them, there’s a problem with that. While they can’t be your therapists, they should be there to love and support you. And being afraid of the loss of them in your life is reasonable and understandable. There isn’t anything about that that means you aren’t enough. It just means the obvious — however enough you are, it hurts to lose someone who was important to you in your life, whether they are friend, family, or lover.

In summary

To sum up, I think that, while I can understand what it is you want, I worry you’re setting yourself up for failure. I wrote an introductory article about some of the classic blunders I see people trying polyamory find themselves in and that might help you in your initial quest and also with some of the things you’re worried about here.

Allow yourself to feel. You’re a human being, not a Vulcan. Feeling isn’t failure.

I hope this helps and good luck.

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Episode 66: Hidden Metamour

Even if you have confusing boundaries and you’re not “official”, lying by omission can still feel like cheating.

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

Discussion Topic:

What is a non-monogamous setup that wouldn’t work for 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 66 – Hidden Metamour

Even if you have confusing boundaries and you’re not “official”, lying by omission can still feel like cheating.  That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – What is a non-monogamous setup that wouldn’t work for 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

I’ve been seeing a guy for over 2 /12 years. We started seeing each other after he got out of a 8 year relationship and it’s been semi casual (neither of us made any serious commitment and we both have been seeing other partners) but since that year mark we have been exchanging “I love you’s”  and confirmed that we were in a relationship. In July I found out that he had been seeing her for the past year (at least once a week).

I spoke with her and she confirmed that she’s been with him and that she knew that I was his primary but that she wanted more from him, possibly a relationship. Since then he’s stated that I am his primary but that he enjoys seeing her sexually and that he needs an open relationship.

It isn’t that he is seeing someone else sexually, I am open to this, but it’s the fact that he’s lied and that she wants more time and affection and that I’m the blame for the lack of that. I feel attacked from both sides and I don’t know how to continue with this. I’ve been scrambling looking for advice since July, I’ve been following your podcast. I appreciate any advice on this situation.

Response:

The first big problem with this situation is the lying. Now even though you said you weren’t “official” and you only after the first year of being together, said that you were in a relationship, I find it a little worrying that he didn’t mention this other partner to you at all. And I don’t really know how you found out about it, whether you found out because you discovered it yourself, or he told you.

Doesn’t sound like he told you. It sounds like you discovered it yourself. And then you have this conversation with her where she seemed to say she knew that that you were his primary and she wants more, and also seems to have told you (I assume that she told you this) that he wants more time and affection— or no she blames you for the time and affection that she’s not got from him, which isn’t great. And then he’d sort of tells you that  you’re definitely his primary and that he’s only interested in her sexually. There’s a lot. There’s a lot about this that’s a problem.

It’s not up to me to tell you what you define as cheating. There’s a reason why I personally prefer not to have things and kind of a weird quasi unsure state. I prefer things to be quite clear in terms of like — Are we in a relationship? Yes or no? And maybe it’s that you didn’t have that and so he kind of felt like he didn’t need to tell you about her, but I would feel cheated in this situation. I would have a hard time not feeling cheated because it’s the lying, and it’s hiding her. And it just feels like she has been hidden from you.

And she knew about you but you didn’t know about her and that’s just really odd and I don’t see why that’s the case. And I just feel like he could have easily just mentioned it in passing. I do know that like a lot of people when they begin trying out non-monogamy sometimes they accidentally cheat because they don’t really know how to tell their partners that they’re seeing someone else. And they’re so used to the idea that they shouldn’t do that because if they do that it’ll end the relationship that they end up cheating kind of by mistake. So maybe that’s where he’s coming from but you got to figure out like why did he not mention this, up until now?

I also feel like. Had I been able to advise you before you had that conversation with her I probably wouldn’t have advised you to have a conversation with her because this is kind of not really about her, but the fact that you did you’ve got like this other information which is that she does want more from him. And she’s mad at you because she’s blaming you that  she hasn’t been able to get more time and affection from him.

Now, it’s kind of… it’s okay that she wants that and I’m not blaming her for that, But I feel a little bit worried about the fact that she is blaming you and has no problem, telling you that, and you go and talk to him and he’s like “yeah you’re my primary and I’m just interested in her sexually”. There’s some communication breakdowns going on in his relationship with her.

Because, while it’s okay for her to want stuff and I’m not saying that’s bad, she’s not going to get that, and that’s not really fair for your partner to like keep stringing her along if what she wants is more time and affection. And it’s also really awkward for her to pull you into that. No wonder you feel attacked from both sides. I would be really hesitant around like a metamour who was just willing to lay all this out on me. Because it’s not really up to me. It’s not my fault and I understand why she’s blaming you. It’s easier for her to blame you because she doesn’t have any feelings for you. She has feelings for this guy.

