Episode 22: Backup Wife

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

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

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

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

Episode 22 – Backup Wife

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

 

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Response:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.

Monogamous partner in non-monogamy

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!

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.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.

Episode 20: Unethical 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. 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.

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.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.

Relationship broken? Add people.

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.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.

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. 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.

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.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.

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. 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.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.

Can you compromise on polyamory?

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.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.

Episode 14: To Open or Not to Open

Should you end a marriage with kids just because your partner wants to be explore? Or just wait it out?

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 14 – To Open or Not To Open

Should you end a marriage with kids just because your partner wants to be explore? Or just wait it out?  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 was basically googling all night long with anxiety and insomnia with my son and partner in bed soundly sleeping next to me.

My partner basically told me (not for the first time) that he desires to have sexual relations with other women. Actually, he said that he wants to get to know other people and he sees sex as a way to do this. He basically wants to explore.

Here is some background on our story.

We met on online dating site about 4 years ago, he approached me (I had set an age “interest” in a range that he was not in). So he did not come up on my feed of potential candidates but I came up on his. I was looking for someone between 35-45; he was 26 at the time and I was 39.

I had set my age range this way because my previous relationship was with a younger man and it didn’t really end well, so I was not looking to repeat this experience.

However, when he contacted me, he was intelligent and peaked my curiosity. We agreed to meet a week or so later and on the first date, I honestly wasn’t really interested in pursuing the relationship, but in the end he convinced me otherwise because we did continue to see each other.

We ended up having a great sexual connection and continued to see each other over the course of 6 months until I got pregnant.

I always wanted to have a child but it was never the right moment or the right person. I had never gotten pregnant before, and honestly wasn’t sure I was fertile. We had spoken about this over the course of the 6 months together and perhaps you could even go so far as to say we unconsciously tempted fate on purpose.

Early on he expressed his desire to explore his sexuality coming from a conservative, religious and sexually repressive background and it triggered me then but I kept telling myself that what we were living was momentary and would not last (because of age difference). However, I got pregnant and this ended up changing everything.

Except as was confirmed last night, his desire to explore his sexuality is still very much alive in him.

He has mentioned it to me a few times over the past 4 years but usually when we are having a disagreement or difficulty communicating. He is a man of few words and generally does not appear comfortable talking about his feelings. (Either because he is not in contact with them and he has trouble identifying them or because it is too difficult but I suspect it is more the first point.)

I must say he is a great father and his son loves him very much. He is also a great provider for us as a family. As a partner it is not easy to communicate with him though and I believe this is our main challenge although it is getting better. He is also a major introvert and I am on the other end of the spectrum. I am a highly social person, with high sensitivity, and desire to connect and communicate.

As I am sure you have already deduced, I am not comfortable with his need to explore. However, I am trying to be as respectful and honest at the same time as digesting the difficult feelings it is bringing up in me.

Another important detail to mention is that when I announced I was pregnant initially neither of us really knew what we were going to do as a couple or if we would even remain one. But we both knew we wanted to be a parent to our baby.

He had already planned to leave the city and had a set date; I did not want to stand in his way. I think we both agreed that we needed time to figure things out as well. So technically we were still together. However, I suspected that he would be perhaps meeting other woman while away but never asked.

He came back as planned 2 months later and we were happy to find each other. He moved into my place and we focused on the arrival of our baby.

It was only several months later after giving birth that we spoke about what happened while he was away for those 2 months, and I discovered that he had in fact been involved in 3 separate one night stands. He told me that they didn’t fulfil him and he was happy to find me again.

The news didn’t surprise me but it saddened me (especially thinking back to the fact that I was carrying his baby at the time) even if I rationalized that he was young, lacked experiences and that we didn’t really know what we wanted when he left in the first place.

However, last night’s honesty session has visibly rattled me. I am not a sufferer of insomnia and the fact that I wasn’t able to sleep at all reveals just how much I am shaken.

It has brought up all kinds of feelings some I can identify some I am still struggling to identify.

Fear of our life together being destroyed. Fear of losing him. Frustration that he needs this. Anger. Sadness. Fear that if he chooses to stay he will resent me, fear that if he leaves the life we have built will no longer exist.

He just woke up to go to work and saw me standing in the kitchen and I just admitted that I hadn’t slept all night because of this. With tears running down my cheeks he hugged me hard and said he loved me, and I said I am afraid that we are going to destroy our life together. He promised me it wouldn’t but can he make this promise?

I don’t know.

I also told him that I think we need to see a couples therapist for help. I sincerely hope he agrees. In the past he has told me he doesn’t agree with the idea of therapy but I have a feeling he sees that we need help sorting through this complicated issue.

I also forgot to mention that after the birth of our baby we had a sexual dry spell which didn’t alarm either of us but that we actually still have a good and healthy sexual relationship. We are still attracted to each other. The only issue is making time with our toddler. We manage this by sending him to his grandparents on a fairly regular basis which he loves and it gives us a whole weekend  to re-connect.

He said something to me that I don’t understand. In fact, the announcement he made to me last night about wanting sexual freedom to explore came after sharing a powerful sexual and loving connection this weekend. And what puzzles me even more is that having sex with me doesn’t make him desire freedom less but actually heightens his desire for sexual freedom.

I must admit, it confuses me.

Response:

Yeah so there’s a few things here that I would address. I think first of all the things that I want to clarify and this isn’t… it’s an understandable kind of mistake and or  kind of confusion I think people have around introversion. Being introverted literally just means that, in order to recharge, you need to be away from people. It doesn’t mean that you’re shy. It doesn’t mean that you don’t talk. It doesn’t mean that you dislike being around people. There are probably a lot of introverts who don’t like being around people and who are shy and prefer quieter places. But in and of itself, being an introvert just literally means that you need to recharge away from people.

Whereas being an extrovert means that you recharge by being around people. So that’s all that means. Being an introvert shouldn’t have anything to do with his ability to communicate, which is the biggest first huge stumbling block that you’re going to have an all this.

Regardless of what happens or the feelings going on, he needs to be able to communicate and I feel like it’s hard to tell from your letter whether or not he is genuinely interested in communicating and finds it difficult, or if he is just out and out refusing to communicate. Because those are different. Like I can understand, you know, even myself… the thing I struggle with a lot is actually like telling people when I’m upset. I have a really hard time with healthy confrontation. I have a really hard time feeling that telling someone that I’m upset about something is going to elicit a supportive and happy response. So I have a really hard time with that, but I try. I do and I want to try and I have shown a willingness to change that.

