Ethical vs healthy

I’m new to the world of ENM and after lots of time spent reading– I’m more confused than ever!

Before I get into all of it, I guess my concerns can be boiled down into two questions: 1) Is it possible to co-create an ethically non-monogamous relationship in which the majority of attention/ focus is placed on the primary partnership and other relationships are kept “casual”? I ask if it’s possible because a lot of sources that I’m reading about ENM seem to suggest that such structures are extremely difficult to maintain and even naive, as people often fall in love with others. 2) Is it possible to do so ethically?

To question 1– When my partner and I got together, he was very upfront about the fact that he wanted to create an ethically non-monogamous relationship. I’d say I’m a bit more oriented towards monogamy than he is, but ENM has interested me for a while and seems to align with my values. We decided to only see each other for the beginning of our relationship as we got to know each other and to then open things up down the line. I have been very clear with him and myself about what structure of ENM I think will make me happy:

Our relationship is a “home base,” we prioritize this relationship in terms of time/ making plans for the future/ emotional support, there is an intention that outside relationships are “casual” and more like hook up buddies rather than other serious, committed partnerships (I say intention instead of rule because if one us wants something more serious with someone else, we’ll have a conversation about it– it won’t be like someone did anything bad).

None of these are “rules” and I would only want to continue with that structure if we both continue to feel good about it. We don’t have the strict “outside relationships can be sexual but not romantic” limit because it doesn’t really make much sense to either of us. I know it’s impossible to control feelings, and he doesn’t feel like “romantic feelings” and “casual relationships” are mutually exclusive. At the same time, I just don’t think I’d be happy in a non-hierarchical polyam situation. I really enjoy the sense of building “a home” and future with one romantic partner.

My partner says this structure also sounds fulfilling for him. He’s a bit more open to a non- hierarchical situation in theory. But as he says, “I’m choosing to be with you and I know this is what you want, so I’m more than happy to do it.”

But is this structure just doomed to fail? Am I being naive in thinking we can maintain it?

And towards my second question– I’m super confused because so many ENM sources indicate that requesting limits on your partner’s relationships with other people is unethical and controlling. I’m not interested in having veto power or commanding that he do things, but I do want to have a sense that I can voice discomforts about his actions with other people, and that those discomforts will be taken seriously. For example, if he started seeing someone really frequently, I’d like to be able to say, “Hey, this feels like your relationship with ___ is getting more serious and might be outside of the structure we initially agreed to. If I’m correct, I feel uncomfortable about that. What do you think?” That doesn’t necessarily mean he has to end that relationship.

I mean, that could be one outcome of that conversation if he decided to do so. But it could also look like, “I know that I still highly value being your primary partner and I don’t know if a non-hierarchical situation will feel good and happy to me. What are your thoughts around that? What do you want? Is there a way we can work with this other person so that there needs/ wants are being incorporated into that structure if we both decide it’s still what we want?” I guess what I’m getting at is– Is there a way to strike an ethical balance between influence and control? Where my partner might make decisions that ends up limiting his other relationships IF AND ONLY IF it is ultimately his decision, albeit one that is influenced by my wants and desires (given that I’m an important person in his life, and we’ve both said to one another that we want each other’s feelings about situations to influence our decisions).

We have of course decided to be upfront with future partners as soon as possible about these things– that we will prioritize our relationship in the above mentioned ways and that there is a chance our relationship may influence other relationships. But is it still unethical going into this knowing full well that we may be influencing each others’ relationships.

Anyways, I know this is a lot! I thank you for reading this and would love to hear your thoughts 🙂

The issue I have with your first question is that a primary partnership and “casual” relationship necessarily mean the majority of attention and focus is placed on one “primary” person. I believe you could have a primary partner without necessarily focusing the most on them at any given time, but I think other relationships being “casual” doesn’t negate the meaning they have to the individual. It just might mean what is expected and agreed on in terms of time commitment. Basically, “primary” is really up to how individuals define it. Your assumption that building a home with one partner and not another means one means more to the person than the other isn’t necessarily true.

Not all non-hierarchical polyamorous people are solo polyam people. Some do build homes with others and sometimes multiple people. I would probably encourage you to challenge that perception. It’s possible for someone to have serious committed relationships with multiple people and actually live with only one. Some people don’t wish to live with any partners. That doesn’t mean that they don’t care as much about those partners as people who live with their partners.

The definition of “ethical” at it’s basic means that nothing is against explicit consent or hidden. Any structure where people are consenting to what’s going on and happy with what’s going on is technically ethical. Codependent relationships can be technically ethical. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, if agreed upon, can be ethical. That doesn’t always mean they’re healthy or good for the people in them or outside of them. Your structure is ethical if you agree on it. Is it fair for the people who come into contact with your partner? Probably not. But they can choose not to engage with your boyfriend based on that. I think to pretend like what you have *isn’t* a veto power is, to be blunt, lying to yourself.

You want the structure you want because, to put it simply, you want to matter more to your partner than other people. A lot of people don’t see this as an ethical choice because it’s not really what polyamory is about and you can’t matter more without others by default mattering less. You’re focused a little more on what this means for you without really thinking about what it means for the other people involved. You’re assuming that more time spent with you makes you mean or matter more, which isn’t necessarily true. And the deciding factor of this all hinges on whether or not you feel he’s spending too much time with other people, rather than his own desire to choose. He’s doing it because you want it, not because he wants it. Which means it’s ultimately your decision and based around your comfort, rather than his. Even if he agrees to go with what you want, that doesn’t mean that it’s not based on your decision.

