Episode 56: Escalating Past a Metamour

Your partner is escalating your relationship and it’s making your metamour jealous. What can you do?

*A metamour is a person who also dates your partner who you do not date.

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

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

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

Episode 56 – Escalating Past a Metamour

Your partner is escalating your relationship and it’s making your metamour jealous. What can you do? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – What does an “escalation” in a relationship mean to you?

 

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

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

My metamour, Kay, suffers with depression and anxiety, I feel it would be unfair to omit this. They have been dating our partner, Pip, for a year longer than I have. My relationship (friendship) with Kay started to go downhill a year ago, after they found out that Pip and I were fluid bonded and regularly had sex without condoms. Kay has another partner with whom they are fluid bonded and have been for several years.

Since then Pip has suggested that we move in together, introduced me to their parents, and planned a big holiday for us to visit their relatives in another country. The last time I met Kay it was clear that they were blaming me for “plotting” these relationship escalations, even though they were all initiated by Pip (which it turns out they had failed to mention). Kay told me that they had a fear I was going to change to being monogamous and “drag Pip down with me”.

I feel it isn’t my fault that between the two of them they had never had any of these discussions about how their relationship could escalate, despite over 2.5 years of dating. I said I thought it was pretty normal to at least discuss these kind of escalations by that point in a relationship. Kay said “it’s always going to be unfair if one partner is always planning ahead then the other partner never even gets a chance.”

I feel really stuck in the middle here, and unfairly blamed. I don’t feel I can break it to Kay that all of these ‘life events’ were initiated by Pip. Then they would want to know why Pip hadn’t sought out the same things in their relationship. But I feel like I have to either do that or just pretend to accept some “blame” for things moving forward in my own relationship with Pip.

This all happened just before lockdown and I’ve had very little interaction with Kay since the climax of this whole saga. I know that this all makes the situation really awkward for Pip but I don’t know what to do to make it better. I feel like I don’t want any kind of relationship with Kay right now.

Response:

Right. So, initially when I’m reading through all of this, my first instinct is to be like don’t have any relationship with Kay. You don’t have to have any kind of friendship or anything with Kay. But the thing that kind of really bugs me about this entire situation is you are doing Pip’s work for them. And that’s really not cool. I would have just outwardly said straight to Kay’s face from the beginning that they started to blame me for all of this that this was initiated by Pip, and if they had a problem about their relationship with Pip, then they needed to go speak to Pip and not to me, because I have no control over that.

I would have outwardly said that. It makes Pip’s life awkward? Tickity tough. Okay? Pip’s life is awkward then and that is a

direct consequence of Pip not having those discussions with Kay. Especially if Kay is going to talk to me. If we’re going to talk, and we’re going to have a friendship and you’re going to start blaming me for stuff that’s not my fault, I’m going to immediately tell you who initiated this stuff. And I’m not sure why you haven’t done that.

Okay, it makes Pip’s life awkward. Big deal. Pip made Pip’s life awkward. The second that Pip decided not to have these discussions with Kay was the moment where Pip made Pip’s life awkward. Especially if Pip knew that you and Kay were talking. At what point does it make any sense? So, yeah, two things.

First and foremost, you are not required to have any kind of friendship or relationship with Kay if you don’t want to. And I know. I’ve gone through depression and anxiety myself. Anxiety is something that I’ve got. It’s tough. I get it. But that is something that you can, especially if the anxiety is technically kind of being caused by you (which it’s not really). But I can understand from Kay’s perspective feeling really anxious about the way that your relationship is escalating and feeling like that’s not happening to me and wondering why.

I can get that. That’s a totally logical reason for having that. However, if Kay is using you to voice these concerns, you can set your own boundaries and it doesn’t have to be like an either or situation. It doesn’t have to be like “Excuse me Kay. Fuck off. Never speak to me again”. Doesn’t have to be like that. But you can set very clear boundaries with Kay and it’s understandable they have anxiety. It’s understandable that they have these problems, but you’re not their therapist and you’re certainly not Kay and Pip’s couples therapist at all.

So you can very clearly say to Kay, “If you have a problem with what’s going on in your relationship with Pip, then you need to speak to Pip or a relationship therapist and not to me”, because that is unfair to you. It puts you in the middle of a situation that you have a stake in, and it would be no different if you and Kay and Pip were all friends, and you went to, I don’t know, Disney World with Pip and Kay was really upset because Pip had always said that they would take Kay to Disney World. And instead of going to Pip and saying “Hey why didn’t you take me to Disney World?” Kay came to you and said “Hey why the Pip take…”. It would be the same if you were friends.

You wouldn’t want to be in the middle of this, so don’t allow yourself to be. Put very clear boundaries down with Kay. You don’t have to be like “Fuck off forever and never speak to me again”. Because I do kind of think that, you know, maybe there are other things you have in common. Maybe even a casual cordial friendship is possible between the two of you. It’s just

that because Kay is using this as a means to voice their grievances and their relationship with Pip, it’s very difficult to be friends with that. So make that very clear and very known.

The other thing that that Kay said that you said, “it’s always going to be unfair if one partner is always planning ahead and then the other partner never even gets a chance”. The problem that I have with this kind of mindset, again we were discussing about the relationship escalator and about how there’s this thought process within monogamy where it’s like okay you meet, and then you are together, and then you decide to move in together and then you have babies, and then— you know all of that progression. The reason why that’s so complicated within a polyamorous framework is because some of that is contingent upon there being only one person who does that.

It’s going to be very hard for someone to live that kind of life and progression if it’s only one person. And the thing of it is, all of the relationship escalating things you’ve mentioned about like going on trips together, meeting their parents, and moving in — I mean, some of those things may be things that Pip only wants to do with one person, but they aren’t necessarily completely limited to one person. Like they could be things that Kay has done as well but if Kay wants to be the first and if Kay wants to be the only then that’s always going to be an issue. And that is something that Pip has to address with Kay, not with you. This is not your battle to fight.

So yeah, the first thing is that you need to set clear boundaries with Kay about what can be discussed. And if you have to get really blunt, and really honest about it then do, because it’s your right to say, “Look, I’m not involved in this”. You can’t control if Kay wants to blame you. There’s nothing you can control about that, but you can absolutely control how much you hear about this kind of stuff, and you can absolutely say “Listen, if you continue to have discussions with me about your relationship with Pip, and about how unfair you think all this is, then I will not speak to you anymore, because I am not the one who you should be talking to about this. If you feel like Pip is not treating you fairly then you need to speak with Pip and leave me out of it”. And you can make that very very very clear so that Kay either decides to stop speaking to you altogether, or decides to stop speaking to you about this.

The second thing that’s kind of going on here that I don’t think you’re really focusing on is that you are bending over backwards to make the situation easier for Pip. Why? Why are you doing that? Pip should be the one who’s talking to Kay about this, and you have that realisation. In your letter you’re talking about like, you know, Kay— all of these things were initiated by Pip which they had failed to mention to Kay and you don’t understand why in their 2.5 years of dating they have never had that discussion and it is not your fault that they’ve never had that discussion. It’s Pip’s fault, in a way. It’s also Kay’s fault a little bit. It’s like both of them.

Pip’s not doing anything and Kay is talking to you about it instead. They both need to stop it. And I kind of feel like you’re holding Kay super responsible in a way that you’re not holding Pip responsible. Pip should that share some of this blame as well. And you’re kind of just like “I don’t want to make things— All of this is gonna make the situation really awkward for Pip”. Tough shit. Like honestly, I do think you need to be a little bit more talking to Pip as well as telling Kay like “Look these are my boundaries. I’m not going to have this discussion with you. If you have a problem with the relationship that you have with Pip then you need to speak with Pip”.

Equally, you can go to Pip and be like, “Kay is talking to me about this stuff. You need to talk to Kay. You need to do that because I am not the one who’s going to be put in the middle of these situations. It’s not fair to me. You need to do the work that you need to do with Kay, so that this is addressed, and so that she stops coming to me. There’s something clearly going on in your relationship which is not my business, but it’s being made into my business. So please do something about that”.

You’re allowed to do that. You’re allowed to hold Pip a little bit responsible because it isn’t your job to fix the situation. You say you don’t know what you can do to make it better. You can’t do anything to make it better. Pip is the person that needs to do something to make it better.

So to sum up, two things. First thing you need to put more boundaries in between you and Kay when it comes to discussing this. You can absolutely say, “I do not want to discuss this with you”, and you need to say that if that’s how you feel. And then Kay can either choose to continue whatever friendship that you would have had without this or Kay can choose not to talk to you, but either way you were allowed to put that boundary in.

Second thing, you need to give Pip some of the blame for this. Be a little bit more annoyed with Pip than you are with Kay because this is Pip’s relationship which Pip is not clearly not addressing, and you can say to Pip directly, “Kay is coming to me and talking to me about this stuff. Why? You need to talk to Kay. You need to figure this out because it’s not fair for me to be put in the middle of it,” and you can say that 100% to both of them. “It’s not fair for me to be put in the middle of this”.

If you have to sit them both down, I mean I don’t think you can do that with lockdown, but like if you have to sit them both down and be like, “I don’t want to be in the middle of this anymore. Discuss amongst yourselves,” you’re allowed to do that. I’m sorry. I’m just really annoyed on your behalf because you shouldn’t be put in the middle of this. This is absolutely… And the fact that you can’t even say overtly to Kay… like “Pip is the one who initiated this stuff”. Say that. Just say it. So what if it makes Pip’s life awkward? It’s making your life awkward and it’s not even your fault. You don’t deserve that.

Anyway, I hope that helps and good luck.

 

Episode 55: How Much is Too Much?

How much is too much to know about your partner’s other relationships? Where is the line?

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

Discussion Topic: Do you believe in first impressions?

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

Episode 55 – How Much is Too Much

How much is too much to know about your partner’s other relationships? Where is the line? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – Do you believe in first impressions?

 

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

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I’ve started listening to your podcast on and off in the last few months.

One thing that I notice is a recurring theme in your advice is that you often say it’s none of their business to know all this stuff about any of the relationships that the letter writer is not involved in.

What I’m curious about is: where is the line? How much stuff is enough to know?

When I’m in a relationship with someone, it’s important to have *some* kind of understanding of each of our existing/potential relationships in order to navigate the dynamics that arise and even just from a logistical point of view when planning out time for each other.

When meeting someone new I want to know what kinds of relationship/s they have in their life so that I can see how they relate to their partner/s, what kinds of boundaries they may have in place, whether what they have to offer is something I am interested in. These are difficult things to figure out if there’s a cone of silence around all their other relationships.

One time my partner and I tried a mutual agreement of non-disclosure with our respective new relationships. In hindsight the complete lack of transparency was the biggest driver of it hurtling into disaster. Where we would normally give basic updates on how the relationship is progressing and how we feel about that person, there was absolute silence and we both projected our insecurities into that empty space. It was horrible. My partner and I learned the hard way that too little knowledge did not work, and had we been able to provide each other with the updates that we normally would, it would have headed off a lot of the insecurities that all of us were feeling.

So I guess I would like to know, in your opinion, what kind of stuff, and how much stuff, do you think is appropriate to know about the other relationship/s that your partner is in?

Response:

Okay, first of all, when I’ve said in my podcast or columns— when people have asked me questions and I’ve said “You know too much”, or “You’re too involved”, almost in every case, that isn’t what you’re talking about here. You’re talking about wanting to know about logistics, or things like that. There’s kind of an in-between between Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and knowing every single thing, beyond a point where it’s kind of like, is there any privacy in these relationships?

I’m not advocating for people to operate on a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell basis which is what it sounds like you were actually operating under. A very strict agreement of complete non -disclosure. That isn’t what I’m what I’m saying. That is pretty much Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, other than the fact that you may know that your partner is in this other relationship. It is kind of a don’t ask don’t tell setup. That’s not necessarily what I advocate. What I advocate is supposed to be contrary to the advice that or the instinct that people have to know everything about another relationship.

And I do kind of think that’s working in this situation that you’re describing. People tend to think that if they know everything about the other relationships that their partners are in, they can prevent something bad from happening in their relationship. The reason why I don’t think this is good is because, ultimately, there’s only so much you can control. You cannot control the relationships that your partner is in, and sometimes when you want to know about that relationship, it stems from a desire to want to counteract the anxiety by controlling everything, or wanting to know as if  that’s going to help you foresee something bad.

