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

This content is 1 year old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

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

This content is 1 year old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

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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Monogamous partner in non-monogamy

This content is 1 year old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

My partner and I have been together 5 years and are in our early 30s. We identified as a cis/het couple; however, he recently came out as queer to me. And I think I am too — if I were currently single, I would be interested in pursuing women/non-binary/trans people. Herein lies our conflict. He would like to open our relationship so he can explore his queer identity. On a macro level, I completely understand and support this. But I have no interest in being in an open relationship.

There are many things about our relationship that eschew the traditional system our society pushes — we never want to get married or have children, we have never used gendered terms such as boyfriend/girlfriend — but I am really struggling with getting on board with non-monogamy. I just don’t think it’s for me. I have had some strong, negative reactions every time we’ve discussed it, and even when doing research on my own. I burst into tears and have trouble expressing myself. But I know it’s important for my partner to explore his queer identity. I wish more than anything that I could immediately be on board with this to support him.

I’m worried I’ll never be okay with non-monogamy. I worry this means my partner will suffer because he will be denying an important part of himself; I worry if I agree to open up I’ll be even more confused than I am now.

I think my questions boil down to this: can non-monogamy work if only one person is interested in dating other people?

To answer your first question: Yes. There are plenty of people who are monogamous themselves and date someone who does pursue other relationships. As much as people think ‘polyamory’ isn’t “traditional” — and perhaps calling it that is — historically, marriage has been less about love and more about financial arrangement and within ‘marriage’ plenty of men have had the freedom to have mistresses to their heart’s consent.

While I wouldn’t call this ‘polyamory’ per say, this was very much a cultural norm and there are plenty of societies where polygamy is a cultural norm and, while it may come with some caveats around how it can be used to abuse and control women, I don’t think the set up, so long as it’s consensual, is necessarily problematic.

What’s important for this kind of setup isn’t necessarily that the individual who is monogamous experiences no jealousy or negative emotions about their partner pursuing other people. I feel like that’s an unrealistic expectation to put on anybody attempting to open their relationship. You can’t grow up within a monogamous-centric culture, let alone one who places unrealistic expectations of monogamy within your head without having that pop up in the form of fears and anxieties in your life. I generally advise people interested in non-monogamy to have their own motivations beyond extending the shelf life of their current relationship toward non-monogamy.

For someone who isn’t interested in being non-monogamous but their partner is, I advise that you realise that reality that your partner being non-monogamous will bring. Love is infinite and your partner pursuing other people does not mean that they love you any less — but time is not infinite. And agreeing to a non-monogamous relationship means you are agreeing to a relationship where your partner will not spend the majority of their time with you. And this is something which some monogamous people will have to agree with as well if they are married to or date someone who has a time intensive career such as a doctor or lawyer.

You will have fears of being replaced. You will have the nervousness that even people interested in non-monogamy experience when they open their relationship because trying new things will always make one nervous and afraid. You’ve been together for 5 years and that’s a good foundation but it’s important for you, in the middle of these fears, to realise how little you can control. Anxiety for me is always about trying to give me the illusion of control.

My anxiety brain thinks that making me afraid that my partner will leave me will motivate me to acting in a way that will make that outcome less likely. The more I buy into the idea that I can act in a way that will prevent people from leaving me, the stronger that belief becomes. But the truth is, I cannot ultimately prevent that.

Obviously, I can be a total asshole to my partner and then they’re more likely to leave me, but I can’t stop someone from falling out of love with me. I think it will help you in this situation to remember that keeping your relationship closed will not prevent your partner from falling in love with someone else or falling out of love with you. You’re probably going to feel a lot of pressure to close it when things get rough, but that will not prevent the thing you’re afraid of.

Having these fears or even crying when you think about your partner dating someone else doesn’t mean you can’t do it or that you don’t want to do it — sometimes it’s just an emotional response to a fear we have. But if you realise that this isn’t something that you control, whether you open your relationship or not, it can help you manage that fear.

To summarise, if you don’t mind your partner spending time away from you, even if you’re not keen on dating other people, then it might be worth trying. You being afraid or crying doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t do it. A lot of people experience fear and worry when they open their relationship — even when they are interested in dating other people. What’s important is being prepared to manage that anxiety, which you may wish to explore with a polyamory friendly therapist, and accepting you will experience that anxiety instead of trying to fight it.

I want to also mention and I don’t assume you meant this negatively, grouping women, non-binary and trans people into one group isn’t really accurate and can actually be dismissive of people’s identities. If you are a cis woman dating a trans man, that doesn’t make you any less straight than being a cis woman dating a cis man. “Trans people” are a very wide category and it’s really important to not create a type of “third gender” separate from men and women just for trans people because it very much invalidates trans women and trans men’s identities.

Last but not least, I want to also say that it may be that you’re not interested in non-monogamy and this is a time where you and your partner have grown apart — and that’s okay. Even if you are not interested in marriage or children or prefer non-gendered terms, that doesn’t mean you have to be or will be interested in non-monogamy. It’s not as if non-monogamy or polyamory are part of some pathway to freedom or liberation and it really irks me when people act as if monogamy is somehow a less liberating or close minded choice.

For some people, they want or are oriented toward monogamy and there’s nothing wrong with that. Assuming monogamous people are adhering to or agree with all of the negative things society tries to attribute to monogamy is like assuming that someone being a man or a woman means they agree with all of the negative things society attributes to gender. So don’t feel like you have to be non-monogamous to eschew traditional systems. It may not be for you — and that’s okay.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Episode 20: Unethical Non-Monogamy

This content is 2 years old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

Your marriage doesn’t have passion but a new friendship does. How do make what’s been unethical ethical?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 20 – Ethical Non-Monogamy

Your marriage doesn’t have passion but a new friendship does. How do make what’s been unethical ethical? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon.

 

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:

This is a bit of a long email, I hope you can read it without too much judgement. Thank you in advance.

I’m interested in entering a consensual, non-monogamous relationship with my husband. We are both 32. We met in college, and we’ve been together for ten years–the last two as a married couple. For the most part we are fairly traditional. The exception is that we’ve spent the entire relationship (including marriage) at least 4 hours apart.

I’d like to stress that I am 90% happy with our relationship. We have the same longterm goals, values, and interests. We both love what we do (thats why we live so far apart). Frankly I think distance has been good: weekends are always spent together, our communication is top notch because we make it a point to talk about our feelings.

What’s the 10% I’m not happy about? There’s zero passion between us. It’s never been great, but it’s gotten worse over the last 3 years. I literally consider sexual relations as a duty — not a joy. It’s affecting our relationship badly. It used to be that I was excited to see him (but not physically be with him) now…I’m a little indifferent. He’s a great guy, and I don’t want to lose him.

In the past year, I’ve become very close with another man. Let’s call him “X”. X and I have amazing physical chemistry–there’s passion and fun in a way I’ve never experienced. He’s professed love for me many times without any sort of prompting on my end. Emotionally we’re very attached. He and I have very much been in a relationship this whole time. I know this is wrong by most standards. It doesn’t feel wrong.

The thought of either of them having sexual relations with someone else frankly doesn’t bother me. In fact, I’ve often encouraged X’s (safe) enjoyment.

With this in mind, I’m interested in openly exploring non-monogamy with my husband. I would never tell him I had been unfaithful, that kind of honesty would destroy him, but maybe we should explore it? How do I bring up this in conversation? He’s fairly traditional, but always been open to new ideas. I think it’d be good for him too. I think my lack of sexual enjoyment has hurt his ego and a partner who enjoys him would be great. Don’t berate me too much about X.

Response:

So, okay here’s the thing. This may not feel wrong to you, but it is wrong and I think you know that. Polyamory can sometimes begin with cheating. It doesn’t always. Like very very rarely from what I’ve seen and how much I’ve given advice on it, very, very really does it ever occur that both people in a couple situation decide at the same time that they are interested in non-monogamy. Usually it’s one person’s idea to bring up or something like this happens and so it’s not completely unusual.

I don’t think it’s impossible necessarily to go from being dishonest to being in an open relationship however what you have right now is not what you think it is. So you’re saying that everything’s great with your relationship. You have great communication but you don’t. You don’t have good communication because you have this massive secret and you know that it is something that you need to keep from your partner. You know you can’t honestly tell your partner so that’s not great communication and I really feel like I think polyamory and open relationships or ethical non-monogamy, whatever you want to call it… I think it can become a, you know… I think it can come from cheating but I think honesty has to be a big part of that.