It might be worth you considering why it is you want the structure you want. You don’t mention a specific desire to buy a house or have children (which you don’t need to do to build a home together), which would be a reason to want to make sure he shared in those goals and was willing to put forward towards them, especially given how the division of labour in households tends to be unequal, but you specifically want his other relationships to mean less than yours. You assert this isn’t a rule, but… let’s be real. It is a rule. You want hierarchy and you probably want it for an understandable reason – you’re scared of breaking up. Will this intention/rule actually prevent that from happening? If monogamy doesn’t prevent people from cheating or leaving their partner, this intention or rule is not going to be able to stop your partner from leaving you, if that’s what he wants to do.

This is ethical if you both decide you want to do it and if he is honest with others about it… but that doesn’t mean it will prevent you or anybody else from heartbreak. You can request limits on your partner’s relationship with other people and they can accept those limits, but I think it’s worth asking if that will prevent what it is that you think it will prevent. I think you’re being a bit naive in assuming that coming to him and saying, “I have a problem with the fact that you’re spending time with this person more than I’d like” isn’t going to be seen as a request for a change of action. Already you’re coming to him with a “What do you think about prioritising me above others?” and he’s going, “I don’t want to do that, but I will for you!” Already he’s sacrificing what he wants for what you want. It stands to reason that would be a pattern that would continue.

Even if you don’t outright demand he leave someone else, if you’re demanding that he spend a certain amount of time with you and not others… then you are kind of demanding that. He’s making this decision for your comfort and not the other way around. I don’t know if it’s fair to call it “control” because he is consenting to it but… it’s not really going to matter for the person that ends up being at the receiving end of this. Whether you call it influence or control, whether you call it a rule or a limitation, whether you think you’re executing a veto or not… it’s someone else who basically gets to have their relationship decided for them. If they agree to that, then that’s fine. But a lot of people wouldn’t for an understandable reason.

Relationships “fail” for all sorts of reasons. There isn’t going to be a magical structure that’s going to ensure the survival of your relationship. Even if your partner wanted monogamy and never wanted to sleep with anyone else, that wouldn’t mean your relationship is built for “success”. Monogamy won’t even necessarily ensure you have the majority of your partner’s attention or even their agreement on a shared goal in life.

I think what you need to do is consider the reasons you want other relationships to mean less. Consider exactly how much time you want from your partner. Consider whether your rules/intentions will actually solve what you think they will solve. Consider the feelings of the other people who might be interacting with your partner. Consider whether if time spent with you is the only way your partner can show to you that he is intending to build a home with you and what that means. Consider whether your assumption that building a home with a partner means hierarchy and that non-hierarchical polyamory means not building a home.

If he is happy to have flings and casual sex with others and that works for him, then it can work for you both. But I wouldn’t just hope that he doesn’t have feelings for others and that you don’t I would assume that it could happen. And what will happen if he doesn’t want to just dump that person because you’re uncomfortable. Can you commit to the idea that your partner may not spend the majority of their time with you? And is he already compromising by agreeing to a hierarchy if that’s not what he actually wants? It might be worth talking through this with a polyamory friendly therapist in the end and thinking about how you both manage conflict so you can address these situations when they come up.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Regret after opening

My wife and I have been together for 17 years and very happily married for 13 years.
For the majority of our marriage she has been unhappy in her own skin triggered by being over weight.  This lead to not wanting to engage in sexual activity.

In the past 12 months she has lost an incredible amount of weigh with bariatric surgery.  She now feels much happier in her skin and is loving life and looking to explore her new found sexuality.

Over the last 2 years my health has started to decline, I am on testosterone and thyroid replacements along with, at times, severe tiredness and my sex drive has also taken a nose dive.
This has put strain on our marriage and she floated the idea opening our marriage.

I am unsure of the idea with us going to couples therapy to explore our marriage strength and the path forward, we agreed to wait until after therapy to make a decision; however an opportunity had arisen with a group of people, I do not know them or included into any messages.  During the discussions on if she would go she said “can we agree that fo us to determine if this right for us an event should happen”.
I disagreed and said that is not a good idea however eventually relented and she went.

She went to the event alone, and had sex with 3 other people, the next day she briefly recounted the event with me.

I am suffering from regret and remorse on the decision, she does not and said it was one of the best decisions she had ever made just felt right.

Later on I requested we close the marriage, she got upset and angry.

There are a variety of reasons people choose to open their relationships. In some cases, it can be due to sexual incompatibility which can be caused by things like illness or age — or just be part of the way people are. I think that sometimes this can work but it has to be done with caution. Even when there isn’t an incompatibility that causes someone to open their relationship, they can already feel like they are “not enough”. It takes a lot to try and reframe your perspective from that concept but if literally the reason your partner is opening the relationship is because others can provide something you can’t… it’s going to be much harder to cope with that.

What worries me about this situation is that you have a partner who has spent over 13 years with a difficult relationship with her own body. While I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of her feelings or the level of fatphobia she faced from others, you can absolutely be “overweight” or be fat and enjoy life, have an active sex life, and be happy in your skin. I worry that her approach has reinforced her thinking that she has to be thinner to enjoy life and society probably is also reinforcing that. People who would have rejected her body before are likely not rejecting her now and I don’t blame her for enjoying the attention and the experience.

Perhaps that is the reason why she didn’t want to wait until after therapy and put more pressure on you to be okay with her going to what sounds like a group sex or swinging event. However difficult it might have been for you to consider opening the marriage while also dealing with your own health issues, it’s that much more difficult if you don’t feel like you’re going to have a choice or you’re relenting in places where you should stay strong and committed to your principles. When people do open their relationships due to an incompatibility, there needs to be reassurance and emotional support in the relationship. Trust has to essentially be rebuilt and re-learned.