I don’t know… I don’t see you saying he out and out refuses but it’s… you know, his comments about therapy are also really concerning because I do think that you need to find a non-monogamy friendly couples therapist who can kind of walk you through this, but you cannot… like there so much effort you’re putting into this. You’re psychoanalysing and “Why is he having such a hard time communicating?”. And that is not to say that’s a bad thing about you. But it’s like… you’re putting all this effort in to understand him and what’s going on inside his mind. Is he putting that same effort into understanding you?

And maybe he is and he’s just not communicating that but we can’t read minds so he’s going to have to learn how to communicate. Especially if he wants to do non-monogamy. It’s not to say that monogamous people don’t need to communicate because they do. It’s important in any kind of relationship but I think that when you’re tackling a lot of tricky feelings, it’s… There are also situations in monogamy that can be tricky such as having a child, any major life change is a huge thing and you need to be able to communicate.

So I think that that’s my biggest… that’s like the first thing that has to be tackled and has to be dealt with. Like definitely pursue the therapist option on because I do think you need to like have some space to talk to each other and… you know I’ve been in situations and relationships where I’ve been with people who are “people are few words” and didn’t communicate and then when we went to therapy they did open up a bit and that was somewhat helpful.

Another big thing that’s really important is that he needs to be willing to do therapy just as much as you. Like it’s so hard and I see so many situations were there are clear and obvious problems not just with communication but with everything else. He needs to be as willing to go to therapy and find a better way to communicate with you as he is about exploring his sexuality. The enthusiasm on those two things needs to be equal. If they’re not equal then you’re going to get frustrated. I would get frustrated. I’ve been in situations like I said where somebody was great communicating in couples therapy but didn’t have enough enthusiasm to continue the therapy and I was going to be the one who pushed them into therapy constantly and it’s really really sucky.

You cannot fix everything and you also like… any situation where you are shoving someone into therapy is just not going to help because therapy only works if somebody really wants… is willing to work at it. You know like any job, it works better when people want to do it. I guess I shouldn’t compare it to a job but you know. It’s not gonna work if you’re dragging him along basically so he needs to step up. And you need to pay attention to that and not excuse his behaviour. You’re excusing his behaviour a tiny bit like,  “Oh he’s young and…” And yeah there are certain situations in our lives like growing up in a repressive family, not getting a lot of experience and then being younger than you that can make you have different feelings about things and that’s fine.

But him being younger should not stop or curb his enthusiasm for fixing the problems in your relationship. If he doesn’t have any enthusiasm to fix those problems and has more enthusiasm to just do whatever sexual thing he wants to do, that’s where you’re going to run into an issue.

The second thing that I really want you to think about is… and this is kind of like… so much polyamory advice out there will tell you like… all these fears you’re talking about: “I’m afraid of our life being destroyed. I’m afraid of losing him. I’m frustrated. I’m afraid that if he stays and he doesn’t do this that he’ll resent me and I’m afraid…” So much polyamory advice responses to that by saying, “Get assurance. Get assurance from your partner” and I do think assurance helps in some instances but I also think embracing your worst fears helps.

Faces those fears. What would happen if you broke up? What would happen if you did lose him? I know it sucks and it’s really sad to think about but there might be a situation where that could happen and I think that thinking about it… not panicky and emotion-y as a sort of, “Well, I’m just going to put myself…” because I do this to myself as well. Okay, let me emotionally feel like what it would be like to lose my partner. Let me experience those emotions because somehow that’s gonna harden me for when it really happens. Don’t do that. Just think about the physical realities of that.

I think it’s always good in situations where you feel like your relationship status is precarious, especially if you have children, to think it out. Just to have a thought exercise of, “Okay, if this did happen what would I do? What would I do physically? What would my life look like?” I mean, you say he is a good parent and you both are interested in parenting your child and you’re both good parents. So I wouldn’t necessarily think that everything is going to be catastrophic and as long as you both show up and continue to show up as parents, in my experience… I’m not a parent but I am a child of people who did show up and didn’t show up…  many more didn’t than did, but I can tell you what it’s like to have an adult say “I’m going to be part of your life” and then fuck off. It sucks.

So as long as you both are willing to show up, that part is kind of secure. Other stuff might change and things change… like the only thing constant is change. So I’ve kind of found that a good way to counteract my anxiety sometimes is to be really like thought about, “Okay what if this does happen and what am I going to do? What are the plans?” Because they they might happen. You don’t know and it doesn’t help to go, “Oh it won’t happen, it won’t happen, it won’t happen”. Even just having that thought exercise helps.

I think two things are kind of sticking out in terms of— other than his willingness to communicate. If he is willing to communicate, if he has been enthusiastic about it then there kind of two things I think that you need to think about after that.

First thing is time management and you’ve already kind of mentioned this. Planning time around your child is really, really important. He needs to think about and you need to think about, if you do go ahead with this and you do open up your relationship and he does have this freedom, what does that mean in a real-time physical sense? Because I do think like some of your fears and your anxieties are coming from a really understandable place. Because you don’t know what this means. Opening up your relationship— what does that look like? If you’ve never thought about it and you’ve never thought, “Okay, that means that every Friday he’s allowed… the evening is his. He can do whatever he’d like. That’s a free day.”

If you’ve never really thought and planned around it than literally you know your brain has nothing to go on so of course it’s freaking out because you’re basically saying everything is going to change but I have no idea how it’s going to change. So of course you’re scared. I would sort of liken this to someone— you’re going to adopt a pet at a pet store but you have no idea what kind of pet it is. So h do you prepare? You would be understandably kinda rattled and this is a little bit worse because it deals with some of your deep seated fears and all the things that society has told you about like… you know “If someone loves you they should love only you” and all this stuff so it’s even more complicated. So I think that if you both sit down maybe separately, maybe together, maybe with a therapist or just have a think about what does this actually mean in real terms? What does he want in real terms?

