Episode 50: What is Love?

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

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

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

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

Episode 50 – What Is Love?

Your partner expects you to commit to monogamy eventually but you’re not sure if you’ve ever been in love. That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – If you were to get a job offer in another country, how would your relationships change?

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

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Response:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When your partner isn’t satisfied

CW: This week’s column discusses mentions of weight loss.

I’ve been with my boyfriend for nearly five years now and over the last year I’ve put on some weight, I’ve always been a little chunky but now it’s become a real issue for him. He says he no longer finds me attractive and describes our intimacy as ‘vanilla’.

He’s now brought to light that he’s curious about sleeping with other people but doesn’t want to leave me, he’s added that he has always been interested in this lifestyle change but because I’ve always been a jealous girlfriend he’s never shared that.

I can not pull myself away from this anxiety of the entire situation.

If he’s willing to sleep with other woman what’s stopping him from starting a new relationship with another woman?

Now knowing I’m vanilla, I feel far more inadequate. He’s asked if we could do things together with other people but I don’t think I would be able to control my jealousy.

How do I separate sex and our relationship?

How do I contain my jealousy and appreciate that he doesn’t want to have a relationship with anyone else(yet)?

I’m really struggling not to take this all to heart.

Any advice or experience would be hugely appreciated, thank you.

There is a huge difference in my mind between wanting to open your relationship because you as an individual do not feel satisfied with monogamy (regardless of who you would be partnered with) and wanting to open your relationship because you do not feel satisfied with the individual partner you are with.

In the case of the latter, I feel like, while I understand why people want to keep their partner around, especially if they are in love, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to not only tell your partner that you want to open up because they are, essentially, inadequate for you, but also it’s going to be that much harder for them to overcome a very valid feeling of jealousy and inadequacy because they’ve basically had that confirmed by their partner. That’s painful.

There are some situations where I see this kind of thing working if one partner is otherwise incapable of meeting their partners needs due to circumstances out of their control that could be acknowledged easily by them but… I have extreme doubts about this situation.

First and foremost, bodies change throughout time. While your boyfriend may have body preferences, generally speaking, people’s bodies will not always remain the same through a long term relationship and it is incredibly likely that most people will gain weight over their lifetime.

There’s so much here I could write about the incredibly problematic aspects of specifically a man telling his girlfriend that she’s basically too fat and he doesn’t find her attractive anymore that I just don’t have time to dive into it. I can’t honestly tell if your husband has a preference or if he’s fatphobic but… generally speaking given the society we live in conditions us to believe fatness is ugly and shameful… I find it hard to believe that he’s living in a vacuum outside of the culture he lives in.

And, to put it bluntly, it’s horrible as hell to ask your girlfriend for permission to have sex with others because you don’t find her attractive anymore — for any reason. Even if he’s losing his attraction to you, there are so many ways he could have had a better conversation — and, by the way, none of those conversations, for the record, include demanding you lose weight.

The second issue here is that it’s valid for him to want to have kinkier experiences but if he hasn’t even tried to do them with you, it’s hardly fair. It’s okay if you are more vanilla but we all are capable of at least giving a few things a try for our partner so long as they are inherently triggering to any issues that we’ve dealt with in our lives. So why not at least give that a chance before selecting to open the relationship?

There are deeper issues here that I’m worried for you about considering your boyfriend’s behavior. Someone who decides that a relationship is worth keeping around for their own benefit but not worth devoting any work to is not someone who is going to give you a good experience in monogamy OR polyamory.

If you had written me to say that your partner said he found his attractiveness waning and was honest about that but you had tried to do things that spice things up, including the kinkier things he wants, then I would have said that maybe it might be worth opening your relationship because he’s demonstrated a willingness to both respect you and valuing your partnership enough to make it work between the two of you.

But he’s not. To put it bluntly, he’s being incredibly hurtful and lazy to boot here. If he was always interested in polyamory or opening up, he could have said so from the beginning. Or maybe he could have kept making you feel inadequate out of the picture and just asked to have different experiences. I’m not encouraging people to lie about everything they feel, but also need to be understanding about the ways that our truths can impact others. There’s a guideline I’ve heard about whether or not to mention something to somebody about their physical appearance and it goes: if they can fix it in five minutes or less, let them know. If they can’t, keep your mouth shut.

There’s a way to handle situations like this that would be more respectful of your feelings. The fact that he seems to value his wants and needs over yours doesn’t spell good things for any type of relationship with this man. If he can’t value and appreciate you as an individual and put work into doing some things with you or improving your relationship, why on earth should you be a the third wheel in his threesomes?

Honestly, I think you need to reconsider this entire relationship. If he had been more considerate from the start of this exchange, I would tell you that feeling jealousy is inevitable and you have to learn to cope with things and part of that is reassurance from your partner. But something tells me that it’s not going to matter how well you can cope with the situation if you have a partner who clearly lacks a basic amount of consideration for your feelings.

I know you’ve been with him for five years, but it’s not worth your sanity and your self-esteem to basically sacrifice all of your feelings and needs just for the sake of letting him have some extra sexual experiences — especially if you personally don’t get anything out of this. All of your questions are about how you can change yourself for him when he is demonstrating so little willingness to change for you. Think about that.

I hope this helps and good luck.

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Polyamory as a last chance

My marriage of 13 years is about to end due to my wife’s infidelity. She cheated in 2010 and this past summer in the wake of my brother’s suicide she dove into an emotional affair with a long-time friend of both of us. This experience has fractured numerous friendships and relationships. It was almost like she detonated a well-placed bomb right in the middle of everything in my life that I cared about.

Now I am watching every relationship shift. From my relationship with my 3 children, to the security in my marriage, to family and friends. My wife’s first affair was with a person who lives a life of polyamory. She has definitely been interested in this sort of thing and it is something that I have known about. I have not had any interest in this sort of thing.

My parents have been together forever and that is the history that has generated my perspective of these sorts of things.

Her parents went through a 7-year divorce when she was young. She watched her dad have multiple affairs and experienced things like receiving gifts that were given by her father’s affair partners. This has constructed her perspective on some of these things.

My question is this, is opening up my marriage going to be a good thing regarding some of our deep-rooted differences. My biggest problem right now is her blatant betrayal and inability to give me the respect that a partner deserves. After reading your article I certainly have my doubts.

We got married very young and have been together since we were 15. I definitely love her and I believe that she loves me. My biggest concerns about opening our marriage are:

A) I am not sure how I will react to it. Having been betrayed by her multiple times (and honestly, there are probably things I don’t even know about), I don’t know how I will be able to do something that I am not strictly comfortable with while at the same time dealing with some of the emotions such as jealousy when it comes to an open marriage.

B) Her history of betrayal. It concerns me that I would be doing this in order to let her really express herself in the hope that she could really be honest with me about herself. I want the intimacy that I signed up for and just have not been able to achieve with her.

A big part of me wants to just end the marriage but at the same time, why wouldn’t I try this as a last ditch effort at finally achieving the level of intimacy that I have always wanted. Ending the marriage would be life-changing in a lot of really big ways for everyone. I just want to know if exhausting this option is even worth the time and emotional effort that I would have to put forth given her track record of being unable to treat me with open honesty and respect.

Sometimes when infidelity happens, people can try polyamory or non-monogamy as a last ditch effort because they want to save their relationship — and sometimes that can work. Even if one of the people doesn’t have any interest in dating or sleeping with anyone else. But I think that, regardless of interests or the history involved, the biggest key to success in this working is that there has to be some interest or some benefit you get — other than keeping someone in your life — from non-monogamy or polyamory.

Fundamentally, agreeing to a polyamorous or non-monogamous relationship at it’s core means that your partner will not be spending the vast majority of their available time solely with you. As I’ve said in other columns, this can also be true for monogamous relationships where you marry someone who has a time intensive career, hobby or is someone who needs a lot of alone time. It’s not unique to non-monogamy.

That has to be something you’re fundamentally okay with and for a lot of people, that’s not something they want. They want to have a sole partner who they spend most of their time with and it doesn’t have to be that they feel jealous of any other partners, just that they want more time with their partner.

Secondly, you have to see some type of benefit in non-monogamy for yourself. This could be getting to date others, getting to sleep with others or just getting more time for yourself. Even people who are monogamous to partners who are polyamorous see some type of benefit out of it. I think for a lot of people they assume the benefit is keeping their partner around — and this may be a good benefit — but if the first issue means that your partner isn’t *actually* around in the amount you want, you may find that this isn’t actually a benefit you get. If you become non-monogamous, your relationship will fundamentally differ from the way it is currently set up. So you can’t go into a non-monogamous agreement based on the benefit to you that your partner will stay with you if that hope is based on the idea your relationship will somehow remain the same — it just won’t.

Thirdly, contrary to what you might have read about polyamory, people do have reactions to their partner sleeping with other people regardless of how seasoned they are. A lot of the literature around polyamory makes it seem like the ideal is to have a positive emotional reaction to your partner sleeping with someone else — and some people do experience it. But some people can and do have negative reactions every single time or only have negative reactions to start out when they are rebuilding trust with their partner or starting a new relationship and find these negative reactions cool as time goes on and trust gets built up. But then, something really bad could happen in your life that makes it harder to cope with this.

It’s during times like this that I recommend people go back to the benefit they get out of polyamory as a sort of anchor that reminds them of why it is they’re coping with temporary negative feelings. Similar to having children — it’s not always a joy all of the time but the benefits for some can outweigh some of the negatives. And this is where, if your only benefit is just keeping this relationship, is going to fall through.

Because the relationship you want to keep and the structure you held onto is fundamentally different. I would be worried less about whether or not you will experience negative feelings because it’s incredibly likely that you will, especially given the betrayal you’ve been through, and more worried about if you have the anchor you need to get you through the negative feelings that will inevitably come.

Lastly, as I’ve said in my other columns, non-monogamy can and sometimes often does come through infidelity and betrayal. It’s very possible your wife is naturally non-monogamous but never knew these were options. What makes the difference in survival of the relationship after has a lot to do with the core reason why the person cheated and their behaviour afterwards. Is your wife apologetic about the infidelities she’s committed? Has she committed them because they were “forbidden” and that was the draw for her? Or is it because she feels like she wants more experiences in her life? Does she actually want polyamory or has her experiences growing up made her feel fearful you will eventually cheat on her so she is feeling driven to do it before it happens to her?

It’s hard for me to answer these questions for you because these are things she needs to explore and talk to you about these reasons and fundamentally you need to come to an understanding together of what it is you both want, how far you’re both willing to compromise on this, and what solutions are available to you both before she either cheats again or you decide to call it quits.

In summary

Fundamentally in this instance, there’s a lot for you both to explore. For you, you need to really think about your wants and that might be hard for you if you’ve only ever been in this relationship and don’t have any other relationships to compare this to. But try and dig deep and ask yourself if you have any curiosities about pursuing relationships or sex with others or if you like to have more alone time and can find another reason, other than trying to save this ship, for having an interest in non-monogamy that can ground you.

For her, she needs to explore more of why she’s cheated. If she’s only done it because it’s a thrill because it’s a secret, even non-monogamy isn’t going to help out in that instance. Can she figure out what kind of relationships she wants? Does she want multiple romantic relationships or is she looking for just other sexual experiences. Once she has a better idea of her motivations and why she’s done things, you’ll know exactly what kind of non-monogamy you’re looking at, how that might differ from the current life you have together and whether or not you want to make that compromise.

I don’t think you should immediately call it quits but there’s a lot to work out here before you really know if it’s worth it to try non-monogamy. Equally, don’t be sucked into a sunk cost fallacy. Just because you’ve spent a long time together doesn’t mean you should always be together. But it’s hard for me to tell you whether or not it’s going to be worth it if you haven’t worked through some of these core issues together. I’d definitely suggest seeking the help of a non-monogamy friendly relationship therapist who would be able to help you both explore these issues and work out whether there is an inherent incompatibility or if there are compromises you both can make that will help.

Lastly, I’d definitely suggest checking out the index of my articles as I’ve got a whole section on infidelity and you might find some other scenarios which are more similar to yours, some options such as sex work and swinging that could address sexual incompatibility that don’t go as a far as polyamory, and some other ways to address this.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Episode 43: What If It Ends?

What happens when our biggest fear is losing our current relationship?

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

Discussion Topic: In your worst fears, what might your colleagues at work be criticising you for behind your back?

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

Episode 43 – What if It Ends?

What happens when our biggest fear is losing our current relationship? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – In your worst fears, what might your colleagues at work be criticising you for behind your back?

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:

Drew and have been together for 1 year and live together. We love each other very much. He may be the one. We are both divorced, and I have older kids. My marriage ended because my ex and I opened up our relationship; he broke the rules we had set; and so did I when I unexpectedly fell in love with the man I was seeing during the open marriage. Needless to say, I am VERY cautious about being non-monogamous again. I can also easily fall in love with men if I’m intimate with them repeatedly.