While I want to be sympathetic with her in her desire to explore parts of romance and sex which may have felt previously off limits to her, I can’t help but notice that you never completely rejected the concept of an open marriage, you just felt a reasonable and understandable discomfort with it. You suggested couples therapy and asked for patience and understanding and at every point she instead pressured you. I do just have your words to go on, but it doesn’t seem like she’s offering you any kindness or understanding. Even if she was happy to have gone to that event, she could have been more understanding of your feelings.

You’ve done your best to try and be accommodating and it doesn’t seem like she’s putting in the same effort. It would be one thing if you were neglecting her, but you’re dealing with your own health issues that she doesn’t seem to have much sympathy for. Before you even agreed to open your marriage, she essentially made plans with others that you weren’t a part of and made it seem like you had to go along with it to really prove if you could do non-monogamy. While I absolutely do think that there is a point where you have to see if it actually works for you, it’s not too much to ask to want to go to couples therapy to talk it out first.

It is understandable she would be upset when you requested to close the marriage, but I felt like you probably wouldn’t have asked for that if you had actually discussed more about what opening your relationship would mean before it happened. She might be overcome with the opportunities that seem to be in front of her that weren’t there before, but she has to, if she wants to continue being married to you, be willing to understand your feelings and work with you.

Reapproach her and ask for you, before anyone does anything sexual with anyone else, to actually be able to sit down with a polyamory friendly couples therapist and talk about what opening your relationship could look like and how you can stay together while dealing with this incompatibility. It would be also helpful for you and your wife to see therapists individually to address some of the issues you’re going through with your health and she with her self-esteem.

While she may have experienced a shift in treatment by others after having surgery, the only thing constant is change. All of our bodies change and shift in different ways and no body type is an obstacle for having a healthy, fulfilling life where you love your skin. Sexuality and exploration is not reserved for people who meet societal ideals.

If she refuses to go to couples therapy and does not honour your request to wait to have any outside activity until you’ve been able to talk with a therapist (which you can find online if there isn’t one near to you you can see) then I would seriously consider whether or not this is worth preserving. If she cannot respect that this is difficult and give you the emotional support you need, then it might be better to find someone who is more willing to give you that support.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Episode 69: Self-Sacrificing Too Much

If you’ve given a partner 10 years in monogamy, but they expect you to be happy and feel compersion after deciding to be polyamorous, you might be self-sacrificing  a little too much.

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

Discussion Topic:

What’s one major way your values have changed in the last 10 years?

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

Episode 69 – Self-Sacrificing Too Much

If you’ve given a partner 10 years in monogamy, but they expect you to be happy and feel compersion after deciding to be polyamorous, you might be self-sacrificing  a little too much.  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

My long term partner and I have been together for 10 years. When we started dating I told him I was polyam and he said he was mono. I had been in mono relationships and so I was ok with us being that. I mentioned it again as our relationship progressed and he seemed to be interested but it just really never got off the ground. At that point I committed to being mono for the duration of our relationship and began building on that. 

Then about 7 months ago he decided that he wanted to try polyam. Since then it’s been nothing but heartache. For years I worked on turning off all my poly[am] switches and focused on building our relationship. And now he has decided that I need to turn them all back on immediately so that he can date.

I have ways been polyam, even when I didn’t know what to call it or even realise that I was. 

Believe me, it caused me no small amount of heartache when I was younger and crushing on multiple people at once. My desire to pursue it has not changed because it is who I am. He and I are really struggling right now because I’m not ecstatic for him in every possible way. I am putting in hard work reading and researching and self examination and really trying to break down all the bullshit I’ve built up over 10 years of being in a mono relationship. I can’t even get him to read a book. He says he has it all figured out and he’s totally adjusted to everything on every level.

Compersion is very difficult for me. I feel like he asked me to be his one and only special person for 10 years and now I’m not anymore and he is giving away to other people what was ours. And I hate it. I’m working on it but right now I despise his partners and I am angry and resentful and jealous that they’re getting a part that, for the entirety of our relationship, has been for me because that’s how HE wanted it and now he’s just decided to 180 and pull the rug right out from under me.

When we are intimate now I can’t think of anything else besides them. As you can imagine, it strains our intimacy. I try. I swear I am trying. It hurts that I can’t seem to be happy for him. I feel guilty because he gets mad that I’m not, like I’m doing something wrong.

Response:

First and foremost, if you were with a friend, and you had some boxes to carry, and your friend said, “You know what? I don’t know if I can do this. Would you carry these?” And you carried them and you were like, “Okay fine. I understand you may not be able to do it”. And you carry them. And then, after a long time, your friend is like, “Oh wait, actually I can totally do this. This is fine. Whatever. Cool, I can do it”. You would be annoyed. And you not only would be annoyed because he’d been carrying them for so long, you wouldn’t expect in the scenario for the person who has been carrying the boxes to be happy about the change in situation. 

I mean obviously yes. It’s great that things have changed to make it a little easier, sort of, on you, but it would be unrealistic and unfair to expect that person who had been carrying all those boxes to suddenly be like, “Oh this is awesome. I’m so glad that you’re enjoying carrying your box!” It’s not like a completely comparable situation. I don’t mean to compare relationships to holding boxes, but it’s very very unrealistic for any person to completely change and sacrifice—  because this has been a sacrifice for you — and then be happy, just suddenly be happy and cool and fine with things changing.