Think about your sexual health boundaries. Think about his… you know your child comes first and should always come first. Like I always think that regardless of what style of relationship anyone’s in, in a relationship or out of a relationship, if they have a child, that child is depending on them. That child has to come first. And I’m not saying he doesn’t think that, but I’m just saying like… in the whole mishmash of this fear and anxiety and “Oh, I want to go and pursue things”. There is no hard discussion about what that actually means in real actual life terms. Apologies for the background noise.

So yeah, I think that that’s a good way to start and that kind of grounding will help calm some of your anxiety. I think also it’s something interesting to explore with the therapist and something to explore— and I think you should with a therapist because I do think this is going to bring up some stuff that might be a little bit difficult for you. What about his— you know, he said that he had his one night stands. So what about his previous experiences didn’t “satisfy him” and why is he convinced that it will be different now? And I think that’s really interesting.

What you said about being confused that having sex with you or having good sexual experiences with you didn’t automatically make him not want to do it with anybody else. It makes sense to me on a logical level. Like I don’t really operate that way because I’m kind of on the asexual spectrum but I understand that because you sort of have been maybe romantically in that situation where it’s sort of like “I’m really happy in this. I kind of want this really awesome connection with other people. I want to know what it’s like with other people when it’s this deep.” And that’s an understandable thing. I get that but… maybe that’s why those other experiences didn’t really do it for him because of— and I mean I’m assuming. I don’t know anything about like the nature of these one night stands or what went on.

Maybe he what he wants is polyamory rather than kind of swinging or hooking up with people. He wants another deep relationship with somebody else, which is okay. But I think— not only for you to decide if this is really for you, but I think in order to calm your anxiety, deciding what that really means physically. What is your life going to look like? What is his ideal situation? And what is your ideal situation? I mean you know your ideal situation maybe is monogamy and it’s kind of like… where you may have to, if you want to stay with him and be in a romantic relationship with him, that you may have to think about compromising in some way if you want to.

But if he presents you with this idea of like, “Okay, I want to spend every other weekend with someone else” or— you know, what does it look like? Because there are so many different ways to do polyamory. There’s hierarchical, non-hierarchical… I mean I’m going to like input my own little opinion here and that is If you have a child, I think things should be hierarchical in that the child always comes first.

But there are different ways that people do things and I think it’s really really important to understand what that looks like for him— to make sure as well that you’re not stuck with the vast majority of the childcare, is another big thing. That would not be fair. And that should not be fucking happening. Bit passionate about that. Really going to have to reiterate that because it’s not going to be cool if you’re like stuck with the kid all the time. Like even if you don’t have another partner, you can have time to yourself. Maybe he can watch the kid and you can go out. And you can have— you know, meet up with your friends. Not everything has to be replaced with a partner type of bond. If you’re not really interested in other romantic relationships, do some stuff with your friends. Spend some time to yourself but make sure you get that equalness too. Like don’t… “equalness”. Look at me talking.

Don’t sacrifice that because that’s not… that’s going to create some serious resentment. I think if you’re… I mean it creates resentment in people’s lives who don’t— who aren’t dating other people when they’re stuck with the vast majority of the child care. There are certain times when you may not be able to prevent that if you’re breastfeeding and all that kind of stuff but make sure to get that in.

And I think that… you know you really need to think about is this really what you want? And you may not be able to answer that question but I think what’s helpful to think about is what are the benefits for you? Are you interested in another romantic relationships with a person? Are you interested in more sexual experiences? Are you interested in spending more time doing your own thing? I like I…. I don’t actually like dating. I really hate it. So when my domestic partner is out with other people, I do stuff on my own. I do my own thing and I like it. I like being on on my own. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a nice time for myself. Is that something you like? Can you go to a hobby group? Like there’s all kinds of stuff you can do with that free time. So think about that? Can you see this as an option for you? Is there something you can get out of the situation?

Cause what you don’t want to end up with is agreeing to this because you’re kind of in love with this person so you just go along with it because you don’t want the relationship to end but you’re getting nothing out of it. He is going out and having all these new experiences. It’s really difficult for you to deal with and because it’s difficult, because it’s new and because it’s different and it deals with all those emotions of not feeling good enough and all those kinds of stuff, you don’t really have anything to balance it with if you don’t have a benefit to you. Like I’ve experienced tons of shit where I felt like “Oh my god. You know my partner is interested in another person. I feel inadequate”. And then I kind of get to remind myself, “Okay, yes. But you chose this for this reason and that’s why. That’s the benefit it brings to your life.” I think if you have no benefit, you’re really, really gonna struggle because you’re just going to be like, “Why am I doing this?” and why *are* you doing this if you don’t see any benefit of it?

And another thing too is… the biggest kind of self-perpetuating… what is the word I’m thinking? Sabotage. The biggest sabotage I think that people do to themselves when they are trying non-monogamy is thinking that anxiety and fear is a sign that they can’t do it. You’re going to experience anxiety and fear. Especially the first night— if you decide to go with this and you’re like “I’m going to try it”— The first night he spends with someone else is gonna suck. It just… Expect that. Don’t think, “Oh I’m gonna run a bubblebath and I’m gonna…”.  And it might not but I would just expect it to suck. Because I do think that sometimes people think, “I’m experiencing so much fear and worry. Does is it mean I’m not fit for it? I’m not up to the task?” As if polyamory is a kind of weird emotional obstacle course.

And it’s not. It’s just that you’re doing something new, which your brain like… it all your life you’ve been told— probably, I’m guessing. I could be wrong— that you’ve been told that the way that people show that they love someone is by only being with them. And that’s the only way. And that’s a sign of love. And being with other people is a sign that they are not interested in you.

So you’ve got all of this stuff in your head that is telling you this is bad. And it’s not just going to go away just because you decided to do something different. When you try something new you’re scared. You’re going to be scared. Sometimes, I think you have to go through… the only way out is through and the only way to deal with it is to experience the anxiety and come out of the other end and see that you survived.

It’s so much better now. When my domestic partner spends night out, I’m fine. I don’t even… as long as I know. As long as it’s not like a big shock or surprise and that has more to do with me being on the autistic spectrum than anything but you know I’m pretty fine. But in the first couple of nights, I was just like impossible for me to sleep. I did the same thing you did. I wasn’t Googling anything. I was just sitting up all night going, “Uhhhh”. And that’s where having that therapist is really going to help you because that’s a person you can talk through all this with— but that’s if you want to do this. I’m just saying that as a preemptive thing. Because I do think when people start off, especially if they read a lot of what is in the mainstream now with non-monogamy and polyamory advice, they’re going to think “Oh you know just… you’re just a special star and that’s why that your partner is with you because no one else is like you and and they love you for you”.