You want a consensual non-monogamous relationship but right now you have an un-consensual non-monogamous relationship and your husband doesn’t know about that and the second that you know… Basically the only way for… Even if you bring this up, even if it works out the way that you envision it working out and you get to date X and you get to date your husband at the same time, you’re going to have to maintain this lie. You and X are going to have to maintain this lie to your husband in perpetuity. And it’s one thing to like… you know, sometimes I do think people get, you know, they kind of meet someone. They get kind of infatuated and feelings develop and they try and kinda deny it to themselves and they end up flirting a lot and then they’re like, “Oh no. When is this cheating? I don’t know. I’m confused.” and yada yada.

And eventually they realise that they’ve made a mistake and then they go “Shit. I’ve cheated. Now what do I do?” And then they’re honest but that situation… For that to happen in the past and for you to say, “Ok. I’ve cheated. I’ve been emotionally clearly intimate with this person and I’ve been dishonest with you about it”. You know, that’s ok for you to have done that and then realise your mistake, admit your mistake, be honest with your partner and say, “I really want to pursue non-monogamy. I’ve been dishonest but I’d like to work on repairing our trust”. However if you decide, “Ok. I’m not going to tell him the truth because that kind of honesty would destroy him,” as you said, then you will never have a consensual non-monogamous relationship.

Because you have been lying this entire time and you will have to continue to lie. Even if you… he now knows about X, you will continuously have to lie and I really really don’t think that that’s going to work. Like it’s very very obvious, you know, because this happens all the time. Not with people who consensually and knowingly cheat but it happens were somebody kind of develops and attraction to somebody else and that is sort of spearheading their interest in non-monogamy. And then they approach their partner about it and then it’s sort of like that, you know, baking and cooking shows where they’re like “This is the recipe. By the way, here’s one I made earlier”. They just kinda pull out this— oh! Just so happens that there’s this person I’m interested in. Like… you can’t pretend that kind of thing is just happenstance.

And even if you decide to like maybe lay it low or something for like a couple of… like a month or so to give some space then you’re still lying to your husband about it. You’re still creating a false narrative and you’re going to have to like… forever. Like let’s say you end up with X and with your husband and those two relationships are great for you and you’re in these relationships for the rest of your life. You’re going have to lie for the rest of your life until like I guess maybe you’re like 70 or something and you finally decide that it’s ok to tell him.

I mean if you think that like… you know, you have to understand from his perspective. Like, you have a good relationship. You’re very communicative with each other and he’s already, you know, you already said that your lack of sexual enjoyment is hurting his ego so how much more is this going to really gut punch him? The fact that not only, you know, is his ego bruised from how difficult your relationship has been but that you’ve lied to him this entire time? And he’s going to have a lot of feelings about that. And it’s going to be very very obvious like… I just don’t think you’re realistically going to be able to pull it off by not telling him. It’s going to come out.

The truth is going to come out eventually and when it does come out it’s going to be 10 times as worse than if you would have just told him the truth. So point blank, I’m saying if what you want is a consensual non-monogamous relationship, you don’t have that now and you can’t ask for that if you’re not willing to be honest. And I think that you know that it’s not right, what you’re doing because you’re telling me not to berate you for it.

And another thing that you really need to think about is that X must know that you have a partner unless you’re lying to X as well and if he knows that you have a partner that means that X is fine professing his love for you knowing that you’re with someone else. And I mean that’s the thing… like… I can understand that people get into situations especially when you have a long distance relationship. Your partner is 4 hours away. You don’t see them every day. That can be hard. Most people— a lot of people would never agree to that kind of relationship in the first place and then you meet someone. You have a really good connection and like… I do get how especially if you’re out, if you’ve had some drinks, like one thing leads to another I can totally understand how that can happen.

But that’s very very different, in terms of that accidentally happening, that’s very very different from someone obviously being very emotionally intense with you, knowing that you have a partner and being absolutely fine with declaring their love for you. Like that to me is…  that is a red flag you know. If someone is… I’m not saying that this is always the case because, you know there’s millions of people on the planet and everyone is different but if someone is fine with breaking the rules and boundaries of someone else with you then theoretically they are fine with breaking your rules and boundaries.

So you’re wanting to start these new relationships but everything is not built on any foundation of trust or honesty. Even the relationship that you have with X, while you may really love it because it has all the spark and passion that your current relationship lacks, it’s still based on dishonesty and X is fine with that. And I think that’s something that you really need to think about. Like are you… cause they say like… I’m not sure what the exact quote is but something like “Cheaters Cheat” or “Cheaters always cheat”. And I don’t think it’s necessarily true. I think it really depends on the situation. I think sometimes people get swept away and that’s understandable but I do think it’s worth thinking about. If someone is willing to be dishonest and lie to someone in front of you, with you, than it does put into question what they’re willing to do with you not there.

That all said, you could hear what I’ve said and say, “Ok. How about I just be honest with my husband? I tell them about what happened with X. We try to start from ground zero, rebuild our trust. Is that a good idea?” I’m really really wondering why it is you’re holding on to this relationship. Like I get that you have a good relationship, maybe not a romantic or sexual relationship, but that you have kind of this established base together. You have some good communication. You enjoy spending time together but that isn’t enough reason to… You know, your percentages where you’re like I’m 90% happy with it but 10% I’m not. You know it doesn’t really matter if you’re happy with most of it, if that 10% is like really, really crucial to being happy in your whole life.

Like you can be 99.9% compatible with someone. You could meet someone who is everything that you’ve ever dreamed of but one issue that is critically important that cannot be compromised on like… Let’s say you meet someone who is absolutely perfect but you do not want to have kids and they do. There’s no compromising that really like… I mean, I can’t really think of a situation… like you can wait. There’s a…  maybe but you really shouldn’t have a kid if you don’t want to have a kid and people who do want to have children… if they were you know, stuck in a relationship where they couldn’t would eventually end up feeling resentment. There’s a kind of, for certain people depending on how the body works, there’s a time clock of availability of when they can have a kid so it’s one of those things like you… everything else could be absolutely perfect but that one detail changes everything.

So yeah, you have the same long-term goals, values, and interests. You both love what you do and you spend some nice time together. You sound like good friends. You don’t have to be in a romantic relationship with each other and I think that you’re kind of a bit trapped in what’s called a sunken cost fallacy which means that like… you’ve already put so much into this that you think you have to keep going with it but you really don’t have to keep going with it.

I know you’ve been together for 10 years and maybe that’s like partly is like… your fear because you’ve always had this base with this person so you’re really afraid to give it up but I don’t think– if it’s not actually working for you that it is worth keeping. Like why would you try to salvage this especially when you know you can find someone else who also has the same long-term goals? I mean realistically right now if you want non-monogamy like, even if you were to break up with your husband and go with X and you still want a non monogamy, you wouldn’t share the same long-term goals you know. You don’t really have the same values. You don’t actually do because you, in your relationship, want some passion which is understandable. And you say it’s gotten worse. You say that you know I mean… you could go to couples counselling but I just feel like, you know, you’re in a situation. You live 4 hours apart and you’re just forcing this relationship to stay and I don’t think that you need to. Especially if you’re monogamous and especially if you know…

You say you want him to have a partner who enjoys him. Let him have that. Let him go. Let yourself go. Try it with X. Maybe it won’t work with X. Who knows? But there’s no reason to keep… just because you have had this history doesn’t mean that you need to keep it. And it’s better for— It’s far far better for you to part ways amicably, to go, “Ok. You know we both like each other. We’re both friends. We both have a good rapport but clearly this romantic relationship isn’t working out. We clearly both want a relationship where we do feel attracted to one another and we don’t at this point”. Sometimes even if people have a history of having that kind of good attraction, it does go away.

One thing I would also add, just as a caveat, is that people do tend to find, you know, when you have a new relationship that’s sparkly brand new and you have a lot of passion, especially like if you— if everything is brand new, there is a lot of what’s called “new relationship energy” that goes along with that. Like everything is new and sparkly and shiny and exciting and then especially like, usually it’s when people move in together to be honest, things become a little bit humdrum and it’s not necessarily that that’s a bad thing and I do think sometimes people get this false expectation. Like new relationship energy gets them really excited and that’s what they want relationships to always be and it usually isn’t like that.

Not necessarily because there’s something wrong with moving in together or forming into a monogamous relationship where you don’t see other people. A lot of people would use that as an example of why humans aren’t naturally monogamous or whatever. I just think that sometimes you know… it’s sort of similar to like any relationship in your life or you even like getting a new phone or new computer. It doesn’t even have to be a relationship. Like when you get a new phone you’re like “oh wow!” and eventually you’ll get used to having it there. And it has a different type of relationship in your life. I really shouldn’t compare people to things.

