Episode 51: Conversion Therapy

What happens when you’re done with polyamory and want to seek therapy to convert you to a monogamous person?

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

Discussion Topic: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from previous relationships?

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

Episode 51 – Conversion Therapy

When you don’t want to be polyamorous anymore and you’re considering therapy to convert yourself back. 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 the biggest lesson you’ve learned from previous relationships?

 

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

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I don’t want to be like this anymore. I just want to be a monogamous person.  My partner can’t deal with it and I can’t lose my entire family.  Is there conversion therapy for people like me? I really really hate being like this.

Response:

So first thing that I have to say is, I’m sorry, I’m sorry that you are going through such a difficult period. It’s hard, because your letter so short, to really understand what it is that’s happening, but I can understand that you are going through a lot of things right now. And, yeah, I just… just plain basic empathy just… I’m really sorry that you’re having to deal with this. And that you feel like everything is about to fall apart.

To answer your question in a really short answer… no. Conversion therapy doesn’t work for the things that it’s supposedly supposed to work for. So, as far as I know —  and I don’t know the history of conversion therapy so I could be wrong —  but conversion therapy started as a way to supposedly make people be less gay. And that doesn’t work. It never has worked. It’s traumatising and there’s a reason why it’s banned and a lot of places because it is… You cannot force somebody to do something that is against their nature.

And I’m not going to argue about nature and nurture… because I think that it’s so much more complicated than we give it credit for. But I do know that like on a basic level, the thing that I always compare sexuality to, and you could equally extend to how we choose your relationships, is taste. So I really really like salmon. It’s my favourite food. I really really hate capers, I’m not gonna like capers more if someone shoves them down my throat. If someone forces me to eat nothing but capers, that’s not gonna make me like capers any more.

In fact, it might make me hate capers more. It might make capers truly traumatising for me. So, unfortunately, there is no thing— if you really really want non monogamy, if you really really want polyamory— whatever it is that you’re hoping to find… you really can’t force yourself to want something else. Equally if your partner isn’t wanting polyamory, you can’t force them to want it. You just can’t. Unfortunately that’s just not how things work.

What I would say to you is that, I did write something… I wrote something recently called “13 Mistakes That People Make When They Try Polyamory” and I do think— I was going to record the entire article as a podcast episode I still may do that one day on a break. But I would say that that might be something that you might look at, because I do think that— I don’t know anything about your situation. I don’t know if you’ve tried it. I don’t know if your partner’s tried it or if you’ve just suggested it and your partner’s been like “Hell no”.

I don’t think that there are always cases where, you know, even if somebody is like “EH!” when they first react to polyamory that it’s necessarily a bad thing. And it’s always worth continuing to have discussions about things. But I do think that you do need to do a little soul searching. It sounds like you’re not the kind of person that can just go to being monogamous unfortunately. But I would try look up “13 Mistakes People Make When Trying Polyamory”. It basically goes through some of the things that— some of the mistakes that people make.

Because I do think sometimes if you try polyamory and you try it with some of these things in place, it  can be just like shoving capers down your throat, it can be a really traumatizing experience and it can be something that puts you off polyamory and it can be something that makes you not want to touch it again. So it could be that whatever you’re doing, might be things that are you know mistakes in a way, things that make things harder. A couple of the mistakes to give you kind of rough examples:

The first thing that I noticed a lot of people do is making rules to try and stop their emotions. When you, when you kind of decide on a non-monogamous relationship, you are deciding on an essentially different relationship structure. And I don’t think that people always get that. I think that people just think it’s like an upgrade to monogamy and they don’t realise that it is a different way of doing things. And so a lot of times when people first start or decide to open a relationship, they’ll make rules that try to reassure their partner like “I won’t love anybody else but you”.

And that’s a very common monogamous reassurance so people feel reassured by that. That kind of thing freaks me out, personally, but it is something that tends to reassure people so that’s tends to be a promise that people make when they open their relationship. There are a lot of problems with that promise. I go into it my article and that is one thing that, you know, doesn’t work and anytime you create a rule, you need to also imagine what your plan will be if that rule is broken. You need to think about what the rule is designed to prevent because so many people make rules that are just designed to stop emotions or prevent negative emotions from happening and you just can’t avoid that.

The second thing is about anchors. So, like I say, and I’ve said in the podcast, my columns, I say it all the time, agreeing to non monogamy means agreeing to a situation where your partner doesn’t spend 100% of their time with you. And there are monogamous relationships that are like that. There are plenty of monogamous people who have situations with— that are like that. But the thing is is that if you are choosing polyamory then I think that you really need an anchor that is something you can hold on to when things are getting really hard.

And the anchor is usually what polyamory brings to your life. So what are the benefits — outside of keeping a relationship — that polyamory brings to your life? The thing is, if your partner doesn’t have that anchor, if they are holding on to the monogamous relationship you had the no amount of reading is going to change— is going to make them see that it’s different, and want that difference if they don’t want that difference. In the same way, you can’t force yourself to want monogamy if that’s not what you want.

That is another thing. I think that people also don’t expect they’ll be afraid, which is a huge thing and they— you can’t reassure your partner out of anxiety if your partner has anxiety so that’s another thing. There is an assumption that all polyamorous people are inherently compatible when there’s all sorts of different ways of doing polyamory. So even if you want to do polyamory or, you know, even if your partner didn’t want to do polyamory you may want to do polyamory in a fundamentally different way, which doesn’t help so that that is also a thing.

The other thing is, assuming that unhappiness is a failure, which may be contributory to maybe some of your partner’s feelings about things, if they assume that they would suddenly be happy about everything and polyamory and, you know— they have that expectation of non-monogamy when that expectation doesn’t exist for monogamy. So that’s something e to think about. Trying to form a triad. If the first thing that you tried to do was open your relationship only a smidge to include one other person that’s a very common first time mistake and there’s a lot of reasons why that doesn’t work.

Another thing that people do is they give their partner permission, so they will put themselves in a position where before they do anything they have to get their partner’s permission for it. And even though that sounds like a good idea because they’re trying to check in and reassure their partner, there’s a lot of reasons why that’s a double edged sword. Doesn’t always work very well.

Another thing people do is forcing themselves to mingle with metamours and get along with metamours, which you don’t have to do. And it can create more problems and it helps. I think the other thing people do— another first time mistake is trying to like emotionally weather everything and they basically ask their partner to tell them everything about their other relationships because they kind of think that they can sort of…

It’s almost like herd immunity. It’s like… they think that they can become more strong by hearing all of these details that are excruciating like to somehow be able to conquer non-monogamy by knowing all the intimate details about their partners goings on and sometimes that doesn’t help. You don’t need to put yourself through the emotional ringer to be a polyamorous person.

The other thing people do is they make it into a competition. Usually one person and a couple, if they open, one person will always get more dates than the other. That’s quite normal. And that creates a struggle, you know and it creates a lot of tension and sometimes it’s hard to reconcile. The other thing that people do is, when it doesn’t work thinking that closing it will fix that. Or vetoing another person, another partner will fix everything, when that isn’t going to fix everything. Basically if you have to close a relationship, a polyamorous relationship in order to fix it, then there’s some deeper problems going on there that need to be addressed.

And then, yeah, I think, ignoring inherent power imbalances… if you brought a “third” into your relationship and it didn’t work out… there’s sometimes people who bring “thirds” into the relationship ignore the power imbalance that the couple in the relationship has over the third person, and you just— it’s not to say you can’t ever have a triad, or anything or that you can’t both be the same person. But it is— you have to acknowledge the power imbalance there.

And then the last kind of mistake people make is punishing themselves for feeling things. So I think, like I was saying before like it… A lot of the times when I’m giving advice to people it’s mostly that they should let themselves feel their feelings. Because a lot of beginner polyamory resources overhype jealousy and make it seem like jealousy is a character flaw that they have to rid themselves off and not a legitimate emotion to have, in a lot of situations. So, that is a thing— like you have to allow yourself to feel your feelings.

There’s also some other things I talk about when it comes to polyamory and starting like— starting from cheating is the thing that happens a lot. When they sort of feel like their partner is pushing polyamory because there’s a window of opportunity like maybe they’ve always been interested in this person and then now this person has broken up with your boyfriend and they’re like, “Oooh!”. That can be a thing that can put a lot of pressure on things.

Dating exes or coworkers is another thing that people often do. But the last thing that I always say and what I think that you should do: Find a polyamory friendly therapist and talk through this. Find a polyamory friendly couples therapist and talk through this, because I just think that… I just think that like, if you’re so desperate and you just want all this to be over with I totally get that in terms of just wanting to change and be monogamous, but you really can’t force yourself to be monogamous, you just can’t.

Unfortunately it’s just not how things work. It is understandable for you to fear losing your family and fear losing this relationship, but there is a such thing as a sunk cost fallacy, which is the idea that you, you know, the more you kind of dig this hole, you think “Well I have to keep digging because I’ve dug so far”, and you keep putting effort into a situation that isn’t actually helping you because only for the reason that you’ve already put so much into it.

If you have kids, I can tell you from personal experience,

kids are better off with two separated parents who are happy than with two people who are together and miserable. Unfortunately, that is the case. Having separated parents isn’t the end of the world. It is kind of difficult to deal with sometimes and it is a change but it’s not the end of the world and you shouldn’t stay together “for the kids”. Speaking as someone whose parents tried to do that, please don’t do that, because you are setting the example as a parent for your child of what a healthy romantic relationship looks like.

They do catch on to certain behaviours even without them consciously thinking it. They will kind of see what you’re doing and then go, “Hm, is that what I should be doing in a relationship?”. And you don’t want to give them the wrong message about what they should be looking for in a romantic relationship so being separated is sometimes much better for that and also like you won’t— you never lose your family in terms of your relationship with your children, unless your partner is threatening to, you know take away your custody in which case you should talk to a lawyer.

But you won’t lose that. You will always have that, and you shouldn’t also stay with your partner just for the sake of keeping the family together. Your relationship with yourself is pretty damn important. Staying true to yourself is pretty damn important. You only have one frickin life and you can’t spend it doing shit that you’re just going to regret and feel miserable about later on. A better parent and a better person in general, is someone who isn’t filled with regret and frustration and anger because of the choices that they’ve made. So I hope this helps and good luck.

Lying by omission

My fiancé who I have been with for 15 years. Has asked if I would be in a open relationship. He says he has always thought this way but what really made him to bring it up was talking to his therapist… and he got a crush on a mutual friend who he has gotten closer to over the last year. Which is a little hurtful on multiple levels.

He said he doesn’t want to hurt our relationship or me and that this is the most vulnerable and honest he has ever been. Which I do trust him and love him dearly. I told him after weeks of thinking and learning about it.. I like to know all the facts and learn about other ways of living etc before I say yes or no. I am a open thinker or at least would like to think so. That we could try this open relationship I don’t want other relationships at this time. But who knows maybe later on. I told him there are only a few rules:

1. No relationship with the mutual friend (no being alone with her either) or any other mutual friends

2. Has to come home at night

3. I need to know if he is involved with someone

So… with that being said I think those are very fair rules not a lot and honestly I don’t ever ask much of him. He failed to mention to me the other day that he dropped off a guitar at her house while I was working at my job not from home and we are quarantined. He didn’t bring it up because he knew it would upset me. Well I found out and was upset… I now also know that she may bring him lunch sometime this week while I’m working he doesn’t know that I am aware of that… I feel like I am suppose to trust him but now I don’t feel like I can. And I don’t want to bring it up.