And I think that’s very nice. It’s very very nice. It’s nice on a plaque with some flowers and you know maybe with some mood music in the background. It’s not very applicable to people in real life who will have another voice in your head that goes, “You suck and you’re the worst and your the evilest horrible person ever and you’re going to die alone in a ditch”. That counteracts all of that like nice stuff and makes it really really hard and that’s kind of the thing that people don’t really talk about because… I’ve mentioned this before in articles. There is bit of a like crab bucket mentality and because every time a polyamorous relationship doesn’t work out, all the society around will be like “Well it was a polyamorous open relationship and those relationships don’t work.”

So there’s all this pressure on people are in non-monogamous relationships to put up this good front and to say, “No, no. It does last and it is valid”. Especially people who really want to fit that kind of assimilatory “norm”. People who really want to assimilate into the mainstream. They’re going to want to put up this PR front. Like, “No, no. Yes we have jealousy but we dealt with it. It’s done. It’s fine. We put it away. We’ve packed it away. It’s dealt with. Nobody has it any more. We’re all fine. All smiles. No one has any problems here”.

I get why people do that but on the other hand I do think that people have struggles and it’s ok to talk about. I don’t want you to dive headfirst especially with the Googling and read all the stuff and then try it out and experience this torrent of seriously scary emotions and think there’s something wrong with you because there really isn’t. You’re trying something new. You’re gonna be scared.

So yeah that’s my advice. To sum up. One, introversion doesn’t mean that you’re not communicating. It just means that you like to be alone to recharge. You need to establish… and I don’t know from your letter. Maybe you know. But you didn’t mention it… whether he is refusing to communicate or he is struggling to communicate. And that can be measured by his enthusiasm. He needs to be as enthusiastic about going out and trying all new things sexually as he has about fixing and addressing the issues.

It sounds like he’s quite good. Like he’s hugged you, he seems supportive but I want to stress that there needs to be some equal enthusiasm there. He needs to be super enthused about that. Think about— not panic about (it’s easier said than done)— think about some of those contingency plans. Your plan Bs. Just think about them rationally. I say this as if it’s simple. But think about what are you going to physically do if this doesn’t work out? Because I do think that does help ground you a tiny bit.

If you do decide to do this, having talks with him about time management and what’s going to go on equally can ground you. Because once you put things in a more physical real sense, it can help you just be a little bit more calmer. Because right now everything is just sort of like “I want to try sleeping with other women.” What does that mean for you? What does it mean? Right now you have no idea.

So once you sort out the communication thing, is he going to do therapy? If he doesn’t… ummm. I don’t predict good things if he doesn’t want to go to therapy and he doesn’t want to communicate and I think that you might need to think about that plan B a little bit more if that’s the case. If he does, you need to think about time management. How is it going to physically work? What is his ideal non-monogamous situation and how does that mix with you having a child who needs to be the primary focus and the most important thing in both of your lives which I think that your child is but I’m just sort of reiterating that.

And again I think it’s worth– explore these with a therapist because I think that right now exploring them on your own might get a little bit difficult with feelings. But I think… What about his previous experiences didn’t satisfy him? How is he… what different things is he looking for now? I think that would just be interesting to know because that as well I think will fit into… if you he hasn’t thought about his ideal situation then it will kind of spur on what that ideal situation is. Is he going for one night stands or is he looking for more of a relationship? Does he know? But working that through with a therapist is really really helpful.

And last but not least, think about yourself! Not least it all. What do you want out of this? What are the benefits? So sorry about the siren noise. Even if you don’t have any desire to pursue another romantic relationship, what is the benefit that you get out of the situation? Because there might be a bit of it. Even if you’re not that interested dating other people. There might still be benefits so it’s worth thinking about that. Last but not least as well, don’t think that there’s something wrong with you if you do try this and you get all sorts of huge scary feels.

It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you. It doesn’t mean you’re not ready. It doesn’t mean… you know, you’re not this weird emotional gladiator that articles make you think that you have to be in order to do polyamory. People get scared. Another thing to add about that is that, even if I think even if you’re “seasoned” sometimes when you’re having a bad time are things are really really stressful you can still kind of have a big anxiety reaction because everything else is of putting pressure on you. All life’s major stressors like moving or having a new kid— you already know what it’s like having one kid so imagine you know you’re in that situation. Sometimes you’ll be in a good situation and so that news will be okay. Sometimes, not so great— the news will be different. So don’t think that there’s anything wrong with you if you’re afraid or you feel fear. It’s very very normal to have these fears and it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you or that you can’t do it. Yeah so that’s basically my advice and I really really hope it helps and best of 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.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.

Episode 10: Forced into Polyamory

Your partner wants to open your relationship, but you don’t. And you have kids. What now? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Episode 10 – Forced into Polyamory

Your partner wants to open your relationship, but you don’t. And you have kids. What now? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon.

You should also be able to find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

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 in a lesbian relationship, married for almost 9 years with two children under 4. One drunken night last year my wife instigated a threesome with a mutual male friend and for a few weeks were were both into it, but the stress of it with a person well known to both of us caused us to end it. My wife still wanted additional outside sexual relations and found one on tinder, moving forward with meeting another woman after I angrily told her to go ahead and do what she wanted.

After that we worked on healing our relationship, but I was unable to fully commit out of fear that she would eventually look elsewhere for sex again as she continued to express interest in it. In October I approached her with a plan to open our relationship within certain boundaries, one of which being that as long as I was providing her enough sex she wouldn’t look elsewhere.

For that whole month I was more sexual than I ever have been, touching her all day and trying to initiate sex. This idea of having a certain number of encounters was a turn off for her and she shut down sexually, while encouraging me to hook up with that same guy again without her. I did one time (after finding out that she had been with him again alone) and found the entire thing too stressful. I asked her if we could take November to focus on our relationship alone.