So her brain is going to want to put all the negative stuff on to the person that she doesn’t have any contact for, but that’s still really really worrying. If you confronted him and he said, “I shouldn’t have hid it from you” or acknowledged that even if he wasn’t trying to hide it, he didn’t tell you about it. I just feel like he should have been… It doesn’t sound like he was apologetic about the situation. He just sort of was like well you’re my primary and I’m only interested in her sexually.

Okay, but clearly there’s an issue here. And you have to address that and if that’s all the way that he’s going to address it, I just don’t know if that’s something that you should continue dealing with. It doesn’t seem like you chose to have an open relationship. It just seems like you kind of fell into it. You don’t really seem like a person who is like “Yes I want an open relationship. This is specifically what I want”.

It just seems like you didn’t want to make a serious commitment either way and you saw other people. And then you have this “I love yous” and confirm you’re in a relationship but it’s not really clear about whether that was supposed to be open or not. I mean, what did he tell you when he was going once a week? Did he lie? I just feel like you need to ask yourself, do you want an open relationship? Is that what you want independent of this person? Is it something you’re actually seeking? And then if it is something you’re actually seeking, do you want it with someone who is being dishonest with you?

Because that’s kind of what this is. Sorry but if he has been seeing some other person for the last year, hasn’t mentioned it has been seeing her for at least once a week and she is angry with you because she wants more time with him— So clearly, she doesn’t understand that she isn’t going to get that. It just doesn’t spell very good things. He’s not communicating well in that relationship clearly, or is making a choice of a person who doesn’t want an open relationship when he— it’s just a lot.

I just feel like you need to really ask yourself if open relationships are what you want, and it’s having an open relationship with this person is what you want? Because, you know, it doesn’t seem like you’re happy to find this out. And it doesn’t seem like he was going to tell you. So I just feel like you— This to me would be defined as cheating. Again I’m not going to tell you how to define it to yourself. It would be cheating to me, and I would be out of there personally.

Basically, to sum up, lying by omission is still cheating, in my opinion. Whether or not you want to identify that as cheating is up to you. Because you kind of had nebulous boundaries and definitions from the beginning, so maybe he did get confused and didn’t know when to tell you and I don’t know. I think that you can confront him about the conversation you had.

It doesn’t make it clear whether you actually told him that she said that she wants more time from him and feels you’re the blame for not getting that. So clearly there’s some communication breakdown. It’d be interesting to see what he has to say about that. And if he apologetic for basically hiding this from you for so long? Especially if he’s seen her once a week, like he had to say he was going somewhere or maybe. I don’t know. Maybe you don’t live together.

Or you don’t have a shared calendar so it’s not like you paid that much attention. But sometimes we don’t know that we have a boundary until it’s been crossed and this might be a situation where you go, “Okay. In the future, if you decide to see someone regularly I would just like a heads up”. And you can go from there but I kind of just feel like the combination of the fact that you found it out, which to me seems to illustrate that he didn’t tell you.

You found it out on top of the fact that she is blaming you for not getting more time with him when you didn’t even know about her… It doesn’t spell good things, so you need to ask yourself if you want an open relationship? And if you want an open a relationship with this person? Because even if he needs an open relationship fine, but he could have been honest about it from the beginning. And he wasn’t.

And so that is really the issue that I’m having with. If you need an open relationship that is fine but that doesn’t give you carte blanche to just lie to people and not tell them, whether you’re not intentionally lying or hiding things…

yeah, it just doesn’t spell good things to me. Really, ask yourself, is an open relationship what you want, what you need? And even if it is, is that something that you want with a person who has lied to you for the past year?

And hasn’t, from the looks of it, apologised for that. I wish that I had more like other things, to be able to advise, because if this is his response is just going “Well, you’re my primary and I just want to see her sexually and that’s it”. That’s just not enough to go by, and the fact that you’ve been trying to find advice about this for so long makes me feel like he hasn’t given you any other reassurance or attempted to do so and that doesn’t spell good in any kind of relationship.

I wish that I had better things to advise. I really hate it sometimes when the only thing that I have to advise is “Do you really want to be in that situation?”. But yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

HSV 2 and polyamory

I’ve been in a wonderful V-triad for 3 years and I love my partner & metamour!

Recently, I tested positive for genital herpes and they’ve both been beyond supportive but they seem *too supportive* which I didn’t think could be possible. I suggested closing our triad indefinitely and even permanently to minimize risk and my metamour was okay with it but knew it would never work for our partner. I love my partner but I’m between a rock and hard place; I’m tired and terrified of being a risk and being at risk to a point I’m contemplating monogamy and/or abstinence while they wish for me to overlook the stigma and be a level of sex positive that one would normally dream of but I’m drifting away from. I’ve talked to my therapist but another source wouldn’t hurt at this point.

What might help you before you make any rash decisions is to fully immerse yourself in learning as much as you can about HSV 2, or genital herpes, and HSV in general especially it’s commonality. While I’ve not gone through this myself, I would expect that it is incredibly common to have to work through all of the shame and stigma attached to HSV in our culture and figure out what your risk level is.