I looked at his phone. He told me today that he doesn’t want to replace me he loves me and our relationship he just wants more freedom to do what he feels more naturally. I thought the base for open relationship with a main partner is trust… am I being crazy? I feel like I need to stand my ground on this. I always cave and I’m done doing that. I feel like I’m missing something and it’s no to much to ask of him to do… please help… feeling confused and like I’m going crazy…

You’re absolutely right that the base for an open relationship — and for any relationship to be honest — is trust. But you began opening this relationship with distrust.

Your first rule inherently means you don’t trust him. Even in a monogamous set up, I would advise people to never agree to any kind of relationship where their partner attempted to control them physically. It’s one thing to put a sort of pin in the idea that him dating a friend you both share would make you uncomfortable and it might be worth having a discussion about that sort of thing to address your fears but it’s a completely different thing to ban him from being alone with “her” or any other mutual friends you have.

Why? If you trust your partner agrees with your first rule willingly and it’s a mutual agreement, and not a restriction you are placing to prevent him from dating or falling in love with a specific person, then you should not have any reason to believe he would break this rule. And that puts him in an extremely awkward position where if someone — as two adults who are friends are wont to do — wants to hang out or drop of a guitar or do something simple, he now has to basically disclose the status of his relationship which he may not want to do with all of your mutual friends and he has to basically say, “I’m not allowed to see you because my wife won’t let me.” Ask yourself, if the situation was reversed and your husband was banning you from being alone with any mutual friend who is a guy, would that not sound a little like the 1950s?

He has a crush on your mutual friend and understandably that makes you afraid. But if he is going to replace you with her, you cannot prevent that from locking him in a tower away from her. It’s understandable to not want to lose a friendship because things become awkward with dating, but sometimes that just can’t be avoided. Restricting him from dating her is only going to cause resentment and push him further away from you.

Rules aren’t a problem in general, but they have to do what they are designed to do and there has to be a logic behind them. For a lot of people opening up their relationship, it makes sense to want to have the security of your partner not doing overnights right away, especially if you’ve been with them for 15 years and it’s a new experience for you. It also makes sense to want to know if he is involved with someone because you might need some time to process things and get some reassurance from him when this does happen. So many rules when people first open their relationship are about avoiding the anxiety that comes with change and that doesn’t work.

If you are truly okay with opening the relationship, then you have to understand that this will fundamentally change your partnership. He will be focusing on other people and you should be free to do the same. This change is like knocking down some of the pillars of your relationship and rebuilding them. Trust has to be rebuilt. And that process is filled with anxiety that you can’t avoid.

You may want to read through the intro to polyamory article I wrote and work on talking together about your ideals, recognising what your anchor is in polyamory, and figuring out how to compromise effectively. Re-framing some of your fears might make them less intense and you may realise your rules are not really needed as time goes on. But really, if you start a relationship forbidding your partner from being alone with any specific person, that demonstrates a lack of trust. And that is definitely worth you reconsidering.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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With or without permission

Me and my wife we both know each other from 2015 and in September 2019 we got married.

Now she’s in Canada and for her studies and I’m in India waiting for this pandemic to be over so that I’ll be able to be with her.

Well the real question is that we are very broad minded when it comes to sexual needs and we love to try new things with each other. We the only issue right now is that I’m alone here and it feels weird when she talk about open relationship.

She said she want to feel other body not want to do sex. But I’m not ready to share my wife in any manner right now. I’m emotionally unstable and want us to be with each other. We have spend almost 3 months after marriage and after fighting for each others she had to go abroad.

What should I say to her about this? A bit of tensed conversation has been done and sometimes it feels like the person is changed or I’m not the priority.

I have told her that I want to begin our lives together first and then we will explore another Cosmos of that particular Era. In short I just want to remain with each other, her way of letting me know is that she want to do it anyway whether it’s fine or not for me.

If I say something she’ll be like I’m bounding her. Things have gone somewhere separation. That’s why this thing makes me vulnerable. Help me figure this out. I want her to wait for me. I don’t want her to participate alone. I want us to be in team form. Thank you and pardon if it’s complicated. Looking forward to see your reply.

There are so many stories like this on polyamory forums and it makes me genuinely sad because, if not for the behaviour of the person pushing polyamory, this would actually be workable.

It is fair for someone to tell you what their needs are. She is not a bad person for wanting to open your relationship or for feeling lonely, especially during a global pandemic. Equally, you are not a bad person for wanting to be in a more stable situation before doing something which is definitely going to challenge you emotionally. It’s fair for you to want to wait until your relationship is not long distance so you feel more secure. It’s also fair for that to be too long for her to personally want to wait and for her to feel trapped by that situation and controlled.

What isn’t really fair is her basically telling you that she is going to do whatever she wants, with or without your blessing. No one should have to give up all of their wants and needs in a relationship, sure, but relationships, especially if you have taken the step to marry, are about compromises as well. You have to be willing to work with one another. If you reach a point where there is nothing to be compromised and you want to do what you want to do, knowing it is a hard limit for your partner, I feel like the adult thing to do in that situation is to be the one to pull the plug.

Instead, she’s just telling you that she’s going to do what she wants to do, adding the emotional leverage onto it that you’re binding her if you object, and not doing what she should which is fully breaking up so that she can do what she needs to do. As a complete aside, during a global pandemic, the last thing she should be doing is seeing new people anyway so I’m really confused as to what the rush is necessarily at this point. But you also seem unwilling to negotiate any type of “sharing” in any form, so she may just want to have the freedom to flirt with and establish romantic connections with others.

From your perspective, I think there are also a few things to consider, even if her behaviour isn’t exemplary. I think that you need to reconsider the idea that you have to open your relationship “as a team”. I’ve covered dating as a couple in a previous column, but in general I don’t recommend it. People should date as individuals, and if you will only allow her to see other people “with” you, I can see why that would be untenable for you.

Secondly, while it does make sense to want to be more stable before opening your relationship, this could be somewhat a delay of the inevitable. We go through periods of stability and instability in our lives and, even if the pandemic were to end and you were together, that does not mean you would not face another emotional hardship. A family member could die or something else could happen that would throw you off. When people put the condition on their relationship being open on their mental stability at any given point, that runs the risk of you wanting to shut things when you don’t feel great, which isn’t realistic or fair to anyone.

Thirdly, it’s understandable that you aren’t ready, but you have to be willing to face a certain amount of discomfort to try something new and, while it’s fine to want your partner around to have that reassurance, I think it’s worth also considering how to be more dynamic about getting emotional reassurance. Because, even if you were physically together, sans pandemic, your partner would not be available at all hours to provide you with emotional support. If you have that expectation, that is going to kill most attempts at polyamory because you are expecting the level of attention someone would get in a monogamous relationship and that just isn’t really possible with polyamory.

Overall, I think you need to consider if you are willing to be more flexible or if your needs are ultimately not matched. It would help, as I mentioned in my intro to polyamory article, to think about your anchor and the reasons you’re interested in opening your relationship and then consider both of your ideals. Two people can be interested in a polyamorous or open relationship and still be incompatible. It might be that what you actually want is swinging and what she wants is a more relationship anarchy type of situation. You need to find that out.

It’s also worth bringing up to her that this attitude of “I’m just telling you I’m going to see other people whether you like it or not” is not really okay and if she feels that way and she is unwilling to compromise or work through this with you, then she should do the right thing and break up with you rather than basically forcing you to do it. If you have access to therapy, you can still see a couples therapist together digitally, and that might be something you want to consider to work through some of these issues together.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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

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Possessive metamour

My boyfriend and I have been dating for over two years but have been in a BDSM dynamic for four years, we have always had an open BDSM dynamic due to not always having the same kinks but we opened up our relationship sexually a year ago.

In that time he took on more constant play partners, I am perfectly happy with this but some of the girls he goes with makes me uncomfortable, I always feel pushed out if our whole group is out together at a BDSM munch/event, as one gets really possessive over him and pouty when he pays me any attention. Especially when she gets drunk. The other is newer and is one who he has spoken to me about in the sense he would like to take things sexually with her. My issue with her is she has tagged him in pictures calling him daddy or if I’ve been in the room with his phone or laptop and seen her pop up I’ve seen parts of messages where she calls him daddy.

This is a dynamic I’ve discussed with him where we both agreed to be more open about due to its nature. I’ve pulled him up on this and he said its a joke as she calls anyone she is close to daddy/mummy in a baby voice in certain situations. Since the pandemic he obviously can’t see anyone but me cause we live together, but I can hear their phone conversations as I move through the house and it sounds flirty and cute, which doesn’t bother me at all but the conversation goes dead until I leave the room and I am out of earshot, which makes me uncomfortable and paranoid, as I’ve already had one relationship where things were hidden. I don’t fancy another.

I feel like it’s my own fault I feel uncomfortable as I met them weeks after he did due to missing a few events cause of my own issues.

I like the girl that he likes as a friend she is really friendly and we talk alot about common interest and I’ve been helping her try and think of a birthday present for him and I am happy for them to have whatever dynamic they have I just want to be informed.

He hasn’t even really changed with me either, he is still cute and loving, but a bit more protective cause of the pandemic cause I’m classed as vulnerable.

What should I do? And the paranoia just all in my head?

One of the interesting but semi-unfortunate aspect of polyamory or an open dynamic is that you can see all of the different types of people you partner dates. Because we live in a society that convinces us that we have to consume in order to be the “best” to attract “the one”, we often believe that we have attracted the person we were with because we are talented in some way… and sometimes, given the types of people our partner dates, we learn differently.

You don’t have to like the people your partner dates no more than you have to like the people your partner befriends. What’s needed are some boundaries and some better behaviour on the part of your partner. It wouldn’t be acceptable for one of your partner’s friends to be possessive over him and get pouty when you’re all out in public together, so why is it okay for anyone else? He needs to put his foot down when it comes to you being within a group and advocate for you rather than allowing you to be pushed out — or you need to find another BDSM group (though I don’t know how useful that is in your area).

When it comes to the other person, I think that you need to put some boundaries around yourself and how much you’re involved in a friendship with her if you notice that you’re dwelling on what she’s doing online. Her messages to him are technically private and you shouldn’t be looking at them unless she’s agreed to that. And I could understand why, if you have a proclivity to read his messages, he is unwilling to put anything on display that might cause you to question his honesty.

A big part of this problem is your previous experience of having a relationship where things are hidden. In response, you’re attempting to prevent that happen by creating this rule that you “stay informed”. You’re under the impression that somehow you can spot someone being dishonest to you and prevent yourself from being hurt again. On the one hand, this makes a lot of sense. Your brain is trying to prevent you from being hurt again. But the problem with this line of thinking is it places the burden of preventing someone from lying to you on your shoulders.

The result is that you become paranoid and afraid of everything and also that you must conclude that the reason that your previous relationship didn’t work out was because you failed somehow — which isn’t true. Whomever was dishonest to you in the past, you are not to blame to that. You cannot prevent this from happening to you again ultimately. You are going to have to make the scary leap of faith and trust that your partner will let you know if something will change and be honest with you instead of trying to spot something yourself.