We did a lot of work on our communication and relationship in that month and for the first time since last spring I felt good about us again. As soon as November was over she asked if we could talk about opening the relationship again. I told her I really didn’t want to, that I thought we needed to continue working to get us to a better place.

She was angry that I changed the goals and thinks that our relationship is just fine. Again in anger I told her to do whatever she wanted, but to know that by going to seek an outside relationship at this time she would be hurting me and that the first night we had a threesome was my biggest regret in life.

A few days later she tells me she wants to set up a date for the following week. Again I tell her she can do what she wants, but if she is dating someone else I’m going to consider our relationship on hiatus and ask her to move to the guess room. She says she will think about it. Finally she agrees to hold off until after Christmas for the sake of our children.

A few days later she wants to talk again and points out that she can handle additional sex without losing our relationship. I don’t doubt that,  I doubt me. She also says she just really needs a friend outside of our relationship, but she needs it to be a friend with benefits. I tell her again that I am not up for an open relationship yet, that I think we still are not in a good place and I need time.

I don’t want to be in an open relationship right now. We have two little kids and life is hard enough without bringing more people into our lives. I want to focus on our family and each other. I’m not fully against the idea forever, and even said right now I’m okay if she makes out with someone else randomly. I feel trapped because I’m the stay at home mom and I know I have to give her whatever she wants because if she leaves then I’m giving up everything I want with my family because I’ll have to go back to work, send the toddler to daycare and give up my dreams of homeschooling our older son.

I’m devastated right now that she had to keep pushing this before Christmas. I feel like I’m pushing her to want it more because right now I can’t bring myself to be cuddly and sexual with her, but I don’t know what to do.

Please help.

Response:

So the first thing I want to say is that I’m sorry that you’re in this position because it’s really, really horrible for you. You’re really really hurting and it seems like you have no other choice but to go along with something that you deeply don’t want to go along with. I think it’s difficult because initially I wouldn’t suggest that you guys are inherently incompatible. It might seem like that on the surface because obviously right now she really wants to have an open relationship.

She really wants other sexual experiences and you’re not necessarily interested in that right now, but I don’t necessarily think that that means you’re at base incompatibility because you have and are demonstrating some flexibility but I think there’s just some problems with communication and also some problems understanding what the motivations are behind opening your relationship. Because I think that when you start off with these misunderstandings it can often spell a little bit of inevitable disaster and I do think that quite a lot of people who open up their relationships and start with these assumptions and then kind of end up in similar situations.

So first thing I want to address is the idea of just opening and closing a relationship as a way to deal with problems. A lot of people make this mistake when they start off in non-monogamy. They think that… They open the relationship. They experience a lot of unhappiness and a lot of stress and lot of difficulty and then they close it as a response to that. And there are a couple of problems wrong with that.

Firstly I think people assume that when they open their relationship that it’s necessarily going to bring a lot of happiness and joy and I think it can such as the example that you gave. Like you started off in this because you had this supposedly good at the time experience with this person and then it sort of became sour as things went along. And I think that people don’t anticipate that. They start to experience fear and jealousy a lot of very common things and then they read polyamory advice that sort of says… makes you feel like you shouldn’t feel jealous if you’re well put together. And then they go “Well clearly I’m not well put together so we’ll just close it until I’m in a better place”.

The problem with that is that basically closing your relationship might sort of… it’s kind of like a plaster on a gaping wound. It’s not really going to address the inherent problems that are in your relationship and it’ll actually kind of makes things worse in some ways. Because when it’s closed… if the problems only present themselves whenever there other people added to the mix then when it’s closed, those problems aren’t going to present themselves. So you’re not really going to be faced with the same challenges. It’s sort of like saying that you can learn to swim by pretending to swim and doing the motions outside of water. And every time you get in the water and you experience the fear, you’re like  “Ah I can’t swim, so I’m just going to get out again and I’m going to like practice the strokes when I’m not in the water”. It doesn’t really work because you need to… in order for you to feel secure with your partner again and in the context of an open relationship, your relationship has to be open for that to actually work.

So closing the relationship isn’t really going to fix those problems. Deciding not to allow this or “ok you can make out with people but you can do this or you can’t do that”… those are also kind of delaying the inevitable. Because what you’re not doing is addressing the feelings that you have, the feelings of fear you have. And because you’re not addressing them, they’re only going to continue and continue to grow. So that’s why it doesn’t work to kind of open and close things and open and close things.

The other thing is that you know you haven’t really talked to each other about how an open relationship would work and so therefore you are very understandably afraid. I think the problem with a lot of introductory polyamory advice again is that and so many people will say to people “Well if you’re afraid it’s because you’re insecure”, “If you’re afraid it’s because you don’t know yourself well enough”, or “You just can’t do it. You’re not good enough for it”. And that’s just wrong. There a lot of reasons that people feel fear and insecurity in relationships and it isn’t necessarily because they don’t trust their partner or it isn’t necessarily because they don’t trust themselves.

It’s that you know everyone… you know, when you started on your first monogamous relationship, I’m pretty sure you were afraid and a lot of people are afraid when they start their first relationships but they have this blueprint that society gives them for how monogamous relationships are supposed to work and they have these sort of cultural signposts of what to expect and what comes when and where. And so they don’t feel as afraid in a lot of situations because they have that cultural reassurance. Non-monogamy isn’t like a cultural standard. It’s not something a lot of people know about and pretty much a lot of people colloquially will think that open relationships are doomed to failure.

So you don’t have any models and you don’t have any guidelines of what to expect and what kind of footsteps to follow so you kind of have to forge your own path and because you have to forge your own path it’s really scary and you’re going to be afraid. And I think what would be enormously helpful for both you and your partner is, if you want to have an open relationship, focus the time into thinking about what that looks like. Especially because you have children and you have every reason to be worried and terrified that like you have to go along with this or you lose this really important position you have as being a stay-at-home mum. And it’s a really fair question to ask like… you do have two children. That is a lot of your time. And I always say to people like… you know I’m not going to be telling anyone how to raise their kids but I do very strongly feel like if you have a child and if you are the primary caregiver or a caregiver of the child then you need to… that child needs to be your primary focus in life. You need to figure out them first and foremost and your partner needs to be just as willing and devoted to those children as they are to anyone including you in any other relationship they have. And I mean… it might be that… and I’m not trying to say that your partner is not but I think that is very fair to wonder what an open relationship looks like when you have two children.