Unfortunately, Drew often brings up his need to be non-monogamous. Before we met, he was in a non-romantic, non-committed relationship with two women. There were no feelings involved. The three of them experimented and even briefly lived together. It was new and exciting, and he misses it.

I’m very open-minded, but I’m scared of the road he wants to take. I fear it will end our relationship. After listening to your advice, I have decided that I need to accept the worst possible outcome, let go of my fears, and give in to his need, no matter what happens. While we previously agreed to wait for 3-5 years, he brings this up so often, that I just want to rip the band-aid off and get it over with now.

He did say that he will suppress this need for me because he doesn’t want to lose me, but that he will be genuinely unhappy if he does so. In short, I know this needs to happen. There is no reason for him to suffer. If I can’t handle how he is, he deserves finding someone who will.

For what it’s worth, I think that for now he is only hoping to have another [woman] join us occasionally. This idea is not as scary to me as others. He is also open to couple-swapping if that’s what I prefer. I’m not against women and previously thought I was bi-curious. But a 3-way situation would hurt me more than swapping. This is because I can’t bear to watch him be intimate with another woman (if I notice his affection/tenderness towards her, as opposed to pure sex), but I can tolerate it better if I’m with the man in the same room. That is… if I don’t slip up and fall in love again. For me, intimacy is closely tied to feelings. On the other hand, I don’t want other men touching me but would rather find a way to enjoy it than be in a threesome and watch Drew and another woman.

For now, Drew insists that he has no desire for us to open our relationship or be intimate with others outside of our relationship. He simply doesn’t want to feel like he has to have sex with only one woman for the rest of his life. At this point in our relationship, I am not so bored or tired of him that I’m ready for the same. In fact, thinking about it still hurts a little. I even think I might be monogamous by nature, notwithstanding all my prior experiences and several threesomes. All my experiences lead me to believe this is a dangerous path. But I won’t deny him who he is.

I am at a point where I think we need to do this for him and the sooner, the better, so that I don’t have to agonize about it any longer. While your advice may be to hold off for now, I don’t think things would change if we wait. In fact, he will only crave this more and more. But I also don’t know if his desires won’t grow into more, like polyamory, etc. once he gets bored with threesomes.

In short, I see 5 possible outcomes: (1) we do this, and he gets hungry for more, which will lead to us breaking up because swapping/threesomes is my limit; (2) we do this, and I will fall for the new guy; (3) he gets bored or jealous of seeing me with other men and will ask that we stop; (4) I will get resentful and leave him; or (5) we do it successfully, without jeopardizing our relationship.

I should add that there is a lot of respect, and we communicate very well. He is not pressuring me. But his needs are what they are. We have gone to sex clubs and had sex there, including interacting with another [women]. But it’s no longer enough because he also wants sex from them. He also likes [BDSM], and I found great ways to enjoy it with him and for him, but that is also no longer fun for him, now that we’ve done it so often.

What do you think about my situation? And, if we are going to do this, what advice do you have to help ensure that we are successful? How can we do it and still we protect our love and our future? Are there safe/unemotional ways for me to give him what he needs and for us to stay together?

Response:

First and foremost, why is it a problem if you fall in love with someone else? That’s really kind of the big thing here because in your previous relationship you had a rule about not falling in love with someone else. Why? I think that that’s kind of something that you need to think about a little bit more, because your assumption here is that falling in love with someone else somehow, puts your other— your primary or whatever other relationship you have in jeopardy.

And it doesn’t. Doesn’t have to. It may be scary and uncomfortable because you’ve— I’m guessing growing up in a society that has told you that you can only love one person or that you should only love one person and that if you don’t love, you know, prove yourself by exclusively only loving one person you don’t really love them etc and so forth. But you can be in love with more than one person at same time. And that can be fine.

So why is that a terrible situation? Why is that so horrible? Why is it something you’re so afraid of? Because the thing of it is, right… It sounds like this guy that you’re with is mostly interested in having sexual encounters, but even so I would never ever ever ever ever advise someone to create a rule that says, “I will never fall in love with someone else”. I wouldn’t even advise monogamous people to do that because you just can’t control that. Nobody can control that. Monogamous people— you could— you could dump this guy and you could find someone else who felt they were monogamous who had no interest in any kind of polyamorous situation or threesome or anything.

You could find somebody like that. And they could fall in love with someone else and dump you like… It’s just an unrealistic expectation for anyone to have. It’s not about preventing your feelings from happening. You can’t prevent that from happening. You can only decide what you’re going to do with it, and monogamous people may find themselves falling in love with other people. They just choose not to pursue it. And they also you know— it doesn’t have to be this massive devastation. It doesn’t have to mean that you don’t really care about, like… you’re putting so much fear around “Oh I’m going to fall in love with someone else.” And what if you do? So what if you do? What— does that mean you don’t love Drew? It doesn’t, so that’s that’s the big thing.

Second thing here is I’m gonna totally admit to you that when you said that you’ve read my advice, let me find the exact… “after listening to advice I’ve decided I need to accept the worst possible outcome. Let go of my fears and give in to his need no matter what happens”. Whoa! Whoa! Put the brakes on that. Put the whole entire foot on that brake and slam it down. That is, yes, people should absolutely think about the worst possible outcome. Giving into his need no matter what happen— whoa, whoa. No no no no no no no no no no no no no no. That is not what I advise. No, just just absolutely not. I would never ever advise you to go into a situation that you had no interest in that you that made you completely uncomfortable, just so you could please your partner. Absolutely not.

If you are really genuinely not interested in non-monogamy then dump him. You’ve only been together for one year. It sounds really harsh, I know. You’ve got all these fresh feelings. He’s clearly non-monogamous and you are right about that. That is inevitable. He is. He wants to be non-monogamous. He doesn’t want to be monogamous. He’s not interested in that. I think that you are probably non-monogamous as well. You just need to work out, or maybe you have the propensity to be in a non-monogamous relationship. You just need to work out all this fear of loving someone else, but if you don’t have any interest in it. You don’t have to.

So, never never never never never just think that you have to put yourself through Hell to please your partner. Like yes, we make sacrifices and we do things for partners, but you need to not let it get to that level where you’re willing to put away all of your feelings and all of your wants and all of your needs, just to satisfy somebody else. Especially, and I’m making an assumption about you and if I am wrong, I apologise— Women are always expected to do this for men. Always. Now he is being nice here and saying you know “Oh, I’m—“ For some reason— I don’t really understand why— he, knowing he’s non-monogamous, is fully investing in a relationship with someone who is not that interested in it I’m confused about that.

But he’s not pursuing it now and he’s kind of being a little bit monogamous for you now, even though you’ve— you’re still kind of trying things. But, you know, women are always encouraged to do this. To sacrifice everything to. To give up everything for their partner. No, no, you don’t have to give everything up just to make him happy. What about your fucking happiness man? Like no no no so. So yeah, no, that’s not what my advice is at all. Yes, face your worst fears, but the thing is is that you’re still in a situation where the most important thing in this equation is keeping you with Drew.

That’s the most important thing— not you being happy. Not you being okay. It’s staying with Drew, and that’s not where your priority should be. Your priority should never be to save a relationship with someone else at the cost of yourself. It should be yourself and your health and your happiness, and people think that sounds selfish because women are constantly socialised to give up everything and be martyrs and whatever. It’s not selfish.  You need to secure your own mask before you can help other people. You need to be able to help yourself before you help other people. So absolutely do not prioritise saving the marriage. Facing your worst fears— facing the fact that you may have to break up. That you may be inherently incompatible. That’s your worst fear here.

Other things are fears but they’re not necessarily your worst fear so kind of readjust that first and foremost. Secondly, I think you need to have a really big deep dive that not just like, “Why are you so afraid of falling in love with someone else?” But what are you actually interested in? What do you actually want? You know you’re both kind of jumping into all these semi non-monogamous situations, but you’re not really talking about more or less your endgame here, like. I mean, it sounds like Drew is interested just in— He’s just doesn’t want to only sleep with one person for the rest of his life and wants to have sex with other people. Is he actually interested in multiple romantic relationships? Is it about just sex?

What are you interested in? You know, before you broke the rule and everything else. Was it okay for you to be in love with more than one person at a time? You know, is that something that you’re interested in? What do you want? Okay we know what Drew wants. We got that message. We got everything. We got a list. We got you know— but what do you want? Do you actually want to be swapping? Like, I get that like being scared and not really wanting to see your partner be intimate with other people. That is something maybe you can work through. That is something maybe you can, you know, especially if you’re, together like for such a brief time and you do still have to build that with each other.

You don’t have much of a foundation and maybe once you’re with him for a lot longer you won’t be so scared of it, but it’s not about just trying to build your resilience for something that’s for Drew’s benefit. It’s about, what are you interested in? Because and that’s really, really important. Anytime someone forces themselves to do non-monogamy just for the pure benefit of keeping someone else in their life, it usually doesn’t work out, and the reason is that when you’re in those difficult situations— because you are— You’re going… this isn’t— All these scenarios that you’ve put forth, you forgot the sixth scenario and what can happen, which is maybe you find that you’re interested in this independently of your own volition, and maybe you try this and you still feel like shit like because you will.

A lot of people who are interested in polyamory who go into it. I started— The relationship, the longest relationship I’m in now, I started being polyamorous. We’re both polyamorous. We started— No one had to introduce it to anyone else. I still felt like shit, the first time my partner went out with someone else. The first time my partner spent all night at a party, I still felt like shit. You’re still going to feel like shit. There is no dream scenario in this situation where you never feel unhappy that your partner is with someone else. Even if you want non-monogamy and when you’re in those situations— the fact that you want it, and the fact that you can go. “Okay. Yes, I feel shit right now but I’m interested in this because of this reason. I get this out of it individually as a person.”

That is what can anchor you, especially when you’re in a new relationship and you can’t anchor yourself with “well we’ve been together for so many years”, you know. When you don’t have that anchor, you can bring yourself back to that situation and back to safety by going, “Okay but I’m interested in non-monogamy because of this”, and then also realising your worst fears can bring you back to safety because even— like I said if you got rid of Drew and you found someone else, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to be together forever.

And monogamy creates a type of cultural safety net and the cultural reassurance that you’re going to be together forever because you have all these— as it’s called “the relationship escalator”— you have all these milestones. You have all these ways that kind of infer safety, but it’s not actually safe. It’s not necessarily any more safe because even if you’re with someone in a monogamous relationship for 24 years they might, you know, fall in love with someone else in it or decide they want to be part of a band and travel the world and that’s not what you want. Like… there’s a multitude of things that could go wrong.

But you have to anchor yourself in what about it actually benefits you. What about it are you actually interested in? If you’re only doing this for Drew’s sake, that’s not going to help you. So you need to figure out what it is that you want. If you want this, you know, are you, is it— Are you okay with being in love with more than one person at a time? Why did you freak out so much about it? Is it just because it was against the rules? Why did you make it against the rule? Because you were afraid that your relationship was going to end— and that that’s the thing.

You’re not facing your fears then. You’re creating rules to prevent a situation which the rules can’t and clearly didn’t prevent. So don’t do that. So yeah, to address kind of the steps you need to take: You need to figure out what it is that you both really want. Do you really want non-monogamy? I think it’s okay if you have a little bit of an interest in it and you do sound like have a little bit of an interest in maybe trying new sexual things, being in new sexual situations. You might not be that hungry for it at this point in time, because you still are quite new with each other, but you do have a little bit of an interest in it.

But you need to figure out — okay what does that look like as a relationship, you know? Is it multiple romantic relationships, you know? Think about the physicalities. Do you expect, you know— do you want a partner that lives with you but then maybe goes and visits other people or do you want to live separately? Like it sounds like he had a pretty good setup with the two women that he lived with. Think about what your situation is that you are both happy with and have that discussion with him. Figure out if it’s the newness he needs? Is it actual relationships, you know?

He might not know and and as you said it might be that he tries the kind of new sexual thing and he’s interested in new relationships. Okay talk about that. What would it mean for him to be in love with someone else or for you to be in love with someone else? Is that actually a threat to your relationship? And you need to stop forcing yourself to be part of things just for his sake, and I feel like a lot of people who open their relationships do this. They think, “I don’t want my partner to think that I’m cheating. So the solution is to involve them in the sex act. They need to be part of the threesome. And we’ll just have threesomes and then I won’t be accused of cheating”,

You got to trust each other. And don’t automatically think that just because you’re a part of it that you’re going to be okay with it. Like you may be okay with it now, like sitting here and thinking of it in your head, but thinking of it in your head it’s going to be very, very different to it actually being there, and you might actually find if you’re so afraid of your partner loving someone else, and you’re so afraid of that meaning that they won’t love you. Then, even when you swap, and you’re in the same room together you might interpret something that he’s doing as intimate or loving and then your paranoia and fear is going to kick in.