There isn’t necessarily wrong with you having a period of abstinence while you reorient yourself and work on your feelings and your partners seem like they would understand that. From my perspective, it sounds like you’re taking responsibility for things that you have no control of and that’s likely not going to help. Rather than closing your triad, you could simply do only activities which don’t involve skin to skin contact for a period while you ground yourself again.

Being an immunocompromised person with lifelong disability and health issues, I’ve always been panicked by the prospect of having *another* health issue to manage. I can’t pretend the stigma itself wasn’t an issue for me, but because of the nature of my health condition, it affects my immune system for anything else, which causes me to be ultra cautious and also ultra paranoid. Combined with anxiety, I’m driven to want to try and control every aspect of everything to control my anxiety.

However, when I’ve had the prospect of partners who have HSV2 or metamours, I dug myself into research about HSV. When I realised how common it was, how it could be managed, how even wearing condoms can’t prevent you from catching it, and all of the other aspects about it I had to realise how little I could control things. Especially since, as far as I’m aware, you can’t really even test for HSV of either type until you have a symptom so it’s possible your partner and metamour already have HSV, they just haven’t had symptoms about it.

In the same way that I tell people that the cultural script of monogamy gives them reassurance and makes them feel like their relationship is “safer” than non-monogamy is, equally I think people also assume that STIs won’t happen to them when it’s really down to random chance in a lot of situations. Another good analogy that helped me was driving. We can wear seatbelts, drive safely and do everything we can, but that won’t prevent an accident and an accident can happen the first time you ever drive or the 500,000th time you drive. If you had an accident, it would make sense to be afraid of your partners driving, especially in a car you had an accident in but there is only so much you can control.

We accept culturally that the benefits of driving outweigh the risks — even though driving can kill you and HSV is not deadly. But we’ve historically put so much shame around STIs and around HSV in general that it’s hard for us to see that it’s just another risk and be as casual about it as we are about the potential of any other accident.

Give yourself some time and take a period of personal abstinence if you need to. Throw yourself into groups and learn about HSV2 and talk to other people about it. Find a doctor who will answer all of your questions and research as much as you can about risk. Maybe when you have a little bit more knowledge you will feel more grounded and be less likely to assume responsibility for your partner and metamour’s sexual health.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Episode 65: No Longer Primary

How do you force yourself out of apathy if you feel the partner you want to settle down with is slipping away?

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

Discussion Topic: How has your ideal lifestyle changed over time?

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

Episode 65 – No Longer Primary

How do you force yourself out of apathy if you feel the partner you want to settle down with is slipping away? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – How has your ideal lifestyle changed over time?

 

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

In the past I was married and dealt with an abusive, homo-normative relationship (married to a power lesbian doctor who wanted a submissive doctor’s wife). When I left that abusive relationship and moved to another country, I started my healing process and learned to be my own primary.

I read The Ethical Slut and this helped me define myself as a relationship anarchist. Because I met more people who were into alternative relationships, I felt more open and free. I was also involved in a queer anarchist punk group that I still see as my family.

I became my own primary and was happy to no longer have any other emotional responsibility. I explored my sexuality more and got into more BDSM activities such as spanking, bondage, and humiliation. This led me to move to another country where I started to teach spank therapy.

I loved my life there but also survived two racist/homophobic attacks. As a Black, gender non-conforming individual, I started to feel exoticised and missed seeing a more culturally diverse community. I also missed my family so after 7 years away healing from the past trauma of the marriage and getting to know myself again, I decided I needed to move back to the US.

When I moved back, I had to readjust to the extreme of capitalist life. I started working full time in the nonprofit world again and had to hide my BDSM kink lifestyle. People I dated were either monogamous, or else not familiar with healthy non-monogamy (it just felt quite trendy and not taken seriously). Finally I met someone called K last year that was on the same page as I was about non-monogamy and wanted to develop a healthy relationship. We even started out reading [polyamory books] and doing the exercises together.

About three months into our relationship they let me know that they wanted to date someone who they were attracted to prior. I accepted that and let them know that I supported this, and appreciated that they told me that they felt this way in the beginning. I am attracted to transparency, and I also still had a few lovers that I saw and was able to share that with them without them feeling our connection was threatened. I knew that the lovers I had would not evolve into more emotionally intense relationships (one connection being primarily sexual and the other spiritual). I felt that my relationship with K had the potential to become more well-rounded: emotional, spiritual, and physical.

The sexual connection started off great and continues to feel that way almost two years later. What I didn’t expect was for their other lovership to grow into a partnership that they found to be equally important. I met the metamour a few times at the beginning of their relationship and they were very respectful, even seemed to want to become friends.

I was resistant to this because I felt I had enough friends in my life and didn’t want a forced connection (although K would have liked this). Also-there were times where K broke boundaries that we agreed on (invited them to the DR to meet their family without telling me until last minute, and also fluid sharing when we formed an agreement around us only fluid sharing together).