It’s a preventative measure, and what I’m saying is that, that can’t prevent it. When you are in a relationship with somebody and they’re in relationships with other people, those relationships that they have with other people should have a reasonable respect of privacy. It isn’t sometimes very fair when you know your partner is disclosing stuff about their other partners to you, to those other partners.

It’s a balance between the privacy of other people and also— sometimes I feel like people want to know those details because they don’t want to actually hold their partner accountable for their decisions. And it’s used way too much as an excuse. So for example, if you are dating Person B, and they are dating Person C, they could say to you that person C is getting really upset every single time this happens or that happens and what I feel like is going to happen is you’re going to blame Person C when Person B makes choices based on Person C’s actions, instead of going, “Okay, I get—“ You know your partner’s welcome to tell you that their other partner is getting upset yada yada.

But ultimately it’s them that’s making a decision based on that information. It’s them that is choosing— if they are choosing to change your relationship because of what’s happening in other relationships. The thing that I worry about with being like “This is what’s happening in this relationship and this is what’s happening in that relationship” is that rather than being used as a way to talk about dynamics, it’s being used as a way to blame other people, for what you are choosing to do. And that’s why I don’t particularly advocate it. I think that it’s— it tends to be a way that people use to try and avoid things, and sometimes I think it causes more problems.

Yes, you have filled this void of not knowing with your own insecurities, but knowing that isn’t going to solve the problem which is the insecurity. The problem really isn’t this void or what’s in it. It’s the fact that you feel like you need to have this information, and if it’s not there then you’ll put it there, in order for you to feel comfortable and safe and secure in your relationship. And I do genuinely feel like, regardless of whether you have no information and you’re putting information in there or you do have information, the initial problem is that you feel like you need to know this, to solve the fear and the insecurities and the doubt that you are experiencing, and that is the issue.

That is the real problem. Not whether or not that information is there. It’s the fact that you feel like there should be something there for you to feel safe and secure in your relationship but that is kind of what it boils down to. Now there’s different things that you mentioned along here. You said “It’s important to have some kind of an understanding of each of our existing potential relationships in order to navigate the dynamics that arise even just from a logistical point of view and planning out time for each other.” You can have a partnership with someone who communicates to you how they do relationships, without necessarily knowing tons about other people.

So for example if I had a new partnership and I would say, “Okay, this is how my life is organised. I have a partner that I live with. Generally speaking, that partner that I live with does tend to take up a lot of my time because we live together, and there’s logistical planning. However, in terms of how I do relationships, I am not a person who believes in prioritising anyone just because I’ve been with them longer”. So I would highlight to them that if they feel like I am not giving them the time that they need or if they feel like that I am prioritising my relationship with the person I live with over them, then they need to highlight that to me because that is not what I intended.

However, what I would say is that I do have a disability, I do have a condition which makes my energy levels low. I don’t always have access to the best transportation because I can’t drive, things like that. Like they have to — depending on where they live and where they are in their life — you know, if I if I had another partner that basically wanted me to be their primary, that wouldn’t work. I don’t have the time or energy for that. So it’s about figuring out what your individual preferences are, what your commitments are, what all of those things are.

I don’t need to tell them, intimate details about my partnership with the person that I live with in order for them to get a good understanding of what place they would have in my life, and I don’t even know what that would entail. Like what is it about my partner, and my relationship with the person that I live with that you would need to know in order to understand things? You need to be able to trust me when I say “This is the time I have. This is the place that you would occupy in my life. This is how I operate”. You would have to trust me in order for that to work.

Maybe you don’t immediately trust somebody’s word. You need to see it in action in order to get a good idea of it. So that is… that’s one thing I’d say about that. Somebody can pretend like they are and this is, this is actually— it’s quite funny that this comes up because for a very very long time I felt like relationship anarchy was just something that people who didn’t want to take responsibility used as a cover for, you know, to say I don’t have any priorities when actually they do. I have kind of since come to believe and understood relationship anarchy a little bit better and what it’s supposed to mean, even though I think that people don’t always use it to mean that in a similar way to anarchy in general.

People can lie about things you know. They can say, “Well, I don’t have any primaries. I don’t really…” you know, and then make decisions that counter that but the thing of it is, you can’t prevent everything. You can’t prevent yourself from getting in a relationship where your needs don’t match up, where somebody isn’t honest or maybe doesn’t even know. Like some people just aren’t self aware enough to know where they’re making their decisions and why. So that’s a possibility. And there’s nothing that you observing them in their other relationships or knowing any details about that, isn’t necessarily going to prevent that.

And you have to understand that part of entering into multiple relationships includes the risk that those relationships will end. That’s just part and parcel of the risk. So I still think that you wanting to know the dynamics of someone else’s relationship is partially a way to shield yourself from heartbreak, and you need to maybe— all of this is a very anxious response, which is understandable.

It’s totally understandable that you would want to try and protect yourself. That’s not a bad thing. But ultimately, this is creating a lot more problems than there needs to be. Now when you talk about you and your partner tried this mutual agreement of non-disclosure with your respective new relationships, the lack of transparency was the biggest driver of it hurtling into disaster,

Okay, you would normally give basic updates and how the relationship is progressing and how we feel about that person, but there was an absolute silence. We both projected our insecurities— how does another relationship increasing in terms of feeling and how you feel about that person how the relationship is progressing — progressing into what?

If you’re feeling this fear it’s because you haven’t talked about what relationship progression means. It means different things to different people. Are you on the relationship escalator? Is one of you expecting to marry someone else? Like, that’s the discussion that needs to happen. That’s what you need to work out with each other, is where you fall into each other’s lives and you have to trust each other to talk to each other if that changes.

But having regular updates. I mean, If someone asked me that like, “How is your relationship progressing? And how do you feel about that other person?” I would feel really… what do you mean progressing into what? I have no intentions upon getting married. I have no intentions of having children. I have no interest in purchasing property or any of the other sort of general milestones people have for “relationship progression”. So what does that mean to me?

You’re asking these questions because you’re afraid of your partner falling in love with somebody else and you being replaced. That’s what it feels like. And whether or not you have this information— I’m sure It felt great. I’m sure when your partner said “Well I don’t know if I love this person yet, but we’re seeing how things go”. I’m sure you felt very relieved by that. I don’t doubt that for a second, and I’m sure when you didn’t have that information, you started to panic.

But the issue is the panic. The issue isn’t the information being there. It’s the fact that you feel like you need this for some reason. Why? Why do you need that? Can you not work together to sort out your insecurities and figure out why you feel so anxious? How do you reestablish a relationship with each other that means that you don’t worry about things like that? You don’t need updates like that. You have to also accept that regardless of getting these general updates, at any point in time your partner could be like “No, I’m done. I’m done with our relationship”. These updates are not going to prevent that.

These updates are not going to shield you from that. It’s not  going to make it easier for you, even if you like— okay, your partner’s like “I just met this person,” next update, “I’m dating,” next update, “I’m starting to fall for this person,” next, update “I love this person”, next update, “I don’t want us to be together no more”. You really think that the progression of those updates is going to somehow prepare you mentally for losing that partner? It’s not going to.

Your brain is trying to help. It’s trying to do something with all of this fear, understandable fear that it has that you will lose your partner, but these updates aren’t going to— They will temporarily make you feel better, no doubt. No doubt. But you need to address the fact that you’re filling what you see is a void with insecurity— You need to address that and figure out how you counteract that insecurity, instead of just trying to feed the information in, because it’s, it’s not actually— it does make you feel better and temporary, but it’s a temporary solution.

It’s a band aid over gaping wound. It isn’t fixing the actual problem. And that’s why this situation devolved the way it did, because when you can’t— you know, you need that and you haven’t addressed the core issue. So when you don’t get that information for whatever reason and you might not. You might not get that information. You wouldn’t when you don’t get that information all of a sudden you’re filling it with insecurities and you’re scared so you need to figure out why it is that you and your partner— Either you know, if you felt insecurity on both sides which it sounds like that was the case.

You need to figure out how you build up more trust with each other, rather than trying to fill up with regular updates. You don’t tell me how long you’ve been with your partner so I’m not sure if this is necessarily new. And even if you have been with them for a long time, if you’ve just started trying out polyamory it makes sense as you would have all of these insecurities. But yeah, I can’t give you a hard and fast answer, of what kind of stuff and how much stuff is appropriate.

It’s not necessarily about what kind of stuff or how much stuff. It’s about what’s the purpose of it is? What is the point? To try and stave off fear and anxiety? Because if the point is trying to stave off fear and anxiety, I don’t think that’s useful, because in the long run, it won’t prevent anything, and sometimes knowing these details can trigger more anxiety. Sometimes if you’re, you know— if your next update is “I’m falling completely head over heels in love with this person”, then it might be your brain goes, “Wow. They fell in love faster with this person than they do with me. What’s going on?”

Sometimes more information is more for your anxiety to work with. Ultimately it comes down to what you and your partner are with comfortable with. If you’re comfortable with regular updates, then you know, who am I to tell you to stop doing that? If it’s not a violation of the privacy of the other person who is involved and you should always check that and you feel comfortable with that, then go ahead. But the one thing that I would just say is that it’s not necessarily about, you know, how much or what not to know.

It’s about whether or not it’s actually serving you to know. Is it actually solving the situation? Will it actually do what you are trying to prevent? Will it prevent what you’re what you’re trying to get it to prevent? Because usually I feel like people are sharing this kind of updates or sharing this kind of information in order to prevent something from happening that it cannot prevent. And that is why I tend to tell people that they’re too involved, because they’re trying to be too involved, to be able to stop their partner, leaving them, and ultimately they cannot do that through this method.

They can’t do it at all. If somebody decides to leave you, short of locking them in the tower, which isn’t really going to fix the situation, you can’t stop that. You can’t stop your partner from leaving you. You can’t stop your partner from falling out of love with you. None of that is a thing that you can control and temporarily as I said, if you haven’t already read it I wrote this article called “13 mistakes people make when trying Polyamory”. I suggest you check it out as well.  One thing that people tend to do is that their brain in these types of situations, says, “What can I do to keep this person in my life? Because I’m afraid of losing them. I know I’ll do X, Y Z”.

And it’s an easy solution. It’s much easier and nicer and less traumatic and less scary for your brain to think that if you do X, Y Z, then your partner won’t leave you. Now you can be a complete and total asshole, obviously, you know. The best thing you can do to keep your partner around is by being respectful person, treating them well, treating yourself well — all of those things. But outside of that there isn’t anything you can do and your brain will trick you into believing that you can do things in order to temporarily relieve some of that fear and anxiety.

But the problem with this is that in the long run, what this inevitably ends up meaning is that you lost that relationship because you didn’t do X, Y Z and other relationships that you’ve had, you’ve lost because you didn’t do X, Y Z. This mind kind of like temporarily anxiety relieving thing ends up really screwing you over in the long run because it blames you for the things that happen in other relationships that you could not control, and that’s the problem with that mindset. It doesn’t prevent the thing you want it to prevent and it ends up creating more blame for you.

So yeah, basically to sum up, there isn’t a hard fast rule, other than the privacy and respect for the third person and, or the other person or people that your partner is dating about what to disclose or how much to not know. The only thing you really need to consider yourself with is what will knowing this information do? What problem will this solve? And will it actually solve that problem? Because, in the example you gave, the problem is that, you know, you see this void. You’re filling this void with anxious thoughts and you think that replacing it with updates will fix it.

When the actual problem is that you feel like you need this information in order to feel secure in your relationship and that is the actual problem. And that is something that you should think about. How do we build security between each other? What is relationship progression? What does that mean? What is the end goal? What is the ideal situation for yourself and your partner? Do your ideals …. you know this is my ideal polyamorous situation and this is your partner’s — do they mesh up? Are you compatible? Because at the end of the day, you know, that’s kind of what you’re asking with a relationship progression.

You’re afraid of being replaced. You’re afraid of things changing. You can’t prevent that. You need to discuss with each other, what your situations are and if you want it to change and also respect that even discussing that and knowing that doesn’t mean it can’t change in the future. Shit happens. Life happens. The only thing that’s constant is change.