Like, you need to stop addressing the symptom and start addressing the disease. Your inner fear here is that you or your partner falling in love with someone else is somehow a massive threat, and you need to figure out why is that? Is it a threat? You know, maybe you just need more reassurance. You need to kind of tell yourself. “Hey, actually, my partner being love with someone else doesn’t decrease the love they have for me. And it doesn’t mean that they don’t like me or or that they’re going to love me less”. It’s understandable that you feel this threat and this fear because that’s kind of the way that society has set up romantic love and set up a couple partnership love for you.

That’s kind of the basis and foundation for a lot of love stories is jealousy. “Oh my god she’s with someone else. I really love her”. It’s toxic for a lot of reasons but it doesn’t— It needs to be broken down, and I think that you kind of need to think about that but don’t fix it by forcing yourself into situations that are going to make you uncomfortable. That’s not what my advice is.

Also last but not least, throughout all of this stop putting other people’s needs above your own. Yes in relationships, we all sacrifice things for our partner sometimes. You know when we’re really tired and our partner wants a cup of tea, we go make them a cup of tea anyway. Yeah, there’s things like that. But you need to kind of be conscious of when it gets to be too much. When you’re sacrificing too much and it’s actually hurting you. Facing your fear isn’t facing the fear that you’ll have to do something that you don’t want to do because your partner wants it. It’s facing the fear that your relationship may end.

And that needs to not be the worst case scenario for you. That needs to not be the thing that needs to be saved at all costs, is your relationship with Drew. You need to be saved at all cost. That’s what you kind of need to prioritise and trust me, I find this so difficult. It’s kind of embedded within my personality makeup to be you know— my love language— and I don’t necessarily sign off from the people who have created the love languages but I think that they’re helpful tools— my love language is acts of service. I am the one that’s like “Let me get you something. Let me do something for you”. Oh, you know like, that’s me to a tee.

I have that part of my personality is just kind of who I am, but I have to be very very vigilant. Because I will find myself all the time in friendships, romantic relationships doesn’t matter— I will find myself all the time, giving my time and energy to people who would not do the damn same for me. I find myself all the time willing to sacrifice myself for people who would not piss on fire to put me out to be extremely blunt with you. And so you need to be really vigilant of that. I know it’s a hard line and sometimes you might not know it until you know you’ve realised you sacrificed too much and you either feel resentful or you feel angry, but you kind of have to be conscious of that in that situation.

So yeah, I think if you just you figure out what you want— your partner, Drew figures out what he wants. And you have a discussion about it and you really think about you know what you’re interested in, and you break down that fear you have that either he’ll fall in love with someone or you’ll fall in love with someone, if you want to. I think it’s a useful fear to break down even if you’re going to be monogamous for the rest of your life.

I think that that fear leads a lot of non-monogamous— or a lot of monogamous people into feeling quite toxic possessiveness and jealousy. It’s an understandable fear, but I do think it’s something that you should work on, regardless of what you choose to do in your romantic relationships, and then prioritise yourself more, and and don’t think that it’s absolutely necessary to just sacrifice yourself for other people. All right. I hope that helps and good luck.

Do you have a question?

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Do gay men have to be non-monogamous?

I’m a gay man (24) and I’ve never been in a serious relationship, and right away I can anticipate that the advice might be I don’t know what I want yet. But I feel really strongly that I do.

I’ve thought about this since I started dating. I’m certain I’m naturally monogamous. I’ve intellectualized it in every way that I can and now I’m just happy to say I’m naturally monogamous. I find the prospect of an open relationship pretty unbearable. I don’t even feel jealousy just waves of intense sadness. I would be comfortable potentially playing with my partner after a few years together, but I couldn’t handle the dynamic of being with others alone. What really sucks is it feels like the men with whom I have the most chemistry are only interested in non monogamy.

Why does gay dating feel like a never ending parade of casual sex and surface level connections with a next day expiration date that won’t even stop when I’m in a committed relationship? Is pursuing romantic love even worth it? Am I being immature? Is this a hurdle I have to get over in order to be happy? Typing that last question out made me tear up.

Whoever told you that you don’t know exactly what you want until you’ve been in a serious relationship is wrong. You can feel inclined towards specific relationship styles and it seems like monogamy is what you want. You can want monogamy without being incredibly jealous of your partner dating someone else. However, there are some discrepancies with what you’re talking about.

You say that you couldn’t handle the dynamic of being with others alone which sounds to me like you wouldn’t be interested in dating others, but don’t really have much interest in dating others yourself. That is, unless you require a good deal of your partner’s energy, not actually an untenable solution.

Being in a non-monogamous relationship doesn’t mean you have to force yourself to date others. In fact, there are people who are monogamous with a partner who is non-monogamous themselves. It’s more about accepting that your partner may not spend a majority of their time and energy with you than it is about you being forced to date other people. You don’t have to do that.

However, in your next paragraph you talk about the dating scene you’re in where it seems more focused on casual sex and surface level connections that don’t last past a day. I hate to say it but this is something that plenty of monogamous people do.

Having one night stands or flings isn’t necessarily a “non-monogamous” behaviour. Plenty of people who eventually pick a life partner do this before they do ‘settle down’. Polyamorous and non-monogamous people are not a majority and yet… cuffing season exists. And I’m not interested in one night stands, but still am non-monogamous.

I do feel like in the LGBTQ/queer community there is more of an acceptance or norm of non-monogamy but this has more to do with the fact that many of us didn’t have the privilege to choose a life partner and settle down in what is seen as a traditional monogamous marriage. While I think this is probably less true for your and my generations, LGBTQ/queer people do, in my opinion, experience a sort of delay in our relationship maturity/experience.

Unlike straight people who can begin to experiment with relationships that are platonic or just semi romantic from an early age, many of us have to go through a very long process of coming to terms with ourselves, accepting who we are and some of us, even after we’ve done that, do not have the freedom to just date around and experience what our straight peers have experienced. So, once we get away from negative environments or accept ourselves, we get to do in our early 20s what straight people were free to do in their late teens.

So it’s unsurprising to me that many of the people your age within your gay circles are going to be interested in not settling down or committing, having one night stands or flings. That probably also wouldn’t surprise me if you were straight either, to be fair. But, there are also a lot of trepidations many LGBTQ folks may have with forming long term relationships and there is less of an expectation of us to do so with the people we want to be in relationships with.

Being a ‘couple’ can make you more visible in some instances. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people avoided committing to one person or having any long term relationships because of the trauma that can come with not being widely accepted by their family or society — even today.

This isn’t about non-monogamy really. People of all relationship styles can experience a period where they prefer one night stands to long commitments, especially in their early 20s. This might be more about the social circles you’re in, where you’re looking for partners and sometimes just being a bit at odds with the community that surrounds you. As a little non-binary queer person who is also on the asexual spectrum, whoo can I relate to that. It can be hard to feel like everyone else has different values than you do, but I don’t think it’s hopeless.

There are absolutely gay men out there who are interested in serious relationships — it might just be a bit harder to find them right now. Try looking in different places. Maybe go to LGBTQ themed events that are not circled around partying and alcohol (if they exist around you) and see if you can find a like minded guy there.

Be up front in your dating profiles about what you want, that you’re not interested in NSA sex and want a long term monogamous relationship. You may get less responses, but you’ll at least waste your time less.

And last but not least, it’s frustrating, yes, but don’t compromise on what you know your needs are just because the society around you doesn’t seem to make it easy for you. Sure, maybe you could be a monogamous partner to someone non-monogamous, but that’s not what you seem to want. Sometimes in not being truthful to ourselves about our own boundaries, we end up inadvertently doing harm to both ourselves and others. So stay true to yourself and don’t worry. You’re not being immature and you don’t have to be non-monogamous to find a happy relationship with another gay man.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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Episode 41: No Rules Just Wrong

In trying establish rules, does that make you less “ready” for non-monogamy or polyamory?

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

Discussion Topic:  List the now guilt inducing occasions when you were especially mean to certain people.

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

Episode 41 – No Rules Just Wrong

In trying establish rules, does that make you less “ready” for non-monogamy or polyamory? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – List the now guilt inducing occasions when you were especially mean to certain people.

 

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:

Just starting out. Boyfriend (46) and I (42) are in love almost 5 years. Didn’t date officially ‘til this year because we live in different states and both have kids, moving wasn’t an option, so I didn’t want to date long distance. But he’s the best I’ve ever known and we decided it’s worth the wait until we can combine households.

Here’s the thing. He’s NOT conventional. I hate to admit, I AM. Too many rom-coms 🙂 But at the start I told him I was open to a one-sided open relationship where he could see another person for mainly sexual encounters. He thought it best to not do that right away. He would be monogamous for me. Later he brought it up as an option because of the distance, until someone moves, and I agreed if it wasn’t a romantic relationship or an ex of his I’d give it a try. (I also could do as I please, but I don’t want to see others).

Well, he tried it. He hooked up with one half of a lesbian couple he’d been poly[am] with before. I balked when they invited him to a party. (Social outings? I hadn’t prepared for the thought!) Also the other half of the couple still had feelings for him! Messy. He called it off when I was concerned, to say the least, about the dynamics. He was bummed but didn’t want to risk our relationship. He could see the issues at play and was understanding to me.

Later he said a woman from his past reached out, who he had never dated but they were on and off regular sexual partners. And friends. I thought I might be comfortable with that so I okayed it. Then he didn’t make a move with her, and he told me he was feeling content without another partner. Plus we had a few plans where we’d see each other more than usual. We left it open, he could still decide.

It came up again. I start preparing my mind for him seeing her, when the other night he tells me they’d argued because he had never gotten around to seeing her, yet had flown out to see me a couple of times. And she’s seen me on his social media, when his policy for the longest time had been to not post anyone. She felt hurt.

I questioned, if their encounters were meant to be casual, how could she get jealous of me? Why should she have opinions about him posting my pic unless she harbors feelings for him? (Side note: Why did he tell me any of this?) I’m certain he hasn’t seen her in quite a while, and not since we’ve been together.

He chastised me that she has feelings and people aren’t disposable. He thought non-monogamy is just not going to work because I can’t handle it, and he was disappointed. He acted distant and cold. He didn’t seem to like how I felt threatened and scared/jealous about their fight. I thought it was unfair to me. I’ve never tried this before and I want reassurance, not for him to defend a potential partner so vehemently. But he’s put me at arms length for the past couple of days.

I asked him to go ahead and see her. Rip the band-aid off. He’s very wary of it. But I don’t want someone who believes as he does in personal freedom to abstain from someone else’s company/intimacy unless it’s absolutely his choice. So we started to talk about what that would look like.

Bear with me, here come the questions:

We wouldn’t have “rules”. For example, I can’t say “no holidays with this person.” Is that normal? Healthy?

What might he have been thinking to become so standoffish? It really hurt. He said he saw a different side of me but I swear I’m just doing my best with new information and feelings.

I’m sure it’s obvious I’m not “ready”! But I’m willing to read up, meditate, whatever. I’d rather he not conform to me. I think he should have physical companionship since we don’t see each other for weeks. I just wish he’d be patient with my learning curve.

Is it dishonest to agree to this if I know I will need to work through big feelings and I’m not sure how yet?

I thought our communication and conflict resolution was good, but now I’m at a loss.

I don’t think he’ll leave me. I’m more worried about losing my marbles. We love each other so much.

How do I make this work?

Response:

So a few things to answer in terms of the questions. First, what is normal in terms of rules? Generally speaking, I think that you need to look at what the function of a rule is, when you set it. If you want to say “no holidays with this person”… I mean, what what is that rule trying to do? What is it trying to prevent? And is it actually going to prevent the thing that you’re trying to get it to prevent? If holidays have this really important big meaning to your— like, let’s say, you know, you… let’s say for example, you don’t have any family to go to on Christmas and Christmas is a sad time for you. This kind of an example for my own life. Like Christmas isn’t a great time for me.

I don’t really have a rule that says my partner has to spend Christmas with me, but you know, it is a hard time for me. So if someone is in my life, who cares about me, they should theoretically give a shit what I’m doing on Christmas.  So you know, and I do think sometimes rules are put in place that are kind of obvious. Like, if you’re in a monogamous relationship, you wouldn’t put up a rule that says “no being mean to me”, because it should kind of be obvious that you won’t be mean to each other.

So I think when it comes to rules, it doesn’t really matter what’s normal because every person and every relationship is different. I just think you need to think about what is it trying to prevent? Quite often when people are new to polyamory, the first thing that they do is put in rules that are trying to prevent someone from falling in love with someone else. And you kind of see traces of that in this situation. Like, the biggest thing that bothers me about the situation is that it’s not really clear what function non-monogamy has in your life. It’s almost too open ended like at first it’s just a temporary thing because you’re long distance. And from your perspective, you’re coming at this from you know, this is just for sexual encounters for sexual companionship.  So it doesn’t really make sense for your partner to be with people who have any kind of emotional or deep meaning.

Equally, I can see it from his perspective that you know, people have feelings. People you know— he could meet someone who is just interested in sexual encounters and doesn’t have any emotional connection to him. But he’s more than likely especially if he’s previously been polyamorous and has— and knows other people who are polyamorous he’s more than likely going to find someone he has some type of care for even as a friend, and people aren’t disposable.