Somehow we overcame those incidents and reinstated our boundaries. I still loved them and didn’t want to ‘break up’ because they were still affectionate and apologetic. During the pandemic we became closer and even though we were apart for three months we connected by doing a 21-day meditation challenge together. They were still connecting to their other partner long distance as well, but told me that they wanted to find a place together in the US and plan a future together (start a family and buy a house together eventually).

Fast forward, we did reunite, it felt good, and we now live together in the same flat (with our own bedrooms). With this ideal set-up, I thought it would work well since they would invite their other partner to come and stay with them sometimes and vice versa. But 5 months later, it proves to be more stressful than I thought it would be.

They see their other partner once a month and even though it started off as 4-5 days, it is now at 10 days a month. I am also dating another person that they have met and is also attracted to and we started a triad because I like to include them in my exploits, but with them planning to spend more and more time with their other partner, they have less capacity to develop this relationship with me.

There have been times I really needed them (when my Grandma has been sick, or I am feeling down, or want to plan a doctor’s visit together to freeze my eggs) that they just aren’t available based on timing. We have a shared calendar but they don’t seem to look at it prior to making plans with their other partner and I am starting to feel like a fool for being so accommodating. They sense my anger and proposed that we go to counselling to talk about our different ways of being non-monogamous since the timing has been the most consistent point of contention between us.

I am not sure it is worth it and am also triggered from the time I tried counselling in my last abusive relationship. It didn’t help ‘fix’ anything and I felt that I was being called ‘the problem.’ I am willing to get rid of this past trauma to work towards a stable foundation with K, but I also don’t want to waste my time if we can’t reconcile our different philosophies on being non-monogamous. I don’t want to be apathetic (my go to shut down), but I don’t want to try ‘too hard’ either.

Do you think our non-monogamous differences are worth going to therapy for or that I am hanging on to a configuration that just doesn’t work for me and should let it go?

I do know that any relationship can shift and change, but I am feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the way things are going, and feel like this may mean that I should move on sooner than later as I have the tendency to hang on and try to make things work when they aren’t supposed to. This is my fear.

Response:

The first thing here that I want to say, specifically about therapy — If you go into therapy with someone who is abusive, that doesn’t work. There’s an amazing book I constantly, constantly recommend people read called “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft, and I recommend this book because it was hugely, hugely helpful for me in understanding the pathology of people who are abusive.

And I do want to illustrate that there’s a difference as well between people who do abusive things that maybe they have learned because of where they grew up or just the society that we grew up in, and people who are pathologically abusive, which means — if you read the book then you do understand the difference between the two. And one thing that Lundy Bancroft, and a lot of therapists say who deal with people who are actually you know pathologically abusive is that going to therapy can sometimes make it worse — especially couples therapy can definitely make it worse.

So just because you’ve had a bad relationship with therapy with your other partner who you say is abusive does not mean that it won’t work in this case, I think that this is a situation where you have a really good concept of what your ideal is, but it doesn’t seem like you’ve had that conversation with K.

Or it may be that K’s ideal is shifting and maybe they don’t really know how to communicate that to you. The thing that I worry about is that K violated some pretty serious boundaries that you had. It’d be one thing if it’s like, “Oh, K was supposed to come to see me this time but didn’t”. But violating the fluid bonded boundary is a pretty big deal. And I worry that maybe you kind of forgave a little bit too quickly.

I’m not saying that you should break up or that you should have broke up. But I do think that you have a clear situation where K is prioritising another relationship in a way over you and you’re not really handling it or talking about it or it doesn’t seem like you really talked about — Forgiving someone for doing something wrong is one thing, but working out why it is that they did that is another thing.

I think that you need to both sit down and figure out if you share the same, as you said, philosophies on being non-monogamous but also ideals. Does K really want to do this, have a family, buy a house together? Is that something that K actually wants? And this is something that K really needs to figure out especially when it comes to this other person that K is also supposed to be in a triad with you? With this other person?

Maybe K has new relationship energy with this new person and is sort of being sucked in but still does want you know the whole marriage and family and settling down with you. But you have to have that specific conversation. Is the mishaps you’ve been having with timing intentional? Because you say, we have a shared calendar, but it doesn’t seem like K is checking that calendar before K makes plans, is that intentional?

Is K actually just so caught up in things that they don’t really think about it for they go ahead and make plans, or is it that K isn’t looking? That involves K being really real with themself, and they have to be really real with themself and what they want, because otherwise this is what eventually happens. Like stuff gets missed. The little things start piling up. Resentment and anger starts building, and then eventually it ends up being horrible.

I think that you could have a basic conversation with each other about whether or not you share that same goal. Does K actually want this or is K envisioning…? What is K’s ideal? Does K envision that this partner that they’re going to see for 10 days out of the month will eventually come and move with you guys? What is the ideal here? Do you have a shared intentional vision of what you want your relationship to look like?