Finally, this rule of being “informed” is probably not going to serve you well because it sounds nebulous. Not everyone can pinpoint when they start to develop deeper feelings for someone. And she may have deeper feelings for him than he does for her — which he also can’t control. Ask yourself what this rule is meant to do. What is it meant to prevent? What do you want to be informed about?

Maybe what you need to do is have a conversation with your partner when your expectations around how often you see him change or when he may have a regular partner because that may alter your schedule. Have a talk with each other about your ideals and see if you match up. Maybe you only want one other partner but he wants several. Having a realistic idea of what it is you might be aiming for in terms of having an open dynamic might be helpful.

And lastly, don’t blame yourself for being afraid. You’re allowed to be afraid, especially given what’s happened to you. See if you can find a polyam friendly therapist that might be able to work on some self-soothing techniques with you when your anxiety starts kicking into overdrive.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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

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Episode 50: What is Love?

What happens when your partner keeps hinting that they want monogamy but you’re not even sure if you’ve ever felt love at all?

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

Discussion Topic: If you were to get a job offer in another country, how would your relationships change?

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

Episode 50 – What Is Love?

Your partner expects you to commit to monogamy eventually but you’re not sure if you’ve ever been in love. 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 were to get a job offer in another country, how would your relationships change?

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

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I think I am polyamorous, but it is hard to say due to several complicated factors. I have been dating my boyfriend since college, and I met him when I was at a pretty low point in my life, and I had very low self-esteem. He was my first… almost everything. But I met him on a break, and when I went back to school pretty far away, we decided to keep dating long-distance.

However, pretty soon I started regretting it when my really good friend/crush admitted he had liked me for some time. My boyfriend said I could kiss him if I wanted, but I felt nervous and confused about it, and when we got a little too physical at some parties (holding hands/cuddling), he got really upset and jealous, and we had a big fight.

Since then, we have been opening and closing the relationship at different times. There have been three major phases of non-monogamy. The first was when I studied abroad and dated someone so seriously that I considered him my boyfriend. My first boyfriend was very upset by this, and I was upset at how he was talking to me… We ended up in couples counselling, and it felt better.

The second time was right before I graduated, when I said I wanted to try casual dating/sex, and he said I should. I hooked up with so many people in a short time that he got upset, like I tried to get in as many men as possible as soon as I could. It hurt that he said he wanted me to explore, but got mad at the way I did. It ended up not really being for me, anyway. I came out of it with 1 more person that I felt pretty serious about, and we still talk sometimes, but rarely see each other.

The third is when I moved abroad soon after graduating, and we negotiated a new agreement where I could do whatever I wanted with whoever. He was going to trust me and our relationship more. I met up with a few of my established people a few times, and he was fine with it. But the main problem is when I don’t see him for a long time, I stop being interested in physical stuff with him for a while until I have warmed up to being around him again.

This isn’t really the case with others… more chemistry? Shorter relationship, so it feels more exciting? I am not sure. But it causes my boyfriend to get really paranoid that I am going to leave him for someone else, especially with the distance between us right now. We have had brief stints of living together though, and I enjoyed them and felt happy with the relationship.

Currently I am seeing a new person. It is complicated because he is in my friend group here abroad, and I have to keep lots of secrets from almost everyone I know, as most people know about my boyfriend. And my boyfriend keeps talking about marriage and kids with me, which stresses me out. I want marriage and kids, but I don’t want to lose these other relationships either, and I am very confused about who I want to be that committed to and how it would work.

And I know my boyfriend probably sees it as we are the primary relationship and everyone else is just a temporary thing for fun, but I don’t really like the hierarchy to be so … stiff. These other people are people I want to keep in my life, and they all bring different aspects that I enjoy.

Sometimes my boyfriend gets sad about the distance and tells me things like how he is excited for when we can just be together, the two of us, and it makes me think that he is expecting monogamy, like if we get married and have kids, and it just feels… really scary. That he thinks he can just say the word and expect all this to stop. Or that what I am doing isn’t good in the context of raising children. Or that if I like other people as much as I like him, that I am doing something wrong.

I have encouraged him to date other people as well, because I think he is a person who needs lots of physical comfort and someone to get him out of ruts, but he hasn’t, either because he is not good at finding people (especially since his coworkers know he has a girlfriend) or because he is not actually interested. Of course I wouldn’t force him to be polyamorous, but given my situation I think it would make things a lot better and take off the burden from me to make him feel happy and loved all the time. I have asked him if he even gets anything out of the relationship being the way that it is, or if he just puts up with it for my sake. He has assured me that parts of it excite him, but it is usually hard to predict whether something will excite him or upset him.

Also, sort of related, is I don’t really understand what love is supposed to feel like? My boyfriend says he loves me, and I grew up quite a romantic, so I always thought love meant you only wanted that person and you felt ready to spend the rest of your life with them and have kids. I guess I sort of am looking for that feeling, but have never felt it, so I don’t know if I am doing something wrong.

Something my boyfriend often says when checking in on how my relationships are going is, “sounds great! just don’t fall in love with him” — I always want to say, I don’t know what love even is, and if I did, why would you not want me to feel it? He knows I don’t really feel those lovey feelings the same way he does, so I am not sure what this warning is supposed to mean.

So basically I am just wondering, am I doing something wrong? Should I be doing something differently? Is there a way to keep my long-distance relationship steady and healthy given that it I sometimes feel drained, like I have to prop it up emotionally/sexually? How can I feel better about wanting to get married and have kids in my current situation? ~Is love just a social construct?~ Thanks so much in advance for any advice.

Response:

So, the big thing here is, again, I’m gonna… I said this in Episode 48. I’m gonna say it again. Polyamory is not about finding multiple relationships that are partially suited to you.

I think that a lot of people get into polyamory because they don’t want to break up with somebody and they just sort of collect semi sustaining semi fulfilling relationships with people, until they reach a kind of permissible stasis with people. It just feels like your boyfriend doesn’t actually want polyamory. Like you’re kind of saying, what is— seems like the truth. Like it seems like he thinks this is just a temporary thing. And it’s not a temporary thing for you. Clearly, you have some fundamental disagreements about the way you want to live your lives.

And if it makes you feel any better, this happens all the time with monogamous people. It’s not just a thing with— okay one person’s polyamorous, one person’s monogamous. Two polyamorous people can have this kind of incompatibility as well in terms of just not wanting to live their lives the same way. Monogamous people can have this incompatibility. So for you it’s like, okay, yeah you want to have kids and get married and stuff but you want to be in a polyamorous relationship. You want to have multiple partners. You want to have this freedom.

And there are so many signs that this is not what he wants. He thinks that this is temporary and the whole, like “just don’t fall in love with him”… Eh. I just feel like that’s a very clear sign that someone—  it’s okay— Some people do have an open style relationship where they are primarily in love with one person and that they do have just like flings, and things like that. And if that’s something you both agree on than that’s absolutely fine. But it doesn’t sound like that’s what you want. So you’re stuck in this sort of situation where he has a very different idea of what’s going on than you do. And I think that you’ve been hesitant to get rid of the relationship that you have with him.

Because, you know, it’s kind of a bit what’s called a sunk cost fallacy. I keep saying “sunken cost fallacy” but I think it’s actually just sunk cost fallacy. But it’s basically where because you’ve put so much effort in, you’re really hesitant to actually get rid of it because you’re like “well I put so much in, I have to keep putting into it”. But actually you’re not really doing anything but digging a deeper hole. So, I think that you need to really both sit down and be really clear with each other about what it is that you actually want.

And I honestly like don’t really blame you because if you’ve been dating him… If you’ve been dating him since you were in college, that does mean you are quite young. Everyone’s different. Some people are ready to settle down, more or less like “settle down” when they are 22. Some people are not really ready for that until they’re 32. And if you’re not ready for that, then you’re not ready for that and I just feel like, you know, moving to long distance… it’s funny that we had that discussion question today because it was really apt for this whole entire question you have — but you move to long distance to sort of try and keep the relationship alive.

And understandably you did that because he was your first everything. It’s quite hard to just break up. Sometimes you want to give that a try and that’s okay to give that a try. But that— nothing is going to solve such an inherent incompatibility. Like there are things that can be worked around. There are things that you can negotiate and compromise with and I do think that, you know, especially if you have a relationship where you live together or you plan on living together, there is going to be some compromise.

Because there’s always compromise with any adult that you live with, to a certain extent. But there are some things that you can’t really compromise on and like having kids, for example— If you had no interest in having children, there’s no real way to compromise on that. And trying to have children when you don’t know that you’re sure that you want to… It’s… Yeah. So there’s lots of situations here where, you know… I think there are obviously situations where maybe he felt uncomfortable. Like being uncomfortable with, you know— saying okay “go ahead and sleep with whomever you want” and then be uncomfortable.

He might feel uncomfortable when he tries polyamory. When you’re with other people, sometimes when you’re trying stuff out. You have to be comfortable with your partner being uncomfortable and you have to go “Okay, my partner’s uncomfortable”, and instead of stopping what you’re doing, you have to work with him to address that. And I think sometimes when people try out polyamory they go “okay— oh my partner feels uncomfortable stop stop stop everything stop everything go back”. And that doesn’t actually fix the problem. The problem is that they feel uncomfortable and how do they cope with it?

So, there were some situations where, you know, there could have been a little bit more done to see if he really is interested in polyamory. If it would have just been that situation I would have said, okay, you should let him feel that discomfort and work through that, but the fact that he’s saying stuff like “don’t fall in love with him” … I think that your intuition is right that it’s not— it’s not that he is at all interested in polyamory. It just doesn’t sound like he wants… He doesn’t even—  it sounds like he could potentially do a situation where you did have just flings, but that isn’t what you want.

You do want multiple relationships and you don’t want to abandon that for any kind of situation. So I do think that you’re incompatible. I don’t think that you should worry so much about what love is and whether or not you feel it. Having bigger chemistry with newer people or different people isn’t surprising. It might be what’s called new relationship energy which is where you have kind of like you know someone sparkly and new and that’s exciting and you know you have that when you start off in a relationship.

But then when you have a kind of a longer term relationship, it’s not like the spark completely dulls and if you put effort in the spark doesn’t completely dull, but someone who is new and shiny is different and new and shiny. And so you feel like, “ooh”. So you might have more chemistry and you can be in a situation where you have more chemistry with some partners than with others and that isn’t a terrible thing. But you would be— I think you would be less concerned about it if there wasn’t all this pressure on your shoulders to kind of go back to a monogamous way of being, which is kind of what he wants. All of the signs are kind of pointing to that.

All of the signs are pointing to him basically, expecting you go “okay well I’m done”. And I just think that’s a… I mean you could. I mean, maybe one day just like you did when you mentioned how you, you know, had a lot of sex in a short period of time and then you were like “no, it’s not for me”. Maybe you will one day go “no it’s not for me” but he shouldn’t expect that to happen. And he shouldn’t equally pressure you for that to happen. And I don’t really blame him because I think he cares about you. I think he doesn’t want to break up, and I think he’s trying to adjust to the situation, so that you know he can stay with you because he cares about you.

But sometimes honestly when people— Some people can try polyamory and see if it’s for them and know it’s not for them. I think that sometimes when people are so afraid of breaking up, they end up in a situation that ends up being more painful than the breakup would have been. And I think that this situation is probably going— like he’s clearly not going to break up with you. He’s going to try in the hopes that you’re going to switch back to being monogamous. And I mean you could keep putting— could keep digging this hole, but I just don’t think that it’s it’s a good idea.