So I think you haven’t really had basic discussions about what non-monogamy looks like in your life. What is it supposed to mean? What are the boundaries around that? And to be fair, I think you haven’t had that because you’re just trying to roll with the punches a bit because you’ve never done this before. I find it really, really concerning— You know, you say what might he have been thinking to become so standoffish? It doesn’t really matter to me what he’s thinking to become so standoffish. It concerns me that he’s become so standoffish and what I see here is like the first  chance he has to have kind of a sexual encounter doesn’t work out. And you don’t really describe what specifically happened.

But it seems like he made the choice to give up the chance with that, because of the potentiality for messiness. And because you had concerns and what he can’t really do, and what it’s not really fair to do is expect you— expect him to come to you and say, “I’m going to go sleep with this person” and then expect you to be utterly emotionless about it. I think what he did is he called it off, and he probably has some feelings about calling it off, because maybe he wanted to do that. You just weren’t prepared for it. Like I think you just thought, “Oh, it’s just gonna be— there’s gonna meet up and have sex, you know, I don’t expect them to go to parties together. I don’t expect them to be friends. I don’t really expect this kind of socialising. And that kind of throws me off, understandably”.

But rather than going “Okay, I see that it throws you off. Let’s have a talk about this. Let’s work this out”. Maybe sometimes you have to experience a little bit of anxiety and realise he’s still there and you don’t have anything to worry about. But instead of doing that, he calls it off. And maybe he has some kind of, you know, annoyance about that understandably. So, you know, he was trying to be understanding to you but really what he

did was just avoid a situation. You know it— that didn’t really help you in the end. Was it really going to risk your entire relationship for him to sleep with this person? Well, you made it out to be and he made it out to be more of a mountain than a molehill.

So in a way it I think it just delayed the inevitable. You’re going to have to have that point. If you’re going to do any form of monogamy, you’re going to have to have that point where you do freak out and you do feel scared because he’s sleeping with someone else. If what you’re trying to do is avoid that, then it’s never gonna work. And I don’t think he’s helping in that regard. And and on top of that— on top of him going, “Okay, well, I’m not going to try this because you feel anxious about it”, that you know, okay, you feel anxious about it, he should support you, instead of just expecting you to just feel okay with everything.

So what he should have done is support you through that and work through that and then have you have that first experience. And then even if he didn’t even want to sleep with this other person anymore, you would have at least had that experience but instead you kind of sideswiped it. So then you go on to this other relationship from his past.

Even though they’ve never dated, they obviously have a friendship. There’s all these kinds of things that he’s telling you. And then, you know, you don’t have a great reaction to that, which is very, very understandable. And then he chooses to respond to you having a bad reaction to be standoffish and basically chastise you for not being able to do non-monogamy well enough. And that is, that’s kind of the crux of this problem here. It is totally understandable for you to be really confused by her feelings.

Now, there may be a long, long history, you know, because you’ve mentioned how he always had this policy of not posting anyone. If he knew, you know, if he if he had this relationship with this, this new person from his past, and they had a sexual relationship before and she wanted him to post pictures. And he was like very much not doing it. And you know, if you think about it, a lot of people post pictures on social media with with their friends. It’s not necessarily that you post a picture on social media with someone it means you’re sleeping with them. But if he made this big deal about it, and was like, “No, no, no, no, I’m not doing that now.” And then he meets her again. And then he has you on his social media, you know? And then she goes, “Hey, is this policy changed now? Are you kind of putting people up? Are you gonna put me up there?” And he may have not really thought about that.

And they argue about it, because it’s now become a hierarchy thing, because he had this big, important policy about it. So it’s understandable that she would react that way. It’s understandable that you would then go, “Wait a minute, this is just a casual thing. What’s, what’s the big deal?” They’ve made it into a big deal. And then on top of that, when you said, “Why did he tell me any of this?” You were spot on. Spot on. Why do you need to know about any of this? It’s understandable yo say, “Oh, I had an argument with her”. But why do you need to know the ins and outs of all of this? And all it does is just stress you out? Because you’re like, “Oh, crap, she’s like freaked out to her pictures on social media. She wants her picture on social media. What does that mean? I thought this was casual”.

It’s confusing for you, because you haven’t established what non-monogamy really means. Other than this temporary that’s supposed to be sexual only situation going on. And for you that’s very separate and distinct. For him, it might not be so but because it’s so separate for you, anytime people get into that realm of friends or more than just being a hookup, you’re gonna freak out about it. It’s understandable. It’s understandable that this would freak you out. And there’s really no reason for you to know all this. And then on top of that, for him to react

to you being worried about this, you know, first he— in the first situation, he reacts to you being worried by breaking off a chance with somebody. And maybe that wasn’t the whole story, but that’s how he reacts first.

And then the second thing, you have these feelings and you’re kind of freaked out and confused about what this means for their relationship. And his response is to be distant and cold. And then say it’s not going to work because you can’t handle it, to basically put the entire blame on you because you’re scared and jealous as if you’re not supposed to have feelings. It is unfair.

You’re 100% right. It is unfair, you haven’t tried this before, and you’re going to be scared. And even if you have tried it before, let me tell you something.

You know, the first— I had been polyamorous I can’t remember how many years, maybe three or four years before I met my current domestic partner. The first time my domestic partner went out, and not even all night but just went out to a party where I knew that they would potentially probably sleep with someone. I was a frickin nervous wreck. And I had been polyamorous before I was just a nervous wreck. You’re establishing new relationships with people. You know, even though you’ve been together for a long time, you’ve been long distance, you’re kind of at this weird intermediary stage. You say you can’t really do long distance very well. You’re even pushing yourself to do this, because it’s not something that really works for you in general.

So on top of all of that other stress, you’re now trying also this new thing. So of course you’re going to be nervous. Of course you’re going to be scared. The first couple of times that you try non monogamy and your partner is with someone else you’re going to be anxious as hell. It’s normal, it’s natural, that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. And I— really bugs the crap out of me when people expect people coming from a monogamous society to just suddenly be able to do polyamory without any jealousy, without any anxiety. Because you know whether it’s because he is not used to it. Maybe he’s been polyamorous in so many situations with so many people who either didn’t share their anxieties with him, or were just so experienced that they just weren’t fazed about it.

Some people aren’t fazed about it, that’s fine. Some people go on rollercoasters, other people can’t. Different people are different. So maybe he’s never had to actually manage a situation where his partner is anxious about it. And given how he’s managing his other partner by telling you all of the ins and outs of what’s going on in their relationship. It doesn’t really seem like he’s very good at managing that in general with anybody. But it’s all your fault, though. It’s all your fault because you can’t handle it. It’s just such bullshit. It’s not fair. It’s not fair at all. So yeah, I do think that this is a problem to acting distant and cold. Keeping you at an arm’s length just because you have not so great a reaction— that’s absolutely poor as fuck communication, and the fact that he’s like, “You know, you’re— maybe you can’t handle it”. Maybe he can’t handle it.

It sounds like he can’t handle it. If he can’t communicate in difficult situations— like it’s okay if like you have a heated discussion and he needs to take a moment, like that’s one thing, but for him to be like, put you at an arm’s length for the past couple of days, because you had a nervous reaction. And I don’t think that you were saying that she was disposable. And I do think that sometimes when people try polyamory for the first time, and they do have an established relationship with somebody, they do get to a point where they’re so protective of that, that they are kind of looking at other people as disposable. But the thing of it is, it’s not like you agreed to be fully polyamorous from the start, and that’s the thing that kills me.

It’s like, yeah, people have feelings and they’re not disposable. But your original assumption of what this non-monogamy was in your life was that it was just for him to get like his sexual kicks while you are far apart from each other. So, of course, you’re worried that there could be more to this relationship. Of course, you’re worried about that. That makes sense. It’s not like you’re saying she’s disposable and that her feelings don’t matter. You’re just like, “Well I’m confused that she’s having these feelings because I thought this was casual”. And you’re allowed to ask these frickin questions without him, you know, basically putting you in the naughty chair. Just absolutely ridiculous.

So yeah, and I think that to answer your other question, like, is it dishonest of you to agree to this if you know you will need to work through these big feelings and you’re not sure how yet? It’s not just dishonest with you. But the thing of it is, is if he’s going to react to you having feelings by keeping you distant and cold, and keeping you at arm’s length, it doesn’t exactly give you total, any reason to share your emotions with him. It basically punishes you for sharing your emotions. So next time you are scared, you’re just gonna want to keep it to yourself. Because the second you tell him he’s gonna act like a big baby about it.

So it’s not dishonest. A lot of people try non-monogamy try polyamory, try everything, not knowing how it’s going to affect them. And to be honest with you, even if— you could be polyamorous for years and then you know something tragic happens, or you have a big life upheaval and all of a sudden, your mental health is all over the map and you can’t handle the same things that you could handle the week before with the same grace. That stuff happens like it’s not— polyamory it’s not some type of higher level mental achievement that you get. It’s not some type of upper level relationship unlock code that when you’ve meditated enough you achieve this— I didn’t even know the right frickin words for it. But it’s not it’s not— It’s not some higher level of thinking.

It’s just a different way to do relationships. And people can be good and bad at it. Just like they can be good at bad at monogamous relationships, given the entirety of their surroundings and what’s going on in their lives, it’s not a zero some simple game like that. It’s not at all dishonest of you to be like, “Hey, you know I’m gonna agree this let’s just rip the band aid off” and I do think that instinct isn’t a bad one. Because you are going to feel anxious so just get it over with. Stop waiting for you to just suddenly be okay with everything and just go let’s just do it and manage it and cope with it and see how things go.

But because it seems like he doesn’t want to deal with any unhappy emotions, and he just wants you to be okay with everything without him having to do any of that work. That’s not realistic. That’s what’s dishonest. You know, you have to be able to come to your partner especially if you’re trying something so new that you’re not familiar with. You haven’t been given the cultural tools to really take by the horns, you’re gonna be nervous and you need someone you know, if not a polyamory friendly therapist, you need someone— a partner who is going to be understanding of that. It’s okay to not know how you’re going to feel about something and I think that’s the other thing that if he had been you know, if he is more experienced in polyamory, the big thing here I see is you giving permission.

You’re like, “Okay, you can sleep with this person. Okay, uou can sleep with that person” and the problem with giving permission and the reason why I always very much discourage people from feeling like they have to give permission is because it does feel like oh, you said okay to that person. Now, how do you take that back or It feels like once you’ve said okay to someone, you’re not allowed to have any feelings about it. So in general, I would discourage that. And I kind of feel like if he was a little bit more experienced with this, he wouldn’t be asking for permission, he would be like, “I’m gonna sleep with this person. And this is what this involves”, he’d be really clear with you. This is so unclear, like, you know, even though this has been given to you as “This is what we’re going to do in the midterm of us moving in together, because I need, you know, to have some sexual relationships, and I’ve got some physical needs. And I’d like to do this well, until we move in together”.

This has been what’s presented to you not, I’m gonna go and date and be romantically involved with other people. I think it’s realistic of you, you know, I do think sometimes when people do that whole, like, “Oh, I’m only going to have sex with people. I’m not going to fall in love with anyone else.” It’s not realistic. You know, the boundaries between friendship and you know, lover aren’t always clear cut for everyone. And it’s also like people don’t want— not everyone wants to operate in such a cold way when it comes to like sexual relationships. People want to be friends with the people they have sex with. And that’s fine. But none of that has been defined for you. So of course, you’re going to be freaked out, it makes total sense.

So yeah, how do you make this work? You don’t make this work. He helps— you both make it work. And he has to fix this conflict resolution problem, because you have to be able to come to him and this isn’t— even if you hang up non-monogamy and you don’t try it again, like this is deeply concerning for other aspects of your life like this, how he is going to respond when things get tough is to keep you at an arm’s length? Like you— You really need to. I think you both need to find a polyamory friendly therapist and talk this through. Because yeah, I do think some aspect of this is you’re freaked out about it. You’re gonna be freaked out about it and you do kind of have to— the only way out is through, kind of have to go through some of it, you kind of have to have him sleep with someone else and know that, you know, he’s not all of a sudden not interested in you.

You kind of have to experience it, and know and live through it and know that you’re fine in order to kind of get through some of that anxiety. But it’s gonna be very, very, very, very, very hard for you to do that if the person that you want to come to for reassurance and guidance and patience is going to put you at an arm’s length a second you have a bit of fear about something and is gonna chastise you.

And where basically you’re in a situation where you need to prove that you can do non-monogamy because his ability to do non monogamy is totally you know, not a question. He can do it. It’s you That’s the problem— No, no, that’s that’s not a good approach. And it’s not an approach that’s going to even work for monogamy, let alone non monogamy.So he needs to whatever conflict resolution and communication skills he’s employed the past he needs to find them and get back on them. Because this, this just isn’t a way.