Changing is going to cause, even if it’s a change that you would have liked to have had, changing things is going to be a little nerve wracking. And especially in the situation that you’re in, like you said you’ve kind of— I don’t think you can necessarily switch off your inclination towards polyamory if it’s what you feel is an inclination. However, whenever people create a hierarchy — and whether this is in monogamy or polyamory — if you create a hierarchy where there is one person who is more important than everybody else and that person is the romantic person and you can do this within polyamory.

This is kind of what happens when people create “primary partners”. If you create a hierarchy that one person is important, it is naturally going to create a worry, and a little bit of a defence mechanism if you are in that prioritised position to want to stay in that prioritised position. You’re naturally going to worry about that changing. So it makes complete and total sense for you to, after 10 years of being in a monogamous relationship with somebody, for you to be worried that — what if this person isn’t polyamorous? They just want to find someone new to replace me? 

It’s okay to have those worries. This is a massive change. It’s a massive, massive change. It’s like if after 10 years, your partner was like, “Nope I don’t want kids. Hate kids. Don’t want kids. Hate kids. Don’t want kids. Hate kids”, and then suddenly was like, “Let’s have a million babies”. You would be a little bit concerned. And you wouldn’t be wrong for feeling that. So right now, what you’re doing is you’re putting yourself, not only — and I really hate compersion. The thing that I hate about compersion, right— And for people who don’t know what compersion is —Basically it’s supposed to be the “opposite of jealousy” although I’ve seen that be challenged more and more. 

It’s basically when you’re happy that your partner is with somebody else like you’re happy for them. I really hate putting it in a position where compersion is like the ideal or compersion is like the top of the mountain and you’re trying to reach the top of the mountain and sometimes you just have to be okay that you can’t get to the top. No, it’s a cherry on top of the cake. It’s an extra side benefit. And it might just not be something that you experience

It’s the same with friendships. Some people are super interested in their friends romantic lives and really get excited when they’re dating other people, some people couldn’t give a fuck less, and that’s okay. It’s okay if you’re not deeply invested in being happy that you’re partner’s with somebody else. It’s okay to feel that. You’re putting conversion on this like mountain that you need to climb up and you’re forcing yourself to climb up this mountain. 

 Now, you have a little bit of a problem here. This is a problem that I have. I run an advice column because I have an inclination to be helpful. I like being helpful. I want to be helpful and useful to people. That’s just kind of the way my personality is. I have to be very very very careful about how I do that because I’ve been in way too many situations where I have basically busted my ass for someone. It’s difficult because sometimes I busted my ass for people but I haven’t really… They didn’t ask me to do that. And they’ve not recognised or seen what I’ve done and I felt resentment over that. 

You have to be really really careful with the inclination to self-sacrifice, because even though I don’t go out of my way to help people because I want cookies for it, or that I’m trying to necessarily do it to get on the good side. I’m not trying to be manipulative about it. But if I do self sacrifice, if I do work for people if I try to help someone, and then they turn around and they treat me like crap… It feels like it hurts worse. And I have to be really really careful about who I decide to sacrifice for. I’ve been in a lot of situations like not even romantic relationships, friendships.

I can imagine one friendship that I recently had where I—  they said that they couldn’t afford something and I built a Crowdfunder for them and I busted my ass to get it fully funded and they got the money and then they turned around, and they — we had a disagreement about something and they turned around and told everybody behind my back that I hated them and was trying to conspire against them and that really really hurt me. And it hurt me worse because I busted my butt so badly for them. And when that happens— like I’ve come to a conclusion that if I’m going to sacrifice or work hard for somebody, if I’m going to give to somebody, I have to release myself of the expectation and prepare for the reality that that person may not be that great.

 And it’s not my fault. There was a period of time where I wanted to be like, “Well I’m not going to sacrifice anything for anyone else. I’m not going to help anybody anymore”. And that’s just not within my personality, right? But I have to just be careful about this. I don’t think that it was wrong of you to give up on polyamory, but at the same time you do kind of have to realise that when you make that kind of a decision. You have to make that without basically beating yourself up if it doesn’t work out. If you can sacrifice something, and then be okay with whatever the result of that is, then that is the best choice to decide when to sacrifice something. 

It’s really difficult, because it does hurt, and it is incredibly painful when you really, you know, go out of your way to help someone, and you also need to be — if you have a tendency towards this — I think you also need to be wary about who you do this for. And you also need to realise is this person going to see me? Yes, for me, like, I don’t do things to to necessarily get loads of praise, but if I’m doing it for someone and I haven’t made them aware that I’m trying for them or if I haven’t, you know, if I haven’t not necessarily tried to stick it in their face, but if, if they don’t seem to be an appreciative person, right, or they specifically aren’t asking me for help and I’m just going out of my way to do it I have to be really careful about that. 

So that is the thing that I want you to think about in the future. There’s nothing you do about it now. You’ve sacrificed 10 years to this person and you know, that is all gone and I do think you need to allow yourself to be sad about that. You need to allow yourself to mourn the loss of those 10 years, you know, you’ve kind of put yourself on the back shelf of it, and prioritises your partner over yourself. And that has caused you to lose touch with yourself in that way. It’s caused you to miss out on a lot of relationships you could have had during that time, and it’s okay for you to be sad about that. 

And I do think that right now you’re kind of like pushing all of your feelings back, because you’re still self sacrificing. You’re still prioritising his feelings, You’re still prioritising—  you want to have compersion because you want him to be happy. And you’re still doing that and I think that you need to stop doing that. And you need to allow yourself to be a little bit — like more than a little bit sad about what has happened and what you’ve missed out on. 