But I think it’s the same like with a new friend. When you meet a new friend. You become best friends and you know eventually like you have a different kind of relationship. As a relationship matures, it’s a different kind of relationship and some people do just tend to find that passion dies in their relationship and I kind of feel like sometimes as they say “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” and sometimes being apart can actually help people because then they get excited when they see each other again.

But in your case, if you’re not even excited now like… if you’re 4 hours apart and you’re not even that excited when you see him again like what’s your overall game plan? You’re going to move in together? You’re gonna get married? You’re going to have kids? I mean I don’t know what your long-term goals are but I just feel like you’re just forcing this relationship to stay and you don’t really have any good reason for it other than the fact that you’ve been together for 10 years and you spent two as a married couple. And you know you think… because there’s so many things for you to list as positives, you don’t get… you’re not weighing things out by how much they mean to you and how much of an impact it has terms of what you actually want out of relationship.

You know you may have the same long-term goals and values in life and you both may love your jobs but that doesn’t mean that you’re inherently destined to be together in a romantic relationship or that a romantic relationship even works for you. So I think that you need to like really think about why it is that you are so intent on keeping this when there’s no passion in it. Even though you’re emotionally very attached to each other or at least you know you’re actually emotionally attached to X but like you seem to have this really strong bond with your husband and that’s cool, but if there isn’t any passion and that’s what you want then it’s not worth just trying to hold on tight to this relationship.

It’s like I said, it’s far far better for you to split on amicable terms, you know, and you don’t necessarily have to, if you decide to split, you don’t necessarily have to confess that you’ve kind of been— I assume that you haven’t done anything physical with X because you just said that you kind of had this emotional relationship. I mean you say you’ve been very much in a relationship this whole time. I don’t know what that means. If you’ve actually physically done things with him in which case, that’s an STI risk and I do think it’s fair to tell your husband that, even if you are splitting up, because it’s just you know… he should know to get tested or you should— like I just think it’s fair to disclose in that regard.

But if you haven’t and you’v just kind of been a little bit emotionally tied to this guy and you’ve kind of not said you’re officially in a relationship but you’ve basically been in a relationship then you could technically decide to break it off with your husband without having to tell him about X. I wouldn’t. I just think honesty is the best policy in most cases because I just think that whenever you have a lie this big, it is inevitably going to come back and bite you in the ass. So you should just be honest about it, especially like if you’re breaking up.

I mean yeah, it’ll hurt. Like it hurts to be cheated on but it’s not in like… I know you say it will destroy him but there are things that are going to happen in life that are going to be shit and he is responsible. I’m pretty sure he can find a therapist and I’m pretty sure he can deal with his own emotions. That’s not like a reason to hide the truth from him just because you don’t think he can handle it. Like you ultimately… You aren’t really the arbiter of what he can and can’t handle. He’s a grown ass adult. He’s adult enough to be in a relationship so that kind of is part of it. Do you know I’m saying?

So yeah, overall I think that it’s not a good idea. If you what you want is a consensual non-monogamous relationship, you’re never going to have that if you were unwilling to tell your husband that you’ve been unfaithful. You’re never going to have a consensual non-monogamous relationship because even if you were to introduce it to him… Even if it was the ideal situation, you introduced it to him and he was like, “Actually yeah I’ve always been interested in it. Let’s do it.” Great, but you’re going to have to continuously be dishonest about X. You’re never going to tell them the truth so he’s consenting to something, consenting to you dating, consenting to being in this non-monogamous relationship with you from that point.

He isn’t consenting from the point that *you* decided to be non-monogamous basically. So you’re never going to have a consensual non-monogamous relationship with your husband if you refuse to be honest about what you’ve done. And again I stress like… as part of the wrap up, there is no point dragging this out if you’re at a base level incompatible. Like you sound like great friends. Like he sounds like a great friend for you to have. And you can be friends. You can chat with each other. You can talk with each other. You know you can meet up when times call for it but you don’t have to be in a romantic relationship.

I know it’s hard sometimes especially when you’ve been together with someone for so long and it just feels like how are you ever going to live without one another? And it’s a very very scary thing especially if like… So if you’ve been together for 10 years and you’re 32, that means you’ve been together since you were about 22, which I don’t know if you went to uni but like theoretically like you’re almost high school sweethearts. So I don’t know how much you dated before you were in kind of this monogamous relationship but if you’ve gone for such a long time without actually dating and getting out there it can seem really scary but that’s not a reason to just stay in a relationship.

And it’s also not fair to him. Waiting until… playing this sort of weird chicken— relationship chicken and waiting until someone calls it quits like… Don’t do that. Both of you like… you’re not… you know you have time to figure out what it is… to find partners who are at least in the same city. Like there’s really no reason to just keep this going. I really don’t like that cause I don’t like it when my advice like “break up” because I do feel like that’s like… I don’t know if it’s like it’s the typical advice like “just break up. just break up.” but like in this situation, especially if you are never going to tell him the truth.

It’s just… You might think that you are going to be able to keep it under wraps. I mean let’s hope you don’t. Cause you’re also relying on X to basically keep his trap shut for the rest of however it is that you are together you know. If you have a bad breakup with X and things don’t work out… all that passion turns to anger and X decides to tell your partner. You don’t like… You’re assuming that you can lie and I just don’t think… like he… Your husband would  have to be extremely naive person to not realise that something is going on. I mean, granted he is 4 hours away so there might be a lot he doesn’t see but I just don’t think that you’re going to be able to keep that lie and there is no reason to.

I really hate that that’s kind of my advice in a this certain circumstance but I do really feel like ultimately you have a good overall relationship but you’re not clearly romantically compatible and it’s sometimes like… Don’t try to shove it and make it work and you know separate amicably. As amicable as possible. Like breakups always suck but separate in the nicest way that you can and that’s so much better especially if you want to be friends in the long run. Like, it’s so much better to split up amicably and so much easier for people to theoretically heal from an amicable split than just trying to force your husband into being non-monogamous so that you can continue seeing the person you’ve cheated on him with.

That’s not ethical non-monogamy. That’s just you wanting to see the person that— you wanting to have permission to cheat but without having permission because you’re still not going to be honest with your husband about it so… it’s just best to to end it unfortunately so yeah I hope that helps.

I’m not berating you for cheating. I just think that you know, honesty is the best policy and there is a reason for that and it might be worth you thinking about in the future because I don’t even necessarily know if you’re actually non-monogamous you know. It’s not as if you’re interested in you know… You say that you’d be fine with your husband or X sleeping with other people but that’s easy to say from the position that you’re in right now. A lot of people before… A lot of people who are super gung-ho about polyamory think “Oh this would be great!” like… people who are super gung-ho about polyamory, people whose idea it was to become polyamorous constantly find themselves in a situation where, as soon as a partner starts seeing other people, they get scared as hell and it becomes a situation that they were not prepared for. So you really aren’t going to be able to tell and I don’t know as that your actually interested in it so… yeah. I’m going to end it here cause I feel like I’m bit repeating myself. But I hope that helps honestly and good luck.

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Relationship broken? Add people.

This content is 2 years old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

To get straight to it, I am a queer black woman and I have been in a relationship with another queer black woman for about eight years. We were friends before for about 4 years and always had a crush on each other but never got together because we were always in other relationships.

We never cross the lines of friendship until one day neither of us was in a relationship and decided to finally date. We started dating in our early 20s around 23 or 24, we are now in our early 30s so we have been through financial strain, unemployment, career insecurity and all the many things normal 20-year-old go through. However, nothing has been as hard as what we are going through now.

Since about September 2018, I noticed a feeling of disconnect between me and my partner. Our sex life was somewhat cold, we did cuddle and share intimate physical touch/moments but things felt different and I didn’t know how to bring it up so we didn’t really push the issue. Things didn’t really come to a head until December 2018 when she started personal therapy and was diagnosed with mild depression. Her therapist also told her she was co-dependent or had co-dependent behaviors (apparently her therapist was talking about her relationships with her family and works but my partner saw how it applied to our relationship, I have asked for here to explain where in our relationship and I still have yet to get a clear answer) and these diagnoses really set her off.

She’s always had an “all or nothing” personality and shortly after these diagnoses, rather than discussing these issues, she abruptly broke up with me, and even “broke up” with our mutual friends. I was devastated and really confused as I didn’t have any understanding around how she was codependent or why there was no opportunity to talk or negotiate etc.