So to sum up, I think that it would be good for you all to start from a place of finding a polyamory friendly therapist, if that’s an opportunity for you, because I do think you kind of need— when you have someone who’s doing this kind of weird emotional stuff of putting you at an arm’s length, it is helpful to have like a non— a non influenced party. But I do think you need to think about what does non-monogamy mean, in the context of your relationship? Is this just a temporary thing? I think you need to kind of maybe accept that, even if he is just seeing people for sex, that doesn’t mean he’s not friends with them, doesn’t mean he won’t go to social gatherings with them.

And it doesn’t mean that they won’t have feelings about how he does his relationships, but he needs to not tell you about stuff like that. Like he shouldn’t really— and you know, you can say like, “Look, I get that, you know, you’re my partner and I always feel feel bad that you have this argument and I don’t want you to have arguments but mate I can’t— hearing this kind of stuff kind of freaks me out. So maybe I just— it’s not that it’s a don’t ask don’t tell situation. But maybe I don’t need to know the ins and outs of whatever’s going on in your other relationships, because it just kind of makes me a little bit panicked”. So, you know, I think that’s fair.

I think that in terms of rules, whenever you establish a rule, think about what it’s trying to prevent, and will it actually prevent it? Or is it just a way of preventing you from basically delaying the inevitable, which was kind of the first situation here. Like maybe it just didn’t work out for other reasons, but he shouldn’t pull the plug on something just because you’re afraid. You need to experience that anxiety a little bit. And you need to have faith in your relationship together and know that it’s going to last through that and go back to that kind of rock that you’ve built with each other and try and hold on to that and just know that it will be okay. You just kind of have to go through the anxiety a bit and he needs to let you have that anxiety.

He needs to figure out why he’s being standoffish and sort that out because he can’t be putting you at an arm’s length. This is not a game of you proving yourself to him and he needs to stop putting you in situations where basically his ability to do non-monogamy is unquestioned but yours isn’t. Like granted, you are new to this, but it doesn’t help that he’s making this into a — the second you have any negative feelings about anything, you can’t do it, like he needs to be a lot more patient, as you said, with some of your feelings.

In general, there’s no “ready”, whether you’re “ready” or not for non-monogamy. I think you should try and get rid of that out of your lexicon because your ability to do any kind of relationship has a lot to do with what else is going on in your life. There are people sometimes who go complete hermit who have a really, you know, not great mental health. And their response to it is to stay at home and not speak to anyone. They don’t even do friendships very well when they’re feeling depressed. And that, you know is how sometimes things work. It’s not a zero sum game “ready” or “not ready”, like different things are going to provoke anxiety and the fact that you’re a part to the fact that you don’t do long distance to begin with very well. is already putting pressure so you need to kind of keep that in mind and not set yourself up for failure basically, by making it seem like you need to go through this without having any feelings in order to effectively “do Non-Monogamy”.

And last but not least, this is a big concern in terms of the way he’s communicating, he needs to not communicate this way. It’s okay for him to remind you that this other woman does have feelings, people aren’t disposable. But again, I don’t think that comes from you just assuming that anyone he sleeps with is someone that can be easily tossed aside the moment you don’t feel well. And more from a confusion of this discussion. You know, you assume that the non monogamy that was happening was about gratifying, you know, sexual needs and not necessarily about building other relationships. So it’s just kind of a misunderstanding between the two of you have expectations and what non-monogamy means and if you had that conversation about what it means, how it’s meant to happen, when is it meant to end and is it meant to end?

Because, you know, you say he isn’t conventional. Is he going to be happy being monogamous for the rest of his life? This is kind of a big discussion y’all need to have and think about. And you can’t do it all if he is going to put you in the proverbial naughty step the second that you have any feelings about it that aren’t happy ones. Maybe he is not ready for non-monogamy to be honest, if he can’t manage people’s emotions, and deal with the negative feelings that any of his partners have.

So yeah, that about sums it up. I really hope this helps. And good luck.

Do you have a question?

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Episode 38: Is Polyamory Part of Me?

Is polyamory a fundamental part of who we are or is it something we can learn?

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

Discussion Topic: Rank in order of importance for you in your career: money, status, creativity, social impact, colleagues.

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

Episode 38 – Is Polyamory Part of Me?

Is polyamory an inherent part of who you are or is it something you can learn to be.  That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Please visit @NonMonogamyHelp and view our post here: https://twitter.com/NonMonogamyHelp/status/1267089826492428288

 

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I am in a long term relationship with my partner (I identify as female and he identifies as male). We have been monogamous for the entirety of our 6 year relationship except for 1 threesome we had a couple of years ago.

My partner is open with me about how he would like to have sex with other people (casual sex, no relationships). I do not want this but I realize that it’s very important for him and I just don’t know if or how I can ever get to a point where I can be ok with it. I should say that I really want to be ok with it (and even sometimes I think it would be fine) and if he ever came to me saying, “either I can sleep with other people or I have to leave you” I would give it a shot because he is truly my life partner.

I guess my questions are:

  1. Can a person who has always been monogamous and who is uncomfortable (but also confusingly open to it…) with the idea of sexually open relationships eventually be at a place where they accept it and are at peace with it?
  2. Are monogamy and polya fundamental parts of who we are or can they flow to meet a partners needs?

My greatest fear here is that there is no hope for change and that I will lose my partner because of this. Thank you for any advice you can provide.

Response:

So I think that there are a few things here. First, to answer one of your questions: are monogamy and polyamory fundamental parts of who we are? I think that really depends on the person. I don’t think that we know enough about the way that our brain develops and the way that society influences us. And even I think the idea that nature and nurture are inherently separate things. And they don’t kind of talk to each other and influence one another— I think even that isn’t true.

I don’t think that you can raise a human being an isolation separate from a society and somehow find who they truly are. I think, you know, there’s a reason why isolating us in things like solitary confinement is torture. We are social creatures. We develop in relation to the social situations that we’re in and the society that we’re in. So I don’t really think that there is a fundamental part of who we are, that we could really suss out. And so I think it’s pointless for us— I mean, I get why people say that, like when you have a situation like you know, being queer, and people say, “Oh, we can, you know, therapise you out of being queer. We can— you can pray the gay away or we can separate that”.

Or when you get into like eugenics where people are basically saying the identities are these things that they can edit out of you then yeah, you do want to be able to say, “this is an inherent part of who I am”. And I understand you know, I am, you know, trans man, I am non-binary and that does feel like an inherent part of who I am. But I don’t know as that I can say for certain that it is—  I don’t know, I don’t know. And I don’t think that matters.

What matters is that some people feel that polyamory is a fundamental part of who they are. Some people feel like monogamy is not something that they can choose for themselves, and not something that they can do and that is valid. If that’s how people feel that’s valid. Equally people feel like monogamy is an inherent part of who they are. And that’s also valid and then there are folks like myself. I could do monogamy if I wanted to, just not interested in it. So, you know, I certainly couldn’t practice a form of monogamy that society encourages. And I think that there’s an important distinction to make there.

I think that there’s a very difference— a very big difference between you wanting to be a person who only dates one person and “monogamy” as the way that this society presents it because the way that our society constructs and teaches us about monogamy is is very biased in a lot of ways. And is to serve a specific function. You know, encouraging people to be in one partner you know, two partner relationships where they only find one person, there’s a very specific purpose and power that that that goes into that and I don’t think we should ignore that either.

And that’s not to say that you wanting to date one person makes you kind of a bootlicker or anything like that. It’s just that it’s always worth questioning the things that society says you should do. And I think that that’s a good thing for all people to do. But I think that you can— you can be a you know, be willing to meet your partner’s needs. What concerns about this is that

there’s a little bit of an imbalance. And I do realize that, you know, in some ways that there there is going to be an imbalance with a lot of situations.

You know, if a partner— there’s not like, for example, having children, there’s no way to compromise on that. You know, either you have children or you don’t. I mean, theoretically, maybe you know, you can, even being a foster parent is still being a parent, like you can’t compromise on whether or not you want to have children in your life. And I don’t know is that you can necessarily fully compromise on whether or not you want to be in an open relationship where your partner is allowed to sleep with other people.

The thing that concerns me is that you know, you say you identify as female and your partner identifies as male, and I always tend to find that it’s women that are bending over backwards to meet their partner’s needs. And I’m not saying that that’s the situation that you’re in, or that your partner isn’t receptive to your needs. But I think you need to be cognisant of the ways that you are always willing to sacrifice your needs for the benefit of your partner’s. Especially if there are men. And that might be something that you need to think about.

You know, you are wanting to change everything. And you say that if he ultimately gave you the ultimatum, you would go with it. And then that, you know, a lot of people would do that regardless of how they identify. But it’s very important to kind of catch yourself and realizing, you know, what it is about that, that makes you want to go, “Okay, I’m going to, I’m going to go with it”. Your greatest fear here is that you’ll lose your partner. And I think that that’s something that you also need to think about because breakups happen, and they feel horrible, and I’m not gonna lie about that. But they are survivable.

And I think that if your greatest fear is losing your partner, that is always going to be something that whether you’re monogamous or polyamorous is going to encourage you to make decisions that don’t benefit you. Your greatest fear shouldn’t be that you’ll lose your partner because you could lose your partner regardless. You know, you don’t have to be in a polyamorous relationship for your partner to decide they don’t want to be with you anymore. Being in an open relationship— polyamorous or just open sexually, like, you know, plenty of monogamous people experience a situation where their partners decide that they don’t want to be with them anymore.

You could grow apart, regardless of these kind of— his interest in being sexually open. Like there are so many different ways that you can not end up together, even though you’ve been together for six years. And I think that that’s something that’s really worth working on, and thinking about speaking to a therapist about because, yeah, it sucks to lose your partner. And I’m not trying to make light of that. And I certainly understand that fear. But the thing that I always kind of encourage people to think about is how they would deal with their worst fear because it may be that you two are inherently incompatible.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t try polyamory or try and open relationship. I’m not saying that—You know, it’s hard for me to say can you— as someone who’s monogamous, who’s uncomfortable with the idea, eventually be at a place where they accept it and be at peace with it. I mean, what does that mean? You know, there are times when I’m not at peace, about a situation that I’m in, I you know, I’ve more or less nearly been polyamorous for 10 years and there are still some times when I am unhappy or I am jealous or I’m freaked out about something.

You know, we have ups and downs in our life. There isn’t some kind of ultimate permanent equilibrium that you’re going to be able to reach. That’s where you know, you’re never going to be unhappy about it. You might be unhappy about it in perpetuity, but just because you’re monogamous doesn’t mean you won’t be unhappy about other things. So I think that’s— that’s something that you should really break apart and think about. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t fear losing your partner, but I think that, you know, someone, someone said something really brilliant at an event that I went to I wish I’d have got their name and I wish should have written down the quote.

But it was something about how when you have anxiety or fear about a certain outcome happening to you, you’re not actually afraid of that outcome, you’re more afraid that you won’t be able to deal with it. So if you have confidence that you’ll be able to take care of yourself, if you have confidence that you’re able to cope with situations, then facing scary things is a lot less scary.

And that’s also my experience with anxiety, the more that I tried to kick myself and blame myself for having anxiety, the worse that it got. When I just kind of accepted that, Okay, I’m gonna have anxiety and I’ve had anxiety for a long time, and I’ve been able to cope with it for a long time. And I’ve never died from a panic attack. And I’ve always been able to deal with a panic attack. The more that I’ve been able to do that, the more that, you know, being faced with a panic attack has never been as scary as it was before I had that realisation.

So I think what you need to focus on is restoring your confidence that if you do lose this relationship because that is a possibility. Regardless of whether or not you’re polyamorous or not. There is nothing that you can do— and realizing this actually, I think takes a huge burden off of people’s shoulders when they actually do realize it. But there is nothing that you can do to magically, completely, you know, absolutely make sure that your partner will never leave. I mean, there are, don’t get me wrong, there are things that you can do to make sure your partner won’t leave you.

Those aren’t things that are ethical, or things that you should do. But if you want your partner to freely love you, and stay with you, there isn’t anything that you can do to completely prevent them from falling out of love with you. Because that’s just how life works. You can’t prevent that. So when you accept that you can’t prevent that, then that fear isn’t going to become your greatest fear anymore. When you accept that, you know, you can be a total jerk to your partner. You can call them names and throw things at them. That will probably encourage them to leave.

So it’s not to say you know, you should not care about your actions and your behaviors. But it’s to say that ultimately, the love that your partner has for you isn’t something that you can control. Because it isn’t necessarily always something that they can control. They can fall out of love with people even if they don’t want to. So that’s something that you should think about.

I think that you don’t really go into what the experience was like when you did have a threesome with a couple and that sounds like a foursome rather than threesome, but I won’t be nitpicky. You know, did— was that something that you were interested in? Who initiated that? Was it something that you would do again? I think that one of the things that can help people when they’re interested in open or polyamorous relationships is having their own motivations. You wanting to do it to keep your partner in your life isn’t really the best motivation for it.