If you don’t have a shared intentional, then what you can do — I don’t necessarily even think you have to break up, but it will allow you to decide, “Okay, K doesn’t want this” and you may need a break up period” It really depends on how you feel personally, but maybe you can shift that expectation, and then K spending so much time with this other person won’t be such a big downer for you. Maybe this other person that you’re dating that you have this like triad with, maybe that can be the person that you have this settling down with who is more interested in that.

So, it just comes down to what your shared vision is. I think that if you can get out of K, that you do have some shared visions, that this timing stuff is not intentional, that they have not, you know, they can see that they’re caught up in new relationship energy which does sound like. I don’t know how new this relationship necessarily is but you can be caught up in new— especially if you’re a long distance, and especially with all this pandemic stuff and like the way that people have been touched starved and how difficult it’s been like, I do think you can be caught up in new relationship energy for a long. long time with a long distance connection because every time you see each other, as they say absence makes the heart grow fonder.

I do think that can be especially true for long distance, even if K is spending 10 days of the month with them. It’s like that absence makes things super dramatic, in a way that can kind of intensify the new relationship energy. So if K is able to say like, “Yeah, I am being a little bit focused on this relationship. But I do want to have this settling down thing with you”. Then I would say go to counselling together.

The fact that K recommended counselling is actually really, really great. That does show an effort to fix things. And again, like I said, just because you’ve had a really bad experience with counselling with an abusive partner in the past, that won’t fix anything. A counsellor is not going to be able to stop someone from being abusive towards you, if that’s what they want to do, and going to couples counselling with an abusive partner can actually make it worse.

Like I said, it’s another thing about— one thing that’s quite popular within the community is Nonviolent Communication, and there’s a lot written about nonviolent communication about how if the person wants to be violent towards you, nonviolent communication does not work with them. And similarly with counselling so I think it’s a positive sign that K has adjusted to go to counselling. K has recognised that you’re frustrated and upset and wants to solve that.

And I think that you also might want to consider counselling on your own, because there’s a bit of a contradiction on what you’re saying You talk about how you’re worried about trying too hard, and hanging on but then you also say you’re apathetic and you shut down. And I think that you might want to work out some of the stuff that you went through with your other partner with a counsellor and figure out how to address some of these situations as and when they come up.

Because I do think that if you’ve had an abusive relationship that and you know depending on what kind of background you come from and surviving so many things that you have survived, it is going to be hard for you to feel comfortable and safe confronting someone about some of the things that they’re doing. That is quite understandable. I definitely think that makes sense.

To sum up. Just because counselling didn’t work in your last abusive relationship doesn’t mean it won’t work now because that partner was abusive. So of course, it didn’t work and it’s okay that you didn’t know that. A lot of people go through that. You should definitely like I said, check out that book. Look up what other people go through online with going to counselling and abusive relationships.  I’m sure there’s tons of things written about it, especially if you had a counsellor that didn’t understand your perspective, and where you’re coming from, and didn’t understand, you know, any kind of marginalisation. That can also compound and add issues to it so you can try and find a therapist who is more understanding of that.

And also, definitely check out online how to interview therapists and ask them questions. They are there to work for you. They are there to help you. And so you can absolutely  ask them if they’re used to polyamory, if they’re used to being with helping people who have been in abusive relationships, if they’re used to queer people. You can ask those questions. If you feel like you’re “the problem”, you can find a second opinion.

It’s not something where you always have to go by what one therapist says. Unfortunately, sometimes even when people aren’t abusive and are trying to find a therapist, it can sometimes not work and that isn’t because of you. So definitely, definitely keep that in mind. It’s a good sign that K has addressed these issues but you can have a sit down conversation and figure out if K is still interested in this shared vision of what you want together.

Is K still interested in settling down? And figure that out with each other. And then, last thing is just give yourself a little bit of a break for having a lot of these feelings and maybe, see if you can get some therapy one on one for what you’ve been through with not only just having that really horrible relationship that sounds like but also, moving so much, and then facing like specific horrible attacks and like dealing with horrible people. Yeah, it’s a lot and that’s a lot to go through. And now you’re also kind of back in the closet now a little bit when it comes to kink stuff, and that’s a lot to go through.

So you need a little bit of support in that regard. And then we all have the pandemic which is a lot of shit for all of us to go through so there’s a lot of stuff you’re going through. And you can be a little bit easy on yourself. You don’t sound like you’re beating yourself up too much, but I always think it’s good to remind people, especially when they’ve gone through a lot of stuff that like, “Hey, you’ve gone through a lot of stuff, and that’s understandable that you would feel anxious and a little bit nervous about the things that are happening around you”.