We live together so we still had to see each other and about two days later she came to me saying that she made a rash decision and just panicked because she was being all or nothing about her diagnosis and felt that the depression that made her feel the need to isolate. We decided to get back together and try to work things out. However the abrupt isolating happened two more times.

It was a really rough way to bring in the new year and was very traumatic for me. It was never a planned thing on her part. It would always happen abruptly during a conversation and she would say things like “I went out last night and someone we both knew asked where you were and it made me feel like I don’t have my own identity independent of you” And she would break up with me after I randomly asked about last nights event. The talk about independence would really strike me because before all this madness we would comment of how we are not controlling of each other or trying to limit each other social time or even how we accept each other flirty moments etc. So I don’t understand how now she feels less independent.

In February 2019 we decided to go to couples therapy and have been going roughly every two weeks since we started. Since then her personal therapist has told her she in remission with her depression. The goal for starting couples therapy was to heal and to get comfortable stating our needs and feelings without feeling the urgency to fix anything, just holding space for our feelings and compromising and negotiating to meet each other’s needs, to work on our communication, and not avoid problems that we see arising.

I was happy that we were in therapy and it was clear that we had a lot of work to do. But before I could get too comfortable, she dropped another abrupt bomb that she is interested in non-monogamy or polyamory and that she has desires to have other sexual experiences outside of our relationship.

I was really taken aback by this, not because I am completely inflexible with the idea of non-monogamy but because of the timing. This is one of the weakest moment in our relationship history and our foundation is so vulnerable and to add something heavy like nonmonogamy on top of that seem like something that will create more tension and stress. She also is very confusing because she vacillates between what she wants out of a non-monogamous relationship. At first, she explained that the desire wasn’t sexual, she told me that she had no interest she said in being sexual with other people she just wanted to have intimate romantic relationships without sex.

Then it turned into her wanting loose casual sex with other people. Then she said she not really a casual person and that instead, it would need to be a relationship that would require investment. But there’s still no clarity as she seems confused about what she wants from a non-monogamous relationship or why she even wants one.

I’m just trying to get a grasp on our relationship and what we need to heal prior to this nonmonogamy topic and now the nonmonogamy seems to be talking so much precedence in our conversations that there seems to be a sense of urgency. I am starting to wonder if there are needs that she has that are not being met and instead of discussing those needs with me she looking outside of the relationship to get these needs met from other people.

Is this how non-monogamy or polyamory works? Where when you’re are not fulfilled by one relationship so you set expectations with your partner that you will find other romantic partners? Or is the goal to have multiple satisfying, fulfilling relationships? I am concerned that this non-monogamy route is just being used as a Band-Aid treatment rather than just working to heal our relationship. I truly feel that if we were in a more secure place in our relationship and didn’t just go through three back to back traumatic breakup/makes ups and she sat me down and said “hey I love you, I find our relationship rewarding and fulfilling and I see you as my long-term partner I also want to have different sexual experiences and I want to work with you to find some middle ground so I can explore that” then I really feel like I would not be totally adverse to the idea, I would still need patience etc. but I think I would feel differently taking on that change.

However, at this moment I feel as though I accept this non-monogamy lifestyle while trying to heal our relationship without even knowing what a non-monogamous relationship looks like for us in order to keep my partner or I just have to leave and lose the access I have to one of my best friends in the world. I just would love your input on this and thoughts on if you see a lot of successful happy polyamorous relationships where one partner practices non-monogamy while the other one was still monogamous. Also, do you see a lot of relationships where nonmonogamy worked as a solution to heal a relationship?

Also, is non-monogamy relationships created simply because one or both partners desire other sexual partners and instead of cheating they just create space to have other sexual partners?

There’s definitely a lot going on here. Let me get to some of your questions about non-monogamy/polyamory.

How polyamory works

There are some people with polyamory who say that it’s impossible for one person to meet someone else’s needs completely. I think that any time someone says something which is meant to be true for every billions of human beings out there, they’re bound to be incorrect about everyone. There probably are some polyamorous people who seek other people because they don’t feel fulfilled by one person.

But I would say that isn’t really a very good understanding of polyamory and sells it a bit short. A lot of the people I’ve read from or talked to are interested in polyamory because it brings something to their lives that monogamy doesn’t. Many people just don’t see there being this relationship tank of needs that’s either filled or unfulfilled by any one individual. But rather new relationships add something new to their life in the same way having more than one friend adds something to your life. Or having a child and then another child to add to your life. People, well most of them anyway, don’t decide to have another child because one child isn’t ‘enough’. It’s just not that simple.

However, I can’t really say for sure if that is a motivation that your partner has. Plenty of people do treat polyamory as a way to get everything they want more or less, or see it as that on the outset. But I can promise it’s nowhere near as simple as that. All relationships in our lives, romantic or not, come with compromise and less or more amounts of emotional labour. Many people do get away with having multiple connections where they give little to no emotional labour, but that isn’t something sustainable. If your partner wants to try having multiple partners, it’s definitely not akin to going to a partner megastore and picking out all your favourites and going home happy.

How polyamory comes about

I would say that it’s actually very rare for two people who are monogamous to both suddenly come to the decision that they want to try non-monogamy with the same amount of interest or at the same time. Most of the time, a choice to open a relationship comes from one person in the partnership, not both people. Sometimes it doesn’t happen in the happiest of circumstances either. Sometimes it comes out of cheating. Sometimes it takes a major life crisis or major event to make people get the courage to go for it. There hasn’t been any studies, that I know of, that have been done on it, so I don’t know what’s more common.

It’s hard to say what’s motivating your partner to want to try non-monogamy and you have done what I would normally suggest in this type of situation in terms of trying to figure out the physicality of what non-monogamy would mean for your relationship and unfortunately it seems like she either doesn’t know herself or she’s not making things ultimately clear for you, which is going to make this even more difficult to figure out. You’re not completely opposed to the idea and the main worry you really have is less about your partner leaving you for someone else or fear around them wanting someone else (which isn’t to say that won’t come later) but more just honestly around the current instability that you have rather than any worries about non-monogamy itself. And that’s actually a pretty good sign overall.

What does stability look like?

Right now you’re struggling to understand what a non-monogamous relationship would look like because you’re still unsure of what your current relationship is like. You’ve been together for eight years and then went through a period of breaking up and getting back together. It’s going to be very hard to understand when it is ‘safe’ again for you. You’re going to be worried that another breakup cycle is around the corner and I think that before you really get to working out non-monogamy, you’re right to think you need to focus a bit on re-stabilising your current relationship.

But it might be hard to really know when it’s going to feel officially ‘stable’ again. One thing that I think would be really helpful for you to work on is understanding what exactly has prompted her to initiate a breakup and identify strategies for how she can manage those feelings when she has them. I’ve been in a lot of situations where my survival lizard brain is telling me to get out of a relationship because it’s trying to protect me. And it can be really hard to ignore that part of your brain when it wants to protect you. Right now I’m trying to learn how to differentiate between a genuine red flag and me panicking and self-sabotaging my relationships in an attempt to ‘save’ myself more or less.

You may not be able to be part of that identification process or what she needs to do in order to come down from this, but it concerns me that you’re not really part of any of these processes, even when they directly affect you. I wonder if her therapist knows that she is taking the advice and applying it in such an extreme way. While her therapy isn’t necessarily about you or your business, it does have a direct impact on you. Now that you’re seeing a therapist together, it might be good for you to discuss together how these things came about and what strategies you can use to address them in the future.

Dipping your toe in polyamory

A lot of people try out non-monogamy by doing it ways they think are “safe”. They put up a lot of rules and boundaries and promise desperately not to love anyone else and swear to save their relationship above all other things. Not only is this grossly unfair to whomever they date outside of their coupledom, but it’s also missing the point — monogamy isn’t inherently safe.

While I do think that you need to come to a better understanding of what has made your partner come to these snap judgement for your own relationship, I don’t think that it’s necessarily going to work to put down the idea that you need to do this before you open your relationship. Your partner should be motivated to understand and addressing her ‘all or nothing’ personality before she decides to add more partners to her life, whether it’s because she wants more sex or more romance or both, because that ‘all or nothing’ type of attitude is just going to end up hurting more people than just you. Considering she didn’t have qualms dumping her ‘friends’ either… I’d say that this is less of a problem to address as a way to safeguard yourself against the challenges of non-monogamy and more of a problem to address as a way to help her overall in all of her relationships.