You know, is your partner pulling their weight or her weight so to speak when it comes to childcare? You don’t want to end up in a situation understandably where you know… you’re not necessarily that interested in dating and that doesn’t necessarily mean that she can’t date and that you can’t have an open relationship but you don’t want end up in a situation where she’s you know… has 5 dates and you’re stuck doing childcare all those 5 days. And I mean yes, you are a stay-at-home mum but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have your own life and that you don’t have things that you want to do and that you’re not allowed to have a break once in a while.

So sitting down and thinking about like… what does an open relationship mean to her? What is her situation that she would want? Can you establish some not rules be kind of ideas of like how this looks physically? You know, is Tuesday night date night? And whatever she wants to do she can go out. That’s her date night and maybe Friday night’s your date night. Have some real physical tangible ideas of what an open relationship means and then that will be really helpful for you to not feel so scared because you’ll be anchored by something.

And then I think the other issue that you have… like the biggest red flag that I see you in all of this and one thing that really kind of worries me and it’s not on me to like say how your wife should make friends with people but I absolutely do agree that you both do you need friends outside of your relationship, but the fact that she’s like… you know the couple things that I kind of raising red flags here said she’s insistent that she has to have a friend with benefits. I don’t think that’s true with all due respect and like…  I know plenty of people who are very interested in hooking up with people casual sex is just something they enjoy. You know they don’t… all their friends are not friends with benefits. It’s a bit ridiculous to say that you know… it’s fine to say, yes we should have friends outside of our our marriage. Absolutely. 100%. You should have friends outside of your partner. Your partner should not be your only friend. However to say that this has to be a friend with benefits… it’s just not realistic and not really fair. It’s just a very odd request to me.

The other thing about what she’s doing is that she’s very… she’s not really giving you a lot of space and she’s very insistent that this happen within a certain timeframe. Now on the one hand I do understand that she is frustrated that you’ve moved the goalposts because you know… it is kind of a weird thing to sort of say ok… that’s that’s another reason why opening and closing the relationship doesn’t really work is because it puts a time frame on it. If you say, “Alright we’re close in a relationship for one month and then after one month will open it”. And then at the end of the one month… like all that person has to do is wait for that month to end and it’s not to say that I don’t think that she’s putting in any effort to make you guys work but what I’m saying is that when you put a timeframe on it you kinda have to go with it. Whether you’re not you’re ready at the end of the month for it to close. If you keep going, “Oh well, another month, another month”. Understandably she is going to get annoyed because you’ve put forth a timeframe and now she can’t trust that timeframe that you’ve put forward is actually your word and what’s going to happen.

And that creates a lot of confusion and inconsistency and that is understandable to you be concerned over however… you know nobody… to the best of my knowledge you haven’t included in the letter. Nobody has any terminal illnesses. Nobody hear is on any time frame. You know, you do have time. I don’t understand why she’s pushing this so hard for this to happen so soon especially when you know, you’ve been together for a while. You do have two kids like… There is a lot of things taking up your time and you make the very valid argument that you’re just like… we have enough on our plate without having to deal with more things and this is more things, you know.

Opening a relationship is a big changing decision. I mean, I would argue that you’ve already opened it so you’ve already kind of more or less… I do kinda think once you’ve opened something it’s kinda… you can’t really put that cat back in that bag more or less. But you know putting a time frame on it isn’t really helpful and I don’t think you know… I can understand where she’s frustrated because you have changed the goalposts but at the same time equally pushing you into the situation isn’t going to fix it either so she also needs to be cognizant of that. She needs to realise that pushing you… you know clearly you have a problem with establishing and keeping to your boundaries because you keep just frustratingly agreeing with things and that must be really confusing for her.

I mean either she knows that you’re frustratingly agreeing with things and is going with it anyway knowing that you’re not going to be happy with it because when you actually did set your boundaries down… When you actually did say “You can do this but our relationship is ending and you’re gonna move into guest room”. She didn’t do it. So you know… it is hard for me to say not being in the room when that happened. If you frustratingly saying yes is really obvious from her point of view but you guys need to get better at kind of not putting time limits on boundaries and also kind of respecting what those boundaries are and communicating them clearly.

It’s hard for me to say that I don’t blame her… If you said yes to something and she went ahead with it… you know sometimes tone isn’t… I am a person who sometimes can’t read between the lines. I’m not very good at understanding tone so I would be quite frustrated if someone said I could do something or they were fine with something or said you know more less gave me permission (which I don’t really like to do for other reasons) and then turned around and said “Well actually I wasn’t happy with that”.

That can be very hard to work with because then your kind of you know… from her position if that threesome was kind of the worst experience or biggest regret in life… Well you don’t say ‘worst experience’, you said ‘regret’. Then it’s hard to say like what you know… how can she go on any of your yesses in the future. So I think that you know equally she needs to stop rushing you but also I do think that putting time frames on things isn’t helpful for you or her.

I also want to say that another thing that kind of raised my… raise a flag for me in this is that your perception of why she’s interested and polyamory might be a bit off and I think that is something that might continue to trip you up. Because your response to her wanting an open relationship was to say, “Ok you can do it but only if you don’t get enough sex from me”. And you know you tried your hardest to like provide as much sex as possible in that one month and that… it really misunderstands… I mean I’m assuming for her why she’s interested in polyamory but generally speaking it’s not necessarily like… most people are not interested in polyamory or opening their relationship because one partner isn’t good enough for them.

And I think a lot of people especially because so much of the culture that they’re in endorses monogamy by saying like “You’re the only one for me. You’re my everything”. Blah Blah. And they start believing that if someone is interested in open relationship it means that one person isn’t good enough for them and we don’t really say that about children. Like having children… like you don’t have two children because one wasn’t good enough for you. It’s not really how it works. Like she may be just interested in having other sexual experiences in her life and that doesn’t mean that sexual experiences with you aren’t fulfilling any need for her. They are fulfilling a need but it’s just not the same need. It’s just a bit different. Another quite common metaphor that people use like just because you want to go out for dinner doesn’t mean someone hates your cooking. And I think that’s a really apt comparison as well.