So, you can’t ultimately prevent it. You have to sit with that discomfort and be able to get used to it and trust your partner that if something were going to change in your relationship and change in your expectations that they would discuss it with you, and that they would be there to support you. Because if you don’t feel like that’s the case, then that is ultimately the bigger issue than knowing about what’s going on in other relationships.

I hope that helps and good luck.

 

Knowing too much

I am a 40 year old solo poly[am] woman in a relationship with a poly man who is in a long term nesting relationship with his common-law wife. They have been together over 25 years; I’ve been with him for just over 3.

I’ve heard you tell readers on multiple occasions that you should not know too much about the inner workings of your partner’s other relationships. I agree with this fully, now that I’ve had the painful experience of doing just that. Three years into the relationship I am really struggling with the consequences of that and I hope you have some advice about where to go from here.

When I started dating my partner, I was brand-new to poly[am], and I was fascinated with the concept right away. I read everything I could find about open relationships, and I asked him a lot of questions. We became very close in a short period of time, in part because we talked about everything. A few months after we fell in love he went on a 2-month trip with his wife and kids, and we communicated mostly by email. We wrote long letters to each other sharing the most intimate details of our lives.

I learned the reasons that he pursued polyamory, which included feeling lonely in his marriage and the lack of sexual compatibility with his wife. He never said anything negative about her, and he clearly loves and respects her and is grateful that she agreed to polyamory even though she much prefers monogamy. Learning this made me feel closer to him, and I assumed that the more I knew about the history of their relationship and the ongoing struggles, the better I could support both of them.

However, about a year into our relationship I started really resenting his wife, mostly because I wanted to be able to spend more time with our shared partner, and I saw her as an obstacle to that. Eventually I realized that he wasn’t taking responsibility for his choices, and I asked him not to scapegoat his wife because it was damaging my relationship with her. To his credit, he did stop, and things got better for a while. He negotiated spending a bit more time with me, and I was very happy with that.

Unfortunately, my feelings towards his wife haven’t fully recovered. She and I have a cordial relationship. We interact only when necessary. I have dinner with them and their kids every once and awhile, but I find it extremely awkward. She is pleasant enough and I don’t think she has anything against me personally, so I’m pretty sure this is all my stuff. Although I’ve asked my partner not to tell me when they are going through a rough patch, it ends up being pretty obvious because he’s an emotional guy. He’s also extremely honest, which is a wonderful quality, but it means he perceives that not telling me what’s happening in his life is akin to lying, or at least “don’t ask don’t tell” — which is fine for some people but not how either of us want to operate.

They seem to go through a lot of rough patches. They’ve talked about separating many times. I know that they won’t break up, because they are both very family-oriented and things would have to get very bad before they would put their kids through that.

I get very triggered when they are re-evaluating their relationship. I worry that one of these days she will ask him to choose between their family and poly[am]. That may not be true, but it’s my fear, and it causes me a lot of anxiety and guilt.

I’ve explained all of this to my partner, and he feels terrible for the pain he has caused me. We are trying to figure out how to maintain our close emotional bond without triggering me. It seems obvious that we just shouldn’t talk about the things that trigger me, but it’s not that easy in practise. And even if we can manage to do that, how do I get over my negative feelings about his wife and their relationship?

In some ways, you have opened Pandora’s Box a little bit because you have been let into their relationship in a way that puts you in an awkward position, but I do think that ultimately your feelings aren’t really about her so much as they are coming from a place of instability in your relationship, which is why they haven’t recovered.

It seems like this is less about her actions and more about his. You don’t seem upset that he went on a two month trip with her and his kids, though he did communicate with you, and then you had to negotiate for more time and he initially blamed his partner for that. You haven’t really overcome that because he gets obviously upset when their relationship is in turmoil. It seems like you’ve not really had time to breathe in that regard.

He can tell you when they’re going through a rough patch without giving you details. He can also reassure you that he does not have any plans to throw you out to save his marriage — if that’s something he can promise. Personally, I feel like in my relationships I would never tolerate one of my partners demanding I dump someone else. That would be an absolute no no for me.

The problem is that, if he is willing to get rid of you if polyamory becomes a problem in his relationship, then he isn’t going to be able to promise that to you. And then you will begin to feel anxious and scared about every up and down in their relationship and then, to a certain extent, resentful of his wife for “causing” the problem. You have a relationship with him whereas you have little in the way of a friendship with her, so it makes sense that it’s easier for you to be upset and angry with her than with him.

There needs to be a combination of you sitting with the discomfort of being afraid of what you can’t control, which is their relationship, but also some reassurance on his part — especially if he wants to be able to tell you when they are having issues or be honest about it. If he can’t give that reassurance or promise… then your anxiety isn’t just happening and this isn’t about her. It’s about your relationship.

So, to sum up, I think this really is less about her and more about the uncertainty you have. If he does reassure you that he wouldn’t accept that kind of ultimatum from her and you still have these feelings, it might be worth consulting a polyamory friendly relationship therapist to work through what specific things are triggering you and figure out how to sit with this discomfort for awhile until the balance is set right. But if he cannot give you that reassurance, it might be worth working with a therapist on how to manage boundaries on your part.

I feel like if he can’t give you a reassurance that he’s not going to chuck you when his relationship goes south, then you’re definitely going to have to maintain more boundaries with hearing about his other relationship because it’s going to, for an understandable reason, make you feel extremely anxious whenever they are going through a rough patch. And you may, in the end, want to consider whether or not you want to be with someone who has no problem chucking your relationship out to save another.

I hope this helps and good luck.

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Episode 53: Forgiving Mistakes

You have a metamour who thinks someone you’re dating is a bad person. What do you do?

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

Discussion Topic: What do you think about forgiveness? When should one be forgiven?

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

Episode 53 – Forgiving Mistakes

You have a metamour who thinks someone you’re dating is a bad person. What do you do?  That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – What do you think about forgiveness? When should one be forgiven?

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

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I’m married, and my husband has two other partners in addition to me: his partner Anna of 3 years, and Lisa of 1 year.  I get along well with both his partners and hang out with them semi-regularly. On my side, I have one other partner I’ve been dating for several months now, Zach.  When I first met Zach several months ago, we instantly clicked.  He seemed very thoughtful, mature, and we had great chemistry. After our first couple dates, he briefly met my husband at a party we were all at, and my husband said he felt “good vibes” from him.

A few days after that party, my husband had a date with Lisa, and he told her about meeting Zach.  Afterwards, Lisa contacted me and said she wanted to talk to me about him. When we spoke, she was really upset and was crying. Apparently, Lisa briefly dated Zach a year earlier, and they saw each other for a couple months. She told me that he violated a boundary of hers twice. She wasn’t comfortable telling me exactly what that boundary was, but she said she felt very manipulated and didn’t think he was a good person.

Obviously this was super concerning to me, but it was also confusing. In my few interactions with Zach up to that point, he’d been respectful of my boundaries, very communicative, and very careful. What’s more, my husband’s other partner, Anna, was seeing him casually at the time I met him, which I took as a good sign. I decided to continue seeing Zach and to form my own impressions. However, I took Lisa’s words to heart and proceeded with caution. I also asked Lisa what her boundaries were if I continued dating Zach, and she said she didn’t want to be around him at all, and didn’t want him to contact her. And I agreed to honour that.

Lisa had also told my husband that Zach violated her boundaries, and of course, my husband was upset by this. It made him understandably uncomfortable with Zach.  In the past, my husband has been friendly with my partners and has been open to hanging out with them, but after talking to Lisa, he didn’t want to engage with Zach any further.

Fast forward several months, and my relationship with Zach has grown. I’ve been moving very deliberately and slowly, because I was worried NRE would cloud my judgement. But he’s been 100% respectful of my boundaries; we have excellent communication, and I feel very safe with him, both physically and emotionally.

Because of this, my husband has become more comfortable with Zach, and he appreciates how he’s been a good partner to me. But he still doesn’t personally want to engage with Zach at all because of Lisa.  Lisa really values loyalty, and my husband told her that he wouldn’t pursue a friendship with Zach out of respect for her.

But as my feelings for Zach grow, I’m wanting to bring him into my life more. I recently asked my husband if he’d be willing to meet up with Zach and his primary partner (who I’ve met and love), but my husband isn’t comfortable with this. He’s worried that if he hangs out with Zach at all, Lisa would view it as a betrayal, and he’d be compromising his integrity. I know you can’t force your partners to hang out and be friends, but I also feel like my husband hasn’t given Zach a real chance. The only interaction my husband ever had with Zach was at that party all those months ago.

I don’t need my husband and Zach to become besties, but I would like to be able to all hang out together on occasion, like I do with his partners, and like my husband has done with my past partners. Also, it’s going to be hard to involve Zach in my life more if I can’t bring him around my husband.

I’m frustrated and don’t know what to do. I’m trying to respect everybody’s boundaries, and I understand why my husband feels uncomfortable.  But I also feel like I can’t grow my relationship with Zach the way I’d like to because of his history with Lisa.  My husband and I still don’t know exactly what happened between the two of them, but the shadow of it is having a very real impact on both my relationships now.

Response:

Now I want to say before I start that you did send me a little bit of extra information which you didn’t necessarily want me to divulge. I’m not going to divulge too much of it but one thing that I do think is really important to this is that you did highlight that there is some BDSM elements that are involved in this and I think that is actually really, really important so I do think that needs to be part of my response.

I’ve been in this situation so many times, both like as a person who has experienced some unsafe behaviour from someone and as a person who is friends with someone who has experienced unsafe behaviour from someone. I’ve been in this situation, and it is quite difficult and this quite frustrating. There may be a situation where you accept that. Zach just won’t be able to hang out with your husband, and that is what it is. That might be preferable to what I might suggest here. Because the thing about me, if I place myself into this situation, I really don’t like tiptoeing around things.

And while I wouldn’t want to press Lisa about what happened to her, based on the information that you’ve given me, I feel like I would really, really want to know, and I would really, really have a hard time— it’s not necessarily that I wouldn’t believe Lisa because her experience is her experience. But it’s the fact that, especially with the BDSM element that you mentioned — and even I think without the BDSM element — people fuck up. People make mistakes. And people have to be given some ability to atone for those mistakes.

It’s not a sustainable community solution. And I know that it’s a big thing especially within BDSM communities to be like “As soon as someone’s abusive we chuck them out and the community is all safe”. It’s not a sustainable solution. It’s really not, for all people because you create this environment and myself and any autistic person will be able to tell you there have been so many times when we have fucked up. We have broken some type of social rule. We have messed up, and not understood and people have responded by isolating us. And they have responded by kicking us out of spaces, sometimes not even telling us what we did.

I have gone through this on a social justice level of going into places, making mistakes, as we’re wont to do, and people’s responses, either being kicking people out, just absolutely trying to verbally eviscerate them, or just you know, as if we’re not yelling at people for the same mistakes that we made. I know this is a boundary violation. I know Lisa is upset about this. And I’m not saying that you need to force Lisa to confront Zach, but a frickin conversation needs to happen here. It just needs to happen.

And it’s a conversation, not necessarily between Lisa and Zach but a conversation between you and your husband and Lisa and Anna. I just I feel like it’s a little bit, you know… nobody’s talking, and we’re all trying to— and the thing that makes me a little worried is that I have witnessed people utilise this element that we have created— like I said in the discussion question I talked about. We, we need to stop recreating these unjust systems.

We live in a society that has an unjust system, a system that takes people who have done wrong things and bad things and I’m not saying that you know, yay, murder is great! No, but what I’m saying is that the system isn’t a just system the idea of separating a human being from from everyone, and closing them often segregating and humiliating them isn’t always a just solution and isn’t sustainable, you know.

Lisa’s still upset. And maybe there’s a conversation that can happen where Zach can understand that what he did was wrong and if he is someone who was willing to listen, if he is someone who is willing to say “oh shit I’m sorry”. You have to at least give somebody that chance. Like, you know, I’m not trying to tell you to tell Lisa what to do. Lisa has to decide. She’s perfectly in line to say, “Listen, I don’t want to hang out with him. I don’t want to be around him”. I’m in the same way about some people.