What she may also need to address is thinking she has to have all of the answers and being able to sit in discomfort. What you say about her back and forth choices about why she wants to try polyamory may be because she thinks she has to have all of the answers, so she’s trying to speak from a place of authority she doesn’t have. Maybe she’s uncomfortable with not knowing something for sure so she pushes herself to decide. That may also explain the decision to try and dump people. She doesn’t sound like she enjoys sitting in uncertainty, so she makes a decision, any decision, just to get herself out of that anxiety.

Unfortunately, that type of in-between is only going to continue through life and she needs to be able to learn how to sit in discomfort or learn coping strategies for how to deal with it. It may be that, in her life she’s dealt with so many things where she’s had to make quick decisions or sitting in that discomfort meant so many more terrible things than it does now, that she’s adapted like this to try and protect herself. But now, her instant decision reflex is not doing her any favours. As you said, you need patience and part of that, especially now that you’re rebuilding trust together, is going to mean sitting in some discomfort. Maybe if she learns how to better sit in it, she can give you an honest answer — which is that maybe she doesn’t know why she wants to try it or she wants to wait and see — instead of trying to stick to one decision.

In summation

Figuring out what it was that motivates her to make these split decisions and how she can learn how to disrupt that thinking, perhaps with you involved if that’s helpful, will really help you both feel more stable in this. It’s fair for you to ask for time before you decide to open your relationship, but think about what stability means for you and what you would like to see come from your couples therapy sessions together. Don’t necessarily think you need to wait for things to be perfect, because life isn’t perfect, but figure out some things that can be done to make things better between the two of you.

Lastly, I don’t think opening your relationship at this time is necessarily bad for your relationship. Your foundation is weaker, yes. But there will be things that challenge that foundation throughout your life — sometimes whether or not you’re adequately prepared for it. The fact that you’re willing to work towards a solution that works for you both, if she is also willing, is a good sign. And the fact that your primary interest is the stability of your current relationship rather than some of the typical worries people have with non-monogamy is also a good sign.

But it’s also good to remember that some of the behaviours she’s displayed will only create more frustration for her if she embarks on new relationships, if she hasn’t yet learned how to cope with them. She might be prepared for all of the wonderful things that new relationships can bring, but is she also prepared to provide more emotional support to more people right now in her life after recovering from depression? That’s something she might need to work through and figure out.

Finally, definitely seek out some personal therapy if possible for you to have someone to bounce ideas off of. I think they might also be able to help you work through some of the feelings you have about what you’ve been through so far and help you figure out the best way to get support for yourself in times of crisis.

I hope this helps and good luck.

Do you have a question?

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

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Episode 19: Is Polyamory Lazy?

This content is 2 years old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

Is polyamory just an easy way to go from person to person to get what you want. Or is there more to it than that?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 19 – Is Polyamory Lazy?

Is polyamory just an easy way to go from person to person to get what you want. Or is there more to it than that? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon.

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I’ve been in a relationship with my partner for not so long. At the beginning it was like any new relationship and during that time he basically said that he had the same beliefs regarding relationships, love and marriage. He knows I come from a very traditional and religious family. After some time he started telling me his expectations on how his ideal partner should be, then says that it didn’t matter if there was love and eventually evolved to him telling me that he doesn’t believe in monogamous love but polyamory (and he hadn’t even tried it before).

He was certain that he could love the same way multiple people and that he wants to try that out and that he has seen friends who tried it and it looked good. It does go against my values and beliefs so I wouldn’t try it and he wants to do it and I don’t know what should I do. It makes me doubt if he actually cares about me because polyamory sounds to me like a lazy way of getting what you want from different people without having to make any real effort in any specific relationship to make it work since you just go to another one to fill the need you have, at least that’s what he said.

Response:

So there’s a couple of things… I find it… it’s really funny when I read “polyamory sounds like a lazy way of getting what you want”. It was actually… It is really funny because I think there is a… I don’t know if it’s a coined phrase or if it’s a common saying because I don’t really hang out in a lot of polyamory communities anymore but it’s sort of a phrase that people like to use is Polymon which is like Pokémon but with polyamory in it and it’s the idea of like that you’re just collecting people. And I do think, to be fair, that there are some people who do (and I’ve mentioned this a lot before on the column and on the podcast)… people who are polyamorous because they can have multiple shallow relationships where they don’t have to put in any any emotional labour into anyone and they can just kind of go from person to person having a good time and not be responsible.

They don’t tend to want to take responsibility in any of the relationships that they have for anyone’s kind of emotional growth or anything. They’re just kind of in it for the fun of it which is fine if that’s what you want to do. But I tend to feel like, from the letters that I get, that these kind of people end up hurting a lot of people because people… Some people are in relationships for fun. Some people don’t need to have relationships for that and I think it’s just a miscommunication and misunderstanding between people of what a relationship is. Because I think when you talk about polyamory… like the big thing that a lot of polyamorous people try to say is, especially when they’re compared against swinging, is that it’s about relationships. And it’s about love.

But what constitutes a relationship really differs from person to person like… It’s one thing between me and my domestic partner is that people that they… I would consider that they are dating and they are my partner’s partners. My partner doesn’t really consider them to be “partners”. Not say that that my partner doesn’t care about them but clearly we have a very difference of opinion of what a relationship is and what it means and what people do in them. And it can be so variant from person to person that it’s almost kind of a little bit meaningless to try and make this big distinction between polyamory and swinging in that regard.

And if that’s the way that your boyfriend wants to do things and that’s the way he wants to do things essentially unfortunately you’re at kind of an impasse that’s completely… you know. Unless you or he changes his mind, it’s just not something that you can get around, you know. You don’t seem to be open to trying it. It’s not something that interests you. It actually goes against the values and beliefs that you have. And so fundamentally the really isn’t anything you can do.

And it sounds like your boyfriend is still trying to figure out, you know, what he wants out of life and that’s fine like… A lot of people are in that stage of their life and there’s nothing wrong with that. And this happens all the time. It doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone’s in the wrong or that anyone has done anything bad. It’s just sometimes we have different experiences in our life. We discover things about ourselves and we decide to go a different way on things. So I do think that in terms of what you should do, I think you should unfortunately break up and find someone who does have whatever it is that you’re interested in or whatever relationship matches the values and beliefs that are important to you.

Unless you were in any way interested in trying out polyamory or non-monogamy, I don’t think there’s a point in trying to convince him otherwise because the thing of it is is that you know he might try it and he might decide it’s not for him. I think it’s easy enough to see people who… I mean think about it in terms of monogamy like… You see a lot of people monogamy works really great for them and you see a lot of people it doesn’t work great for them. It’s hard to say just from seeing people who try it and it works for them that it would work for you but he wants to try it out. I mean, I would encourage him in general like… If he does listen to this and it’s going to try out polyamory, I think that one thing I’d encourage him is just to try to stop having these ideal beliefs. Like it seems like he’s trying very hard to think about things less in a “try and see” way and more in a “what he believes in”. Monogamous love works for some people. Some people are monogamous. I think people who say… And I’ve written a column about this before.

One of my hugest pet peeves are people who say they “don’t believe in monogamy” outside… like when they apply that outside of their own lives. It’s quite all right to say that monogamy doesn’t work for you as an individual but to sort of make some grand gesture that applies to (what is it?) 7 billion human beings just because it doesn’t work for you is just absolutely preposterous. I mean there’s literally billions of people on the planet. The idea that one thing works the same exact way for every single person all the time is just a little bit silly and it’s just not realistic.

You know monogamy does work for some people and it’s a valid life choice for plenty of people. I really really get annoyed and I really don’t want your boyfriend to become another one of these people where they’re so sold on what sounds very cultish in a lot of writings about polyamory where it’s endorsing polyamory as not just a relationship style but as some kind of weird healthy way of life that’s enlightened and above anyone who’s monogamous. It really drives me absolutely up the fricking wall because it’s just not true.

You don’t have to go to any lengths in order to describe… in order to be polyamorous. All you have to do is say you’re polyamorous. You don’t have to pass a test. You don’t have to get a licence. You don’t have to go on a spiritual journey. You don’t have to be good at communication. You don’t have to be good at anything and regardless of how many people want to argue that, “Oh well you know polyamory causes you to have to communicate.” No it doesn’t. It really doesn’t. It really depends on the person. It depends on their relationships.