You feel burdened in this relationship. He’s kind of giving you all the signs that he’s not into opening it for the long term. So you gotta just sit down and have a real honest discussion about what it is that you both want because I just don’t think that this is actually what he wants, unfortunately. And I think he’s maybe just lying to himself a tiny tiny bit, so that he can stay with you. Because, I mean all people do that. I don’t blame anyone who does that, because that’s a very human thing to not want to break up with somebody. But sometimes two people can care very very very very very much about each other.

Two people can be almost compatible in tons of other ways. They can improve each other’s lives and be really really great for each other but they’re just not compatible past that and it’s nobody’s fault. It’s not your fault for being you. It’s not his fault for being him. It’s just, yeah, sometimes it’s just inherently not compatible. You just want different things out of life. It happens. Like if you think about it, it can happen to a monogamous couple if say one of the people in the couple is a doctor or a lawyer or has a very time intensive career and the other person just can’t handle that. That could happen if one person is, you know, has a type of career that pulls them away and makes them travel all the time you know. Maybe one person can’t handle that.

So, that can happen in a lot of different situations. But it’s not really anybody’s fault in this situation. I think probably what’s best to do… I mean you could just kind of break up but I do think, like— I think that it’ll it’ll make more sense to come to that agreement mutually if you actually sit down and talk about what it is that you want out of life, what it is that you— what your ideal situation looks like.

And then you can say, you know— he’ll maybe sit there and say “I want us to be together and be monogamous and wife and kids picket fence”.  And then you say “well I would like to have kids but I want to have multiple partners” and then there’s not many places you can go once you have that discussion. So it’s worth having that discussion and actually getting that out, rather than just prolonging it because dragging it on is… I think it’ll just make it painful for you both. I wish that I had something better to say. I really hate— I hate it when my advice is, you’re not compatible.

If he had said something else, if he had given some indication that he saw polyamory as a little bit beneficial to him— He doesn’t have to date tons of people. Like it’s fine if he doesn’t want to date. I don’t date a lot. I hate dating. So, it’s fine if he doesn’t want to date. That doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t do polyamory. But it’s all the other stuff around that like saying, “don’t fall in love” and “I can’t wait to work together alone”. Like all that other stuff is just a really massive indication that he’s probably not in it for the polyamory long haul, unfortunately.

So have that discussion and it might take you to— Unfortunately, where you might need to be which is not together. Yeah, I’m sorry. I wish I had something better to advise but I do think that that is the best in the long term for you both. I hope that helps and good luck.

Torn in a triad

My primary significant other(Girl A) and I have been together for nearly six years now. Two years ago we decided to open up a little bit, and that developed into a triad (Boy A), and he even ended up moving in with us.

Roughly one year ago an old friend from my teen years admitted she has had interests in me for..well, it’s been almost fifteen years since we first met, so quite a long time, so she became part of the group..now at four(Girl B).

So then this happened: Girl B told me that she didn’t really feel anything when kissing either me or Girl A, but did when kissing Boy A, and genuinely feels terrible about it. I, of course, am heartbroken.. I’m crazy about her. But I’m more concerned with Girl A, since she is also crazy about her, and can also be very possessive and jealous.

I’m at a point where I don’t know what the heck to do. Girl B has been a wonderful addition to our group..or so we thought. Girl A would never allow Boy A and Girl B to date separate from us, and I fear that she’d force a choice between her and Girl B. I’m honestly scared. I love all of my mates dearly..even if one of them doesn’t exactly return the sentiment…and I want to know how I can help this, without destroying myself in the process.

This is the inherent problem that comes with forming a relationship that makes it seem like all of the people involved have to have the same level of attraction to one another.

We would never expect this with a friend group. If we hung out with three or four people, we wouldn’t be holding a microscope over how much more we felt friendship with one person over the other. But because this involves romance and there is a paranoia around everyone being included, it becomes almost like a competition between everyone else.

Fundamentally, I don’t have a problem with triads, quads or any other different formation of relationships where people all date each other. But, seeing it as a triad or a quad instead of individual relationships among three, four or more people creates this inherent problem where everyone has to have a relationship with each other or it all falls apart — and it doesn’t have to be that way.

(For the sake of this discussion, I’m using Woman instead of Girl and Man instead of Boy since you’re all adults. :P)

The issue with this as well is that you just added people into this dynamic without addressing an inherent power balance of you and your primary. If this were truly an equal quad, your primary, Woman A, would not get to decide who dates who. And it’s likely because this quad was “started” by you and Woman A, she feels she has the power to dictate whom dates who. With all due respect, she doesn’t.

You’re going to have to decide if having someone who dictates who you can or can’t date is something you want to put up with. It’s understandable for your significant other to want everyone to date each other and feel scared if basically she loses a relationship and might be afraid of being replaced — but she can’t address these fears by controlling people and actually her attempt to control the relationships to protect herself from harm is only further damaging things.

I’m not sure what Man A thinks about this, but it’s very possible that he would also not appreciate being told by your partner who he can date, especially if you never explicitly said this triad was a closed one. If she demands that no one date Woman B, she is going to alienate herself from all of you, even if you begrudgingly go with it. It’s worth considering working with a polyamory friendly therapist who may be able to help her address her fears and concerns.

You can only encourage your significant other to seek help for her fears, but you can’t fix them for her if she’s unwilling to work on them. So eventually you may have to decide whether or not you want to tolerate being told who is or isn’t allowed in your life and understand that your other partner may also decide that he’s not willing to be told by your partner who he can date and may go with the person who isn’t forcing him to do something, which is Woman B.

Lastly, unless there is some big aspect of the quad you have left out that might have contributed towards your significant other’s feelings on this, understand that there’s not really much you can do if your partner has decided to do this and won’t listen to anything you have to say about it.

Unfortunately, when people force other people to dump someone or not see someone, the situation doesn’t usually end well. There are always other ways to deal with that feeling of wanting to veto something and that’s either by addressing those fears or any inadequacies or realising there’s incompatibility that can’t be changed.

Either way, I hope it works out for you and good luck.

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Episode 49: Wanting Monogamy

A partner comes to you asking if you’d consider monogamy and then changes their mind later on, but you’re still stuck on wanting it. What do you do?

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

Discussion Topic: What is one behaviour that you never tolerate?

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

Episode 49 – Wanting Monogamy

A partner comes to you asking if you’d consider monogamy and then changes their mind later on, but you’re still stuck on wanting it. What do you do? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website.

 

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

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

When I met my current primary partner, they weren’t available for an emotional relationship as they had a primary partner (and that was a boundary of the relationship). A month or two into us starting to date, the relationship with their primary partner ended. And as that relationship ended ours became more connected and intense.

From the start we had irresistible chemistry, they would text me daily (almost excessively), the sex was amazing, and the energy was there. Once their other relationship came to an end, there was no longer a boundary to stop us from spending more time together, becoming more emotionally attached, and ultimately becoming primary partners.

During this time, there were red flags. I was concerned that they were not doing the work to let go of their ex, release the anger, and trauma they had from the end of the relationship. We started to spend almost every night together. I didn’t understand how they could have the (literal) time to process the end of a huge relationship while spending all their time with me, working, and keeping 2-3 other relationships going (while love can be infinite time is finite). I was not shy about bringing my concerns up to them, they continued to reassure me, and I trusted them.

We had big conversations about how our relationship was changing, what the future could bring and how excited we were. My partner brought up monogamy as a possible desire of theirs, and at first, I was concerned about this (was this a trauma response due their most recent brake up/ was this something I wanted). My past few relationships had been poly[am] or open, and while this relationship was so exciting and intense it was also very new. After thinking about it I expressed interest in exploring monogamy with them but asked that we come back to this further down the line.

Months passed and my partner brought up monogamy a few more times (more casually) and I took these as confirmation that their mind was still on monogamy. I started to watch and analyse my relationships with monogamy in mind and concluded that this is something I’d want to try with my primary partner. This is when things got complicated.

I wanted to let my partner know how I was feeling about monogamy and brought this up to them (this was about 6-9 months after our initial conversation about it). I let them know how I was feeling and asked for them to do the same. What I heard from them was a huge surprise and I’m struggling to adjust to it. They basically let me know that they could never identify as monogamous and weren’t interested in practicing it either. While they did have some conflict about it, and we’ve talked plenty about it I still feel a bit shocked.

I now understand that when they mentioned monogamy, they were not thinking about what they wanted or what kind of relationship they wanted with me. They were thinking about their ex. While I’m available to help my partners hash out what they want, work with them so all of us can get past relationship trauma, I feel as though my partner (maybe not deliberately) gave me a false representation of what this relationship was, could be, and is.

This is what I was concerned about in the beginning and I trusted their response and now I feel as though I shouldn’t have. I feel as though they came to me with a desire (that had to do with me and our relationship) and then changed their mind without telling me about it while I carried on with only the information I knew.

Now I feel lost. I feel like trust has been broken with my partner and I’m not sure how to get it back.

I now have this desire to explore consensual monogamy and my partner doesn’t want that. This brings on a whole other onslaught of questions for myself; will I want consensual monogamy with other people? Could I even find someone that is interested in monogamy (almost every queer I know isn’t)? Why do I feel shame about wanting consensual monogamy? Why am I now feeling extra sensitive to my primary’s other partner? Would this relationship have become so serious if they never brought it up or told me when they were no longer interested? Would I still be wanting this if they never brought it up?

I know [your column] is all about non-monogamy and as I’m in a non-monogamous relationship I think this can belong here. But I’m hoping you could also help be shed some light on the desire to be monogamous, and not in a that’s just what society expects kind of way. But consensual monogamous, in the “I’ve thought about this and want this” kind of way?

Response:

So, the first thing here is that like your sense of kind of like feeling that your trust has been violated is really understandable. I mean, you don’t say that your partner came to just with the general subject of monogamy and wanting to discuss it. You literally say— and maybe you didn’t mean it so literal or maybe you didn’t realise what you typed — but you literally say that your partner came to you with a want or desire to become monogamous and mentioned it enough that you actually literally said to them, “I’ll think about it. Maybe in a few months”. Like they came to you with the thought that this was their desire. Like it wasn’t just

a random discussion topic, it was something they put forth as something they wanted.

And now they’re saying they don’t want it at all and that is incredibly confusing. And, like, I don’t know if they’ve really addressed that with you. Have they really talked about that with you? Because I’ve at least found with myself like when the subject kind of starts with monogamy or the thought of monogamy comes up, I will start to see it as a competition in a way, and that is really— it triggers all sorts of horrible anxieties within me.

And, you know, I don’t like the idea that there’s like this one space for this, you know, there’s one spot and you have to basically compete with others to get to that spot and it’s… Yeah, it’s just it doesn’t bring up very good feelings for me. So I can imagine that it makes a lot of sense that you would all of a sudden now start to have problems with, you know, and start to have feelings about their other partners because basically they brought up this idea that they may want monogamy or they may want to try monogamy, and they’ve chosen you for that.

And then now all of a sudden they’re saying that they’re not but then you always have this fear in the back of your head. You’re like well, maybe it’s because I’ve done something wrong and now they don’t want to try it with me but they’re talking to other people and saying the same thing they said to me, which is that they want to try monogamy, and maybe they’re just not going to choose me. So, yeah, of course, you’re gonna feel anxious and scared and all of these feelings. Like that makes 100% total sense. So, yeah, of course you’re going to feel that.