The big thing here, aside from all of those issues, is your partner’s attitude, which honestly really boils my piss to be frank. Expecting you to just turn around after 10 years of being monogamous, and not only be okay with polyamory, but to have no interest in doing any research after not being polyamorous, and I don’t think anyone needs a degree to be polyamorous, but understandably like you— It seems like you want to work through this with him, and you want to talk about things, and it just seems like he doesn’t want to talk about it. He just wants to do it and he wants you to be happy. That’s kind of bullshit. I’m not surprised that you’re struggling with being intimate with him and struggling in having any intimacy. Why would you? 

Why would you want to be intimate with someone who completely changes the game on you? And not only completely changes the game on you but, isn’t from what you’ve written, isn’t really showing you any compassion for what you’re going through? It’s like this scenario that I just introduced you in: you’re holding this box. If he said, “Do you know what, actually, I can hold that box. I’m really sorry that you’ve had to hold it for so long. I’m so sorry.” You can’t change what has happened and I respect the fact that like, you know, he could have been too self sacrificing. He could have equally tried polyamory when he didn’t want to, and if it hadn’t— I mean I’ve seen that scenario play out so many times where people push themselves into polyamory, and they really don’t want it, and it ends up being a really painful hard thing for them and I’m glad that he didn’t do that.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t show you any compassion for where you are. That doesn’t mean he can’t try to and I understand like reading books and doing all that research isn’t necessarily for everyone, but there’s still things he can work with you through. And it doesn’t sound like he’s even showing you the least bit of compassion for what you have gone through. Even if he wanted to be polyamorous, from the start the fact that you’ve had to kind of completely switch gears and not only that but he is getting mad at you for not being happy for him. That’s bullshit. 

Even if you were both “experienced polyamory people”, even if you both were experienced, and you had a partner who was getting mad at you because you weren’t happy for them, that’s bullshit. It’s okay that like, if he’s dating other people and you’re not feeling great, it’s okay if he struggles with that. A lot of people really struggle with the idea that something they’re doing is making their partner unhappy. A lot of people really struggle to go out on those first dates because they don’t want to upset their partner. A lot of people want to reach some kind of perfect state of readiness and perfection before they go out and date other people, because they really don’t want the partner to be unhappy. 

He’s not only not doing that but he’s getting mad at you for not being happy. Well, no wonder you’re not happy. That’s no reason for you to be happy. You spent 10 years completely changing how you do relationships for one person whose completely switched it up. Seems like they’re refusing to have any discussions with you about this. “I just expect you to be happy about it. Why are you sad?” You’re not a robot. And you know what, there might be people out there in the world who could completely switch and be fine and be like “Yeah and I’m totally stoked for you”. That’s great, that’s not you, and it’s not realistic to be— to have this expectation of you and like demand that you be cool.

If he wants to do polyamory it’s not like polyamory is not monogamy plus. It’s not monogamy but you get to sleep with whoever you want your partner’s cool with it. That’s not what polyamory is. And he has to be willing, just as he would in a monogamous relationship, to support you. If he has it all figured out for him. Brilliant, great. If he doesn’t need to— if he feels like he doesn’t need to read anything for him. Great. That’s great. But he still needs to be there for you and be supportive of what you’re going through. And that’s the issue. He could read 500 books and still be unsupportive. The books aren’t going to make him supportive.

But if he’s just unwilling to do any kind of work with you. I mean, and then he’s getting mad at you for not being happy. Of course you’re not! Even if you had a completely supportive partner, who was totally down with and gave you lots of assurance and lots and was there for you and apologised constantly about changing their mind and all this sorts of stuff — I would still expect you to not be completely and utterly happy because it’s a big shift. It’s a big change. And it’s scary to know if this is, is this person for real or are they just saying polyamory and then I’m going to get replaced? It’s totally an utterly expected for you to have those feelings, and to also mourn what you’ve lost. 

You’ve lost 10 years that you could have had so many relationships during that time. It’s okay for you to be upset about that, but instead of being able to have someone there for you and someone who supports you and understands and is trying to be there for you, you’ve got someone who is like, “No,  I’m cool with being polyamorous, and this is great. Whoo, why aren’t you happy for me?” Like what? It would be like in that same scenario that person just like took the box from you and was like doing cartwheels for it and then was like “Shouldn’t you be happy that I can carry this box?” No, of course you’re not happy. Of course you’re struggling to feel compersion. 

That is totally an utterly expected in this situation. That is kind of the bigger issue for me in this. Yes, you have an issue here with  self sacrifice, and whether or not, you know, that is something you should continue to do. Yes, you have an issue with not allowing yourself to feel your feelings about this because you’re too busy continuing to self-sacrifice. Those are issues you can address, but you can’t fix him not being willing to support you. And if he was supportive I would advise you to like, okay, accept where you are now accept what you’ve lost, mourn than what you’ve lost, try to work through some of this anger, see a polyamory friendly therapist on your own and see how you can reassure each other and work from where you are now to forward because I do see the other side of the situation and that if he did force himself to do polyamory and he couldn’t, that could have also ended just as badly.

There could have also been resentment and also then a lot of emotional pain in that situation, so I can understand — and I think it’s better that he said, “No, I don’t want to do it”, instead of trying to be self sacrificing in the same way you were. I think it’s better. But the fact that he is unwilling to be supportive of you is a big issue. And I do really, really think that regardless of whether you consider polyamory or monogamy is not the biggest issue in this situation. It’s am I with someone who is willing to support me and be with me and hold me through difficult times in my life and help me and, you know, allow me to feel my feelings? 