But overall I would say this doesn’t sound terrible. Again, my final point is that K suggesting that you go to counselling is a really positive sign. And I think that you should definitely consider it and just have a conversation. I feel like if K is already identifying that you’re unhappy and is wanting to fix it then having that conversation about whether or not you have a shared vision won’t be so difficult to have without a counsellor, but equally you can find one together who understands polyamory who’s accepting and understanding of queerness and kink, and also has maybe Black identified themselves, or maybe has worked with Black clients before or has some understanding of that, instead of just being ignorant about it, which unfortunately a lot of therapists are. But yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

Hiding partners from each other

I am monogamous, but I have been dating someone who identifies as poly for almost three years. We began our relationship while he had another girlfriend. That was a fairly traumatic time for me because I struggled with dealing with my emotions of jealousy, feeling less than and finding my place despite my desires for something more traditionally monogamous. Eventually he and his other girlfriend broke up, for reasons I did not know at the time.

We discussed that he would let me know when he became interested or sexually active with another woman again and things were smooth for a time.

It was over a year after his break up that I learned that he never stopped being sexually active but he never told me because he claims he did not want to hurt me. He said he felt like he was gut punching me every time he told me about his other partners, so he lied by omission.

I tried making this work, but I’m not sure what to do or if there are solutions. Is there a way for me to learn to be comfortable that he has other partners? Despite everything I know he loves me. I don’t question that. He just made a bad choice.

I don’t like knowing that if another partner wants more time, it would cut into my time. He also doesn’t want to live with anyone or have kids. Which are some things I want to experience. Am I trying to make something work that never will?

I’m sorry to tell you, you’re fundamentally incompatible and you’re both just delaying the inevitable.

The last bit of your letter seals the deal. You want to live with him and have kids and he does not. And you also do not like the idea that he would be spending time with other people, which inevitably will be the case if and when he finds other partners. Agreeing to non-monogamy fundamentally, even if you were to be monogamous yourself to him, means accepting a situation where your partner does not spend as much time with you as they would in most monogamous relationships. If that’s not something you want, then it’s not going to work for you.

And even if you were going to be monogamous, if you want different lives in a way that can’t be compromised — such as living together and having children — then there isn’t much either of you can do about it. You can’t really compromise on living together if he does not want that and you shouldn’t have children to make your partner happy if you do not want children.

It also doesn’t bode well that he’s basically cheated by lying by omission, probably because he knows that you do not want polyamory and he wants to try and keep things somehow and you’re being way more forgiving of him than you probably would be because you assume he made a “bad choice”. Cheating isn’t really just a bad choice. Just because you are lying to avoid hurting someone doesn’t make it better. He could have faced the music a year ago, ended it and given you a year to find a partner who can actually give you what you want and chose to lie instead — which, if he is honest with himself, knows that will and can not save you from hurt.

You’re unfortunately just not compatible — even if he were to give up polyamory. You don’t want the same lifestyles and it’s better for you to end things now and spend your time finding people who will actually meet your needs. As much as it may hurt to break up, it will hurt more down the line if you allow resentment and spite to build.

I wish I had something better to advise but unfortunately you are at an impasse. I hope this helps and good luck!

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Episode 64: What Rules to Have

Will the rules you want to put in place prevent what you think they will prevent?

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

Discussion Topic: If you could pick to either read your partner’s mind or have them read yours, which would you pick?

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

Episode 64 – What Rules to Have

Will the rules you want to put in place prevent what you think they will prevent?  That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – If you could pick to either read your partner’s mind or have them read yours, which would you pick?

 