Like— and that doesn’t mean to say that you have to be open or you have to be interested in being open. There are people and I’ve written about it on the column before— there are people who are monogamous with their partner. And their partner is polyamorous with other people. But I think that they accept the situation and they get something out of it, that allows them to be okay with it. So whether that’s— what I tend to compare it to is, you know, people can be monogamous, but be with someone who has a very time intensive career, that means that they won’t be with them all the time.

So if you’re gonna marry someone, or date someone who has an extremely time intensive career, like if they’re a politician, or a lawyer, or a doctor, or just any kind of career that demands a huge amount of their time, or even demands that they drop everything and go to wherever it is they have to go, you kind of have to accept that as part of a relationship with them. And so I think that one thing you’re going to have to accept is that if you want even I think a sexually open relationship, even if he’s not interested in having relationships, quote, unquote, with other people, you will kind of have to accept that he might not spend hundred percent of his time with you.

You have to accept the increased STI risk that, you know will happen, I think as well that you need to be really careful because, you know, some people know themselves very, very well. And they can say that they can have sex with other people without falling in love or or feeling any romantic way about anybody. But I do think that that happens. And not everybody is in a position where they’re really self aware enough to realise that they are having feelings for someone. So rather than just sort of saying like, “Okay, this will only be casual sex and there won’t be any feelings” and outlawing feelings you need to talk about what it is that you’re going to do if there are feelings and someone has feelings.

But I think that you need to think about you know, you say you’re confusingly open to it. Are you open to it because you see a benefit for yourself? Are you open to it because it’s the only way that you can keep your partner and you’re totally afraid of

losing your partner and that’s the only thing that’s motivating you. Fear isn’t a very good motivator in this instance, because it is going to be very scary to open your relationship. It is going to be very scary for your partner to sleep with other people.

The first night that you know, he’s out, it’s probably gonna be a terrible night, because it was terrible for me. And that was me having already had a polyamorous relationship and in the domestic relationship I’m in now the first night that my partner was not even fully away for the whole night, but just set a long party I was wracked with anxiety. So, you’re gonna feel a wreck. You’re gonna feel all of these feelings and what’s going to make it easier as you allowing yourself to feel that and not being afraid of that, and knowing that you can take care of yourself.

And you can find out you know, I don’t think that there’s a way that I’m going to be able to tell you or that you’re going to be able to know if this ultimately won’t work for you or not. I don’t think that there is… you know, I think that you can tell by looking at situations like the the threesome that you had and say, “Okay, I’m interested in that I have some interest”. And you know, you can gravitate back to that because you clearly had it you don’t say that it was a terrible experience. You don’t say it nearly wrecked you all and you nearly broke up. So I’m assuming that things went all right. And in that regard, you know, you can kind of anchor back to that and and see how you felt back to that and go, “okay, could I do this more than once?” That’s something that you can also consider.

But I do think one thing— last thing that I’ll kind of say to add here is that another option you might consider if your partner is just interested in having sexual relationships with other people, which— or just having sex with other people not necessarily having relationships, what you might consider is he could hire a sex worker. That would be probably something that would be less of a quote unquote threat to you, because it’s someone that he’s hiring, it’s a professional relationship. It’s, you know, not something that you’re gonna have to think, “Oh, is this person secretly trying to date my partner” or something like that.

It’s very straightforward. sex workers are very on the ball about this kind of thing. They probably have, you know, experienced something like this and could probably, you know, If you ask them maybe, you know, they’d know what things to flag what things you should think about they, you know, they might have experience with this before. And that might be something that allows him to have a bit of sexual freedom, but still makes you feel a little bit safer rather than it being— because then you can avoid all that: What if it’s someone that you both know? What if it’s your friend?

You know, you can avoid kind of all that situation– all those kinds of situations if that’s something that he’s interested in and equally like sex workers will be well up on STI risk. And they will be able to, you know, let you know in a way that sometimes people who are kind of just casual about it aren’t on top of their STI checks as always. So that’s something to consider.

So to kind of sum up, I think that first and foremost, you need to work with a therapist and a polyamory friendly therapist if you can find one because what I don’t want you to do is end up with a therapist who thinks that polyamory is the devil or something and doesn’t think it’s a good option for you. I think the first thing you really need to work on is your fear.

Because it is something that could happen. And I think that giving yourself more confidence in your ability to cope with those kind of situations, and having more of a safety net will make you feel a lot better. I think that you might want to talk with him about a sex worker. See if that’s something that he’s interested in. I think that there isn’t necessarily a way I can tell you if polyamory is fundamentally part of who you are a part of who your boyfriend is. I don’t think it’s necessarily worth thinking in those terms.

There are  wider discussions and maybe it’s a couples therapist thing that you have with your partner about how you know, do you have other threesomes in the future instead of him— instead of him, sleeping with other people? Like you really need to negotiate— Instead of just approaching the situation as you being willing to sacrifice everything and sacrifice your needs for him, you need to approach The situation with what are the compromises that you can make with each other that allow you to still stay together but meet his needs and meet your needs.

Be very, very wary of agreeing to situations where you’re sacrificing everything and he’s not sacrificing anything. But yeah, those are— I think if you start with that, you know… expect it to be not fun at first like honestly just expect that first. You can you can read all the books. You can read all the articles. You can mentally prepare yourself but just expect that you’re not going to feel great. Make other plans. See if you can go to a friend’s you know.  Just expect that you’ll feel miserable.

For me that miserable feeling did go away once I— you know, it’s just like my anxiety— once I kind of saw the situation, went through the tunnel, dealt with all the feelings and then I was like, “ Oh okay, my partner still here, they’re not going to leave me for someone else”. You know, or if they do, it’s, you know, it’s not something that I can control then that helped me deal with it. Now I don’t mind. Now I don’t have sleepless nights. And I don’t have the same problems, but it is something that you just have to… that should get better and it might not get better and you might end up being ultimately incompatible.

But if you address the first situation where you embrace the fact that this might happen, and don’t make all of your decisions based on fear, then it might be something that, you know, you can work towards without feeling so afraid. And without letting it guide you so much that you end up in situations you don’t want to be in just because you’re afraid of losing him because, you know, that isn’t— it seems like the worst thing that could happen to you, but it really isn’t so, and I think working on that will really help. So yeah, I hope this helps and good luck.

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Episode 36: Last Ditch Attempt

Should you go along with polyamory to keep someone you love in your life?

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

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

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

Episode 36 – Last Ditch Attempt

Should you go with polyamory to keep someone in your life? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Please visit @NonMonogamyHelp and view our post here: https://twitter.com/NonMonogamyHelp/status/1267089826492428288

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I started dating this guy freshman year of high school. But he had problems with depression and broke up with me my junior year. Even though we broke up we continued to date. We would see each other as often as we could and we’d talk as much as normal and we even had sex for the first time  (both of our first times). Now I’ve graduated high school but he’s a senior and a lot of things have changed. We don’t see each other as often and we don’t talk as often and I’ve had problems with trust because a while ago he had a fling with someone else.

He always reminds me that we aren’t actually together. And I try to remind myself too. Lately we’ve been talking about just cutting each other out of our lives. But I don’t want to lose him. I just can’t be friends with him because I don’t want to see him being in a new relationship. The problem is he’s okay with continuing being “together” but he also wants to be able to see other people. I just don’t know how to be open to that. How do I stop fearing that he’ll fall in love with someone else?

He isn’t good at communicating, I always try to talk to him but we end up with nothing. I want to give it a shot at dating multiple people at once but I’m scared of losing him. He told me that he doesn’t believe in forever and that he needs to know what life has to offer, he needs constant change. Should I just let him go instead? I still love him and he still loves me. I’m not good with jealousy but I also want to still be with him. Do you think I might be holding on to something dead?

I hope you answer my email because I’m kind of lost and I need help with these thoughts. Thank you for taking your time reading this.

Response:

So the first thing about this that I noticed is that you’re not necessarily interested in non monogamy. You’re interested in him, which isn’t a horrible thing. There are a lot of times where people you know— rarely is there a case where both people in a couple are interested in non monogamy and they both come together and they both decide that this is a good choice. Like that very rarely happens. Generally speaking, when you have a couple or two people who are interested in each other, it’s one person that’s kind of more interested in non monogamy that kind of encourages the other person to try it.

So it’s not necessarily a horrible thing if— or even a doomed thing if one person isn’t that interested in non-monogamy or is mostly interested in non-monogamy because they don’t want to lose the other person. But I do think that in general, for it to work, one of two things has to be true. One of those things is that there has to be something for that person in it. You know, they have to see some benefit in it either there. You know, even— it doesn’t even necessarily have to be an incredible interest in dating other people. You know, if you had said something in your letter where it’s like, where you were like, “Well, I’m young too, and I am interested in seeing other people and I don’t just want to be with this one person for the rest of my life”, then I could see that there is something about non-monogamy that appeals to you as an individual outside of the influence of this one other person.

The second thing that I think that has to be true if the first one is not true— if you’re only interested in non monogamy in order to keep one person in your life or vice versa, like you’re only interested— you’re not that interested in non monogamy but you’re dating someone who really, really is and you care about that person and you don’t mind them dating other people whilst you are monogamous because that is a situation quite a lot of people— I mean, I don’t know how many I haven’t taken a census but I do hear of many situations where one partner is monogamous to that person and the other person is polyamorous and has multiple partners. I think that can work.

But that doesn’t really seem like what your interest is, you know. There isn’t anything outside of this guy that you’re kind of still have a lot of feelings for that motivates you to try non-monogamy. So that’s the biggest and first thing that I notice in your letter. The second thing is that you say he isn’t good at communicating. And that really isn’t a good sign. Like, you know, people who— I’m not saying that people who are non-monogamous are necessarily better at communicating. But there are a lot of things about non-monogamy because of the nature of it not being very common.

When you’re in a monogamous relationship that’s kind of socially and culturally endorsed. There are a lot of assumptions that people make and I think that ends up being a problem in monogamous really ships to that there is a shared cultural narrative of what monogamy is. There’s a shared idea of milestones. There are a lot of shared cultural things that make people go, “Okay. This is what this is, this is what that is”. And that does end up causing monogamous people a lot of problems when one partner makes an assumption that something is this way, and the other partner doesn’t agree.

However, when you’re in a non-monogamous relationship, you can’t rely on those assumptions. And so there often needs to be a lot more communication around the basic foundations of the relationship. And you know, what progress is if there is progress, what certain things mean how you define non-monogamy, all that sorts of stuff, and also the different style of relationship that you want to have. And if he’s not good at communicating at all, if you often try to talk to him, and you’re getting nowhere and the only thing he seems to be very good at communicating to you is that you actually aren’t together. Like that’s the only thing that you’re getting really loud and clear from him is that you aren’t together.

I don’t think that spells out very good things for the future. If you wanted to try non-monogamy, I think you should try it with someone who was very good at communicating their thoughts and their feelings throughout the process. And this doesn’t seem to be like that kind of a person. The only thing he’s very clearly communicated to you is that you’re not “together”, but he has no problem being together and seeing other people. I’m sure he doesn’t have a problem with that. I’m sure that is very, very convenient for him. However, that’s not the issue here. It’s not— it shouldn’t be about his convenience. It should also be about your feelings as well.

And so if he’s very poor at communicating in general, that just doesn’t— even for a monogamous relationship that just doesn’t spell good things. And you all seem quite young, you know, you’re starting… you’re talking about high school and I don’t even know if you’re at uni yet or at college yet. So you’ve graduated high school, you’re quite young, like I don’t expect him to be a stellar communicator, you know, coming out of high school, but if you can’t even talk to him now about this kind of stuff. I just don’t think that this is about a good way to go about it.

The third thing that I noticed here is that you know, people can tangentially be interested in non-monogamy without really actually wanting non-monogamy. And what I mean by that is that there are quite a lot of people who would find it very convenient and very easy for them to have and be able to date multiple people. It seems very convenient and very easy and it seems like something that they want because of all of the things that you’ve said that he said— that he needs to change and he doesn’t believe in forever and he needs to go out there and take life by the horns and all that crap. That’s very well and good.

However, when you look at it on the outside and you think that non-monogamy is just about being able to sleep with multiple people, you know, while no one gets mad, that’s really not what non-monogamy is. I don’t really think that he wants non-monogamy I just think he doesn’t want to have to commit to anybody. And he doesn’t want to actually have a relationship where he needs to do some emotional labor for somebody else. That’s what he wants. He wants to be able to come and go as he pleases, which isn’t necessarily what non-monogamy is. I mean, there are quite a few people who would be absolutely fine with no strings attached sex and all that kinds of stuff. And that’s fine. I’m not saying that’s, that’s not a valid thing to want.