People who I gave the chance to apologise, who did not apologise and who decided to continue their behaviour. I wish the best for them, but I don’t want them near me, and I have the right to say that. However, when it becomes about “loyalty”… I just feel like that is… that is something that needs to be discussed. It’s not about telling Lisa that she has to tell Zach that he did something wrong, so that he— I mean… I feel like given the additional information that you’ve given me about exclusion from communities and spaces… I just feel like people fuck up. If he hasn’t apologised for it then you need to dump him. If he’s been told that he did something wrong and he refuses to acknowledge it, even if he’s nice to you, I think I… yeah I’d be done with that. And it’s hard because nothing’s happened to you thus far with him.

But it sounds like, from the additional information that you sent to me, that he has no fucking clue that something bad has happened. Maybe there is a Lisa out there for me. Maybe there is someone whose boundaries I’ve violated who is not telling me that. I can’t fix that. Nobody can fix things that they don’t know about. I’m not the kind of person that would be like “Okay. Fuck you, I don’t care”. Like, I’m not that kind of a person. The second that I find out that I fucked up, I try my best to apologise. I don’t get it perfect. I’m not perfect.

But in the past in situations where I have— someone’s basically told me “You have violated this boundary. You made me feel bad or you did this”. I have tried to apologise. I’ve done my best, and I have tried to learn from that experience. You kick somebody out of the community like this and especially if they don’t know, like, if they are– if they don’t apologise and they refuse to listen then fine, I don’t have any problems with saying, “Fuck this person then”. If they can’t be arsed to be, you know, if they if they can’t be arsed to actually say that they’ve done something wrong and actually do something about it, then that’s fine.

It doesn’t sound like this has been a situation with Zach. I’m not saying he didn’t fuck up. He probably did. There is a brilliant person on Instagram named KinkyBlackEducator, I believe that’s their Instagram username and basic guides about BDSM that they put out talk about how consent violations can and do happen. And we just have to talk about it in some way. And like… again, I’m not telling you that you need to tell Lisa that she has to confront Zach. That’s not what I’m saying. But you got to talk about this loyalty thing.

You can totally honour the boundary of not having to have Zach   anywhere near Lisa. That’s fair. But it’s not fair for your husband to basically feel like he can’t be friends with Zach and can’t even interact with him without that being some insult to Lisa. Like that has to be discussed. And maybe in that discussion you can put forth the point that in your interactions with Zach and surely in Anna’s interactions with Zach, he’s never done anything and it’s not to say you don’t believe her but it’s that maybe he would apologise. Maybe all of this trauma could be resolved, or at least some type of justice can happen, rather than just, you know, locking him away. Maybe we can actually solve the problem. You know what I mean like, I just think that that is to me what accountability is and what needs to happen more often in communities that isn’t happening in so many communities.

In so many communities, it’s like you fuck up once and BLAH. I just feel like, especially when you’re talking about, you know, nobody walks out of the womb knowing how to, knowing all the tips and tricks on everything. We all fuck up. We all make mistakes. It is not—Yeah, Okay I’m going on and on about it. Basically you get my point. I think that you can make that point. It just doesn’t work. And this is a good example of why it doesn’t work because now your husband is insulting Lisa by being friends with Zach and we— that conversation just needs to happen. And you need to figure out if that is actually how Lisa feels and understand that there are multiple situations I have been in Lisa’s situation.

I have had somebody who… actually I think I was lucky enough to—  thank my lucky stars I never had a scene with them but I have, I have been around somebody who showed me that they were very unsafe. And this was somebody who was a community leader. It was somebody who everyone loved, because they were very charming and charismatic and it felt like I couldn’t go to any community events they were at. It felt really hard because I didn’t want to, at the time I didn’t want to get them blackballed from anything.

I didn’t want to get them kicked out of anything, but I was frustrated by the fact that this person was continuing to mistreat people, and nobody was holding them to account. And so I can totally understand how Lisa feels. I think I asked you in a follow up questions to get a gauge on whether or not Zack is kind of popular and has some social capital to get away with treating people like shit constantly again and again and again without any— That’s the thing about this like a thing that we like to think that we do, which is that we get rid of people who are toxic, but I don’t think that that’s always true.

I do think that sometimes people have the social capital and the privilege to get away with being toxic again and again again without, without any consequences. So I understand being in that position. I understand.  I tried to avoid putting people in the position of defriending somebody just to prove their loyalty to me because I don’t like that. That loyalty thing is a bit… It’s a bit suspect, to be honest because. Yeah, I just, I just feel like even in that situation I understood why people were friends with them. I understood why and even in my personal life situations where people have sexually assaulted me, I didn’t necessarily blame people for still being friends with the people who sexually assaulted me.

So, I don’t think accountability and justice comes in the way of just completely isolating a person, especially if we if they’ve never been given the chance to actually know that they fucked up. And this is the kind of thing that I just think, you know, I feel like I’m going on and I don’t know if that’s really helpful. I think that that is something that’s worth talking about with Lisa, having that discussion with her. If she gets to a point where she’s like, “No, nobody your husband can’t—“. Basically tells your husband, who we can or can’t be friends with or threaten— you know then your husband has to make that decision.

I think I’d feel very uncomfortable… I feel very uncomfortable with people telling me who I can and can’t be friends with, because that isn’t a good sign for any kind of relationship. Any partner telling you who you can and can’t be friends with or basically creating a situation where if you’re friends with somebody, then they— I just yeah I just don’t think that that’s a good situation to be in.

So it’s a discussion that you and your husband need to have with Lisa potentially with Anna there too because she has also dated Zach. And I think that that’s an important key factor. And then I think that you’re going to have to think about a future where Zach can’t be as involved in your life, and you’re going to have to think about whether or not you want to tell them why. I would really really struggle to not tell Zach why. Like, I just would even if I thought it might lead him to have a discussion with Lisa, as much as she wouldn’t like that, I kind of feel like I would have— I would feel like that’s dishonest for me, like, like what am I going to say? Like how? Yeah, I just I think you need to think about are you going to tell Zach, because I think he will notice. I mean unless he’s the kind of person who’s like “Ahh I don’t need to be friends with your husband. I don’t need to hang out with all you whatever. It’s fine”.

If he’s that kind of a person then you kind of don’t really have a problem. It’s more or less just unfortunately, you’re in that situation. But if he does want to be involved and you’re sort of like “Nah, you can’t come to my house because…”. You have to keep making up excuses that basically creates a situation where you’re lying to him. And I yeah I would, I’d really struggle with that. I would just have to be honest with him and tell him like. I just couldn’t pretend like everything was fine when it wasn’t. So yeah, let me try and wrap up, and some up in some kind of way because I know I’ve just— this is a subject that I feel a lot about because I’ve been in so many situations and it’s a thing that I feel like, especially social justice communities we’ve— It’s just a thing that happens and I’ve seen…

I’ve been the person who is sick and tired of someone who has all of the social capital and treats people like shit continuing to be allowed to be in charge of everything. I’ve been the person who has, you know, been told that they fucked up three years later after the fuckup happened and just felt so frustrated that they just didn’t tell me when it happened and I could have apologised then and feeling all of this self hatred and shame for a mess up that I did and trying to learn better and am better now but just, yeah, I’ve just been on all sides of this. I’ve also witnessed people, people I care about, you know, get doxxed online because somebody decided to use these types of communities against them so I have a lot of feels.

Anyway, sum up. Let’s sum up and shut up. It’s a conversation you need to have with your husband and Lisa basically is what I feel like, and you need to figure out this loyalty thing, and figure out if Lisa can understand that you haven’t had a problem with Zach, Anna hasn’t had a problem with Zach, your husband hasn’t had a problem with Zach, you will not be forcing her under any circumstances to be around him in any way shape or form. But you have to be able to do your stuff on your own. It’s not fair for her to tell you all who you can or can’t be friends with, and you will be keeping a close eye on him.

And maybe offer some type of community accountability process, where if she doesn’t want to confront him maybe you guys can. Maybe you can make him understand what he did. And then, if she lets you do that, maybe you can see if he’s apologetic or not and if he’s not apologetic and maybe this whole point is moot. Because you’ll basically be like alright well you know that you’ve done this wrong and you don’t care. That will kind of make you figure out if he’s really safe or not to be around because just because— and I will add this as a major addendum, just because he’s been safe around you thus far does not mean he will not change.

There is a book which I constantly, constantly, constantly recommend called “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft and I think that every single person should read it. Like it’s such an important book and it explains to you how abusive natures work. And there’s one thing in the book that’s just, like— there are a lot of abusive men who don’t get abusive until their partner is pregnant. How’s that for a mindfuck? Just because he’s not been horrible to you, doesn’t mean he can’t be. So, that is a very real thing.

It’s also very very very important that you not treat Lisa as if she’s lying. It’s important that you acknowledge her and  I feel like you have done but throughout this process of having this conversation with her. It’s important that you don’t take her complaints lightly. And last but not least I think that you need to accept that there may be a situation where you are just not, you know, Zach is not going to be in your life in the same way. Like if Lisa says, “Absolutely not. I consider it betrayal. I consider it a problem. I don’t want you interacting with him”, and your husband decides to comply with that. Then you’ve got to decide what you’re going to do. Are you going to be fine with that?

I mean, you might have to accept that that’s where the situation is. And if you decide to accept that’s where the situation is, then you know, are you going to tell Zach? Are you going to not tell him? So, I mean you don’t even know what it is technically that he’s done but you need to think about that as a real possibility if Lisa decides like “Nah I’m not I’m not having it”. Which is fair enough for her.

I’m trying to sum it up. I think that the loyalty thing is, and I don’t know— is this something that she’s actually said? Has she said “you cannot be friends with Zach” or has your husband just assumed that she would be upset if he was? So, you know, that’s why this conversation between all three of you needs to happen, because it’s— maybe everyone’s going on hearsay and no one’s actually having a conversation about it. And so that needs to happen. I tried to sum up, this is a… this is something that really affects me so it’s kind of hard for me to keep things 100%, like straight in my head, but I’ve tried to set everything up.  Hopefully this helps and good luck.

Possessive metamour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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

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Feeling left out and alone

I’m married to a man named Brice and have been for 5 years, together for 11. We have a 2.5 year old child together and we were planning on having more. He’s British and I’m American. I’ve always identified as bisexual and non-monogamous but my husband never entertained the idea until recently.

About 2 years ago, my best friend — let’s call him Brad — (also married with 1 kid and 1 on the way at that time) told me he loved me and I responded I felt the same. We all — his wife Ashley and he, my husband and I — started many months of ongoing conversations about what this all would look like. My husband and I got a therapist and it quickly became clear that we wanted to stay together but that I also wanted to explore the relationship with Brad. Ashley and I were also very close before and she and I were in constant communication at this point too.

Shortly after that all started, Brad and Ashley moved back home to the United States while I stayed in England with my husband until my PhD was finished. I visited a few times and one of those time, Ashley and my relationship got sexual (with everyone’s consent). Brad, Ashley, and I are now in a triad dynamic (with 3 kids) while my husband and I are also still committed. My husband also started experimenting with dating outside of our relationship which has gone well if not perfect for him.

Once my PhD was finished, I couldn’t find a job in London and, being in between jobs, we all felt it would be a good time for my to come and live with the triad to really see how this could all work on a longer term basis. I have been here for 3 months with a few visits from my husband while he finished a contract in the UK (he plans to move over with us as soon as he can).

My main dilemma is that I am incredibly lonely in the house. There are many times that I feel in ‘Limbo’, neither actually within the primary relationship of Brad and Ashley (even though it is never talked about as primary versus secondary or even ‘them and me’) but it exists that way in practice. I’ve moved into their house, they have kids together, I am here alone with my kid, I share a room with my kid and their oldest joins them in bed every night so I never sleep in the bed with them, I’m always on my own.

My kid is a morning kid so we’re up and awake at 6 and the rest of the house doesn’t wake until 8, I’m never the one called or texted when plans change, etc. It’s all of these little things that make me feel incredibly left out and lonely. Further, I have no friends or family here outside of this house (a big deal for me and something I’m working on as I left a huge community of really close people in London and live away from my tight family) and they’re home-bodies.

I really just miss the partnership and relationship that I have with my husband- the little things like talking about groceries or weekend plans. And I know that Brad and Ashley would be receptive to these discussions about changing their life but it’s exactly that problem- I am coming in asking to change the life they created for themselves, and I’m the only one who is constantly asked to problem solve and come up with solutions that work for me. It doesn’t always feel that they’re going out of their way to think through things from my perspective.