There are certain things that… you know, experiences that you will have you know… It’s just like there are probably different ways of coping that you would know if you skydive then if you didn’t skydive. But it doesn’t mean that, if you haven’t skydived, then you don’t have any coping skills. And just the way that people act like polyamory is some type of, you know, 12-step program for improving everyone’s life and being some type of… you know, “oh this is the way humans are”. It’s honestly the amount of BS never ends in my opinion when it comes to some of the stuff you read,

It’s fine for him to not want to be monogamous himself but monogamous love does exist. It’s valid. It’s a thing that people want. It’s a thing that plenty of people end up— you know, if you want to count a relationship success by, you know, how long people have it or the fact that no one escapes it alive or you know that one person ends up dying and if that’s what you want to measure a relationship success as — there are many many many successful monogamous relationships. And just you know… I think he should nip that in the bud if he’s listening to this. I don’t know if he’s gonna listen to this but it’s just something that I definitely have to comment on because if you do kind come to the decision that it is something you want to try I don’t want you to end up dealing with people who make you feel bad about monogamy being your choice. Because it’s a valid choice and there’s nothing wrong with it.

I don’t know what beliefs and values you necessarily hold that would indicate that polyamory is wrong in comparison with them. I think those are worth examining and challenging because I do kinda feel that some of the things that people attach onto monogamy, which I don’t think are inherent to monogamy, can sometimes actually be really toxic for monogamous people. There is a lot of things that are cultural attributes and I don’t know if you share the same culture. I’m assuming, could be wrong. But you know jealousy for example as a sign of love.

People being angry at someone else paying attention to you is passed off as this noble thing like, “oh it’s good if your partner is angrily jealous of someone else talking to you because it shows that they love you”. When it’s actually very possessive controlling behaviour and that type of casual acceptance of that behaviour leads to the abuse, when it escalates into abuse, being normalised in society which is a problem. So I do think that you know… I’m not sure what values and beliefs you’re referring to, but I do think it’s worth you thinking about because there isn’t anything inherently wrong with polyamory either.

People do and can love more than one person and you know… Your issue in terms of, you know, feeling like “It makes me doubt if he actually cares about me” and “It’s kind of a lazy way of getting what you want from different people”… It’s really hard actually. Like there are some people… and we make that kind of funny joke about Polymon and the idea of people trying to collect people and generally speaking those kind of people who just date as many people as possible just tend to have very low threshold of what they consider dating or you know what they consider a relationship which is up to them and I’m not judging that.

But having multiple relationships is hard work. If you actually provide support and care for someone as a partner, as a romantic partner or however you want to do it. Just like, you know, having friendships and having a lot of deep friendships can be a lot of hard work if people need you. It really depends on the person. So I don’t think that it’s that your partner doesn’t care about you.

People are interested in polyamory for all sorts of reasons. And I think we make this assumption that because monogamy sells you this idea that, you know, you’re true love and you’re soulmates and you complete each other and all that sort of stuff. And that in a way is kind of harmful for monogamous people because it gives them a false expectation. Because monogamy is hard work too. All relationships are hard work, especially the more you’re kind of living together all the time and being around each other all the time. That can be hard work regardless of whether you’re monogamous or polyamorous.

And so I think that people get this feeling that “oh well if my partner wants to date other people then I must not be enough”. And I talked about this in the podcast and the column before but it’s not really how it works. Just like if someone has one kid, they don’t have another kid because one kid wasn’t enough. That’s just not how you know… You don’t have one best friend and then decide to meet other people and make new friends because having that one friend isn’t enough. Like it’s just not how it works. It’s not a matter of whether or not one person is enough or not. It’s… Different people bring different things into your life and that’s why you have more than one friend.

That’s why you know you don’t say to your parents… you say to the other parent “oh well one parent’s enough, thanks. I don’t need you. Bye”. Its… Different people bring different things into your life it as long as you know you can have a lot of stable really loving relationships, whether they’re romantic relationships or friendships. I think one of the things that I really like about polyamory is that it encourages me to rethink my assumptions about which relationships are or should be valued.

I think our society encourages us to see romantic relationships as the most important relationships and other relationships as less important which I don’t think is the case. I think friendships are extremely important and very undervalued in our society. So you know, I think that you’re making an assumption about your boyfriend’s motivations behind polyamory and also kind of about the way people do it. I will… I don’t doubt in all honesty that there are some people, and maybe your boyfriend is one of them, who see polyamory as just a collect them all thing where they can have one person for each need they have. And you know what, if it works for them and that’s how they want to do it and they’re not hurting anyone and they’re very clear about the expectations then I think that’s fine.

I think it becomes a problem when someone is you know… There’s a miscommunication about what a relationship means and someone is expecting emotional support and not getting it from someone because that person’s kind of just there for the fun of it. That’s when there’s problems but I think it doesn’t really matter. Like you know whether… Your boyfriend could honestly care… You can mean the world to him and if you have this fundamental difference of compatibility which is he wants to try polyamory and you don’t… Not only do not want to try but it’s actually against your values and beliefs and there isn’t really anything that you can do about that.

I think unfortunately in this case, it’s quite simple. You just have to break up. Yeah. I wouldn’t encourage you to go against your values and beliefs to save a relationship. I think if that’s honestly how you feel, then that’s how you feel and that’s valid. So yeah, that’s kind of like the only thing that I can really suggest if you’re really against even trying it.

If you do change your mind about that, I would encourage you to think about the reasons you’d be interested in non-monogamy, if you wanted to and not just do it for the sake of one person. Or look there a lot of probably things written online about monogamous people who are in polyamorous relationships. Like where they are monogamous with one partner but that partner sees other people. That’s a thing that can happen and I’ve seen happen reasonably successfully, however we want to define success in relationships. So it is a possibility but at this point… yeah.

I think if if you’re really against it, there really isn’t anything you can do but go your separate ways and you know it’s better to actually go your separate ways on a positive in more or less like in a… both coming to the realisation that you just have a basic incompatibility instead of trying something and you both getting hurt and then separating on a bad note. I think… yeah. Better to separate now instead of waiting until it explodes more or less. I’m sorry I don’t have better things to say or better ways you can work around it but I really think that’s probably for the best and I hope this helps and good luck.

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Episode 16: Just Deal With It

This content is 2 years old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

Your partner has told you that they want to sleep with other people and expects you to just deal with it.

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 16 – Just Deal With It

Your partner has told you that they want to sleep with other people and expects you to just deal with it.  That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon.

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I’m not sure who to talk to about this, but my anxiety levels have been skyrocketing recently and I’m trying to understand how I should be feeling. I’ve been dating a girl for about 3 months, and it has been a very intense 3 months. We both completely fell in love with each other. She just moved to Japan for 5 months, and made it clear that she will be sleeping with other people. I’ve never done anything like this before, and I’m having an extremely difficult time with it.

Her ex boyfriend has stayed at her house, she’s seeing other guys constantly, and we talk about it and I don’t know how to deal with it. I’m trying to not let jealousy ruin our relationship, but I’m not sure if it’s just jealousy. I can’t tell if I should be completely ok with this situation or not. I just need some advice on how to navigate this. I feel incredibly alone and disconnected from her, and I feel like she expects me to just be completely ok with it. Anyways, I appreciate any feedback or advice you can give me.

Response:

So the first thing that I have to say is this doesn’t sound like a mutual decision. Like you say that you’ve been together for 3 months. She’s moved to Japan for 5 months and she made it clear that she will be sleeping with other people. I think fear is totally normal for most people. Even people who are like “Yes I want to be non monogamous. I want to do this.” Even people who have actually had a history of cheating will find that their partners or anyone they’re with, dating other people sends them into a huge amount of anxiety and I think that’s quite normal. And I don’t think… I think people often mistake that for jealousy and I don’t think it always is jealousy.

I think it’s just a fear you know that your partner is dating someone else and you might lose them which is really really understandable. But the thing that I kind of advise people to focus on is what they get out of non monogamy and why either they feel it’s inherent who they are or they feel they chose it. And the thing that I’m kind of missing here is it doesn’t really seem like you’ve chosen it. It just sort of seems like she said “I’m going to Japan and I’m going to sleep with other people” which she’s allowed to do but I don’t know why it is that you’ve accepted that.

It just seems like you haven’t really talked this decision through. I mean I can see a situation where I like… you know you have an intense 3 months together and she’s going away for 5 months and that’s, you know it’s not necessarily… especially if you’ve had a really, really good relationship, it’s not necessarily a reason to break up. I mean 5 months is a long time but it isn’t a long time. And you know you can always come to an agreement where you say, “Ok, for the 5 months that we’re part you can do whatever and then what happens after that”.  I’m not really sure if this non-monogamy that she’s decided she’s going to do is because she’s in Japan or because this is the way she wants to do relationships. I mean there’s a lot of unanswered questions here and that’s probably the source of a lot of your anxiety.