Just try and… I think if you sit down like I said an established what the ideal is for polyamorous relationship… like why she’s interested in polyamory and what she wants out of it. Then that might lead you to a better understanding that it’s not about you being inadequate. Because I do think a lot of your pain here is coming from this assumption that you’re inadequate and that’s why she’s interested in it. I can’t speak for her obviously, but I’m fairly certain as with most people interested in open relationships, it’s not because one person is necessarily inadequate. That isn’t really what it’s about so I think that having that understanding and remembering that will  honestly help you.

Also I think it’s helpful for you to remember that… and one thing that I remind people of constantly is that a monogamous relationship isn’t inherently safer. And I think that’s another bit about opening and closing a relationship that people do because they think, “Oh if its closed, it’s monogamous. It’s safer.” And it really isn’t. A monogamous relationship… meaning someone being monogamous with someone doesn’t mean that they won’t fall in love with someone else. It doesn’t mean that they won’t desire someone else. You know you can’t prevent that. Nobody can prevent that. Again, it’s not an inadequacy on your part. It’s not a deficiency on your part. It’s just part of things that you can’t control. There isn’t anything that you can do to stop anyone that you’re with from falling in love or being sexually interested in someone else. There’s just nothing you can do to change that. It’s just something that is going to happen most likely.

The only thing that closing relationship for having a monogamous relationship does is it sets boundaries around the way people are supposed to behave. But it doesn’t necessarily stop those feelings from happening. That’s really helpful to remember because closing it can feel safer. And you do feel safer but again it’s kind of an illusion of safety and then it keeps getting… you know clearly your partner wants to have an open relationship and that’s understandable. And I think if you said “I don’t want it” then I would say your at base incompatibility but I think the fact that you are kind of willing to be flexible and what’s been tripping you up is kind of her pushing and also equally some misconceptions you have about the reason she might be interested in this might have been making this more difficult for you than it needs to be. So I think that’s really helpful.

The other thing, that last thing I would say is that if you’re going to attempt to do this, if you’re going to open your relationship up, it really helps for you to think about how this benefits you as well. I do think the people you know… there are plenty of cases of people who are monogamous with their partners but their partners date other people so they’re technically monogamous people within a polyamorous relationship and that is a thing. It’s not completely unheard of however I do think that for the most part if you’re going to to do this you should have a good idea… what really helped me when I had anxiety and fear and terror that my partner would leave me or whatnot… is have a good idea as to why non-monogamy benefits you. What you do you get out of it? Why do you want to do it? And that can kind of bring you back. I can’t tell you why you would want to do it. There are lots of reasons. You can probably find them online if you want. If you wanted to know why different people decided to go out polyamory. Some people feel it’s inherent part of their own sexuality. Other people don’t but you know you’re welcome to explore that.

So to kind of some up and one thing I’ll say as well in the summary is I do think a non-monogamy friendly couples therapist should definitely be helping you guys, if you can afford it on because it’s just good to have that person to bounce things off of and who can help you negotiate boundaries. And also realise where you are either relinquishing your boundaries or you’re not communicating them. And also help her realise maybe to have a little bit more patience and also address… she needs to have someone to address that situation whereby she thinks that a friend has to be a friend with benefits. I just think that is pretty ridiculous notion and it illustrates an issue that she has that you can fix that she needs to deal with.

To sum up, you know, I do think that it is a salvageable situation especially because you’re willing to be flexible but I do think that you need to stop opening and closing things up because that is only delaying the inevitable. I think you should open it up but you should have some really long talks preferably with a polyamory friendly therapist and your partner about what polyamory means to your relationship physically and mentally and emotionally and all that sort of stuff. Think about it in real physical terms and that’ll probably help you feel a lot better.

I do think that you need to maybe also go through the reasons why she’s interested polyamory and understand that it’s not a reflection of your inadequacy. I think that you need to like slow things down but stop putting time frames on things. It is a little bit silly that she’s like, “I think the relationship it’s fine”. A relationship is two people or more people and one person going “Well this is fine for me” doesn’t really work. I think as well like… yes have friendships outside and address that situation where she thinks that it has to be a friends with benefits situation, cause it doesn’t.

And just think about you know what this means for you and what benefit you get out of it because I do think that is a big part of your decision to continue to go with this as well as something that will help you when you’re having really difficult parts of it. And last but not least like… the fact that you’re afraid, the fact that you’re nervous is very very normal and very very understandable. And you might read a lot of advice that says like that if you’re feeling insecure scared than you maybe you can’t hack it and I don’t think that’s necessarily true. A lot of people are nervous and scared of these situations because it is a brand new stressful thing to bring into your lives. And it does seem like a pretty big need for your partner but there are ways to do this there are less blunt and more understandable of your feelings and understandable of ways that… sorry and can work in ways that can adapt to your feelings and cope with them rather than just forcing this to happen.

Because equally your partner should be really aware that forcing you into the situation is not going to make it magically happen either. It’s just going to make it worse and going to make it less likely to happen if she forces you into it. Yeah, I really 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.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.

Not believing in monogamy

I’ve been seeing this guy for about 6 months now but we haven’t been very open with how we want our relationship to progress. We spend most of our time together and we have dinner with his family every week. I’m 23 years old and have never had a relationship — or even been close, I haven’t been particularly sexually active before I met him either. For some reason I never saw a relationship being in my future. Last night he messaged me wanting more clarification on our relationship boundaries to which I told him I don’t want to be with anyone else, this is huge for me as I never expected to feel like this.

However, his response was that he doesn’t want to be with anyone else but that he wants to be open to kissing and flirting with other people — he later elaborated that he doesn’t believe in monogamy and that he ‘loves people’ and enjoys human connections. For me this felt like a punch in the gut. I really wanted to be with him and I wanted him to only want me. I didn’t react well to this and we have now basically broken up. But I am so devastated, I have never experienced this type of heart ache. With no dating experience I can’t say that I’m against non-monogamy because I don’t even know what it’s like to be monogamous. However at this point I don’t feel this is what I want and I don’t think it’s worth me pursuing something that i’m not comfortable with.

He did say that if I felt uncomfortable with it then he wouldn’t do it but I didn’t think much of this because if thats what he wants he’ll do it with or without my consent. I don’t know where to go from here, I was falling in love with him and now I feel lost.