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

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

My name is Kendall and my partner is John. I am cis female and John is a cis male.
You could say this relationship is non-conventional. John and I have been dating for 6 months exclusively. I am 23 years old and John is 56 years old. Though we’ve been dating exclusively I have been prepared/preparing for the day that he requests a hall pass. He has dated primarily non-monogam[ous] most of his life. He was married at one point for 20 years and towards the end of that they had an open marriage. Since then, it has been a mix of open, closed, short term and long term relationships.
This whole situation is entirely new to me. I’ve never dated someone so much older, with so much more of a vast dating history. Yesterday he caught me a little off guard by requesting his first hall pass. My response was ‘Do what you think you need to do.’ This woman was an ex of his, which I feel more comfortable with than him seeking out a new partner. Surprisingly overall I didn’t have a whole lot of feeling towards the whole situation. During that night I would have little waves of anger, insecurities and some disgust but I didn’t spend the night obsessing over the negative aspects of the situation.
Actually, I spent that night with a girlfriend and we ended up having sex for the first time. This was not planned and I didn’t do it out of spite. John and I had already discussed me sleeping with other women – with him participating and not participating. Also, I know there are some sexual desires that I cannot fully provide for John so that was another justification for me to not feel sensitive about him sleeping with another woman. We have also talked about threesomes with me and his ex’s or involving another male but we both feel like I am not quite ready for that.
The next time that I saw John, he gave me a small amount of information about the evening but not too much and not too little. We were able to have a good conversation about feelings and expectations. My question for you is: I would like to have rules and expectations lined out better for the both of us which he agrees with. But since this situation is so foreign to me, I am not sure what to consider. Are there essential things that you think should be addressed?
So far the things I did address with him are: I prefer that he sleep with his exe s. He is not looking to date anyone else, but I am aware that you can’t always control your feelings in an open relationship. I don’t want to be competing for his attention and I will remain his primary partner and taking care of my needs will be his priority. I am allowed to say ‘no’ if I am so uncomfortable with him doing something.
Is there anything else crucial that I am missing? Or any other pieces of advice you can offer is so much appreciated. This is all so much of a new dynamic for me. Being in an open relationship isn’t something that I was looking for but it isn’t a deal breaker for me either.
Response:
So I think that the biggest red flag here is the thing that you haven’t thought about — the big crucial thing that you’re missing is the feelings of the person that your partner is dating. Just because he’s dating exes or people that he’s dated before, doesn’t mean that they don’t have feelings and that they don’t have agency of their own, and that they don’t have, or may have a desire to have something with him that isn’t just sex.
I feel like your approach to this is you’re trying to create rules to prevent something that you can’t prevent.
And I don’t mind rules and I’m not the kind of person… I really actually quite dislike the perception that rules are always bad and that they never work. I think that some rules can work and I think it’s sort of like the ongoing joke in the BDSM community where someone says, “I don’t have any limits” and then some person goes “Okay well cut your finger off”. Yes, you do have limits. Everyone has limits.
The rules that people often agree on and don’t really consider rules within the polyamory community are STI boundaries or rules about testing or things like that. So everyone does have some rules. The purpose of a rule should not be to prevent something that it cannot prevent. Ultimately all of your rules and all of the things you want to put in place are to control your partner in a way that will prevent him from falling in love with somebody else and leaving you.
I think if you really look hard at these rules that’s what you want — you want to be his primary. You want *you* to be his priority even if that means hurting other people. You’re allowed to basically say no to anything that he does with someone else. So you basically have control over somebody else’s sexual relationship with him, which isn’t really fair, if you think about it. And all of that is not necessarily coming from a place of control. Like you weren’t purposely sitting over him and, tapping your fingers together, evil and going, “What can I control?”
You’re not trying to control the situation but because you have a fear — which is understandable and doesn’t make you a bad person — you are trying to control the situation to prevent him from falling in love with someone else. You can’t prevent that. If monogamy doesn’t prevent people from cheating, then all of these rules are not going to magically prevent him from crossing them or falling in love with someone else or someone else becoming somewhat of a priority for him.
So I think that, for that reason, a lot of the things that you’re trying to put in place don’t really make sense because they aren’t going to prevent the thing that you want. If you want to be in an open relationship… And I honestly feel like this is true for everyone. I don’t think that being in a monogamous relationship means that you think that your partner will never have any feelings for anyone else. I think that *that’s* actually really unfair and and isn’t something that this culture should encourage.
But it is something that this culture encourages with monogamy, the idea that once you’re monogamous like you don’t even look at anybody else or that you don’t have feelings for anyone else when I do think you can. I think that realistically, you need to accept the things that you can’t control. Whether you’re a open or not open relationship. People have monogamous relationships — I mean, I think that this is probably what’s igniting your fear so much. You’re with someone who has had a 20 year relationship with somebody, and that has ended.
So I think there’s something inside of your brain that’s going, “Well, how long is *this* going to last?” in a way. Not that you don’t trust him. But, you know, you’re looking at a situation where — 20 years people been together, you would think after 20 years like everything’s gonna be fine and we’re solid, but things can change, and in a way that you don’t anticipate or expect and a rule is not going to prevent that from happening.
A rule is not going to keep him from straying if he really wants to stray. So, you can’t create these rules with the expectation that it’s going to be able to control your partner’s feelings. He may not want to only date his exes and his exes, even if they are his exes, maybe you don’t feel as threatened by them, because in a way you kind of feel like you’ve won the spot and they lost it. You’ve won the priority spot. But that isn’t going to help you in the long run.