I think even if you even if you were totally up for non monogamy, you know her expecting that you are ok with it also it is not helping. It’s only adding to the situation. And so I think that would be first thing that you really need to figure out is… and this might be quite difficult because you’ve only been together for 3 months. That’s not really necessarily a long time to start making big life decisions or when to say “Are we going to be together for the next year?” But it would be good to have a discussion and and talk more about if this non-monogamy is a temporary situation or permanent situation. If it’s only a temporary situation then you could kind of have what’s called the “don’t ask don’t tell agreement” which a lot of people don’t really consider ethical for understandable reasons. But I think in your situation, if you’re struggling to hear about all the people that she may be with and you don’t need to hear that information because you don’t see her, you necessarily need to hear that information.

But even then, I think the struggle that you’re going to have is one that I think all long-distance people have. When you’re long-distance with someone, even if you’re monogamous, it puts a strain on the relationship. Because a lot of people need that daily reconnection and I do think that long distance relationships, regardless of whether you’re non-monogamous or not, in order to feel connected with your partner I think you really need to set time aside and you really need to say, “Alright, Tuesday’s is the day we call each other in and we have a lot of phone date”. That seems really arbitrary and sometimes a little bit forced but I do think that especially with long distance situation where you don’t have the presence of that person, it really shows that you have that kind of commitment towards one another.

But there’s so many unanswered questions for you here. Like you know, what are you to her? What are her… You know, she is going to Japan for 5 months but what happens after that? It’s very very understandable for you to be afraid and I think that it will help you to be a little bit easier on yourself and for her to be a little bit easier on you like… I’m not sure what you mean by “she expects me to just be completely ok with it”. Because if you agree to a situation and that’s why it like… asking based on permission can be really really tricky. If she said “I’m going to be sleeping with other people. Are you ok with that?” and you said “Yes,” than it can then be quite difficult when you do struggle with it because it can feel like you’ve kind of already given permission. That expectation that that person has when you say “Yes I am ok with it” maybe isn’t you know… It can be quite tricky. Because, yes you were ok with it in the moment when it was just a concept but when it became reality it became a lot more difficult for you to cope with, which is understandable. But it’s still creates a kind of difficulty in managing that.

I don’t think that it’s just jealousy. I don’t think that anyone, even if they are totally au fiat with non-monogamy and I’m not really sure you are… Like you don’t really say, “Yeah I’m interested in non-monogamy. This is where I want my life to go. This is what I’m interested in”. You don’t really say if it’s a temporary situation or if this is how she permanently wants to do things. Even if you were in either situation, whether you’re ok with it being temporary or you’re totally on board for non-monogamy for the rest of the conceivable time that you are together, it will still be quite normal for you to be scared and especially with that long distance and that lack of communication and that inherent feeling.. There’s always gonna be that inherent imbalance in between you two because you can’t see each other and you’re always going to feel… I definitely think it situations where you have a long-distance partner and they have someone that they can see, you’re gonna feel… like you are going to feel a bit of jealousy in that situation because that person can see your partner and you can’t.

I think quite often jealousy gets used in this way in polyamory advice where it seems like it’s never an acceptable reaction to something when, you know, in my opinion, and I get quite pedantic about it sometimes, jealousy is wanting something that someone else has. And if these people have, you know, access to your partner, whether they can stay the night, whether they can see your partner all the time, you know that… You want that. You want what they have and that’s a completely 100% understandable thing to want and then to feel jealous over.

And the way you deal with that is by having a partner that’s understanding and empathetic to that. And you have a partner that is willing to show you that you matter to them by setting aside time, if that’s what makes you… it depends on what makes you feel worthy to someone. Does it help to set aside time? Does it help for them to tell you how much… you know a little email saying “Oh I just thought of you today” or something like that. It really depends on you and what makes you feel valued by someone and I think that’s worth exploring.

But I think before any of all this, to kind of sum up like… I think you need to figure out what the agreement is. Is this temporary? Is this permanent? I’m a little bit concerned. I don’t know if things happened exactly the way you say it where she literally just said “I’m going to be sleeping with other people”. The end. And I mean I guess that’s direct communication but at the same time it just seems a little, you know… It’s not to say that you necessarily should control what she does and I’m not trying to say that, but I kind of feel like saying… you know… I mean when you put your cards on the table like that and say “This is what I’m going to do”, you know at that point you can say “I’m not comfortable with that. The end of the relationship is here”.

Having a discussion with someone about a choice that you want to make can sometimes feel like it’s about permission and I think that can be really tricky. Because I don’t like giving permission and I really I do think that whenever people are put in a position by someone that they really care for or they’re interested in to give permission they’re going to want to yes. They’re not going to want to say no.

So generally speaking you are going to be compelled to say yes, especially if it means that the relationship might end. But I just feel like there’s a way that it can be handled that is a better balance, rather than just saying “I’m going to be sleeping with other people” and then specially afterward, the fact that you say that she kind of expects you to be ok with it. It’s one thing to sort of set things out and tell your partner “This is a decision I’m going to make. It’s my life and making this decision” and then to just expect that they should be fine with it, especially such a big change, and not be willing to invest kind of the emotional reassurance and the time it takes to help you cope with the difference that this has for you… I’m a little bit worried about that.

I think that you should really ask yourself if this is the kind of approach you want to these types of situations. Whether or not you end up non-monogamous or not, like maybe it is just a temporary thing while she’s in Japan and maybe you can deal with it for 5 months and then she comes back. Regardless of whether or not you’re into or not into non-monogamy, her behaviour in this instance has really demonstrated the way that she’s gonna handle things and if this is the way that she handles this, how is she going to handle other big decisions in the life that you may envision yourself having with her? And I think that’s something that’s really worth thinking about.

Figure out with the agreement is. Like I said, I know it’s only 3 months in. It’s hard to be like, “Oh I plan on marrying you”. You’re probably not at that stage but having an idea of what it is that she’s thinking. Why has she chosen this? Is a temporary? Is it not? Getting more clarity on that I think would help your anxiety a little bit.

I think you need to give yourself permission and she needs to give you permission to be afraid especially so early in this relationship. You’re only 3 months in. You like each other, yeah, and you’ve got a lot of new relationship energy going on but you haven’t yet established your full familiarity with each other. You’re building trust and yeah we give people the benefit of the doubt when we get to know them and we trust them but that doesn’t mean that it’s not scary. And it’s a very scary position for you to be put in or for her to be put in as well when you’re just starting off in a relationship.

You’re just getting to know each other. You’re just starting to build trust. You’re just starting to get used to it and then to have this major thing happen. You need to be a little bit more forgiving. Cause this would be a very difficult thing for even people who have spent 25 years together and are just trying this and have loads and loads of trust as well a mortgage and children together like… this is a huge thing to try. It’s not easy and it’s a big change and it requires a little bit of patience on both your part. You with yourself and her with you.

The thing that I always kind of cling to whenever I am having a lot of panic and fear that my partner is going to leave me… first thing that I try to remind myself is there’s absolutely nothing I can do the control that. And that’s a really terrifying thing to think about. There’s nothing I can do to keep… Because I think my brain, especially with anxiety, always tries to convince me that if I do this you know… It’s kind of like the remnants of OCD. It’s kinda like “If you do this, you can stop this from happening. If you compulse, you can stop this terrible thing from happening” in your brain and I think it carries over. If I am the perfect partner and if I make sure that I do this or that than you know I can prevent someone from leaving me and it’s just not true. And it’s scary to think that but I think it also can be quite liberating. So I do think that that’s really helpful to cling to whenever you’re having all this anxiety.

But the other thing that’s really helpful to cling to is what you get out of non-monogamy. There are some people who feel like non-monogamy for them is an orientation. I don’t necessarily feel like it’s an orientation for me, but I do feel like it’s a choice and it’s a purposeful choice that I’ve made for a good reason. And I cling to that whenever I feel anxious. I remember “Ok I chose this because I know that I don’t want monogamy for these reasons” and that’s just something that I go back to.

And the thing I worry about here is that if you haven’t chosen this and it’s just been something that’s been pushed up on you, it’s going to be really hard for you to figure out what the purpose is. But I don’t think that exploring that is necessarily bad because it might be that you look at the situation and you go “Right, I’ve known this person with three months. We do have a really good connection”. You can have that connection with other people. And it might be genuinely worth exploring the idea of is it worth it? Is it worth this anxiety if it’s a temporary situation for 5 months? Is it worth all of this?