I see a few things going on here that I want to address:

  • Contact rules
  • “Believing” in monogamy
  • Knowing if you can do non-monogamy

Contact rules

First of all, I’m sorry that you’re going through this heartache right now. It really sucks when you emotionally invest in someone and then it turns out that you’re not as compatible as you think that you are. It really sucks.

The thing that strikes me as odd about this particular setup is the way he chose to introduce this. You don’t mention in your letter whether non-monogamy is new to you or to your ex, but it strikes me as a bit strange that you would be seeing each other for six months and meet his family without really clarifying that you’re dating and what that entails. And what strikes me as even odder is that he wouldn’t make it clear from the outset that he wanted something other than monogamy.

Unfortunately, we live in a society where monogamy is very much the cultural default. It wouldn’t surprise me if I were dating someone for six months and they had met my family if they expected and wanted monogamy. That’s pretty average. Him wanting to be with you but just kiss and flirt with other people sounds to me like someone who maybe was introduced to the concept and is now trying to introduce it, but introduce slowly in a way he thinks he can control.

Rules can and do work, but they have to be put in place for a good reason. I feel like this “only kissing and flirting” rule really isn’t going to work because it feels like it’s designed to limit a person from falling in love or developing serious feelings with someone else… and that’s just not something anyone can control, even if they are monogamous and not “allowed” to flirt or kiss anyone else. It just isn’t something you can control.

It does sound like he has discovered non-monogamy, wants to do it and that it was just unfortunate timing on your end, but, I do feel like the way he went about this wasn’t great for you which brings me to my next point about what he said.

“Believing” in monogamy

Boy oh boy do I absolutely and fundamentally hate when people say they don’t “believe in monogamy” because it is one of the most asinine things a person who isn’t monogamous can say. Here’s the thing. If monogamy doesn’t work for one person, that’s fine but it does and has worked with many people. What bothers me especially about this comment from him is that… if this is what he felt six months ago, he could have bothered letting you know. And if he did, that was massively irresponsible.

The version of monogamy that society endorses, I personally feel, isn’t actually very healthy. That’s the version where your one romantic partner means more to you than any friendship or other relationship, where you pretend like you’re not attracted to other people, where jealousy (and physical, angry expressions of it) are encouraged or tolerated, where you are a failure if your relationship doesn’t last until one of you dies out of it… all of that is massively unhealthy. But society’s ideas about what monogamy should entail =/= monogamy itself.

It’s similar to gender. Just because society tries to act like women should be x, y, and z, that doesn’t mean that’s all there is to being a woman or that by being a woman you automatically agree with all of that. Monogamy does and can work for some people, including yourself. If you want a situation where your partner feels romantic feelings for you strongly and where you commit to each other, that’s fine.

I always think it’s worth people who are monogamous thinking about why they are and trying to question where that comes from, not because monogamy doesn’t work, but because society only provides monogamy as the only valid option. It’s worth you thinking about what it is about a partner wanting someone else that threatens you because I do think you should realise that monogamy does not mean you have a partner who only desires you. People can and do desire other people. The difference with monogamy is not that they don’t desire others, but that they make a commitment of time, emotional energy, and life experiences with each other. So that’s worth thinking about.

But, it’s okay for you to not really want to try non-monogamy now. It doesn’t make you less hip or less open or less loving than anyone else. Which leads me to my next point.

Knowing if you can do non-monogamy

It can be hard to realise whether or not non-monogamy is going to be something you “can do” because the goal posts on that are defined so poorly. A lot of non-monogamous people go through anxiety, jealousy, fear and all sorts of emotions not only when they start to try non-monogamy but all throughout their lives. We put an enormous amount of pressure on ourselves as non-monogamous people to be “okay” with everything so we can provide that non-monogamy is something we “can do” that, I feel at least, it becomes almost self-sabotaging.

When you have situations like yours, you have every reason to try non-monogamy, even just to save your partnership. Some people can and do enter non-monogamy in this way. They don’t know about it, a partner introduces it, they try it and it works totally for them. But some people are only trying it so that they can keep their partners in their lives and eventually the fact that they just don’t want to live that way and their needs are not being met ends up causing a blow out anyway.

I cannot tell you whether or not you can do non-monogamy. I can’t tell you if you’ll be happy if you try it. I can’t tell you whether or not this will work for you. But what I can ask you to do is think long and hard about why you want a relationship and what you want out of it and I do think that will lead you into a realistic understanding of whether or not non-monogamy is for you and if it’s worth trying.

Ask yourself these questions:

1. How much time and energy do I expect a partner to devote to me?

2. Why do I expect this? What do I want to get out of it?

3. How do I picture living with a partner in the future? What life experience will I need us to share?

4. What do I need in a relationship to be happy?

5. Am I okay with having a partner who doesn’t devote most of their free time to me?

6. Do I see a benefit in dating more than one person at a time? How much energy do I have for this?

7. What makes me feel loved by a partner?

So many people when they are trying to decide if they can “do polyamory” ask themselves the wrong questions like whether or not they could stand watching their partner kiss another person, whether or not they generally feel jealous, etc. While these may give you some idea about your general feelings about sharing a partner, it’s no indication of whether or not it will actually work for you. You can be fine with your partner kissing someone else, but still be unsatisfied if your partner spends a good deal of time without you there.

To me, it sounds like you have thought about this and non-monogamy isn’t for you — and that’s okay. I know you’re hurting right now and you’re tempted to try it to stop the pain, but please try to remember that part of dating is heartbreak. Part of putting yourself out there means having not so great experiences, but also that this isn’t all of what dating and love is. You can and will find someone who is more suited to your needs and you shouldn’t waste your time with people who know for sure that they can’t meet your needs.

But who knows? Maybe in asking yourself some of these questions, you might come to the conclusion that you’re willing to try. And if that’s the case, that’s also fine. But just be sure that your partner, especially if he knew this entire time that he “didn’t believe in monogamy” or whatever hogwash, that he gets better at communicating because there’s just no excuse for not telling you sooner if that’s the case. And I’d also steer clear of rules about behaviours (e.g. no falling in love, etc) because rules cannot and do not stop the human heart and/or libido. If they did, infidelity would not exist.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Note: I wrote this column in 2018, so it’s possible my perspective on this may have shifted or expanded. Please feel free to resubmit a similar question.

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.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.