I think that what you need to have are more conversations with your partner about how you discuss things because you kind of hit it right on the nose where you’re like I’m okay to like help people hash out stuff but you need to be told that that’s what the conversation is. And it may not be that they did it intentionally but to present this as like this is what I want when that is not the case is just is lying. It’s dishonesty.

And your partner really needs to figure out why they did that and why it is that they didn’t communicate, if they did feel that way why didn’t they communicate? That’s a really big change. You know, I mean it’s sort of in a way to kind of comparison that I always make is that like people wanting kids. Like wanting kids is a very big life changing… If you suddenly decide that you want kids it’s kind of really important and you’ve always agreed with your partner that you’re not going to have kids — if you suddenly decide that you want them. That’s kind of something you should discuss with your partner and not just wait one day to spring it on them.

Or equally if you decided you don’t want them. That’s also something that you need to discuss and you can’t just avoid that, because you don’t want to have that conversation so you need to, like, maybe work with a couple polyamory friendly therapist

to work through like— pick apart kind of why that happened and how you can prevent something like that from happening in the future. Maybe some boundaries around conversations?

I think if your partner had said and acknowledged like “Hey yeah I said that back then, but I don’t really feel that way and I changed”. You know if they had given you a little bit more explanation maybe you wouldn’t feel so anxious about it? I just feel like there’s more conversations to have. I think that all of these conversations about you wanting monogamy like… I mean I can’t tell you that if this conversation never came up that you would feel differently. Like no one’s ever going to be able to tell you that, and then it doesn’t really matter anyways because it’s happened you know. It’s happened. It’s there.

You can’t magically make it unhappen so you shouldn’t sit and sort of ponder on “well what if this was never introduced?”. It has been so it is what it is. When it comes to you yourself wondering about monogamy I think that, you know… I always say in my columns and my podcasts like no one can tell someone else if polyamory or monogamy are more right for them. Like that’s something that you kind of have to glean for yourself, but I do think there are some basic things to— like thought exercises to go through in deciding whether or not polyamory is even or non-monogamy is even an option for you to consider.

The first thing that I usually say to people is, you know, agreeing to a non-monogamous or polyamorous situation means agreeing to a situation where your partner doesn’t spend 100% of their time focused on you. And there are some monogamous situations where that does happen, where someone has a time intensive career. Then they may— or a partner who has like a really intensive hobby. Just anything like that where there aren’t going to be situations where monogamous people agree to a relationship with somebody who can’t devote their time 100% to them. And there are another plenty of people who can’t do that sort of thing.

Like there are people who can’t do long distance. There are people who maybe could not date a lawyer or doctor anyone with like a really intense long hours style career. And that’s legit. So I think that’s the first thing to think about like… are you actually fine with a partner who doesn’t spend their time with you? I think that you sound like you are, because you have had other open and  polyam relationships but it’s kind of up to you to really think about.

Because the other thing that I’ve said and I actually I think I just said this in the discussion question but I can’t remember. My memories terrible, but polyamory is about, and I say this a lot — polyamory should be about finding multiple fulfilling relationships, not about finding a bunch of halfway fulfilling relationships that kind of makes you okay. I think that’s easier said than done because like, when we’re with somebody we don’t want to just break it off. You don’t want to just throw away a partnership that you’ve just put together so it makes a lot of sense to not want to throw that away.

But if a, I don’t think— like we say “Relationship broke, add people” doesn’t work. Opening up your relationship to solve problems in your first relationship, adding another person to that equation isn’t necessarily going to fix anything so that is something for you to think about. Is this relationship fulfilling? That doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t do polyamory. It just means that relationship isn’t fulfilling. So anyway, yeah. The first thing is about time. I think the second thing is about, is there a benefit to polyamory that you see, just for yourself?

So when I kind of talk to people and usually like nine times out of 10, people don’t arrive at polyamory when they’re not with somebody. Usually they’re with somebody. Usually someone suggested it. Most of the time I’m answering questions for people who aren’t the ones that suggested it. And all of a sudden they have to like decide if this what they want to do. And so that’s pretty normal. Generally speaking in those situations I always kind of tell people to think about if they can see a benefit to non-monogamy that is purely selfish, because so many people I think try non-monogamy because they don’t want to break up with their partner and the problem with that is that basically they’re trying to save a relationship that doesn’t really exist anymore.

They’re trying to save the monogamous relationship they had with their partner, when they don’t have that anymore. Like that, that ship has sailed. So they can’t really save that because they have to realise that their partner isn’t gonna spend the same amount of time with them, isn’t going to remain focused on them all sorts of things. So like, can you find what I call an anchor, which is something where you see a benefit to it that is completely your benefit and isn’t just keeping this relationship? And I think that it sounds to me quite honestly that you have been kind of pushed into really considering monogamy because this relationship has been so intense and has been really great and you don’t want to lose that.

And so you’ve been faced with this real threat that you may have to, you know, consider the benefits of monogamy in order to save this relationship so naturally you’re considering the benefits of it. Almost in the opposite way that people— you’re kind of like doing the opposite and the way that people will consider and try polyamory so that they can keep their partner. And there isn’t really a benefit in it for them but that’s their benefit. I think that in a way that you’re doing a little bit with monogamy.

Like you’re sort of seeing the benefit of monogamy as it applies to this relationship. And I think that maybe you should just think a little bit more about that, like, what are the only selfish benefits that, not keeping any relationship— You know, if you were single what would you choose? I think that will help you get to a realisation of what it is that you want to choose. But essentially it’s something that you know it’s honestly something that you have to tell yourself. I won’t be able to tell you that. I won’t be able to tell you what works best for you. I think that there are totally people who can do both monogamy and polyamory. I certainly felt like I could do both for a long time.

I feel less and less like I could do both, as time has gone on, but for a short time I didn’t feel like — you know there are some people who feel like polyamory is their orientation in terms of how they want to do relationships or is unchangeable. I don’t personally feel like it’s always unchangeable for everyone. I think that for some people they can do both. So you could be one of those people who do both. And you just have to decide what it is that you want to do. I would really really really really hesitate to do any kind of relationship with someone who presents to you like a want that they have and then changes their mind about it.

Like I just feel like that’s really— or even, like, the thing is is that, no matter which way you cut the situation that’s bad. Like, whether they— whether it was never something that they wanted and they just told you they did — not great, or if it was something that they wanted, and then they changed their mind and are now going “I never wanted that” — that’s also not great. So you kind of, no matter which way you cut that, it’s kind of not great. So you kind of just have to think about, okay, you know, is that— that really needs to be worked through.

Because I just think that there needs to be— there’s more to that story, and you need to find out what more there is to that story and why they decided to— if they didn’t lie intentionally like what’s going on there? Because that is definitely a red flag for any kind of relationship, monogamous or polyamorous. Somebody who communicates in that way… it’s not great. So, yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

 

Crushing on a monogamous friend

I am a polyamorous non-binary man in a very happy three-year relationship with a another polyamorous man. This question isn’t about my partner, but rather about a monogamous friend I have named James.

I met James about four months ago at a school event and, maybe blame NRE, but it felt like love at first sight and I (maybe foolishly) believe he was attracted to me when we first met since I caught him looking at me across the room and because he was also strangely nervous during our first time hanging out together.

The second time we hung out, he told me he had a long-distance partner of one year. Since then, James and I have become super close friends, and I realized I love him in a strong emotional “soul” way, which is stunning to me because the last person I felt this kind of instant attraction to was my current partner. Also, the day I met him was the day my crush on him started and what actually made me realize I was polyamorous.

I originally thought of my crush as “queerplatonic” or emotional in that I absolutely admire and adore him, want to be emotionally close, and want to share myself with him in an emotionally intimate way. It was also sensual because I wanted to cuddle with him (and I still do).

After a month-long period this December where I sort of went crazy because he couldn’t talk or hang since he was traveling (I took this very personally and realized I was in over my head), I realized that this connection was more than queerplatonic and was definitely romantic, and that I also have a codependent anxious reaction to him not getting back to me.

I know I would never cross someone’s relationship boundaries if they are monogamous, but I feel like my crush on James has gotten me stressed out to the point where I’m nervous about myself around him no matter how much I try to play it cool. I even tried to hook up with other people as an attempt at claiming my own agency outside of this crush. This did help, but I know it was unhealthy because I know I subconsciously did it to “assert” myself and make it known to him that I, in a way, was not attracted to him (a form of denial).

I’m nervous around James because I feel like whenever we talk about relationships, I don’t want him to think I’m coming on to him because I don’t want to scare him away or potentially offend his partner, and I never would try to flirt with him because I truly value him as a friend and I don’t want to cross his boundaries since I know for certain we have the potential to be lifelong best friends and companions.

However, I’m just heartbroken because I think we can never be romantically together since he’s told me, casually, that he doesn’t think he could ever be in an open relationship. This is sad because when I first saw him it was like love at first sight and my intuition, which is rarely wrong, tells me that he has feelings for me. I want to tell him that I’m nervous around him because of my emotional/queerplatonic crush, but I feel like it’s lying to him in a way because I’m not letting him in that it’s more romantic than I want to describe.

At the same time, I don’t want to tell him about my romantic feelings because I don’t want to infringe on his monogamous relationship or scare him away. However, I would totally tell him about my romantic feelings eventually if he were single (I would also ask him if he were down to have cuddle moments), but the situation just makes me scared, and it’s sad because I feel like it’s a barrier to our relationship.

What do you think I should do, and how should I approach this or confess to him? What are the politics of admitting an emotional or romantic crush on your monogamous best friend?

The two biggest things I think you need right now are: self-examination and self-reflection.

Unless you grew up in a completely different culture (and apologies if that’s the case), you’ve likely been raised in a society that has not only endorsed monogamy but put forward that monogamy is your only choice. Even though you know now that’s not the case, the remnants of this exist in a lot of different ways and one of those, in my opinion, is the assumption that crushes or romantic feelings need to be… for lack of a better word, consummated.

We’re encouraged to either act on our crushes or hope our crushes act on us because we’re supposed to find “the one” and not let them get away and very often we’re presented with the idea that unrequited love or not acting on feelings is sad or pathetic. Specifically, society tells the people it describes as men that they must absolutely act on these feelings and pursue people they find attractive and the alternative is either mockery or sadness. Not to mention, men who hold onto the crushes they have while pretending to be friends with people, usually women, just waiting for their day… well, that doesn’t sound really healthy or good either.

Aside from societal influences, it also makes logical sense to want to reach out when you have deep feelings to see if that person also has them for you. However, there is another option that just really isn’t considered. You can be someone who has romantic feelings for another person and enjoy those feelings without it necessarily being something that you have to act on — especially if you feel like those feelings won’t be reciprocated or they can’t be actioned on. I believe that it’s partially because society encourages us to see a failure in a missed sexual or romantic encounter that we put such a pressure on ourselves to act and therefore, it comes in between some of the more positive emotions that having a crush can bring in our lives.

If you were biding your time or lying outright to James if he asked you if you were attracted to him and you were pining for the untimely death of his long distance partner (or, perhaps, less dramatically, a breakup), then I would say that maybe this is unhealthy. But it sounds like you have a good friendship together. You have a good friendship which gives you a lot of positive feelings. And sometimes you have these deeper feelings — is it possible to just enjoy what you have?