That’s not a question I can answer for you. That’s a question you have to answer for yourself. But I do think if… you know, exploring what you get out of non-monogamy or what you don’t get out of it is really going to help you figure out… Either help you have something to tether to when you are having a lot of anxiety to remind yourself of or help you figure out the maybe this situation isn’t for you. Maybe non-monogamy isn’t for you and that’s ok.

It can be not something that you want to deal with. And I remind people like… breaking up and having a relationship not work out isn’t it failure. It isn’t necessarily reflective of a failure on anyone’s part and even though it really sucks, you can have two people who absolutely love each other and who are perfect for each other in multiple ways but there’s a very fundamental incompatibility that they just can’t get past. That there is no compromise on. And I do think that some people can compromise with non-monogamy. But some people just can’t.  It’s just not something they’re into. It’s not something they want to do. When they try it devastates them and that’s legitimate. And that’s fine. But like I said that’s a question that you unfortunately have to answer it for yourself. It’s not a question that I can answer for you.

That’s that’s kind of like… the best thing that I can say in response to this is just… you know, like I said, figure out with the direction is and figure out if that’s the direction that you want to go in. I hope that helps and good luck.

Do you have a question?

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

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Can you compromise on polyamory?

This content is 2 years old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

My husband and I have been married for almost 3 years, together almost 7 years. I had 5 kids and he had 1 so together we have a very uneven “Brady Bunch”. We met thru a threesome with someone he and I both knew. Instantly I felt pulled towards him and I couldn’t stop thinking about his eyes, eyes that when I looked into them I could see his soul. We began to hang out a lot as friends with benefits basically.

Anyways we were supposed to have another threesome again but mid way my husband quit and left. I asked him why and he said he didn’t wanna do that anymore cuz he was catching feelings for me. Nothing made me happier cuz in my mind I thought he only wants me to himself and has feelings for me so to me this was great. But then he told me he wanted to try swinging/switching partners and we did cuz I wanted him to be happy. I hated every second of every single time. I’d have to get really messed up drug/drunk to follow thru and when it wore off I was always in tears. I still can’t get the images of him with other women out of my head.

The threesome we met in was the first time I’d done ANYTHING like that sexually. I thought it was like a fairytale at one time. Now I mostly feel inadequate, unwanted and like I will never be enough for him. He says it’s just combining energy and that sex doesn’t have to involve love or any feelings other than the energy created by combining multiple people on that level. We’ve been going to therapists and working on bringing our thoughts closer but I don’t know if we will ever be on the same page or even in the same book when it comes to this. We are so extremely compatible in EVERY SINGLE other way. It’s only wrong to him because it hurts me, if not for knowing it would kill me he would absolutely prefer that lifestyle sexually.

But he says he wants to change his thinking so he won’t continue to talk sexually with other women and exchange nudes etc with other women because all that to me is cheating and it’s killing me. He is doing it a lot less but how do I know if he can really be happy with me or if he’s gonna just resent me. I have a genetic condition that means my life will be cut dramatically shorter than usual.

Here’s my question, is it possible for us to both be happy and be only with each other or will it always be one of us sacrificing our happiness and sanity to make the other happy?

First of all, I want to say that I feel for you in this situations you’ve been in where you’ve gone along with it to make someone else happy. I know what that feels like and it’s a really hard thing to break yourself out of. You say that you have a genetic condition which means your life will be cut dramatically shorter than usual and, although I don’t have that same thing, I do have a condition which makes it a lot easier for me to die than for others and I’ve always felt like that gave me more of a reason to consider the time I do get on this Earth and how to make myself happy because ultimately, once I’m gone, I’m gone.

This is a situation where I feel like… if circumstances were different, perhaps there would be a way to compromise. Let me break down why I’m worried that that won’t actually solve your problem.

Incompatibilities both big and small

You have a basic incompatibility here. Neither of you are wrong in how you functionally see sex and what it means to you. There’s no one “right” or better way to do that. Some folks see sex as an intimate expression they only share with individuals they feel close to. Other folks see sex as an intimate expression they love to share with anyone and can get a type of intimacy from that and a type of excitement from that that they just can’t get from the same individual. Both feelings here are valid. And it might be that your husband has a bit of both.

Now this is one incompatibility but the pressure of how much it matters is individual. Two people can be perfect for each other but one wants to have kids and the other doesn’t. One wants to travel the world and the other doesn’t. There are some incompatibilities for which it is impossible to make compromises on. Sex can and can’t be one of those things. Because the thing is… sex and it’s relative importance to different people is… well, relative. For some people, sacrificing their want to go out and have sex with new people to stay with their wife and family is not a big deal and they can do it without a second thought. For others, it’s impossible for them.

You aren’t ever going to be on the same page when it comes to how you view sex and I don’t think that either of you should force yourselves to try and be on the same page. It would be one thing if he said he was *considering* ways to meet his needs and he was trying to work that out with you. What really concerns me is that he has already basically cheated on you to fulfil his needs. And I have to also wonder how he could go through with swinging or sex seeing you drunk or on drugs, seeing you cry, and doing this multiple times without considering that maybe this wasn’t something that you wanted to do.

Compromise should go both ways

It’s not just that you’re incompatible here, but that he seems to be willing to find a “compromise” that means you are unhappy. Some people can successfully negotiate some incompatibilities in their lives by both sides giving up something. My domestic partner and I have a basic incompatibility when it comes to the way we handle safer sex. I wouldn’t have sex with someone unless they had been tested relatively recently. My partner would have more casual sex, using protection, but without asking about testing. We make compromises where I give up the idea that they are going to have everyone tested before they sleep with someone and my partner gives up some of the ‘freedom’ they would have by asking questions before taking on a new partner — but this is a compromise both ways.

Your compromise hasn’t been both ways. And while some of this is due to you being willing to put your needs aside for someone else… part of it, especially when it comes to witnessing you being upset in multiple situations and actively cheating on you, is your husband’s fault. It’s going to be incredibly difficult for you to create any sort of situation where you can trust that he will equally sacrifice something because he is already demonstrating that he has no qualms about cheating or entering into a sexual situation where he knows the likelihood is high you’ll come out of it in tears. You say it’s only wrong to him because it hurts you but… clearly it’s not wrong enough for him to completely stop doing it when he knows it’s cheating. It doesn’t matter if he’s doing it “less”. It’s still wrong, period.

Secure your own mask

You ask at the end of the letter if it’s possible for you both to be happy or will it always be one of us sacrificing your happiness and sanity to make the other person happy but… let’s been real here. You’re already sacrificing your happiness and sanity to keep him happy. You said it yourself you have a short life. Do you really want that life, especially with the kids you have, to be spent feeling, as you put it, inadequate and unwanted?

If his behaviour had been different throughout this relationship, I would have advised you consider meeting in the middle and even giving him some freedom to go out swinging on his own, but it genuinely concerns me that you’ve been with this person for so long and there have been multiple occasions where you have used substances to literally get through a sexual experience and he either hasn’t noticed or didn’t care. I know it’s not always easy to tell, but the very first time you ended up crying after a threesome session, he should have been instantly concerned as to why. He should have cared that it bothered you so much. Even if my partner was saying “I’m okay. Really, I’m fine” through tears, I would have paid enough attention to their behaviour to notice they were using substances before these experiences and then getting upset afterwards. That’s not exactly a 1 million piece single colour jigsaw puzzle.

You have five children who love you and care for you. And I don’t need to tell you how important it is for you to be there for them, especially if you have less time on Earth. But if you were on a plane going down, you would have to secure your mask before you put on their masks. And in this situation, you need to take care of yourself before you start sacrificing so much for this one individual. From what you have written, he isn’t and hasn’t been willing to sacrifice his happiness for yours — so why continue to expect that?

I get you’re attracted to him and I get the draw, but ask yourself if it’s worth trying to go to therapy to a convince this man to stop cheating on you. That’s the minimum he’s supposed to do in a relationship. If he does nothing else, he could at the very least not cheat on you. You can and will find other people you’re attracted to. And I know it might be difficult if you’ve put your families together but… don’t go in for what’s called a sunken cost fallacy. I can tell you as someone who has been in households of adults staying together “for the children”… it’s much better for you and for your kids if you are with someone who does not cause you this much hurt, or even if you’re on your own and happier without the drama and mess, than for you to stay and continue to get hurt.

Especially if you don’t have as much time as others — why waste it with someone who is at the best incompatible with you or at the worst is cheating on you? You deserve better.

I hope this helps and good luck.

Do you have a question?

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

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