Someone who is being mad at you because you’re not happy is not someone who is allowing you to feel your feelings. It’s okay if he has feelings about your feelings. Like, that’s fine. But if there is this expectation and you know maybe it’s something you’re more forcing on yourself but it sounds like he’s also forcing this on you. There’s an expectation for you to just be happy. That isn’t going to work in monogamy, let alone polyamory. That doesn’t work in any relationship, if someone just expects you to constantly be happy and doesn’t want to deal with any sad feelings or unhappy feelings, that’s not realistic in monogamy or any— That’s not realistic in a friendship. That’s not realistic in any kind of relationship. 

You have to deal with the fact that sometimes people aren’t happy. And if you want to have a sustainable relationship with them then you have to be able  to work with them through that. If you have the resource talk to a polyamory friendly therapist about all this. But I do really, really think that you need to— you can ask him and put kind of put an ultimatum kind of situation on him, in terms of being more supportive of you, but there’s nothing you can do to make him care more about you. 

And I really, really think that you should consider whether or not it’s worth continuing to self sacrifice and continuing to be with someone who is not willing to sacrifice a little bit for you. Like it has to be mutual. It has to be someone who’s willing to at least consider the fact that you’re not happy, and try and be supportive of you. I think that you should really really consider if that’s the kind of person that you want to be with. Because the problem here is absolutely not that you can’t feel compersion. The problem is that you are being forced into a situation where you have to be happy or else, and that’s not a sustainable or helpful situation. I hope that helps and good luck. 

Becoming a third

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Episode 67: Temporary Monogamy

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

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

Discussion Topic:

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

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

Episode 67 – Temporary Monogamy

Can an aversion to non-monogamy come from relationship anxiety and trauma?  That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – What have you changed your mind about in terms of how you want to live your life?

 

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

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

Podcast transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Response:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preventing hurt feelings

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

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

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

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

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

Polyamory will lead you to security

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

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

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

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

Emotions represent insecurity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compersion is the ideal

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

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

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

You are enough but you aren’t an island

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

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

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

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

In summary

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

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

I hope this helps and good luck.

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Hiding partners from each other

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 64: What Rules to Have

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

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

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

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

Episode 64 – What Rules to Have

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

 

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

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

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

Episode 63: Visualising Your Partner

What if you can’t see your partner with someone else in your head without feeling terrible?

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

Discussion Topic: What is one thing that you didn’t get as a child that you want to now have as an adult?

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

Episode 62 – Visualising Your Partner

What if you can’t see your partner with someone else in your head without feeling terrible? 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 – Was is one thing that you didn’t get as a child that you want to now have as an adult?

 

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

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

My wife and I have been married for 24 years – Our only sexual experience has been with each other. We have had a good relationship over these years.  Recently she brought up the idea of moving in the direction of an open relationship. She thinks she is oriented poly[am] and is wanting romance and sex from more than just me.

I am open to the idea but I am really afraid. I have always tried to be her biggest cheerleader – encouraging her to be herself. When I think about living out a polyamorous relationship I can totally grasp it intellectually and sometimes even get excited about the idea.

But emotionally it has really shaken me. When I think about my wife dating someone else and having sex with someone I panic inside and feel anxious for days even though I seem okay intellectually with the idea. My core self really wants to set her free in her desires but emotionally I seem so far from it.  How can I bridge this emotional gap between my core self and my fears?

When I try to visualise my wife with someone it creates so much anxiety and fear in me – not fear of losing my wife – I know she loves me so much – but I fear that I won’t be able to handle the anxiety and pain. I know it won’t kill me but I am afraid the anxiety and fear would be very draining for me and would really pull the joy out of our relationship.

Response:

First thing I want to say is this is extremely normal. Okay? And I think that if you’ve tried to find help online for this, that might have been where you’ve really struggled, because a lot of people will sort of… they kind of act like that there’s a state that you should reach where you’re kind of zen like about everything and I don’t really agree with that. I don’t really feel like polyamorous people are polyamorous because they visualise their partners with other people.

You don’t have to do that. So many people sometimes when they’re opening their relationship they think… sometimes — they’ll literally go “Well I’m not gonna have sex with someone unless you’re in the room” and even though I understand why they do that and I’m not saying that that’s what you’re doing but this is like… the whole visualisation reminds me of this is. You got to have that trust and it’s just, sometimes it just hurts.

Sometimes, you can either be kind of completely not interested in seeing your partner with somebody else because you’re not a voyeur or you just… it does hurt because you’re not getting attention and you want attention from your partner. You do not have to visualise in your head your partner with other people. That is not a step that you have to take and be okay with. You can be polyamorous solid for a long time and still feel jealousy, fear, all these sorts of things when you see your partner with another person… that is not at all a yardstick by which to measure yourself.

So, don’t do that. Don’t try to visualise your partner with other people, because it just might not be something that you like. Some people really like that. Some people are really into that. Some people are really nonchalant about that. And also that feeling about whether or not you’re into it or you’re nonchalant, or it hurts or it makes you — you know— that can vary as well depending on what’s going on in your life, how you feel about yourself, all sorts of different factors.

So don’t do that, because it doesn’t help. It doesn’t necessarily… it’s not like if you could… if you were, turned on or excited by seeing your partner with someone else or are thinking about it that doesn’t even necessarily mean you’re going to be… that polyamory is going to be the thing for you. So, so yeah. First, don’t do that.