But what I’m saying is that that’s definitely not what you want. And that’s definitely not what polyamory is, in particular. It’s usually about having multiple relationships and a person who is afraid to commit to one relationship isn’t kind of going to be able to commit to multiple relationships. That’s not how it works. So in general, I think that yes, you are holding on to something dead. And I don’t think that that is out of character, to be quite honest with you. I mean, you’ve just graduated high school. This guy represents a lot for you. This is like, you know— This is the first person you’ve slept with, you know, it’s someone that you still have quite strong feelings for and that is very, very understandable.

It’s totally understandable that you would want to make this work because someone that you have a familiarity with someone that you have all of this history with, is a lot less scary than a brand new person. But I just don’t think that trying to make this work is going to work. I mean, you know, you broke up it when you were in your junior year because he had problems with depression. I’m not really sure what that means. Plenty of people with depression can have relationships, but for whatever reason, he’s just not in the position that you want him to be in. He’s just not in a position to be what you want.

And I don’t think— I don’t really think what you want is non-monogamy. I don’t think that you want to date multiple people. I think that you just want it so that you can keep him in your life and you’re already struggling. You know, when you’re friends with him and you see him with other people. I don’t think that situation is going to be made any better than you know, if you’re together, and he’s also with another person. Like, I think that’s just gonna make it worse, I don’t think that’s necessarily gonna improve over time. I mean, yes, you could work on jealousy. You could work on, you know, examining your assumptions about your fear that he’s going to leave you.

You know, you could work on that. But I think at the end of the day, there’s no real point in doing all of that work for someone who is making it quite clear, even though he’s bad at communicating, he’s still making it quite clear that he doesn’t want the things that you want in a relationship. He doesn’t want to settle down. He doesn’t want to do the things that you want him to do. So it’s not really worth it, to keep putting yourself in this situation, because it’s just you know, even though it seems like dragging something along is actually going to be easier for you. And that might be why he hasn’t explicitly spelled out to you that this isn’t going to work.

And it might be that he just likes being friends with you and doesn’t want to lose that but sometimes, the easiest way to get over something is actually by having a clear and clean break, so that you can go, “Okay, we’re broken up now”. It might be good for you to have some distance from him. And you might get that distance from from college, if you do go to college, or if he goes to college. You might get that distance. But, you know, you need to have some of that distance away from him. Because I think that there’s a lot of emotions here. There’s a lot of, you know, love that you have for this person that you know, that you still are holding on to because it’s comfortable in a way, but I think in the end, at the end of the day, it’s going to be not that comfortable for you if you keep holding on to it.

So yeah, to kind of sum up, I don’t think that you’re interested in non-monogamy really, I think you’re just interested in keeping him in your life. And while I can understand why you would want to do that, I don’t think it’s in the end going to work out. Secondly, if he were good at communicating with you, it would be one thing for you to consider are trying an open relationship or some form of non-monogamy.

But the fact that he’s not good at communicating his feelings to you, that doesn’t spell very good things for even a monogamous relationship. And last but not least, him not wanting to commit to you isn’t really the same as wanting multiple relationships. Usually people who don’t want to commit to one relationship would probably also struggle to commit to multiple relationships. And I don’t think that that is something that he’s really interested in. And I think as well if, if you’re already struggling in terms of seeing him with other people, I don’t think that allowing him to— giving him permission to do that so that he stays with you is really going to help the situation.

You’re so young. You’re gonna find other people. You’re gonna get over this. It’s really hard. I know, personally, for me, the first kind of huge relationship that I had in terms of, you know, impact in my life and this person being someone that I actually loved. I tried as hard as I could to keep hold of that. So hard. And I think that in the end, it made it worse for myself a little bit, which wasn’t the other person’s fault. It was more just me, I just wanted to keep this person in my life. And I think that in the end that just made it that much harder when it was quite obvious to me that they couldn’t stay in my life.

So yeah, I think it’s best— you are kind of holding on to something dead. And it might be best to give yourself some space from him. Give yourself some time, get used to being alone, you know, learn how to be alone. I think that’s probably the most healthy thing that a person can do when it comes to relationships is actually learning how to be alone, because so many people end up in not great relationships because they’re scared to be alone. And if you can learn how to be alone, and how to be fine with being alone, that could actually be hugely beneficial for you.

So I think that’s the route you should go rather than trying non-monogamy just to make this person happy or just to basically give this person permission to cheat. That would probably end up making you a lot happier to separate and learn how to be s ingle and be happy to be single for a short period of time and find someone else later down the line if that suits you. I hope that helps and good luck.

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Why couples always want a triad

I’m looking for some advice on how to add someone to our relationship. My husband and I recently discussed opening our marriage up to another woman with the end goal of having a closed triad but in reality there’s only one woman in my mind. She’s a close friend of mine and she’s perfect in every way. Her and I had multiple threesomes with my ex boyfriend in college and looking back we were sort of a triad without the label because we didn’t even know this lifestyle was an option. We stayed close even after him and I broke up and her and I even fooled around just the two of us. But it’s been 8 years since then and now I’m married with two kids and she’s single but I want her to know that it wasn’t just a phase or experimentation for me. I loved her and I’m still in love with her (my husband knows this). I just don’t know how to tell her! Help!!!

First off, I want to point out that in your letter you’re really focused on how to tell this woman you care for her while ignoring some very real structural issues that are probably the least bit attractive let alone advantageous to a single woman who may or may not be looking for romantic relationships.

I don’t personally believe that ‘couple privilege’ is the right word to use in this case for a variety of reasons you can find in the linked article — but I do believe that there is inherently a problem with a couple that is only ‘opening up’ in so far as it allows for a woman to join them in a closed triad.

It’s not that there is necessarily anything wrong with being interested in triad or a two individuals wanting to date and like the same person, but the reasons that usually motivate couples to have this ‘preference’ are often symptomatic of deeper issues that need addressing that will eventually, in the process of attempting a closed triad, rear their ugly heads viciously, usually with the ‘third’ ending up worse off.

Couples choosing to open their relationships make the mistake of assuming that a closed triad or only opening up to find a woman is ‘safer’ somehow. The inherent problem in that is the assumption that your relationship with your husband is the most important and must be protected at all costs.

While I understand the jump to opening a relationship is scary and new, the knee-jerk reaction to always prioritise saving the ‘primary’ relationship often means that that relationship is not as secure as it could be. If you feel like truly opening your relationship in a way that means you both date independently risks destroying your relationship together, then you need to work on strengthening that bond.

Not to mention, the assumption that any type of relationship or partner is ‘safe’ is not true and is only delaying the inevitable. Approaching opening your relationship with these types of safeties in place will only discourage you and your husband from really coming to grips with some of the scarier aspects of opening up. Instead, you’ll rely on these safety wheels to reassure you, rather than each other, and in the end, this won’t actually prepare you to deal with negative emotions.

Also, opening up a relationship to one gender — which is usually a couple consisting of a man and a woman only allowing for another woman — is usually based off of the man’s fear of being overshadowed by another man and the assumption that a woman cannot overshadow him. She most certainly can. what I challenge most folks to do is abandon the assumption that one can do anything to prevent a partner from leaving them. Rules will not prevent you or your husband from falling out of love with each other.

That aside, you should also really think about wanting a closed triad as a couple means and what that means for the individuals you’re seeking. You expect a woman to be single and be interested in both of you, which is a hell of a lot of pressure to put on one person. And you also have children so that woman has to most likely be interested in co-parenting.

Many would describe what you’re doing as unicorn hunting because it’s not realistic to expect a single, bisexual woman to see this as an attractive proposition, especially in the polyamory community where most people are not interested in polyfidelity but completely open options.

While asking how you should tell your friend this, you’re not even remotely considering the fact that you and your husband both want her to be with you both and only you both. It’s one thing if you were asking me how to independently date her — and I’d say then you should just approach her and ask her out.

But this is way more involved in that. You want someone who has had a long history with you to suddenly have feelings for your husband and to potentially be a stepmother to two children. While you do have this long history of sexual exploration with her, you have an established life with your husband that she is not going to be able to necessarily match. She can’t marry you and at present, you don’t have children together. There will always be a power imbalance there — even if you were to date her independently — that you have to at least acknowledge and be willing to understand.

My honest suggestion is that you go back to the drawing board with your husband and you think about what it is you both want in terms of opening your relationship and why it is that you want that. You need to really consider your preference for a ‘closed triad’ and ask yourself if that is based on fear and insecurity rather than a “this would be nice” situation.

I’m sure a lot of couples with children would love another person around the house who could reinvigorate their sex lives and help take care of their children — but this isn’t a realistic role for a person to play. Your friend may be perfect in every way for you, but that doesn’t mean that will make this situation work, especially when you’re not really considering what position she would have in your life on a permanent basis.

If you are willing to date independently, then I’d say just tell her what the situation is and that you’re interested. But you also, in that case, have to have had good conversations with your husband about how this situation is going to work in your day to day lives with the responsibilities of two children and avoid making rules that give your husband veto power or any rules that prioritise your marriage over other relationships. It’s one thing for you to say that the majority of your time is going to be taken up by your kids and your husband, but it’s another to see all relationships other than your marriage as sacrificial.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Episode 22: Backup Wife

A husband asks a wife to open their relationship after cancer, with some troubling caveats.

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

Discussion Topic: List five ways you are difficult to live with.

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

Episode 22 – Backup Wife

A husband asks a wife to open their relationship after cancer, with some troubling caveats. That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – List five ways you are difficult to live with.

 

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:

We have been married 24 years, both of us over 50, and I am 1 1/2 years post breast cancer treatment. We both had cheating spouses the first time around, and when I met hubby, he was a total player, he was 22, five years younger, and way, WAY more experienced than me. He is very high-energy, (he’s a sexual machine, really), bipolar, and sees sex as a physical act, not an emotional one, he recently said he had his one love in life and she killed whatever he had in him that could love, because she betrayed him and abused their son.

After having no physical contact during chemo, (which totally sucked), he now says “I’m afraid to hurt you” (he IS a big, very strong guy), and “I love you but I’m not IN LOVE with you”. Because he had the fantasy of a threesome, I gave in years ago one time and granted it even though I didn’t want it, because I loved him and wanted him to be happy and thought it might get it out of his system. It didn’t. I didn’t have contact with her during it and we never saw her again.

Now he wants a permanent, live-in extra female to have threesomes with, but he doesn’t want to share me with anyone except the other female (he has this whole “you’re MINE, I don’t share” thing going on. Not that I want to wander, but it’s disturbing that he thinks it’s ok for him and not me). He has also mentioned the possibility of adding MORE women later because he feels he could “handle” multiple women (think sister-wives all in the same bed!). When we met he juggled multiple women at the same time but I wasn’t aware until we got further into our relationship and were officially “dating”.

I am not into it. I am monogamous, have never been anything but, and never cheated on anyone, even when just dating someone, even when I was in the Navy and we were not married yet. (I can count the guys I’ve been with on one hand). I’m about to throw in the towel and move on because I feel like this BS “you’re MINE” crap is going to have me going back into a psychiatric ward. (I have major depressive disorder, PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks, the whole thing. I am seeing a counselor, as is he, both through the VA. We are both disabled veterans who do not work. After going through cancer treatments, now I am on hormone suppression to curtail a reoccurrence of cancer, and that makes me horny ALL THE TIME. (You’d think he would like that, right? Wrong. He COMPLAINS.) Um, yeah, I get I’m not a supermodel, but he’s at least 100lbs overweight and it doesn’t make me want him any less.

I love him, have been in love with him forever, but if he is incapable of loving me back the way I love him, I don’t think I can handle the kind of betrayal that would feel like. I would rather cut my losses and be single until I die. I feel like he married me so I would take care of my stepson, I feel like he is planning on using an extra woman as a preparation for me dying of cancer, and that I am now a burden even though I have grown my hair back and can take care of myself. I am also afraid that he may be unwilling to let me go regardless because we have a lot of financial obligations and I would leave him with all of them because I am not materialistic and I can move into an apartment or 55+ community in the city and wouldn’t need a car.

Yes, I have been thinking about what-ifs. He has forced me to prepare myself for the worst by pushing me towards things I don’t want. I left an abusive man I was married to who cheated on me with numerous people constantly. In that instance, I packed a bag and walked out with what I could carry after 6 years of being duped into believing that my husband was faithful. His best friends told on him after they discovered that I was faithful and that he was the only one treating our marriage openly. They thought it wasn’t fair to me because I was innocent and did everything right. I didn’t date for a long time afterwards. We had no children because he caused miscarriages and eventually was the reason I had a total hysterectomy at 25.

Sorry, part of why I am disabled is cognitive issues, memory problems and concentration issues, so I talk in circles and write in them. Yeah, I’m fucked up, I know it, I didn’t cause it or deserve it, but I’m used to it. I can still make to do lists and follow them, my bills get paid, and I take care of responsibilities and have intelligent conversations, I just get a little lost in them as if I was on cold medicine.