I guess I just need help knowing I’m not alone, that there is a way to fix this without feeling like I’m the third wheel constantly, and that there are things I can ask that may actually change the situation long term. I follow some triads on social media and I guess it’s hard to know if other triads deal with loneliness as social media is famous for being rose tinted.

Honestly, there isn’t a way to fix this without telling them explicitly what the problem is and hoping that they are willing to fix it. While I totally understand that it can and will be frustrating if they don’t want to give that any energy, it doesn’t really sound like you’ve even really addressed this with them fully.

They are behaving the way they’ve always behaved because, in all honesty, there is no script for them in how to behave in a “triad” way. I don’t think this is a sign that they don’t value you, they just may not be really aware of how unhappy you are. You said that the problem is that you are coming in and asking them to change the life they created for themselves as if the problem is you. It sounds like you don’t have the confidence to ask for what you want.

Some people are great at anticipating other people’s needs or reading non-verbal communication. Not everyone is. This sounds pretty blunt to say but… people can’t read your mind. It’s not necessarily a sign of selfishness that they haven’t gone out of their way to think about things from your perspective. If you’ve never verbalised that there is a problem, they may think you’re absolutely fine. You’re going to have to be willing to at least initiate the conversation that there is a problem if you want them to fix it. You can’t say they’re asking you to problem solve if they don’t even know if there is a problem.

When they agreed to form a relationship with you or when they understood that they were stepping out of the realms of typical monogamy, they agreed from that point to change the life that they created themselves. They have already agreed to behave differently, but because non-monogamy is not the norm, they may not really know how to behave differently. They may not know how little or much you want to be involved in their life.

This can be an incredibly difficult and tricky situation, but it’s impossible to fix. It has to begin with you asking for what you want and giving them a chance to respond to that. You also need to, as you recognised, build your own local networks and meet people on your own and reach out to your husband for more support so you don’t feel so lonely. I think though if you think really hard about what you want to be involved with and what they can do to help you feel less lonely, they’re likely going to respond positively.

They just need to know it because they may not be experienced enough to anticipate it.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Episode 35: Primary Responsibility

Do titles matter when it comes to prioritising your time? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

A note to readers: If you haven’t yet seen my Twitter thread, I want to make it absolutely clear that this is a publication that supports #BlackLivesMatter and if you do not, feel free to stop being a listener/reader now. It is not acceptable for white people to continue being complicit in systems of oppression. You MUST do something about it. If you don’t want to, then find your polyamory advice and content somewhere else.

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Episode 35 – Primary Responsibility

Do titles matter when one partner asks for exclusive time? And an important commentary for all listeners. That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Please visit @NonMonogamyHelp and view our post here: https://twitter.com/NonMonogamyHelp/status/1267089826492428288

 

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I have just entered a poly relationship with an adorable person  that we can name Ulysses.

Ulysses has been with this girl, Penelope for 6 years. A few years ago, they decided to go poly, because Penelope was leaving to work at sea. As a result they see each other rarely. Apparently, Penelope has a lot of casual relations, and struggles with Ulysses’s ways of building intimacy (who likes to build more meaningful, long term relation).

In December, Penelope is coming to our city for a month. She is flying from across the world, and made it clear that she doesn’t want to meet me. She also wants his exclusive attention while she is here. This means that him and I will have next to no contact, after 2 months of seeing each other 3 times a week. Ulysses says that he has no control over the situation, and, though he is sad for me, kinda understands where she is coming from. My issue is, as I see it, that Ulysses is not taking responsibility, by either setting boundaries, OR being honest about the fact that I don’t matter next to her.

On top of that, he doesn’t seem to understand the concept of primary vs secondary relationship, as he keeps saying that, because she feels left behind since he has started seeing me, she is the secondary relation.

My question is: how many red flag is too many red flags? I have never done poly relation before, but the fact that he isn’t taking responsibility, that she seems to want me to disappear, and that he is quite distressed with me insisting about the correct terminology around our dynamic, is making me rather scared.

Response:

Okay, the first thing here is your instincts that Ulysses is not taking responsibility is spot on. He can absolutely control the situation. And I’m not saying that he can necessarily control how Penelope decides to react. But he can control what he does with that information and how he chooses to communicate it to you.

Like a lot of people— and you’re not the only person who’s like this — you are way, way, way, way, way too involved in their relationship. Why do you know all this stuff? Like you don’t need to know all this stuff. I get that some people really want to have a kind of friendly relationship with their metamours. And that’s absolutely fine. And a metamour is the person that your partner dates. By the way, if you don’t know that terminology, however,

sometimes that just isn’t possible. And sometimes

it’s also— even if it is possible, you don’t need to know all that information about like the ins and outs of their relationship.

It’s kind of really inappropriate for you to know that information in a way. You know, because it’s— it puts you in a very weird position. Understandably, you’re friends with Ulysses and like, maybe Ulysses doesn’t have anyone else to talk to about his relationship with Penelope, but he needs to find someone else and find someone else who doesn’t have any romantic connections to this situation. It just isn’t really cool that you know all this kinds of stuff and I’m not saying that’s your fault. But you know, Ulysses is kind of telling you all this stuff, and I think he’s doing it to absolve himself of the responsibility.

Because obviously, you’re going to see this situation as in part if not completely Penelope is fault, because it’s Penelope who’s putting forth that this is what she wants him to do. And he’s not budging. So what if he can understand where she’s coming from? That doesn’t mean he just has to lie back and not do anything or just ignore it every situation or just sort of sit.— That’s why he’s telling you all this information so that, you know, he doesn’t have to face the truth, which is that he doesn’t want to do anything about it, that he’s going to go with what she wants, because he doesn’t, for whatever reason, he doesn’t want to say no to her.

And I don’t think it’s necessarily about you not mattering. Like I don’t even think it’s that deep, unfortunately. And I understand your frustration with the like secondary versus primary labels here because what you’re trying to understand is where you fall and Ulysses’s life and you’re trying to understand what value he places on relationships, and, you know, the negotiations of power here, but unfortunately, he, you know, isn’t going to share those same definitions with you.

And unfortunately, he is going to define things in a way that absolves him of guilt. Like it doesn’t really matter who’s a primary and who’s the secondary in this situation. It just really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if the primary person or the secondary person is demanding exclusive attention to somebody for an entire frickin month, it just really doesn’t matter. Either way, that’s a kind of shitty thing to do. And there isn’t really any reason for it. Okay, she’s been out to sea for months. Okay, they don’t get to see each other yada, yada, yada, okay. That doesn’t mean that you come back and you have exclusive access to somebody and you and you get to dictate who they do and who they can and can’t see.

If that you know, if that’s what the life he wants to live, then that’s fine. But that’s, you know, then that— either you have to decide do I want to be with someone who basically is going to do that kind of thing or not? I feel like if this happened to you, if you were in the same situation, I don’t know as that you would just go along with it. So it doesn’t really matter. Like I get the kind of, you know, issues with insisting you— you know him getting distressed if you insisting about the correct terminology because that’s like the closest thing you’re coming to holding him actually responsible for shit is actually saying “Wait a minute here”.

Because if he had to face that, then he’s just trying to create a situation where it’s excusable for her to demand this, but the truth is that, whether you’re the secondary, whether she’s a secondary, like, regardless, it’s not an acceptable thing. In my opinion, it’s if people want to handle the relationships that way, by all means, that’s the way they can handle their relationships. But I certainly— if I were dating someone, and whoever they were with, regardless of any label I put on myself as to where I stood in their life, if anyone else told them that they weren’t allowed to see me, and they decided to go with that. That’s their choice.

You know, this isn’t really up to Penelope. It’s up to Ulysses. It’s up to him. Primarily. It’s not up to anybody else. And, yeah, it’s not up to any of them. It’s rather, it’s not up to Penelope, it’s up to him. And he is making that decision. And you have it kind of right on the nose when you say he’s not taking responsibility by setting boundaries or being honest. And I don’t— I think that the misstep you have there is being honest about the fact that you don’t matter next to her, because I don’t even know if that’s how he sees it. To be honest with you, I think you’re giving him a lot of credit and assuming that he is understanding the power relations of the situation. Like I don’t think he’s thinking of it that way.

I think he’s just doing what he’s told, unfortunately. And he’s not really thinking about the effect that it’s having on anyone. So from his perspective, you both maybe mean the same thing to him. You know, you’re here, she’s not there. Either way, he’s gonna be fine. Do you know what I mean? Like you’re the one who’s not going to be able to see him but he’s gonna have somebody so I don’t know is that he’s even thinking about who matters as much. It’s just literally about the fact that he doesn’t want to argue with her. And so that’s kind of where you’re at. Unfortunately, it’s not even necessarily a red flag. I mean, usually I use the word red flag in a situation where someone’s being abusive. So I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is a red flag in that regard.

But it certainly doesn’t bode well, for the way that you know, you obviously want to relate with him. I wouldn’t get so much hung up on labels, because like I said, it really doesn’t matter what label it is. If it’s unacceptable to you, regardless of whether you’re the secondary or not, if it’s unacceptable to you, it’s not acceptable. And that’s it. So it doesn’t really matter.

So yeah, there isn’t very much else I can advise on this because I do ultimately feel like you kind of just have to go to him and say, “Hey, this isn’t acceptable to me. And that’s it”. And that’s really it. And just see what he does. So there’s nothing really else you can do. And just if he starts to tell you like, if he says, “Okay, fine, I’ll work it out”. Okay, but like, if he gives you any more information about his relationship with Penelope, like, you know, the differences of intimacy and what kind of relations she has— it’s none of your business, so it’s just none of your business. And, you know, I get that maybe he’s told you this to try to explain why he’s going along with this.

But um, no, you don’t need to know all this because he’s making that decision. And if he’s going to make that decision, then he needs to be able to tell you and say, “Hey, I value this person, this is what they want, and I’m gonna go with it”. He has to be able to at least do that if he if that’s what he wants to do.

So yeah, to sum up, I think I’m just kind of repeating myself again and again here. But to sum up the fact that he isn’t taking responsibility. I don’t don’t think it matters whether or not she wants to make you disappear, doesn’t matter that she doesn’t want to meet you. Those are, you know, she could not want to meet you and, you know, but he needs to stand his ground. So  that doesn’t matter. You should be worried about the fact that he is not willing to take responsibility. In terms of the primary and secondary labels, that’s, that’s not really a concern, I wouldn’t really be concerned about that. Because at the end of the day, labels don’t really matter. Labels don’t matter.

It’s not appropriate for one person, regardless of whether they’re the secondary or the primary. It’s not appropriate for them to basically dictate how another relationship that they’re not involved in happens. It’s not acceptable, in my opinion, and how I do relationships, and it clearly isn’t acceptable too. So that unfortunately, you just gonna have to say, this isn’t this isn’t really gonna fly with me and put the ball in his court and let them decide what to do with it. Unfortunately. I hope this helps and good luck.

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Episode 33: Stuck in the Middle

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

What happens when you feel stuck in the middle of your partner and their metamour?

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

Discussion Topic: What should a healthy relationship provide for the people who are in it?

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

Episode 33 – Stuck in the Middle

What happens when you feel stuck in the middle of your partner and their metamour? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – What should a healthy relationship provide for the people who are in it?

 

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I am currently trying to work out if I should continue pursuing a relationship with one of my partners who has a complicated primary relationship (I am their secondary partner). Alex and I have been seeing each other for a couple of months and have developed an emotional connection. However, their primary partner, Sam, does not want to have a polyamorous relationship but an open one, with only sexual secondary relationships. Sam has said they are willing to try polyamory rather than stop Alex and I being together but, obviously, it is hard to make something work if it isn’t what you really want.

Due to this situation and the fact that they only stopped being a monogamous couple at the start of this year, they have a very limited understanding of non-monogamy and how to treat people outside of their primary relationship fairly. Sam prefers a structure where they get to make the final decision on everything and Alex isn’t very good at asserting themselves – by their own admission, they are too compliant.

This means that so far Sam and Alex have refused to incorporate any requests from me and have made decisions about our relationship structure that works entirely for them. I ended up setting a clear boundary with them both last week – by not accepting the terms they were trying to set and suggesting that neither one contact me till they were ready to incorporate my needs as well. I don’t know if this will work but I am struggling to see another way to get them to realise that I don’t just have to accept what they dictate.