Because, even if it’s an ex, it’s still someone that could capture his heart again. You don’t know that. I think that you really need to think about — rather than think about like what you don’t want, you need to think about what you actually do want. What does your ideal non-monogamous setup actually look like? What do you actually want? You’ve talked a little bit about this, which is why I think that your anxiety wasn’t so bad on that first night because you had talked about things like that. So you need to explore that a little bit more.
The thing that worries me a little bit about this and I’m not gonna lie — I don’t always think that age gaps are a problem. But I do think that age gaps where a person is in their mid 20s, and somebody else is like 50 something… I don’t know about that. Just because I have been in situations — and I’m 33. I’m not in my 50s — where I looked at somebody who’s in their early 20s and I’ve been like even that gap… there’s a lot that goes on in your early 20s. Age gaps— if you were like in your 30s and he was in his 60s, I wouldn’t mind so much because there’s a lot of maturing that happens really really fast in your 20s.
And I just don’t know if it’s a good thing that someone who is that older is kind of looking at someone quite so young. I’m not gonna say anything negative about your partner. I’m not saying he’s a bad person because you know you, you’re attracted to who you’re attracted to. But I just am a little bit worried that he had this open relationship at the end of his marriage. He starts this relationship with you and you don’t have a discussion about this. You agree to monogamy— he agrees to monogamy knowing that he didn’t have monogamy in his last relationship and you don’t really talk about whether or not… you say you’ve been worried about him asking for a hall pass, but you don’t really talk about whether or not you had discussed the trajectory of what a relationship might look like.
Now you’ve only been dating for six months so maybe that just hasn’t come up but I think if it’s come up enough for him to ask for a “hall pass”. Then there needs to be a little bit more of an idea of of where this is going, and what you both want, and why he didn’t come to a discussion about an open relationship before this moment. I’m just a little bit worried that — if you hadn’t met him and from the get go he was like, “Look, I was in a marriage for 20 years it was open at the end I need non-monogamy. That’s where I’m going. That’s where I’m at.” Then I would be a little bit more confident about the situation.
But because he kind of has been dating you monogamously, assuming that this is what has been happening because you didn’t mention that he had brought up non-monogamy from the beginning. And now he is instead of asking for non-monogamy it just seems like he asked to sleep with someone else. I don’t know. I just really worry about if *he* is actually given a thought to non-monogamy and what he wants out of it. Or if he’s just kind of stumbling around. I don’t think that necessarily means that you need to break up. But I do think that it does mean that you need to think about what your ideals are instead of thinking about what you don’t want.
You need to think about what it is you want. What do you want personally out of non-monogamy? If you’re just doing this to keep him around. that doesn’t spell good things, because even though you have all of this to cling on like, even though you didn’t have a bad reaction to him sleeping with someone else because you have other things to cling on like you know that he has sexual stuff that he wants to do that he can’t do with you for whatever reason, so that comforts you. That’s only going to last for so long and that’s why I’m wondering if that’s why you’re creating all of these rules.
Because if you don’t have anything to hold on to on your own, and I call it an anchor (it’s kind of a ongoing theme). If there is no personal reason for you to do non-monogamy that is only about you, and it’s just about keeping a relationship, then eventually, that just isn’t going to secure you in the same way. Because ultimately if you are just trying to keep this relationship going, then you’re kind of wanting something that doesn’t exist anymore. Non-monogamy is just different to monogamy. It’s not a level up. It’s not an upgrade. It’s just a different way of doing things.
Think of it in terms of a long distance relationship versus a not long distance relationship. A long distance relationship isn’t any less than a in person relationship, but they are fundamentally different in terms of how they act. And if your partner is moving away and you agree to a long distance relationship thinking that that is going to be the same as an in person relationship, then you’re going to be disappointed. And if you can’t do a long distance relationship, agreeing to one just to keep your partner isn’t going to work.
Likewise I think the same, if you don’t want non-monogamy in your own terms — and I’m not meaning like… having the occasional threesome is not the same necessarily than having an open relationship or being polyamorous. And so that’s why you all need to discuss what you actually do want because what you want doesn’t really sound like… It sounds like some swinging aspects. It sounds like you don’t want him to have feelings for other people. It sounds like you want to be the person who he has feelings for, and that can work if it’s something that you both want.
If it’s not something that you both want then it isn’t going to work. Two people can be non-monogamous but not compatible. Non-monogamy isn’t a basic compatibility. You may just want to do swinging. He may want to do polyamory. So you have to figure that out between you and you have to make sure that you’re agreeing to it for personal reasons that actually appeal to you, and not just so you can keep him with you.
To sum up, I think that you need to think about what your purpose is in establishing these rules. I don’t particularly think these rules are fair to the other person that he’s dating, unless that person is fine with just sleeping with him and not having any feelings. Even if that were the case, you basically being allowed to tell him that he can’t do something with someone else isn’t fair to that other person. So you have to really think about what the purposes of your rules are. Are they actually going to accomplish the thing that you want them to accomplish?
Can you actually prevent him from straying? You can’t actually prevent him from leaving you by establishing these rules. So what is the purpose of them? Are they going to actually work? I think you also need to think about what it is that you do want instead of what you don’t want. What is your ideal polyamory or non-monogamous setup? What is his ideal? What can you compromise on? And it may be that you can’t compromise on some things.
If fundamentally you want him to not have any feelings for anyone else, or if you want that to be his goal. He could fall in love with someone else or he could start to develop feelings and still decide that, “Okay, I’m going to avoid that person or I’m not going to pursue things”. If that’s what he agrees on he can do that. Obviously rules can’t prevent him from falling in love with someone else. But if you both have the same goals, then that’s fine. But if he doesn’t have those goals and it won’t work and you’re not really compatible even when it comes to non-monogamy.
Think about the things that you do want and figure out what your ideal is, what you can compromise on, and then go from there rather than going from what he can’t do. I hope this helps and good luck.