Second thing, there’s an article that I wrote, which is called “13 Mistakes That People Make Before Trying Polyamory” and I also wrote another one called the “13th Things I Wish I’d Learned Before Trying Polyamory” or trying non-monogamy which you should be able to find it on Non-Monogamy Help.com. But those are just the mistakes one will actually really help you in kind of setting things up but the two kinds of things that I recommend people think about when they’re considering whether or not polyamory is for them.

Or two things. One. Do you have any benefits to polyamory solely for yourself? So it’s not that this would make your partner happy. It has to be something that is just for you. So you might be actually interested in having other sexual experiences, because you did say that you and your partner — you’ve been the only people that you’ve had any sexual experience with. So that may be something that you have an interest in, and that is something that can help in the future when you start to experience some of that anxiety and pain.

And I wish I could tell you that you won’t go through any of that but the fact is that you might. I still have some anxiety and I’ve been polyamorous for about 10 years now. So, you will have that anxiety. It’s more about how to address and how to manage that then necessarily about you reaching some kind of master Vulcan state where you don’t experience any of it.

The second thing that you really should think about is, do you feel comfortable with your partner not spending, the vast majority of their time with you? I point out quite frequently in my columns this is something that a monogamous person would have to consider if they were dating someone with a really time intensive career or anything like that.

Some people don’t want to date for example someone who has to travel a lot, so they barely ever see them. They couldn’t deal with that kind of relationship. Some people can’t do long distance. So, you have to ask yourself because, inevitably, if this is the route she wants to go she will be spending date nights with other people. She’ll be spending time with other people. She is not going to be spending 100% of her time with you and that’s really, really important.

Because I think that sometimes people agree to polyamory especially when their partner wants it and they don’t necessarily want it, but they agree to keep the relationship but what they don’t realise is that the relationship they’re keeping is fundamentally different to a relationship that they had. And one of the big major physical obvious differences is the amount of time spent with one another. So would you feel comfortable not spending all of your time with her?

Do you have stuff that you do on your own? Are your lives so wrapped up within each other that you don’t have any separate hobbies or can you not see yourself having a separate hobby? And I mean if you are interested in polyamory for yourself, if you want to date other people, then that is time when she’s not there that you could be spending with other people. So it sometimes works out but a big thing that I also usually point out to people is that it’s very very normal and very very common for a lot of people who are in a couple, and then they open their relationship for one person in that relationship to have more quote “success” than the other person in terms of finding dates.

So you it may be that you open up and you look for dates you don’t find any and she does and then all of a sudden she’s got, Thursday, Friday, Saturday booked and you don’t. So be prepared for that inevitability and and think about it. Are you fine with her not spending 100% of her time with you? Because if you have a polyamorous relationship then that won’t happen. So I think if those two those two things are things that you’re like, “Yeah I’m fine with that and I do have a benefit to myself.”

I think that where a lot of the anxiety and fear comes from is, and it’s good that you said that you’re not afraid of losing your wife. And you know that she loves you. But a lot of the fear and anxiety that people can feel comes from the fact that whether or not they feel comfortable and established in their relationship they still have grown up in a mono-centric society. They still have grown up in a society that has told them specific things about love, and that love only means something, if it’s scarce.

10 mins. So, you know, you can’t love two people, or three people or four people or five people – you can’t love them all the same. So you know they’re out there it’s a competition and, you know, so that is something that you’re going to have to challenge. I think that if you feel like you can challenge some of these things. And if you go to the article that I wrote about (13 Mistakes), it talks about facing some of your fears and how facing some of your fears is sometimes a result of taking on too much responsibility. There’s only so much that you can do. And I think that if you’ve been married for 24 years. The biggest thing that is probably going to be really triggered by this is that even though you’re like “I love my wife. I’m not scared of losing her.”

The fact of the matter is, is that there has always been the chance that you, you will you both could break up. And that the problem was, kind of existing in a mono-centric society and being in a monogamous relationship, and especially doing that sort of relationship escalator thing where you know you get married and you have kids and la la la. And I’m not saying you have I’m saying, you know, being married as part of that escalator and that is a societal script that reinforces you and makes you feel safe. You don’t think that you’re likely going to break up because, hey, we’ve got all of these scripts things that we followed and that reinforces you.

When you start to go off script, when you start to do polyamory, you may start to fear it, because the threat that you’ve been told all your life is actually presented right in front of you. And I think the other thing that you have to kind of think about is, most people when they’re in this situation they are afraid of losing their partner and furthermore on that they put the burden on themselves to keep their partner, because they’ve been kind of conditioned by a society that wants to sell things. Consumer capitalism (wee!) wants to sell you things and it sells you things by making you feel deficient.

And it’s really really easy to make you feel deficient by saying, “Oh, you know, buy this cologne and you’ll be irresistible to women” or whatever all the sorts of bollocky nonsense but that kind of stuff does get embedded into your psyche, the idea that you have to compete for a partner, the idea that you have to find someone and earn them and keep them and all you know it’s reinforced constantly throughout our society. So what that does is that puts the burden on you and on your shoulders for keeping your partner around.

Now I’m not saying that you that by being a decent person, and by treating your partner well that those aren’t things you should do to keep your partner. I think that those are the things you should do period. But there is only so much that you can do to keep someone from falling out of love with you. There really isn’t that much control over the situation. And the problem is is that a mono-centric society convinces you that you have control over these things, that you have control over whether or not your partner loves you, or is attracted to you.

And unfortunately, that is not something you can completely control because it isn’t even something that your partner can completely control. People are married for decades and decades and decades, and fall out of love with each other. That happens. It happens sometimes even being married for 24 years isn’t necessarily going to prevent that from happening. And it’s easier when you’re monogamous and when you’re in a marriage and when you’re close to ignore that possibility because you have everything in society encouraging you to think that your relationship is stable, safe, and nothing can shake it.