They have also only spoken about each other in very negative ways to me and I find this quite horrible to be around. I am finding that I am struggling to not adopt their perspectives of each other – Alex feels Sam is too controlling and Sam feels Alex is quite pathetic.

My love for Alex means I am currently torn between a) hoping they will come around and in time develop a more ethical approach to non-primary partners for my own benefit and that we find a way to all communicate and make it work OR b) ending my relationship with Alex in the hope that we can have something more positive together in the future if they and Sam were to break up.

I don’t want to be surrounded by such negativity and accept such poor treatment, but then I also don’t want to be in the position where I’m left hoping another couple will break-up (because normally that shouldn’t be necessary in polyamory). I would ideally put in the effort but fear that anything I have with Alex now will be forever tainted by my association with all of this negativity.

What would you suggest for someone in this situation?

Response:

So, the biggest thing here is that… I totally understand that people have different feelings about how involved they are with their metamours. There’s a such thing as “kitchen table polyamory”, which is basically a situation where people get along with their partners and their metamours as they would, “family”.  That phrasing, as I’ve said before on the podcast has always felt really awkward to me because it kind of assumes that your kitchen table growing up was a fun thing to be around.

That aside, that is sometimes a thing that people really shoot for. And I don’t blame people for shooting for that. I understand why people shoot for that. The problem that I have is that I think it’s, you know… family is one thing, but you don’t get to choose your family. You were born with your family, and you kind of have to— or not, in some people’s cases— get along with them, because you’re kind of stuck with each other.

Whereas you choose your partners. You choose your romantic partners. And even though you don’t choose your metamours, you don’t have to choose to be around them. You don’t have to deal with their stuff in the same way that you kind of do have to deal with your family stuff. And so it’s fundamentally, in my opinion, a very different type of relationship. And sometimes I feel like people put a lot of pressure on themselves to get along with their metamours, because it’s kind of idealized, even though people say “there’s no one right way to do polyamory”…

a kind of setup where you like your metaphors or

you know, feel happy about them and don’t hate them… is an ideal situation.

And that is a situation that a lot of people aim for, for very understandable reasons. It’s not comfortable. And it certainly doesn’t help matters when you’re dealing with all kinds of other emotional stuff that can happen when you try polyamory. It doesn’t help if you really, really hate the person that your partner is dating. However, I do sometimes feel like the big push to be this close and to be involved, sometimes ends up creating more problems than it actually serves.

Because in this situation, I don’t know if you knew Sam, before you met Alex. If you didn’t, then you’re just way too involved in the situation. You’re way too involved in their relationship. It can be quite difficult if you were friends with both of them before because then you kind of already have that friendship, but if you never really knew or talked to Sam rather before you met Alex, then you’re in this really, really involved situation which just makes it worse for you.

Because what you’re saying is they are making a decision about your relationship structure. They aren’t making the decision. Alex is making the decision. And I feel like you’re not really holding Alex accountable for what they’re deciding to do. All due respect to Alex and I get that there’s some criticism pointed towards Alex with regards to not being able to be assertive. But at the end of the day, you have a relationship with Alex. You don’t have a relationship with Sam.

And, you know, it’s hard to say if you were really close friends before, then this makes it a little bit more awkward. But I do think that there needs to be some separation there. And you need to realize that, you know, Sam has a relationship with Alex and that’s their relationship and you don’t need to know the ins and outs of what’s going on in their relationship. You don’t really need to know how it is that they prefer to do their relationship really. You don’t really need to know that. What you need to know from Alex is whether or not Alex has the time to devote to you. Whether or not Alex can meet your needs. And instead of holding them both accountable as if they are one unit.

Because you’re not dating a couple. You’re dating Alex. And Alex is the person who is refusing to incorporate your requests. Whether that is because Sam is asking for it or not—  it really doesn’t matter, because Alex has to be responsible for Alex’s decisions. Because at the end of the day, if Sam were to say, “Oh, I want to do this”, Alex still has the power to say “Actually, no, that’s not how I want to do things”. And maybe they haven’t come to an agreement about whether or not they want to be just open or polyamorous, but they need to come to that agreement. And that’s not your responsibility to facilitate.

So you’re kind of way, way, way too involved in what’s going on in the ins and outs of their relationship. And part of that is this weird crosstalking that you’re getting where they’re speaking about— which is so so inappropriate, and I get it and that’s why I wonder if maybe you were friends with Alex before— were friends with Sam (Sorry, I’m getting names confused) if you were friends with Sam before this started because it seems very, very odd for Sam to complain about their partner to you.

That just seems weird to me if you weren’t already friends. And you know what, even if you were friends, it’s just the same as if you were not dating any of them. Like, imagine if you weren’t dating any of them. And they were just your friends and they started dating, and they started complaining to you about each other< That would still make you feel awkward. Or if they even if they weren’t dating. If they just started bitching about each other, to you behind each other’s back. That would make you feel really, really awkward. So that needs to stop. I don’t see why this is acceptable. It’s not acceptable if you’re friends with them. It’s not acceptable. If you’re dating both of them.

It’s not acceptable. If you’re dating one of them. It’s just not acceptable at all. It’s not acceptable if it makes you feel uncomfortable, and it feels like it’s affecting your relationships, you’re allowed to say, “Listen, I get that you’re having some frustrations in your relationship right now. But you really need to find someone else to talk to about this because I don’t feel comfortable hearing this stuff about Sam or about Alex”. You’re allowed to say that. You don’t have to sit there and listen to

to all this. You know, it’s putting you in a very, very weird position. And and even if you weren’t dating any of them, it’s just not appropriate. And and it’s having an effect on you.

As you said, you don’t want to be surrounded by that negativity and accept that poor treatment. I think you did a good job. With regards to setting a boundary with both of them. I wasn’t sure what kind of terms they were suggesting or what you were objecting to. But clearly, you made it obvious that I’m not— this isn’t acceptable for me. But I think the different thing that I think you should do is instead of treating them like they’re some kind of team and they both get to decide things, you need to— Alex needs to step up. Basically, Alex needs to take responsibility for their decisions.

And you need to speak to Alex about your relationship with Alex because you’re not in a relationship with Sam unless I read this wrong. Or unless you forgot some part of this letter. You’re not in a relationship with Sam. So it’s really none of Sam’s business right now. If you want to sit down and you want to have a conversation with Alex about your terms, that’s a conversation with Alex. This has nothing to do with Sam. Sam may have an opinion about it. And that’s, that’s very well, whatever. But it’s not really Sam’s business. And it’s not your responsibility to negotiate anything with your metamour.

It’s absolutely not your responsibility. So you need to make, you know— you need to maybe go on further in the boundaries that you’re establishing and stop involving Sam in these discussions, and Alex can discuss it with Sam. If that’s how they want to operate. That’s fine. You can’t change what’s going on in their relationship. You’re not their therapist, and you’re even though they’re certainly treating you like you’re the therapist, you’re not the therapist.

It’s not your job to fix what’s going on between them. If they feel that way about each other. I mean, that’s kind of terrible. That’s that’s quite discouraging. And I think from my perspective, if I was sitting there in the middle of it, I don’t know if I want to date either one of them. Because here— like they’re both talking about each other behind each other’s backs. If people talk about

about somebody behind their back in front of you, the only logical conclusion you can draw from that is that they might be talking about you behind your back in front of somebody else.

I mean, maybe Sam, or sorry, maybe Alex is complaining to Sam about you behind your back. And it’s just— it doesn’t feel very good and I would feel not only odd about it, and it would affect my relationship with him, but I’d also feel just really grossed out by it. Like it’s one thing like— occasionally we complain about people to people that we you know it’s not enough to like or you’re kind of fielding how you feel an engaging other people’s responses, especially if you’re in my position where sometimes like I don’t trust my own feelings so sometimes I feel like it’s easier for me to talk to somebody else about how I feel about somebody rather than you know, waiting until I go to them directly if I need to, or sometimes it just need to blow off steam and that’s fine.

That’s one thing, but you know, to say, you know that Alex— Sam feels Alex is quite pathetic, and like, these aren’t.. like…

“Oh, you know, Alex frickin won’t pick up the fucking clothes”. You know? It’s not like, you know, occasionally whingy shit that generally speaking somebody might have a problem with this is, this is a serious insult and a serious, you know, it’s not a happy thing. So, you know, you can’t— you’re sitting there and you’re listening to some serious complaints, which is that one person is too controlling, and the other person is too pathetic, which is like horrible.

That’s a horrible thing to say about your partner. That’s absolutely horrible. So, yeah, I think that you really need to stop being so involved. I think that you know, you’ve got two options here. You’re talking about, hoping that they come around, and that’s not an option because it’s not about them. It’s not about them coming around. It really isn’t. It’s about Alex coming around. You have a relationship with Alex, not with Sam. And I think you need to readjust how you’re approaching that.

And you may have to end your relationship with Alex. Because if Alex isn’t willing to step up and say to Sam, “This is what I want” and deal with whatever goes on between them, then Alex is not the person that you should be with because clearly Alex can’t meet your needs and is not willing at this point to make those needs known to Sam.

So yeah, it’s not like the best situation to be in unfortunately, because, you know, it really sucks. A lot of people are in the situation, when they open a relationship. A lot of people are, you know, feel like they are beholden to their metamour, and they’re beholden to people that they’re partner is with. And, you know, it’s just, it’s sucky. It really is sucky and there isn’t anything that you can necessarily do about people like that. If people are not willing to operate as individuals, if they aren’t at a point in whatever kind of non-monogamy they’re at, where they understand how to treat people. Then there isn’t anything you can magically do to fix that. And I really don’t think you should make yourself their test case in trying to help them fix that.

So yeah, I think I think what you need to do to kind of recap is establish very clearly that this isn’t a joint decision between Sam and Alex. You’re speaking to Alex, about your relationship with Alex. That’s all you’re doing. And, you know, you’re gonna have to ask Alex to step up to the plate and and decide what it is that Alex is going to do. Because otherwise, there really isn’t anything else that really— yeah, there really isn’t anything else that can be done. You cannot force them both to speak to each other.

And also, regardless of what continues, like if you still friends with them, or whatnot, you need to not have people like talking about you behind— or talking about each other behind their backs in front of you. Even if you were just friends, that would be inappropriate, and it would— if it makes you feel uncomfortable, and that’s perfectly valid and I think that you should definitely put a boundary down there and be like, you need to stop talking to me about this because it’s not fair and it makes me feel uncomfortable. They need to find therapists or if they can’t afford therapists, and they need to find another friend to speak  to about this. So yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

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Episode 28: Unhealthy or Incompatible

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

What do you do if your partner wants no restrictions but you need reassurance that what you have means something?

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

Discussion Topic: What do you think of public displays of affection (PDA)?

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

Episode 28 – Unhealthy or Incompatible

What do you do if your partner wants no restrictions but you need reassurance that what you have means something? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode&nbsp;on Patreon. Discussion Topic – What do you think of public displays of affection or PDA?

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

Question:

I’m not into the idea of monogamy, I never have been, but keen for a primary nesting partner. If pushed to slap a label on it I’d say ‘monogamish’ or ‘open’ but I can sympathise with the high level of autonomy demanded by those who prescribe to relationship anarchy. I also regard close friendships as no less important to my wellbeing than a flourishing romantic life and see the ambiguity within these relationships. However in my head this is called “having a healthy, balanced emotional life.” Longer term I can see how my comfort levels could adjust and full polyamory could be a thing. I’m a touch autistic, have social anxieties and a load of trauma from an abusive family home.

I’ve fallen totally in love with someone who is currently exploring ‘solo poly’ and ‘relationship anarchy’. He’s very new to non-monogamy as an idea and, in my opinion, has a lot of misconceptions about it. Realistically he’s currently just looking to sleep around while maintaining superficially intimate ties. We broke up some time ago because of this different view on how our relationship should be structured – Sometimes I was totally ok with him going out on dates with others, and other times not.

Sexual exclusivity doesn’t bother me but the frequency with which he would pursue other people and his refusal to put boundaries on the degree to which he would get involved did. It made me feel insecure and questioned how where I stood in his life. Whenever I brought this up he would panic. He’d take it as a sign that I “wasn’t poly” and eventually declared us incompatible. He wants ‘no restrictions’ and to use promiscuous sex to rid himself of his shame and guilt around sex. My feeling is that looking for that kind of validation from an outside source is a recipe for disaster.