I still mow the lawn, putter with my houseplants, play with the dog, and, for the most part, act and appear normal, if with a dirty sense of humor. So nutshell here: What the actual fuck!?!? And: how do I deal with this crap? I know I am strong enough to move on if I have to, I’ve been there before, I know how to survive, but I would rather save what we have if it can be saved to our mutual benefit. If not, then I will bear the pain and move on knowing I did my best to figure out an amicable way to work it out.

Response:

There’s so much going on here. First I just want to say I’m sorry because like this really sucks. Like you’ve gone through cancer treatment and the treatment that you’re getting right now is really aberrant. Like it’s absolutely unacceptable. There a lot of really bizarre and just… red flags. Just like… There’s a whole marquee of red going on through this entire thing.

First and foremost, like you know, if you’re monogamous and you don’t want to be polyamorous, that is absolutely 100% fine.

I don’t think you need me to tell you that. I think you’re quite self-assured in who you are and I think that’s great. The biggest things that just sort of hit me off the bat is that you say that he said he had his one love in life and she killed whatever he had in him that could love… That is a very very horrible thing to say. And also just a… what I feel is and you know I’m not a therapist and I’m not an expert in abuse but I have had experiences with people who kind of set things up in a way where they can say, “Well I told you that I was terrible” or “I told you,” as if you are to blame.

So this feels very much to me like… you know sometimes people who are quite terrible will give you these little warnings and then they can turn around and say “Oh but I warned you. I warned you that I am on this way so…”. So what? Like it makes it acceptable for them to be that way? He tells you and has told you multiple times that he is not in love with you. Or you know… how can he say that whoever this is killed whatever he had in him that can love? That’s such a disgusting thing to say.

People have been through, you know— and I’m not trying to minimise what he’s been through. He may have been through a very very terrible relationship and he may… It’s one thing to say like, “Look I’ve been through very very terrible difficult relationship. It’s really hard for me to trust. It’s really hard for me to be vulnerable. It’s really hard for me to be intimate with people.” (Apologies for the siren) It’s another thing to say that you can’t love anyone else anymore. And it’s such utter horse shit. With all due respect to him, it is utter horse shit. There have been people who have been through incredible amounts of trauma and still manage to love people.

So it’s just patent bullshit. And it’s one of those things that’s just like a huge red flag. It just sounds like something that he can go back to later and say “Well I said that I can’t love anyone”. Which is horse shit. He can love people. He can and that’s no excuse for his behaviour. The other thing that I’m kind of picking up on and you haven’t explicitly said that he’s criticised your appearance but you talk a little bit about your appearance in here. You talk about how, you know, he basically wants to have this because he wants to have more sex, yet you are not, you know, you’re not disinterested in sex. And then you sort of talk about how you know you’ve grown out your hair back and you can take care of yourself.

You had cancer. Like… the whole point— well, not the whole point but a big part of a partnership is supporting someone else and I don’t know whether this is your talk to yourself, making you think that you were a burden for having cancer and probably needing some help and support from him, which I hope he provided. But you’re not a a burden any point. Even if you were… even if you get, you know, your cancer comes back and you do have to go through chemo again and your hair starts falling out again, you’re still shouldn’t be a burden to somebody. And because you mentioned like your hair growing back and that you’re not a super model and that he complains, it makes me wonder is he complaining about your appearance?

Because that’s really cool. Like you know… There’s one thing… I think that people who are together especially in a monogamous situation, you know, you can give feedback. Like if I have a partner and their breath stinks, I’m going to tell them that their breath stinks but there’s difference between you know something like that and what sounds like some criticism of your appearance, which is just… It crosses the line into abuse.

Like the reason why abusive people will sort of pick, pick, pick is it’s picking at your self worth and your self-esteem. And the good thing is is that from your letter I get the sense that that isn’t really working on you. I mean you do to kind of down talk yourself a little bit in this which I talk about later but you do overall seem confident. But that’s the sort of thing that sort of chips, chips, chips away and gets at your confidence and undermines you and it’s just really terrible thing to do. So that’s not cool, you know. That’s another big red flag .

The other thing is that like… you… At the end of this letter, you talk about— you want to see if what you have can be saved for your mutual benefit and yet throughout this entire situation, not only are you getting the feeling that he’s not interested in mutual benefit but he’s making that patently obvious. Now there’s a thing within polyamory that people refer to as “the one penis policy” which is when— exactly this kind of situation— when a— and this is usually cis people that we’re talking about. Not saying that trans people can’t have a one genital policy but usually it’s referring to a situation with a cisgender woman and cisgender man and where the main is ok with the cisgender woman basically sleeping with only women but no men.

So he’s owning you. He has this “You are mine. I don’t share,” but not with other women. Not that it would be better if he didn’t let you sleep with er— if he wanted to sleep with other people and didn’t want you to sleep with other people. I mean that’s not better, but it is very… The problem with this kind of policy where it’s like “You’re not allowed to have sex with other men but you can have sex with other women,” it’s just really gross because not only is it generally transphobic because,  you know generally people who have this kind of policy aren’t very open about gender and aren’t very understanding or judge trans people in negative ways and probably you know are just flat-out rejecting the fact that non-binary people exist.

But this kind of thing is very… it’s basically saying that women aren’t a threat. It’s very sexist and an outdated and ridiculous. So he’s going to let you sleep with his other “females”— which by the way I don’t know if that is a word he used or it’s a word that you use. If it is a word that he used… again another red flag here. When people call women “females”… Female what? He wants a live-in extra “female”. A female what?

It’s a degrading things to call a woman a “female”. It’s very… It’s hard for me to adequately describe it, but it is just very cold and it is objectifying. He’s objectifying these women. He’s objectifying you and he thinks he can “handle” multiple women and yet here you are wanting to sleep with him and he’s complaining about that? He’s complaining about your appearance? Here you are like… you know trying your best and he’s not putting up any effort. He can’t even handle the person that he’s in a relationship with. Let alone multiple people because he’s being incredibly selfish and sexist here. It’s absolutely unacceptable.

There are people who choose to live in this kind of situation where there is one guy and a bunch of women. If that’s how everyone in this situation is choosing to live,  I still think it’s not ok to basically act like women aren’t a threat or to basically create this kind of system when it’s based on the idea that you know men can handle multiple women. I just… even that word “handle”. Like it’s just… It’s just gross. It’s just gross. It’s horrible. It’s a massive red flag that he doesn’t have any respect not only for you but for these women.

It would be a totally different thing if he had come to you and he had said “You know, I’m struggling a bit with my libido and the fact that you’ve had cancer has been really stressful on me”. You know it’s ok that he’s scared of hurting you. Like that legit and if he would like… “If there was some say I could kind of do something sexual with somebody else to kind of let off some steam”. That would be one thing. This is not that thing.

You know there might be very understandable things going on or underneath all of these layers of terrible there still a lot of layers of terrible. And the other thing is that you need… you know you’ve got an intuition here. I mean you need to look at what you’ve written. The saddest thing that you’ve said in this letter is “I feel like he married me so I would take care of my stepson.” So his child I assume. “I feel like he is planning on using an extra woman as a preparation for me dying of cancer”.

So he’s trying to figure out like basically… have a backup wife and that’s really horrible. Like, you know, dealing with death this is quite difficult. And it’s quite a hard subject for a lot of people to talk about. It’s a very taboo subject. This is like a whole other thing in terms of the taboo nature of death that I could talk about for hours but I won’t get into it. But the point is that it’s ok for him to be scared of that but if he wants to make sure he’s not you know alone, there better ways of doing it. I think maybe underneath all this there are some understandable feelings but what he’s doing is displaying an incredible lack of respect for you and an incredible lack of respect for what you have together.

And so when you talk about if it can be saved for your mutual benefit, it doesn’t exist your mutual benefit right now. You know, he isn’t helping you out right now. You’ve gone through so much. Like you’ve survived cancer and you know what has he done? You don’t write about how he supported you. I really hope that he did support you. But now he’s complaining. And now he wants essentially a backup bunch of women who he can also lean on, that can help support him and do whatever he wants to do. He doesn’t— He’s not showing a remote— Like how scary it must be for you to have faced this? How scary must it be to have this threat hanging over your head?

You do seem very self-assured but just because someone seems self-assured doesn’t mean they don’t need support and there’s nothing that he’s doing that is demonstrating that he respects the enormity of the situation in front of you. He’s not even showing that so how can you create a mutual benefit situation where someone is clearly not invested in you? And an amicable way to work it out?

So this is the last thing and this is the last big red flag and the thing that I’m really worried about and I might be taking what you said off on a tangent and that’s fine but the fact that you said, “I’m afraid he may be unwilling to let me go”. He has to. Because you’re a grown ass adults. It doesn’t seem like you have any qualms about leaving but I don’t know what you meant by “I’m afraid he may unwilling to let me go” and you talk about trying to find an amicable way… I mean are you afraid of him? Are you really worried that something might happen to you? That he might hurt you if you leave?

If you are worried about that, part of the battle with people in abusive relationships is them– I think the statistic or something it is 4 to 7, the average amount of attempts for someone who is in an abusive relationship to leave that person and some of it has to do with you know the fact that it’s very hard to break the cycle. And because of the kind of manipulation that abusers do and it seems like he has manipulated you a bit but it doesn’t seem like you are… You know you say “I’m strong enough to move on if I have to,” and it seems like you have that confidence to sort of go “You know what? I’m done with this”.

And you’ve got the right vigour. Like you’re sitting here going “what the actual fuck? How do I deal with this crap?” You don’t. That’s the answer. You don’t deal with this crap because you deserve 100% better and you know if you are scared of him or if you think that he might physically prevent you from leaving, then you do your best to make arrangements. Talk to a domestic abuse shelter and they should have programs that help people get, you know, physically escape situations if that’s what you’re really worried about.

But you seem like you’re able to take care of yourself in terms of living on your own. It really sucks. This is such a terrible situation for you to be in. And I can’t even express like how… how sad I am for you in this situation. You don’t seem like the kind of person, I could be wrong,  but you don’t seem like the kind of person who necessarily wants anyone to feel sorry for them but you’ve just gone through so much and I think the least of what you deserve is someone who respects that and someone who respects you and someone who is willing to give you the support you need.

The last thing you need right now after you just survived through a bunch of chemo treatments and dealt with all that stress— the last thing you need is someone going, “Oh yeah I wanna have a bunch of women and you can sleep with them but you can’t sleep with anyone else and yeah I think I could have multiple women is a think I can handle them”. It’s just patently fucking ridiculous. Like I’m so sorry you’re in this situation because it’s so ridiculous and you deserve so much better. I just… I really hate sometimes having to give this advice because I think you know… I usually, for most situations, unless they’re a direct threat to someone, I try to see if there can be ways to solve it because there are some times when people just have… they don’t have inherent incompatibilities but they have just disagreements and sometimes there are ways to solve them.

There are probably people out there that exist in a very similar scenario to this where you know their partner has multiple partners and you seem like the kind of person where if he had approached you and said that he wanted to have multiple partners but didn’t place any restrictions on you, you might have even gone with that. Maybe, you know, even though you’re monogamous. Or you might have considered the possibility but your spider senses are tingling for a reason. Like this whole ownership of you is unacceptable and you can’t work— you can only work—  this is one of the reasons why I tell people constantly that relationships aren’t skills, that you don’t fail relationships.

Because it takes the people within in that relationship working together and you can’t work with someone who refuses to work with you. You can’t build anything amicable or build to a  mutual benefit with someone who clearly does not have your best needs at heart or cares about your benefit. I mean he just like… there’s so many things here that just say he doesn’t care. Complete side note, I know I’m trying to come to a close. But let’s just examine the cognitive dissonance within his statements. He’s saying he’s lost his ability to love because his ex-wife stole that from him or what not and then he’s also saying that he can handle multiple women.

And maybe he means just sexually, but like you know these live-in wives, are they not going to be loved? Is he just going to have multiple “females” in his abode that he doesn’t love? I mean this is ridiculous. It’s ridiculous and you deserve so much better than this. I wish that I had… If he had come at you trying to explore polyamory clumsily… If he had come at you and said, “I’m interested in extra liv—“ Even “extra females”. That’s like an extra what? It’s like the person is an extra side order of fries. Ugh.

If he had come to you with a request to open up your relationship so that he could meet some of his sexual needs without the complaining about your appearance, without the “he can’t love anybody anymore”, without the instinct you have that he’s trying to find a backup wife, it would have been one thing. You could have maybe worked that to your mutual benefit but he is showing you who he is and I just don’t think that you should put up with it.

I’m really sorry that there isn’t anything that better can say but you know what you’ve done so far— like you’ve come so far. You’ve done some amazing things. You’ve survived so much. The relationship you described with your previous— the  abusive man you were with— absolutely freaking horrible and you’ve survived through a lot and you just deserve especially after you survived abusive people,  you survived cancer, like after all that– you really deserve to have somebody in your life who respects you and who cares about you and who cares about you know your needs and your life just… You can do better. I really genuinely think so. It’s never too late but yeah. That’s my advice with this and I really really hope it helps and good luck.

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