This is where the self-reflection comes in. Some polyamorous people can be monogamous and some can’t — no matter how wonderful a monogamous person they’re dating is. They’ve had to ask themselves if they could go throughout the rest of their life monogamous and never feel like they’ve missed out… so you’ll have to have a similar type of reflection about James. Are the level of your feelings so high that you would somehow feel cheated if you were never able to act on them? This is where creepier people who pretend to be friends with people but are just waiting for them to become available should draw the line. If you feel like you will not be happy if you can never ever date James then, for his benefit, you should probably part ways as friends.

However, that doesn’t seem like what’s happening here. You’re more afraid of admitting to having romantic feelings about James, especially whilst these feelings are bubbling so high. I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s lying to him to not admit your romantic feelings. We don’t always have to divulge the feelings that we have to everyone.

If you had sexual feelings about a colleague at work, would you feel like you had to divulge that if you were working on a big project together? Probably not. You’re aware that James is not able to date you and worried that, especially in a culture where crushes must always be acted on, admitting to having one on him might be more of a Big Deal than it is.

What might work in this situation, rather than confessing your romantic attraction to them, is being aware of your feelings and start trying to create some boundaries so that you aren’t stretching into territory that might make you or James feel uncomfortable. James may very well have feelings for you, but at present he is currently in a monogamous relationship and, not to say anything ill of James, I feel like situations like this where the lines get a little blurry create an environment where cheating can happen. And if you think you feel awkward now… imagine how awkward you’d be if James wanted you to cheat?

Initially, I would suggest considering putting a bit more space between the two of you and, not just ghosting him or anything, but having a conversation about it beforehand. I feel like you can acknowledge your discomfort without confessing everything. You can say something like, “I notice that I feel closer to you and, while this isn’t such a problem for me because I’m not monogamous, I respect the relationship that you have with your partner and I’m worried that I may be crossing some boundaries there.

I’d absolutely love for us to have a close friendship and I do have close friendships with other people where we cuddle and all that kind of thing, but I feel like I have to be more careful in this case. I’m worried that I could accidentally cross a line without meaning to and I’m not interested at all in cheating or helping someone cheat and it’s very important to me that I behave ethically.”

This might be a really good way of being able to talk about your discomfort while also addressing the big monogamous elephant in the room. Monogamous people can have different boundaries in different types of relationships. Some monogamous people may not mind their partner cuddling with others — but what would make you feel better here ultimately is if things were a little clearer. If he responds to this well he can tell you what lines not to cross or you can work on a check in system that will feel more natural and you can sit with and still enjoy your romantic feelings without it having to end up in a relationship.

Consider still not diving head first into being intimate friends, especially since you are noticing that you’re having trouble when you don’t have access to him. Definitely work on addressing that and setting more realistic expectations for yourself. And it may be that realising you don’t have to be in a relationship with someone to enjoy romantic feelings about them that helps that. It may be that after the initial couple of months of new relationship energy, things do get a little calmer. If he was priming you for a cheating conspirator, he may pull back from a lot of things all together — but don’t blame yourself for that. That’s absolutely not your fault.

To summarise, it might be worth examining some of the messages you’ve got from society about crushes and what has to be done with them. Have a conversation with him about your nerves and boundaries — but you don’t need to spill your heart out about your romantic feelings. And lastly, create a little bit of space between the two of you so you can feel a little less intense about it.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Episode 48: Too Much NRE

Is 18 months long enough to wait for someone to decide if polyamory is for them?

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

Discussion Topic: What is your love language?

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

Episode 48 – Too Much NRE

Is 18 months enough time to give someone to decide if they want polyamory?  That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – What’s your love language?

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

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I have been in a relationship with my husband A for about 12 years.  Initially we started off in an open, polyamorous relationship (back when we didn’t know the term).  At the time, he was polyamorous and seeing two other women in addition to myself.  Even though I was allowed to see others, I felt myself only wanting him, and therefore assumed I was monogamous.

At one point, I told him kindly that I would likely need to leave the relationship because it was hurting me too much that we were not exclusive (not blaming him at all, because he was completely honest about who he was).  At that point, he told me he didn’t want to lose me, and that he would try monogamy.

We were then monogamous together for a few more years, after which time I developed an intense crush on someone (B) at work, who I almost ended my relationship over.  Now I know that was NRE.  My crush on (B) was mostly an emotional relationship, with some physical involvement with (As) subsequent permission.  Too many details, but A and I briefly decided to open up our relationship, at which point A immediately found a part-time girlfriend.

At the time, I convinced myself I had a crush on B because A wasn’t ready to marry me, and I therefore didn’t “feel loved enough.”  A gave me a choice to either stay in the relationship or leave to be with (B).  I chose to stay with (A) and work on distancing myself from (B) to try and get over my feelings.

Also (B), though also having intense feelings for me, was not looking to settle into anything serious in that moment.  And was also confused about what he wanted.  B also had a lot of other emotional issues he was going through at the time, and it would have been a very unstable relationship.  And I knew I still loved (A).

After deciding to stay together with A, things went well.  We remained in a good relationship together, decided to get married, at least on my end felt generally happy.

We had some issues.  One that kept on repeating itself is that my love language is through words.  And for as long as we’ve been together, it’s hard for me to feel emotionally reassured or supported by A when I’m dealing with something stressful or upsetting..  Although I find he is really trying, it is difficult for A to comfort me without getting defensive, or telling me he feels “attacked,” because my voice sounds angry or upset, even though I’m upset about something that has nothing to do with him.

After a lot of thinking, I realized though B was not an emotionally stable man, that comforting me when I felt upset was something he had kind of been able to do.

Moving forward about 3 years after A and I got married, we settled down for another traveling gig in a new town.  And several months into my new job, I found myself developing a crush on my coworker (C).  This time it was different.  I was shocked with myself.  I couldn’t understand it.  This time there was no excuse.  A had given me everything I had asked for.  He was committed, monogamous, he had married me, he was so good to my family.  I still loved him.  I knew that.

And yet, I found myself falling deeply in love with C.  He returned my feelings.  He was married.  We both worked very hard on trying to remain just friends, no matter what our feelings were.  I even tried to coordinate couples dates with me and A and C and his wife.  A was very agreeable, but C’s wife kept on giving excuses for why they couldn’t hang out with us.  So it never happened.

After a year and a half of holding back, I felt I didn’t want to hold back anymore.  I was so in love with C, and I didn’t want to lose the chance.  I kissed him at work (and some physical involvement as well).  So yes, I cheated. I was planning on eventually telling A.  A few months into the affair, A asks me and I tell him the truth.

In all fairness, I should’ve spoken to A.  And I do take full responsibility for the cheating.  It was wrong.  And at the time, I was so scared he’d tell me I’d have to choose, like what happened the last time.  And my NRE was so strong, I felt I wouldn’t be able to bear it and would have to leave A.

Well, A was understandably hurt.  But, literally about less than 48 hours later, he tells me he has a realisation that we should go back to being polyamorous.  After all, he was polyamorous already, had known that about himself for years, and I was obviously not doing well with monogamy.  I still feel A should’ve yelled at me, punished me.  Been upset with me for longer.  I deserved it.  I admit I am still having a hard time forgiving myself for my affair, even as I write this.

Well, A restructured into polyamory quite quickly.  Within several months, he had a few new girlfriends (these were serious relationships with women he deeply cared for – not casual encounters).  This is who he is.  (Later A explained to me he had been very unhappy for the last few years, and had felt himself becoming more emotionally distant as a result;

A does admit he believes some of what drew me to C is that C was a strong emotionally supportive friend who was there for me for over a year, when A had been emotionally distant. A is still so thankful I met C and that C was there for me during that time).

So after A found out about the affair, I spoke to C, who was adamantly opposed to polyamory, not because he judges it, but because he doesn’t believe it’s for him.  Initially he attempted to leave his wife, telling her he wanted to be with me, but later went back to her when he found out I had no intention of leaving my husband.

He tried to bring up polyamory with his wife, who declined it, and gave him an ultimatum that he had to choose between her or me.  (C admitted to me later that he had initially left his wife because he was hoping I might choose him and leave my husband).

To be clear, C didn’t want to pull me away from A, but was hoping that maybe I’d realise he was a better choice for me, and that maybe A and I were growing apart.  C never gave me an ultimatum.  He has a kind heart, and told me he would’ve worked on being happy for me if I chose A and was happy with A.  But he had difficulty with the concept of polyamory.

After discussing the option of polyamory, C asked me to wait, because he wanted to try and learn more and consider whether he could open himself up to this idea.  Initially he dived in, began reading books, going on poly[am] blogs, and talking of a potential poly[am] future with me.  But a few months in, he stopped, not really explaining why, other than to say he was busy with all this other stuff in his life, and didn’t have the time, and that he still was processing things.

During this time, we have been seeing each other secretly (his wife doesn’t know, although I have repeatedly told him he should tell her).  My husband A knows everything.  Actually, A and C have met and like each other.  Though they aren’t friends, they get along.  A is comfortable.  C has never quite felt comfortable, and always worries he’s in the way of my marriage with A.

It has been about 18 months total of me waiting (basically putting my life on hold) for C to process what he wants.  It’s not that C told me I couldn’t date anyone else.  But he did say that if I began seeing someone new, he would have an emotionally difficult time starting a new relationship with me, and may have to really leave.  He’s obviously ok with me continuing to see A.

So I’ve been seeing A.  And I’m seeing C in secret (because he hasn’t told his wife).  And because of this dynamic, I barely get to see him.  Just briefly for a few hours once or twice a week when his wife is at work.  And it’s so hard, that I’ve given myself a deadline that I’ve told him about where I will eventually need to leave.  Because it hurts too much, coming second to his wife all the time.  Not getting to really even date, no overnights, limited phone time, mostly texting.

I won’t go into this part in detail, but C’s wife (per C’s description) is controlling in many ways, does not treat him respectfully, and keeps him away from his kids from his previous marriage, forcing him to choose.

During this time, my husband A has developed several significant relationships with 3 other women, and also developing some relationships with a few others that are yet undetermined status.  Our relationship has shifted.  We are no longer a couple in a primary relationship, with secondary relationships.

He considers himself egalitarian poly[am], and solo poly[am], and I am now one of several partners he loves.  I only see him about 1-2 days a week (so we have maybe a day date together, and one evening).  Occasionally we have a bit more time when one of his girlfriends is out of town.  He even had his own apartment he is subletting, where he goes occasionally.  And he has moved into the spare room in our apartment, so that our relationship is no longer like a couple, and more suited to dating.  Though we are dating about once a week, our situation at  home in our apartment is more like roommates.

This has been very difficult for me, because I was used to seeing A all the time, every day.  I know I still love him, and that he still loves me.  Even though I’ve been having the affair with C, the concepts of polyamory are still very new to me, and I struggle a lot with insecurity, and things I’m working on with myself.

I do have emotional outbursts intermittently, and am still processing through multiple monogamous concepts I am trying to restructure in my mind.  I am learning as I go, and do believe I am slowly making progress, identifying where my insecurities lie.  I do believe seeing an individual poly[am]-friendly therapist would be good for me.

As I explained before, A has always had a difficult time emotionally supporting me when I’m upset – so this has caused a large strain on our relationship over the last 6 months, especially if I’m upset because of something he is doing.  And I am still working on creating a poly[am]-friendly support group.  For a while, A was one of my only emotional supports, and that’s a large burden to place on A.