Simultaneous to this I ‘came out’ about my abusive childhood, which was super intense experience. I had to live with my parents again for years and then had this bombshell of acceptance about the true nature of it, and decided to move out. Lots of flashbacks and surpassed emotions coming to the surface. He doesn’t seem to understand how much emotional energy this took and that was part of the reason I was reacting so badly.

This was when we broke up – about 3 months ago. And for the last 3 months we had been friends but as I say – with nonsexual intimacy and romance.

At the moment I’ve said I’m taking time away from him – the relationship was becoming physically and emotionally intimate in a nonsexual way, and also romantic. We were talking through our issues a bit but it all blew up when we came onto this issue again. As it turns out he is sleeping with quite a number of people, this was a shock. He had already told me about group sex he’d engaged in and that didn’t bother me, but these extra relationships do. He’s sleeping with 5 others.

Its a painful reminder that we are not together, and he is putting a lot of time and energy into maintaining this which is not time and energy he is putting into our relationship.  He didn’t really want to negotiate an agreement, but then he wants to have ‘no restrictions at all’ so negotiations were just a moot point. He knows he is being stubborn with his very fixed approach to pursuing this.

I was angry that he thought it was ok to pursue this intimacy and romance with me – but without being fully honest about the real nature of his sexual relationships, and also when he had no intention of returning to the relationship. I felt he misled me and was insensitive.

So I drew a line and said I needed space to re-adjust my expectations I thought it was better to draw the line now than allow things to get toxic, there is still a lot of good feeling on both sides.  This made him very sad. At the end of this conversation he started hating on his choice to ‘be poly’ because it had cost him a relationship that lasted 6 years and now it was costing him me.

So now I intend to not pursue interactions with him – I am leaving the country for an extended trip to Asia on Oct 2nd. I left the door open to further interactions but felt it best to reduce my attachment to him and my attachment to being in a relationship with him.

Response:

So, there’s a couple of things here. First and foremost, if he doesn’t want to have restrictions, then that’s very fair in terms of how he wants to operate his relationships. I do think you’re at a base incompatible here because even though you say that, you know, you kind of are slapping this monogamish and open label on it, but you do have very clear wants and needs with regards to you want to know about other relationships that people are having, you have kind of this feeling that sexual relationships are something you know, not just, you know, having one night stands. That long term sexual relationships are things that you need to know about and have some kind of say in.

I operate personally in a way of I do like to have one partner that I live with. I’d like to have two partners that would kind of be a really great situation. But I try to avoid any situation whereby– and I heavily advise anyone new to polyamory about this: don’t put yourself in a position where you can give someone else permission to date somebody else.

That’s not a good position to be in for both sides. So when you say you’re okay with him going on dates, sometimes and sometimes not. The thing of it is, is that even in a relationship where you do have one partner who you live with or one partner, you know that you know, if you want to say a primary partner, putting yourself in a almost kind of veto power situation. It’s just not good because at the end of the day for me personally It’s… if I put myself in that position, then basically, I’m going to feel pressure to say yes. I’m not going to want to say no. And I’m going to feel bad for saying no.

And if I say no, I’m going to be worried about causing someone resentment, or or having resentment directed at me because I’ve said, no. It’s just not a good position to be put in. And I think that it’s okay like for you to be notified about new relationships. But at the end of the day, you’re really kind of a little bit more involved than you should be around the way he’s doing his relationships. Pretty much, you know, if he’s deciding that he wants to go out and have promiscuous sex for whatever reason, that’s his situation to deal with. That’s not your situation to manage, and you can’t manage that.

You may have an opinion about it, and that’s fine. You can have an opinion about it, but it’s really not for you to manage and the problem that you might be having is that especially if you come from an abusive childhood, and I don’t know, in what way your childhood was abusive, but sometimes you try to, especially… I mean, I can only speak for myself, I do think sometimes I will help too much, I get too involved in other people’s psychological goings on, and I try to help them.

And that only ends up making it more frustrating for me because people have to deal with their own shit on their own terms. You know, if it is a recipe for disaster, he might have to have it blow up in his face. That just might be what, you know, he needs to get his own therapy, you cannot be his therapist. And so I think that you are kind of trying to be involved in this way. You know, you kind of say he’s new to this, and he has a lot of assumptions. And, you know, I don’t know. I just feel like you’re managing his polyamory in a way that maybe you shouldn’t. And I think you need to step back a little bit. Even if you do want a kind of monogamish situation, or it sounds like what you want is basically like a primary structure, like you said, you want a primary nesting partner.

Just because you have a nesting partner doesn’t mean that you need to be so involved in their life, that you feel like you need to manage who they’re in a relationship with. Essentially, any relationship that he has, is really none of your business and it only becomes your business when you feel like he’s not giving you what you need. So, you know, the fact that… I don’t mean this in a bad way.

But the fact that, you know, if you were in a relationship with him, and, you know, you didn’t even know he was sleeping with five others, then that’s in a way kind of a good thing. Because it means that he’s not actually you know, unless you were like, “Man, you’re never around or you don’t you know, we can’t meet up. We can’t do This, we can’t do that”. Or he’s ghosting or not responding to your texts like, it becomes your issue the minute that you’re not getting what you want out of this relationship, or he’s not showing you that he values you.

He can have however many other relationships he wants. And I don’t think that you should involve yourself in trying to manage that for him. You need to let him do his thing. And figure out okay, what do I want from him? What does he want from me? And I think that, like, the reason he’s stepping back is because he’s pursuing these other people. You’re trying to get him to put boundaries on that because you’re trying to figure out where you stand among his kind of menagerie. And that’s freaking him out. Because maybe he doesn’t do that because as you said, He’s solo polyamorous, he’s a relationship anarchist, he’s not interested in a primary partner. He’s not going to be interested in that.

So the more you try to step in and say, “Hey, wait a minute, though. I want to be your primary and you need to kind of show me that I’m your primary”. He’s not going to respond well to that, because that’s not what he wants. So when you start to question where you stand in his life it is going to make him panic. And it’s not necessarily a sign that you aren’t poly. I think that’s kind of bullshit. But it is a sign that you are incompatible, essentially, because he doesn’t want restrictions.

He doesn’t want someone who’s going to expect primary type of things from him, he wants someone who, you know, he can have fun with and that’s fine. If that’s what he wants, then that’s fine. But, you know, you need to kind of accept that. You can’t… even– I really think that you have some tendencies here, where even if you do have a primary nesting partner, you need to not have these tendencies of trying to manage their relationships.

You… He can’t put boundaries on other relationships to protect you. And that’s a tendency that happens a lot when people are kind of new to polyamory.

And they think that they want to save and protect this one relationship. So what they’re going to do is they’re going to say, okay, you’re the only person that I’m, I’m ever going to love and you know, they do this in reaction to fear. And really a thing that I always kind of continuously say in the column and in the podcast is that ultimately you cannot prevent someone from falling out of love with you. You can’t prevent someone from deciding to leave you. No amount of time your lives together and being nesting and whatever the hell it is you want to do, is ultimately going to prevent someone from leaving you.

There are tons and tons of situations… I mean, if if that were the case, monogamous people would never divorce and they do because even if you’re tied and tied together, someone can fall out of love with you. It happens. So you really need to think about this tendency you kind of have to, you know, when you when you get scared, you want to have that reassurance and when you’re trying non monogamy, you don’t have all of these stereotypical things that you can say, “Oh, yes, we’re exclusive now and we’re moving in now.

We’re having kids now”. And these you know, the relationship escalator, as I’ve referenced before, you don’t have these kind of step stones that you can go on. So you don’t have to create that yourself. But what you don’t want is to create something is… you don’t want to be serious only because other people aren’t serious. You don’t want to be special to someone only because other people aren’t special. That’s the thing that you really have to avoid doing.

Because monogamy kind of encourages people to do that. When they talk about… you know, if you listen to love songs, like you’re the only person I’ll ever love you. You’re the only person. You’re my heart and my dream and that… you know, it encourages this type of way of thinking in our lives that is– your romantic partner should be the most important person in the entire world to you. And as you said, you want to have a healthy, balanced emotional life, which means that friendships and other people are important to you, but you need to– you still have this kind of tendency which you’ve been encouraged to have through the society that says “Right. The only way that we can make this– this is, you know, love is scarce. It’s a scarce resource, the only way we can make this relationship be special is if everyone’s less special”.

And I think you need to kind of think about that. And that might be why he’s panicking. But equally, I think that you also kind of need to communicate what intimacy means and is to you. So the other thing that’s quite tricky about non-monogamy and polyamory, you know. Broadly defined polyamory is, you know, having multiple romantic relationships at once with the consent of all those involved. What a relationship is, is really, really dependent on the individual. And that’s one of the things that I’ve been quite frustrated with, because, for me a relationship takes a lot. It’s not just Isee you at a party every once a while we wave and have small talk and then we have sex. That’s not a relationship to me. And I found that to some people that is a relationship and you know what? I’ve gotten past the point where I’m pissed off about that, and now I’m just like, okay, for some people that is enough of a connection for them to feel like they have a relationship with that person.

That’s not a relationship to me. And even in my relationships now like with my nesting partner, like my nesting partner, they see people fairly frequently who if I were in the exact same situation, I would call those people my partners. But my nesting partner doesn’t call those people partners because how my nesting partner defines partnership is different to how I define it, and the things that they would do with someone or things I would only do with someone I would consider a partner. So it’s… that’s the thing that you’re also struggling with, is that for you some of this intimacy and some of these emotional situations that you’ve been dealing with, such as coming out about your abusive childhood have been really emotionally difficult for you and you naturally kind of reach out to those people who you feel emotionally close to, and I don’t think that your boyfriend was trying to mislead you or or trying to hurt you in any way.

It’s just that you have a different definition of what intimacy and romance mean. And maybe, you know, you’ve kind of addressed the problem yourself. You said that you need to readjust your expectations. So you do. You need to think about, you know, what intimacy means. I don’t think he pursued intimacy and romance with you because he was trying to make you a primary partner. Because that’s not… it doesn’t seem to be how he operates. If he’s doing a solo polyamory thing, if he’s doing a relationship anarchy thing. That means that he can pursue intimacy and romance with anyone, regardless of what kind of state they exist in his life. But for you that intimacy and romance has a significant meaning and that’s okay. It’s not that you’re wrong, or he’s wrong. It’s not– like it’s just a difference in how to see things.

And I think that you just need to come to some kind of agreement and understanding of how you both operate in this way or you need maybe really think about, okay, do I want to continue being with this person? Do I want to continue to reach out because fundamentally, I just think that you are unfortunately incompatible. You have a lot of good feelings. And I think that’s what makes this kind of difficult is because he exists in a space where, you know, if he’s doing relationship anarchy than, you know, he doesn’t have to be partners, partners with someone to share romantic intimacy with them, to be close to them. He can be close to anybody and you do have a little bit of that going with what you said like you, you do think you can have intimate friendships and you don’t, you know, you regard close friendships is no less important to your well being.

But for you, there is a separation at some point between a close friendship and a romantic partnership. And maybe what you need to do when you’re approaching this is you need to think about Okay, where’s that line? What are the behaviors that to me, indicates a romantic relationship versus a close friendship. And then you just need to communicate that to him and need to come back to him and say, “Look, I respect the fact that we kind of both feel positive towards each other. We are incompatible with regards to how we want to do polyamory”. And you both need to stop like telling each other you’re doing polyamory wrong. I don’t think either one of you are doing polyamory wrong, you just have different ways that you want to do it. And there isn’t a one right way to do it.

So you just need to figure out how to say to him, okay, or even how to enforce those boundaries yourself. Like, I think it’s quite hard for you, especially if, like you have all this stuff about abuse coming out and like you need someone to be there for you. And you know, you’re in a vulnerable state. It’s really hard in that situation to turn away someone who you have a connection with, and who you know, will give you some type of intimacy and support that you need. Like it’s so hard to just say no to that and don’t blame yourself too much. But also kind of realize that, you know, you did have an expectation there that he probably wasn’t aware that you had. And so maybe he needs to be, you know, you both need to be a little bit more aware of how you both operate.