When you open up and you start dating other people, that is going present a more realistic physical, tangible threat to the balance that will remind you of this uncertainty and will trigger a lot of anxiety. Even if deep down you know that your partner wouldn’t just up and leave you for somebody else because they aren’t that kind of a person, you still are going to have a lot of fear and the thing that you do to handle that is face it, which a lot of beginner polyamory advice I really really hate and I rag on it and I rag on it because the way that they decide to tell you to treat that fear is by going, “Encourage yourself to see how special you really are”.

And I do think that positive self talk has a place in helping you combat fear. But the real problem is that in my opinion that’s like a, it’s like the. Gosh can’t think of the right metaphor. It’s like your boat is sinking and instead of repairing the hole you’re just tossing water out of the side. It doesn’t address the real core issue. The real core issue is you placing the responsibility on your shoulders of keeping your partner around. And it’s tricky because to a certain extent. You are responsible for that. You can put effort into your relationship. You can put effort into noticing your partner. You can put effort into spending time with them into being loving into reciprocating.

But the thing is you could put into effort into all that and still they fall out of love with you so it’s not something that you can completely control. When you remove the burden off of your shoulders of what you can and can’t control. Before your partner even considered polyamory, there was nothing really stopping her from meeting someone at, you know, work, and falling in love at work and leaving you. That could have happened.

Nothing about opening your relationship necessarily threatens that any more. If anything, you could look at it as the fact that you kind of are willing to explore this with her as makes it more likely that she will stay with you but either way. There is nothing you can really control. And so, recognising that “Oh, okay up until now I’ve assumed safety. I’ve assumed that there was nothing that, or that there was no way my partner whatever leaves me because we’re married and duh duh duh”. But actually, you can’t ever assume that nothing is ever really safe nothing is ever really completely and totally in your control.

So once you in my experience at least once I realised that and I was like, “Okay, I’m going to put effort in. I’m going to be the best partner that I can be. Sometimes fuck up I’m not great all the time. I have mental health problems. Sometimes I have anxiety. Sometimes I have freak outs. I’m not by far from being the perfect person. But if I put effort in, that’s the best I can do”. I can’t make someone fall in love with me and I can’t stop someone falling out of love with me. If that’s what happens. And I think that that will help you.

I’m not saying that that is going to poof! Your anxiety’s gone. No. Anxiety is going to happen. You’re experiencing a massive change. Think of it this way. If you guys wanted to have a baby — I don’t know if you have children. It doesn’t say, but if you wanted to have a child — I think most people, even people with or without children, if someone said, “I want to have a kid and I don’t want to feel anxious about it at all”. You would be like.. eehhhh. No matter how prepared you are, no matter how many books you read, no matter how many parents who talk to, you’re going to feel scared and anxious because it’s a massive change to your life. This is a change to your life.

This is a change to how you do your relationships. This is going off of the course that society has told you is the safest. It’s going to come with anxiety, it’s going to come with fear. You’re trying something new. You’re trusting and changing the way that you’ve trusted your wife for a long, long time. It will come with fear and there isn’t anything you’re going to be able to do to avoid that. But what you can do is find the aspects that interest you about this relationship, just as you would if you had — you know i’m not saying that polyamory is like having a kid.

But I think, speaking to at least a lot of parents that I know, everyone has a moment where they’re just like, “Why did I do this? Why did I do this?” And so obviously there are benefits to having a child that keep them going through those difficult moments. I think, a similar outlook could be said about polyamory or any lifestyle change. You know if you went from living in a city all your life living in a country and you were really interested in it, you’d have hard moments. And the reason that you decided to move is going to be the thing that keeps you going through some of those hard moments.

So I think that that is going to help anchor you. It’s what I call an anchor. And then also, remembering the benefit you get out of it and remembering the amount that you can actually control and constantly reminding yourself of that, because in response to uncertainty and fear your brain is going to encourage you to think that you can control everything because that’s way better. If you think about looking at it like “I can totally control and prevent a terrible thing from happening to me”, versus “This terrible thing may happen to me and there’s nothing I can do about it”.

Of the two mindsets, the one that is convinced that you have the power to control things is going to be the one that your brain is going to pick, because that is going to make you feel better. So try and think of it that way. And I think the article that I wrote goes a little bit more in depth I definitely recommend that you read it and that should help you address that anxiety. It sounds overall like you’re very positive towards your your wife’s wishes, and that’s good.

You may be one of those people that is monogamous to polyamorous person. Like if there’s no benefit you see out of it, if you don’t have any desire to have any other kind of relationships or sexual experiences with other people, then it may be that you’re a monogamous person with a polyamorous person. That does sometimes happen. But I think the thing that will mean this is a situation that you are going to be fine with and that you can live with has to do with whether or not there is a benefit that you can find personally to yourself, even if it means that you get to hug the bed some nights.

And also being comfortable with the fact that your partner won’t spend 100% of the time with you and being able to challenge some of those ideas that monogamy is kind of really ingrained into your brain and finding ways to cope with that anxiety. I think that you. It’s not impossible. The anxiety will be— it’ll be worse sometimes than it is, but in my experience, it does go away. Like it’s really intense at first because it’s new.

It’s scary. It’s a change, just in a similar way that a lot of experiences like this are. Every time you make a big change in your life, every time something new happens, there is a period of fear and anxiety and uncertainty and then you start to feel better. If you can find that anchor, then you will definitely feel better. Yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

Giving up a marriage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this helps and good luck!

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