It got so bad that we separated for a couple of weeks, and I was almost ready to leave him.  But then I realized I still love A so much, and don’t want to give up on our relationship yet.  But 1-2 days a week is not enough for me.  I enjoy being in a couple.  It’s what I would want.  I think I’m polyamorous (still not quite sure), but not a solo poly[am].  It’s important for me to have quality time in my relationship to develop the intimacy I need.  I need more time in a relationship than 1-2 days a week.  But this is all A can give me at this point.

And I do have to add that with everything that’s going on with C, he is able (more than any man I’ve been with) to emotionally comfort me and reassure me when I’m upset.  It is a need I never really had met until I met C.  And it’s a need that is very important to me. .

So my dilemma is this:

I love A and C.  They both love me.  Ideally, I’d love to be with both of them.  C has similar values and life goals to mine/  Ideally I’d love for him to be a primary partner with me – in terms of living together, time spent together, etc – and for A to be my secondary partner.  A is cool with that.  C is not.  After 18 months of processing, C is still not sure he can handle polyamory.  The idea of me possibly meeting future men upsets him.  He is still not even sure he can share me with A.

Though A and I have gone in very different directions since we became poly[am], I still love him, and don’t want to leave him right now.  I feel I may regret it, and possibly end up resenting C for it later on.

Ideally I’d want a fully polyamorous relationship that is non-exclusive, but I am willing to compromise on a closed triad (well, A will be fully polyamorous, but I will be exclusive with A and C only, and C will be exclusive with me; and his wife if she wants to continue seeing him – I have never asked C to choose between me and his wife).

Part of me still wonders whether I’m truly polyamorous, or whether my need for emotional support and comfort/reassurance was just not met in my relationship with A.  Would I be happy with C alone?  Or am I poly[am]?

At this point, I’m planning on ending my affair with C, because I can’t go on barely getting to be with someone I deeply care about, and I don’t feel good that his wife doesn’t know.  I feel both she and I deserve more respect in our relationships.  Not that he is intentionally disrespecting us.  He just knows if he tells her he’ll have to lose her; and he loves us both.  Though he says he’s pretty unhappy with her.  And prefers to be with me.

At the same time, I am not sure if I should just give C what he wants – monogamy.  24/7 exclusive relationship.  I don’t want to lose him.  And he is willing to offer me things that A is not.

If I stay with A, and lose C, I end up with a relationship where I only get to date A only 1-2 days a week.  Is that kind of relationship worth giving C up over?  And at this point I’m still really high on NRE with C.  I feel so in love with him, and the idea of letting him go overwhelms me.  I know I can do it, but it will hurt so much.

But I love A, and I don’t want to leave him.  He’s been such a good man to me over the past 12 years, and I still think we have potential.

Any advice on what I should do?

Response:

The first thing that I would say with this is that— one thing that I’ve kind of repeated a lot in the columns and in the podcasts occasionally, is that polyamory isn’t about having multiple unfulfilling relationships. It’s supposed to be about having multiple fulfilling relationships, and I sometimes feel like people choose polyamory, not because they’re actually interested in polyamory but because they don’t want to break up with someone, and I don’t really think that that’s the same thing.

Like, you shouldn’t use polyamory as an excuse to stay with people who aren’t really meeting your needs. And that’s kind of what I feel like you’ve done with A for a very, very long time. A clearly is not really capable of giving you the emotional support you need. And I think you can deal with that if you don’t have to rely on A. But I still think that the fact that A reacts so badly to you being emotional about things that do involve him

is a little worrying.

Because even if you only have a “secondary” relationship, you still may have issues and you still may have things that you need to discuss, and it’s going to be really hard for you to actually discuss them if, you know, A reacts or has this kind of reaction to you being emotional. And that might be worth working on with each other. I don’t know, like, far be it for me to say when someone else has too many partners, but the fact that he has like so many people that he has to focus on. It just makes me wonder like what the deal is with that.

And people can have multiple partners and lots of different partners and that doesn’t reflect anything, but sometimes I do think that sometimes people choose polyamory because it means that they don’t have to emotionally support anybody. Do you know what I mean? Like if they’re just a “secondary”  to everybody and they don’t have to live with anyone, and they don’t have to be a primary or any kind of an emotional support to anyone then they can get away with not being able to emotionally support anyone. And I think that that’s okay but I do think that that merits some kind of communication and I just, I worry that there hasn’t really been a situation where A has sat you down and said “Look, you need this, and I can’t provide this”.

And that’s a little worrying, because even if you are to date A as a secondary he still… you can’t even tell him right now that one to two days is not enough for you because he reacts so poorly and feels attacked every time you bring something up. So it’s like you have to be, regardless of how often you see somebody, you have to be able to tell them if they’re not meeting your needs. You have to be able to have difficult discussions. It’s really really funny because I actually spoke to my therapist, about, you know, with the— If you’re listening to this right now. Right now I’m recording this, we’re in a pandemic so we’re in lockdown. And with my partners— like my with my domestic partner that I live with— obviously we are around each other 24/7, and that causes a lot of friction in a lot of ways.

And because we’ve been bickering so much that has sort of signalled in my head a panic kind of thing and has made me go, “Oh my god we’re bickering we’re gonna—“. You know because I’m used to big family arguments ending up in something huge and dramatic happening. I’m used to a family argument ending with someone getting kicked out. So, for us to bicker, I’m not really used to that and it really really throws me off. And so— but my therapist actually said like, “Look, if you go in a whole relationship without ever arguing— You know, sometimes arguing get your feelings out and it helps you work through things and you become stronger together because you argue. It doesn’t weaken things”. And it makes me wonder like if you can’t argue with A, if you can’t bring things up, if you can’t have a disagreement because every time you bring something up, he’s like, “Oh you’re attacking me”.

That doesn’t bode well for any kind of relationship with him, and that’s that’s kind of a worry and I do kind of wonder if this is what you’re actually, you know— this is what’s happening to you. You are basically you know in this relationship— and keeping it open because and seeking other partners because you feel lonely and because you’re not getting the things that you need, emotionally . So that is something that you really need to think about, because, I mean, you are incompatible in a lot of ways.

A second thing though is that you’re making C out to be a lot nicer than he is. You say he’s not intentionally doing this. He is intentionally doing this. Like he is intentionally choosing to cheat on his wife with you. He is. And he doesn’t have the sort of ability to state his needs with his wife, either. He is not able to accept the fact that two people, even if they’re married and even if they love each other and care for each other can be incompatible, and is totally is like— I’m almost annoyed— heavily annoyed with C because he’s such a massive hypocrite.

He doesn’t want you to be polyamorous. Basically he is dictating to you, you know whether or not— you say “well he doesn’t—“. People don’t have to specifically say you’re not allowed to date other people. If they create a situation where you feel unsafe or you feel like you can’t like that. That’s the thing like he is basically making a situation where you can’t pursue anybody else. He’s fine to cheat on his wife, but he has a problem with consensual ethical open relationships, and like, I’m not saying he has to be polyamorous and I’m not saying he has to be okay with it, but it is very hypocritical for him to be in a situation where basically he’s allowed to cheat but you can’t have another ethical relationship because he will have a problem with that.

It’s… yeah, he’s not as great as you’re making him out to be like he may be great at emotionally comforting you. And to be honest, like that’s— that isn’t… that’s not a high bar. Like all due respect to you. All due respect to A. All due respect to the situation. Someone being able to comfort you when you are upset is not like a… There’s another podcast that I recorded earlier about gold medals. Go listen to that. It’s not like— so many people are in situations, and I’m gonna be honest with you, it’s usually women who are in situations with men or in relationships with men where the man does something very very basic, that should be expected in a romantic relationship, and the woman is like, “Oh my god, he’s just so amazing he does such a—“. No.

He’s doing what he fucking should when he’s in a relationship which is being there for his partner. That’s not a gold star. That is the lowest frickin bar in the world. So, yeah. Stop. It’s probably your new relationship energy, even though you’ve been in this situation for 18 months. It is definitely— You’ve got some rose tinted glasses on when it comes to C. Probably because he comforts you so well. But he’s not all you think he is because if he was really an emotionally responsible person, he would go, “Huh”.

And this whole— this whole bullshit about like his wife is really mean to him or whatever. Anytime a man slags off his ex think about that situation. Okay. I’m not denying that maybe his wife isn’t that great and that may be the situation. Then why is he there? So, no, like, like come on. Think about this for a minute, like. You cannot have someone who is emotionally responsible and is going to be there for you and you’re giving him all these excuses and saying, “oh he’s— but he’s lovely, he has a kind heart, and he just doesn’t want to leave his wife because he loves her but he, but he does want to be with me, but she’s really bad and he does really want—“ This such a lie.

If it’s not a lie, it’s such a fucking cop out like, come on. If he if their relationship is that bad and if he really doesn’t want to be with his wife, then why is he fucking there? Why is he there? What is his frickin excuse. 18 months?! Come on. No, no, no, no, and like you’re basically— here’s the thing. If you are monogamous and you—  let’s just put aside the polyamory for a situation. If you are  monogamous, and you were dating— and I know that people cheat for a lot of different reasons and it can be complicated and I get it. Generally speaking, though, if you’re monogamous and you are cheating on someone with someone. What that tells you about that person who you are cheating with, even though A knows that you’re that you’re with C and is fine with it. But C’s wife doesn’t know. He is okay with cheating.

He is okay with non-ethical behaviour. He is okay lying to his wife and it stands to reason that if he’s okay lying to his wife, he’s okay lying to you. Like, and it means that if your relationship goes sour, or for whatever reason it doesn’t work out, then he’s fine lying to you. Like you’re not special and he might say that, but you really really really really need to not to believe that because… Yeah, it’s just not a good situation. He’s not as great as you’re making him out to be. He may be great at emotionally validating you but once again that is not an extreme relationship skill. That’s just a basic thing, and he probably knows that and he’s using that a bit to his advantage. So that’s one thing.

The other thing that really concerns me about A that I need to mention is that your relationship changed. He decided he’s ethical solo polyam, and now you only see him one day, two days a week. Where’s the fucking conversation about that? Like, I totally get that people can explore polyamory and come to find out that different situations suit them better. And oh actually I don’t really want to be in a primary relationship. I actually want to have more freedom, and that’s fine. That is absolutely fine. But a discussion needs to be had. And why hasn’t A sat you down and said “Hey look, I’m not feeling this primary situation.”

Like it just seems like all this sort of just slowly happened to you. And there was just no discussion and now you only see A one to two days a week, and it’s just… I mean that’s not to say that like. It’s not to say that you necessarily would then go “well I don’t want this” and A would go “okay let’s stay primary then”, but at least

if he had some kind of discussion with you, then you would be able to go, “Hmm, I’m not cool with that. Like one to two days a week isn’t great for me”. And maybe you could have, like, I don’t know, slowly, you could have gone from six days a week to five days a week to four day— like you could have, it could have been a little easier on you, especially since A doesn’t even emotionally support you very well in general anyway.