And then maybe when if he’s aware of how you operate, and you said to him, “Okay, these are the behaviors, which to me indicate that someone is more than just a friendship. This is romantic, it’s getting into that. And so unless you do want to have this primary romantic relationship with me, which is what I want, I’m going to need you to not do these things”. And then that way, you both can kind of keep an eye on it in your relationship. And be able to sort of stop yourself before you get to a point because once you kind of start to experience that, all the nice things are going to come back. It’s gonna be really, really hard for you just to step away from that. So I think that you, you know, you need to kind of communicate that to him, so that you can have those boundaries. And, but I think that… I think that ultimately this separation is kind of good for you. And I think that maybe you ought to consider not that any of you have done anything wrong, but maybe consider a little bit more of a separation like.

You know, he might be going through a lot of difficulties because polyamory is going to cost you relationships like unfortunately. I mean, it’s not so much that polyamory is costing a relationship, it’s just that the more people you date, the more statistically likely it is that you’re going to have more breakups. Like, that’s just kind of the hazard of the trade. But you don’t need to be part of like him maybe deciding to try monogamy again, and just… I just think that maybe what you need to do is to separate yourself from the situation a little bit, heal a little bit from all of the situations that you’ve been through. Have a relationship with yourself first for a little bit, heal a little bit more from that, instead of trying… like it’s so hard.

Like I really don’t want to blame you for trying to reach out to people because one of the huge things that I really, really hate about a lot of polyamory advice is that it’s very much this kind of bootstrap mentality of like, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and just stiff upper lip and don’t ask for help from anyone…

And I just hate that because I feel like, you know, somebody brought this point and I’ve read so many tweets about it at this point about, you know, self care, yes, but what about community care? You know, we’re not islands as individuals, we are social creatures. As much as I who is like, the most introverted anti social person in the world. I’m still a social creature. I, you know, solitary confinement is torture for a reason. Unfortunately. I’m such an introvert. Unfortunately, you need people, unfortunately, Well, not unfortunately, you do need to have that support. But sometimes, it seems like reaching out for support with this person it’s going to… you’re going to go back into that mindset of wanting this thing from this person that this person can’t give you.

And ultimately, that’s just going to lead you to more pain, even if you have a little bit more comfort to begin with. So maybe what you need to do is take a little break from each other, you know, even a communications kind of lockdown. Even though you’re friendly with each other, like sometimes you just need a little bit of time apart. Take a little bit of time apart. And like you said, like, leave the door open for the reactions, but reduce your attachment. And because I do think, on a base level, you’re incompatible. You want something that he is not able to provide. You may have your own personal feelings about why he’s pursuing this type of thing. But ultimately, that’s not up to you to decide, like and people do pursue… You know, people have promiscuous sex, and that can help them get rid of shame and guilt. And that’s legit.

Like… people do look for validation from outside sources. I think that whether or not that’s unhealthy or when that gets unhealthy is ultimately kind of his decision to make and isn’t, it’s really not fair to kind of make that decision for him. Because ultimately, even if it is unhealthy, you stepping in saying “that’s unhealthy” isn’t necessarily going to fix that situation because somebody, you know, like… I’m pretty sure that like, coming, you know, dealing with this abusive situation that you’ve had, dealing with the kind of trauma of your childhood, you had to make the decision to deal with that. Other people might have stepped in at some point, like you might have gotten a few people who kind of said, “Well, that’s a that’s a bit messed up that story that you just told me from your childhood”. Some people may have pointed it out. But ultimately, you had to make the decision to say, “Right, I’m going to actually deal with this. I’m going to actually cope with it. I’m going to move out of my parents home, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that”.

You know, you had to make that decision. Like I can only give you advice. I can only give anyone advice, but they have to make that decision. And I think that you, understandably want to help your partner and want to try and point out, and I’ve done this with partners before, because I can’t fucking help it. I’m absolutely horrible when it comes to this. I think that I can, you know, I mean, I give advice. So it’s like I do give advice to my partners as well as you know, but the thing of it is, is that ultimately, you can’t put that on your responsive— on your shoulders as a responsibility because the second you start doing that, it’s going to be so much more stressful for you. That you’ve just sit and watch, you know, you got all this anxiety about all these other relationships that he’s in, because, you know, you’re worried about it, because you know, all of this and you’re trying to control this situation that ultimately is just not yours to control.

And it, you know, you want that kind of primary security from him that I just don’t think he wants to give to anybody right now and that’s just not where he is. And that’s legit and your feelings are legit. And neither one of you are necessarily wrong about how you want to do relationships. You just at a base incompatible with it. So yeah, that’s really… deep apologies for the sirens. I’m sorry about that. Yeah, I think that that’s… that’s kind of where I think I leave you in this situation. I think that you need a little bit of time apart a little bit of time to cope with all the stuff that you’ve been through. You have ultimately separate things that you want from each other.

But outside of this relationship, there are just a few things, even if you do find this primary monogamish whatever it is that you want the future, just kind of be aware of, because I think even in monogamous situations, it’s kind of unhealthy for people to have this kind of much involvement with their partners actions, you know. And I think the culture we live in, encourages people to have this. And I think you just kind of need to be aware of that so that you can say, “Okay, I have all these feelings about the reasons that my partner is choosing to do these things. I’m allowed to have those feelings, but I can’t control them and what they do, I can only express how I feel about it. But I can’t try to fix that by saying, ‘Oh, you need to put a boundary on this or you need to do that'”.

I think that’s kind of the biggest mistake people often make when they start off in polyamorous relationships. They try to address the anxiety and the fear that they feel by creating rules that they think will prevent the worst things in the world from happening. But essentially, they can’t, if your partner is headed for a disaster, then there really is only so much you can do to stop that. It just might be that they have to, you know, he has to experience that. If he does, it might not be that he experiences a disaster, he might, you know, have a lot of promiscuous sex and then end up feeling less shame and guilt because of it. You know, you can’t really make that decision for him.

So… so yeah, I think unfortunately, You know, you were kind of– He was kind of right when you’re incompatible. I don’t think that you’re not poly[am] rather, I think he should avoid making that decision for somebody else. Just as you should avoid making the decision of what is and isn’t healthy for him. But yeah, I think you just have fundamentally different relationship styles and it’s probably best if you do take a little bit of a break. Take care of yourself, figure things out on your own, maybe reconnect when you feel less inclined to reach out to him for this intimacy and this connection that you really, really want right now because you’re going through a lot and find that intimacy and connection in the friendships and the other people that you have in your life.

And hopefully, if you can access it, therapy, because therapy is always good for everyone. Right? I really 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.

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Metamour makes all the rules

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

My partner J and I have been dating almost a year, though due to our schedules/long distance we only hang out 1–2 weekends on average a month. We call and text often. We tell each other we love each other. J has a long-term (several years) nesting partner, B. They live together, share finances, are fluid bonded, etc. Although they’ve been poly[am] this whole time, they haven’t really had other super involved/long-term partners. I am now in the picture and J has expressed interest in deepening and growing our relationship. When I stay at their house, I sleep in J’s room with him, B and I have coffee in the morning together, and so on…

Meanwhile, B has been working through a lot of heavy past trauma. She and I hang out and connect, although we don’t have a deep friendship. She has expressed her happiness that J and I are together, although she’s also expressed some minor things that lead me to question if she’s felt a little possessive at times.

Enter The Incident. One night, after we all went to a show together, we all came back to their place. J and I went into his room for privacy. We’re a little tipsy and we get in the mood and then he asked me to have sex without a condom. We have been honest about our sexual history and testing with each other, and he’s always been super committed to maintaining agreements and boundaries (yes, while inebriated). So I trusted that he had discussed this with B. I know it’s not my responsibility, but I do wish I had asked for clarification about their agreements right then. Can you see where this is going? Meanwhile, B was elsewhere and was working through some presumably unrelated emotional stuff. B had a really rough night. J stayed with me. I didn’t try to navigate this situation because I don’t know how they work together when stuff comes up (example: I get PMDD and cry a lot, no big deal, I can be alone).

Well, as you may guess, turns out they had NOT discussed J and I having unprotected sex, and they had a previous agreement around using protection with other partners. B is devastated at the broken trust. B also feels like J was not there for her that night. J obviously fucked up bad by proposing unprotected sex to me. Everyone is upset. B and I talked extensively about it. J began an accountability process.

Fast forward 4 months: B has felt intense anxiety and anger whenever J and I hang out. B still does not trust J. B no longer wants to hear about me or our relationships and feels triggered whenever I come up in conversation. B and J’s long-term relationship is on the rocks. B has requested that J and I have a no-contact period (6 weeks) so they can focus on repairing their relationship. Well… I’m not interested in waiting around with no contact. One of my basic needs in partnership is availability, and we were already long distance. And what happens if B is not feeling safe after 6 weeks?

Basically, if we are going to have no-contact, I am ending the relationship. I understand they want to fix things… but after telling me they are committed to polyamory and that they don’t have a primary partnership, it surprises and angers me that I need to end my relationship with J over this. I want to be compassionate to their dilemma, but I have my own needs as well. J is really upset at this proposal too, but reluctantly willing to do what she asks in order to try to repair their relationship.

Have you ever experienced a meta’s request to put your relationship on hold? Is there ever a “hold period” you would considerable acceptable, and for what reasons? Have you ever navigated this kind of complicated poly[am] + trauma + relationship instability? Is this related to hierarchy or just difficult relationship stuff? What would you do?

All due respect, you are way too involved in this situation.

When I say this, I don’t mean that people need to hypercompartmentalise or not care at all how their partner behaves in other relationships. Or that you can’t be friends with or sympathise with your metamour. But I also think boundaries are really important because either your shared partner can not step up and manage their own situation or you can step in out of habit and think that this is your situation to manage.

You’re right in that it wasn’t out of place for you to assume, when asking to have unprotected sex with you, that J had spoken to B about it. There’s nothing wrong with you making that assumption in the moment, especially inebriated. In the future, though, I wouldn’t assume this and I’d ask just to check to avoid this type of situation.

There’s so much about this situation you know that you don’t need to know, which is really not your business and isn’t your problem to solve. I’m guessing if you talk to B, she might have personally revealed her struggles but if she’s never explicitly spoken to you about her mental health struggles or trauma, this may be also a huge violation of her privacy. I’d be personally livid if one of my partners decided to tell another partner they had all about a mental breakdown I had or even tell them I’m struggling with mental health. It’s not to say I’m ashamed but my mental health is my business and I don’t care for people not involved in it to know the details.

Regardless of the details you know, at the end of the day, J fucked up. J didn’t speak to B about this when they are fluid bonded, causing a major rift in their relationship. It sounds like J and B have not worked out how to manage the anxiety within the relationship in a way that makes B feel secure so she is grasping at straws, trying to establish this weird ‘no-contact’ rule to basically force J to behave how he should within the relationship. This rule is delaying the inevitable and is effectively pointless. If J cannot give B the attention she needs or work it out with her while their relationship is open, going no-contact will not work because, as soon as contact is resumed the problem will continue. Going no-contact assumes the problem is with you when the problem is with J. And you can’t make rules to force people to behave or think in ways that you want them to.

But none of this is really your concern ultimately. J needs to address the problems in his relationship with B and manage that himself. He needs to not make you party to this so much that you feel it’s somehow your responsibility to fix this. It isn’t your responsibility, it’s J’s. And you being involved in this won’t fix J’s relationship with B. He needs to fix that himself and make a decision about what he’s going to do with B and he needs to stand in his own decisions and not use you as backup.

My advice is to step out of being the consult in this situation. If J needs someone to talk to about this, he needs to either find a friend who isn’t involved romantically with him or he needs to find a therapist. State very clearly that you’re not going to accept a ‘no-contact’ scenario and then let him make his decisions and fix his own relationship.

As difficult as it might be for you, you need to step away from it and set some clear boundaries with J about what he can discuss with you about his relationship with B — and set those boundaries too with B as well. At present you’re not a triad and I don’t see that you’re planning to be so, there’s no reason you need to be involved.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Comments from the therapist

It is incredibly hard to restore trust in a partner after that kind of breach though! I feel for both the OP and for B. I do think it’s okay for J to reduce interaction with the OP for a brief time, like maybe a once a week phone call, so he can focus his energy on repairing with the person he hurt. I don’t like that it’s coming across as a “rule” put in place by B though. I wonder if OP has considered how skilled J is at relationships though, given the mistake he made?

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