But instead he’s just sort of— and I don’t know how fast this happened like if it was just like, one day he was like, “Oh, I’m gonna move into the second room and blah blah blah”. But I mean you gotta have a kind of discussion about it. He’s not had any kind of like… how was that ethical? How is it ethical to just slowly completely pull away from your partner without really addressing it or talking about it? That’s… that’s not great, like for any kind of relationship. So, yeah, I think you are in a bit of a situation but. And I wish that I had some something better to advise because I feel like even if you sit down and have a conversation with A and say, “one or two days a week isn’t cutting it for me”. I don’t think A is wanting to give you anymore. I don’t think that’s going to fix that situation.

You can absolutely leave C, but you know— you’re just going to leave C. He’s not going to dump his wife for you. And even if he does, you are in a situation where he does have a problem with you being with A. Like he does— even though he’s okay with it right now, he does have a problem with it and he’s going to want you to dump A. He is going to want that. And then he’s going to bring up the fact that he dumped his wife for you. So like, don’t pull the frickin wool over your eyes and realise that he is—  that’s what’s gonna happen if he did dump his wife.

He would then immediately expect you to dump A. I doubt— heavily, heavily, heavily, heavily, heavily doubt that he will be okay with you being with A in any context, even if you only saw A one to  two days a week, he’d never be okay with it. So, and you say “oh well, maybe I could go 24/7 do monogamy with C”, but the thing is, you’d be doing monogamy with somebody who cheated. And is that really what you want? Like, I’m not saying that like people— like “once a cheater always a cheater” or anything like that. Like people cheat for all sorts of different reasons. It can be really complicated but at the same time, if he’s not even acknowledging the fact that what he’s doing is wrong…

You know I just, I don’t think that that would be a good situation for you to be in, especially because, if you just happen to fall in love with another co-worker, there ain’t no way C is ever going to hear of it. You know, if you do find out that you are more polyamorous than you think you are, you’re kind of screwed in that regard. So, yeah, I think that the thing that you need to do is be comfortable being alone. Unfortunately I think that you need to dump C immediately, like it’s— Cheating is not polyamory. What you’re doing isn’t polyamory, I’m sorry. Cheating is not polyamory. You’re helping C cheat, which isn’t polyamory. It’s unethical. It’s wrong. You shouldn’t do it, even if you love C so much, I get that. But it’s wrong. So you need to dump him. Like, you need to make him choose.

Sometimes making someone choose isn’t a bad thing. It’s not always controlling and bad. Sometimes when you say, “Actually you need to choose because if you don’t, it’s unethical. And I’m not going to participate in that”. So giving him an ultimatum isn’t a terrible thing. It doesn’t make you a terrible person. It just makes you a person with self respect and dignity. So, do that. Get rid of C. I don’t even think you should continue dating him. I think even if he dumped his wife for you. I mean, ask him say— I guarantee you… I guarantee you anything if you say, “oh, if you dump your wife…”, he’s gonna go “well then you dump A”. Like that’s gonna be— that is going to be what it is. Like, honestly, so I just think you should just get rid of C.

I get that he’s emotionally supportive but you need— what you need out of the situation is to learn how to be alone. Because, especially if you’re going to be polyamorous. You can’t always have, you know, it’s not Pokemon. It’s not Polymon. It’s not picking as many people, and avoiding being alone by having as many partners as possible. Sometimes you are alone. Sometimes you have to be comfortable being by yourself and being alone and being fine with that. You need to be more comfortable being alone.

You need to let go of the expectation that A is going to give you the emotional support that you want. That’s just not going to happen. And I think if you focus more on yourself, maybe see a therapist, if it’s accessible to you for yourself, find ways to gain emotional support through yourself, through therapy, through your friendship network, because that’s the thing. Polyamory is not just about, usually —it’s not just about multiple romantic relationships, it’s also— many people feel like polyamory opens them up to seeing all relationships as equally valid, so your friendships are also important relationships that should also be valued and that should also, you know— romantic relationships don’t necessarily mean so much more than friendships.

So your friends can emotionally validate you. Can you accept and receive emotional validation and help through your friends? Does it always have to be somebody that you’re sleeping with, or that you’re romantic with? So that’s what I think… that’s what you need to focus on. Get rid of C. Get rid of C completely. And you could keep A, but you need to let go of the expectation that A is going to be like C. There are other stuff to work on with A. Like whether or not you keep A around like, I don’t know… I do kind of feel like if you are in a relationship with someone who is unwilling to listen to you or if you can’t actually talk to him about anything— like even a friend should somewhat be able to emotionally validate you and that’s why I feel like if you had better friends, you would actually be like, “Oh, actually. Fuck A.”

Because sometimes and I’ve had that situation before where I have been in a partnership that I thought was fulfilling. And then I had friendships and I was like actually my friends are being more supportive than my partner is. So why am I with this person? And I think that if you, you know you could keep A around for a little bit. But I do think that once you realise that you can provide your emotional validation and you can get that from your friends, your community from people around you like… have more friends. Like it doesn’t always have to be someone you’re dating and I think once you do that you will then look at the relationship with A and you’ll be like, “Actually, you aren’t even that good of a friend. So maybe not. “

That’s kind of like my best advice to sum up really quickly. Get rid of C. No, no, no with C. Seek multiple fulfilling relationships, rather than collecting multiple unfulfilling relationships until you reach some sort of stasis. It’s not what I think, personally, what I think polyamory should be about. Focus on yourself. Be okay with being alone. Be okay with finding emotional support in people that aren’t immediately romantically connected to you. Value your friendships more.

And, yeah, seek polyamory friendly therapy if you have access to that. Be okay with being alone, because I do think that unless you have flexible schedules with five to seven partners on the go or your life is set up in a completely different way, you’re going to have to sometimes be okay with being alone and I think more people— monogamous people even in general, need to be okay with being alone. Because when you’re not okay with being alone then you stay in relationships that you shouldn’t. Yeah. I hope that helps and good luck.

Addressing sexual incompatibility

CW: This question contains explicit sexual discussion.

I love my husband, we met almost 20 years ago now. We met online on an Alternative Lifestyle website. He was listed as a submissive and I a switch.

We are the best of friends and I love him dearly. We were engaged after only 5 weeks but it took us 11 years to actually tie the knot.

The truth is our sex life has never been brilliant and it tapered away to nothing, we went for years with no sex for one reason or another. Now he has had cancer for the past 4 years and he is now totally impotent. Even with 200mg of Viagra there is nothing happening.

I have stayed faithful, with only 2 encounters with other people, one female one male with the full knowledge of my husband. He was in the same room.

I did not have full sex ie penetration with the guy. I am a very sexual and sensual person and I crave intimacy and ultimately a hard cock!

My husband and I have discussed me getting sexual gratification elsewhere but he does not want me to leave him and quite honestly, I cannot imagine my life without him in it.

I guess what I’m asking for is advice about how we move forward into a non monogamous relationship?

I have had sex once in the last 7 years and I feel like I’m dying inside!

There are a few things here to go through:

  • Opening to solve incompatibility
  • Reframing and defining sex
  • Trust and opening relationships

Usually when people encourage opening a relationship to solve an incompatibility within a relationship, I advise caution because, depending on what the incompatibility is, it can be a recipe for serious and intense jealousy.

In this case, it seems your husband is open to the concept of you seeing other people. It’s possible that, with the stress of coping with cancer, he has little interest in sex overall. But I am wondering, especially if he’s open to taking Viagra, if that is fully the case. If he’s willing to take that, he’s willing to try and it’s going to be hard for him to realise that he is not capable of meeting your needs and it’ll be hard for him because part of that, especially, you know, having cancer — is not his fault.

I worry that sometimes people are too quick to jump to opening a relationship to solve the problems in one relationship.Polyamory is about finding multiple fulfilling relationships, not about collecting a bunch of semi-fufilling ones until you reach a level of stasis. As much as we don’t enjoy breaking up with people, if you’re opening up because your relationship on it’s own can’t stand, then it’s likely that the stress of opening up is going to break what little foundations you have.

If you do open to address an incompatibility, then I think that it will only work if that individual is okay with reconciling that incompatibility and if you can focus on what makes your relationship work and have that work wonderfully.

What concerns me is that you’re craving intimacy and sensuality… which you don’t need, as you put it, a “hard cock” to have. So I’m wondering why those things aren’t happening in your own relationship with the partner you have and whether you’re both putting the work in to solve this instead of trying to find others to solve the problem.

Following on that point on building intimacy in your relationship, I’m wondering if you are a little focused on penetrative sex in a way that is disempowering your partner, especially if he is a submissive. While I totally get and understanding preferring or liking penetrative sex, he doesn’t always have to use his own body for that. There are loads of options available where he could satisfy that without everything relying solely on his body.

It’s possible that, if you’re heavily focused on him maintaining an erection, he’s going to really struggle to perform and that will likely take the interest away from him, especially if he’s recovering from cancer. I don’t mean to be harsh here, but you seem really caviler about that — that’s a huge deal and a massively scary and stressful thing. It’s unsurprising that your partner isn’t exactly feeling in the mood. And if you’re adding pressure to that, it’s unsurprising that it’s only the situation that’s getting harder.

I am assuming he is interested in continuing to try to provide things for you because he’s taken Viagra but if he’s completely uninterested in this type of interaction and feels more asexual now than anything, then that’s totally understandable in terms of you wanting to seek outside stimulation — but asexual people are plenty capable of providing sensual experiences and intimacy. If he’s uninterested in intimacy all together with you then there is a wider issue that should be addressed with therapy.

Another issue that’s cropping up here is a common thing a lot of people do in their first forays in open relationships — thinking their partner has to be in the room when they have sex with other people. I don’t, unless you have a partner who is a voyeur, you do this. Mostly because it’s just not necessary.

You have to work together to trust one another and he has to be able to trust that you are going to stay with him even if you are getting a penetrative sex need met somewhere else. This is why I think it’s so important to not just find another person when another relationship isn’t working because it’s rekindling what you have together and building intimacy together that will help secure what you have together and make him feel less anxious and grounded.

If you start from a foundation of distrust, then it doesn’t tend to lead to great places. Even if he does trust you not to cheat, he has to also trust that you care enough about your relationship together to build on it and work with it. And if that work is not put in on either side, you’ll both struggle to communicate in the future.

I think that you could pursue non-monogamy, but I am worried in this instance you’re only delaying an inevitable breakup if you and your partner aren’t willing to put the work in toward building intimacy and sensuality with each other. There are so many things he can do and things you can try together that could meet your needs and I’m wondering if that has actually happened.

Opening up a relationship to solve an incompatibility can work — but there has to be other aspects of that relationship that fulfill you. And you shouldn’t keep a relationship that’s unfulfilling just because you don’t want it to end. But also, you need to apply a little less pressure to your partner to perform in that specific way and open up to other ways of him being able to build a connection with you that aren’t dependent upon him having an erection — asexual people have intimate and sensual relationships without having sex at all, so it is possible.

Last but not least, if you do open your relationship, you don’t have to do things in front of him to prove you’re faithful. He needs to trust you but you also need to demonstrate that you are willing to bond with him and build intimacy together in other ways, even if you desire penetrative sex with a person with a penis rather than toys. Because there’s not really a reason that can’t happen.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Comments from the therapist

I am wondering if their difficulty with intimacy is in some ways impacted by lingering or unprocessed emotions related to going through cancer together. That illness has a HUGE impact: anticipatory grief, helplessness, powerlessness, anger, caretaking dynamics, new functional limitations, etc. If they haven’t unpacked and digested all that — separately and together, then it could really stop fulfilling intimacy from happening.

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