Feeling left out and alone

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

I’m 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

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.

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.

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

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


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.


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


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?


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

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


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.


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

My 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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Energy for everyone but you

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

What I’m struggling with is that my partner has very little energy and is anti-social with PTSD attached. Because of this, I am the primary caretaker of our daughter and I also tend my partners daily needs. I become insecure when my partner manages to muster the energy to drive and see her potential partner, but consistently doesn’t have the energy to drive to pick up or drop off our kid at school. Because of my doing for all of us, she has no responsibilities. I wake with our kid, get her ready and take her to school, pick her up, get groceries, cook, bathe child, read child to sleep, etc. These things I have no problem doing. I have a problem when my partner decides she wants to attempt being more generally able by chasing after romance elsewhere. I feel very insecure in my relationship and I want to. Please help.

This is such an incredibly difficult situation to be in and I want to first convey my sympathies. It can be so difficult to feel like your partner cares more about finding a new love than providing you the support that you need.

The most important aspect here isn’t necessarily your partner’s behaviour now because sometimes I do think, especially people who struggle with mental health problems, are always fully aware of how their actions impact others. I’m not sure what conversations you’ve had with her already and how fruitful they have been, but it’s possible she’s not fully aware of just how much you’re juggling. And sometimes, the amount of energy one has for tasks that have what seems like a reward that might solve a problem is more than the amount of energy one has for other things.

However, I find it very difficult personally to extend more leeway when there is a child involved especially because that child does not get to choose their parents. You can dump someone if they refuse to meet your needs but your daughter cannot just get a new mother. Consider what her actions would say about her if she weren’t living with you. She’d essentially be a deadbeat parent. It’s not acceptable for someone to shift all of the parental responsibility onto one parent and if they’re going to do that, they can at least give you the freedom of moving out, separating themselves from your and your child’s life and let you have the freedom of not taking care of them as well as your own child.

I’m not suggesting this is the option to go on because for perfectly understandable reasons, you’re only going to want separation to be a last resort, but it is something that you may need at least think about and mentally plan for if she’s unwilling to pick up slack. There are some people both in monogamy and polyamory who don’t like to do the dirty work of breaking up but will instead make a relationship so unbearable that they leave their partner no other choice so that they don’t have to take responsibility for their own decisions and… given her lack of ability to take responsibility, this may be what will happen.

But in the meantime, you can set some very clear boundaries about things. You need to sit down and explain that this situation is untenable for you and not fair to your daughter. If she has energy to go and see new loves, she has energy to be a parent. If she is going to be a parent, she needs to step up and take care of her daughter. You can be sympathetic to the fact that she may be struggling with mental health problems and start by giving her some small duties to start up (such as reading your child to sleep) and working up until the distribution of labour is more equal. And, if she wants to have a night off, then that can only be scheduled when *you* have a scheduled night off and she is able to take over while you go out and hang out with your friends as much as you’d like.

Regardless of her energies for being a parent, you need to take a good, hard look at how you tend to her daily needs and really consider if what you’re doing isn’t going to drive you to resentment. I struggle with this a lot. In relationships, it’s sort of my natural state to give and sometimes I give to people as a way of establishing interest and intimacy with them and they don’t see it as that so quite often I find myself having given a lot to a person and getting taken advantage of because either the person intended that or they didn’t have the boundaries in place to say ‘no’ to me being giving. My experience is that many people don’t know how to say ‘no’ to someone who is giving more than they are comfortable with so you will have to learn how to be aware when resentment is growing for you.

I don’t think everything in relationships always has to be 50/50, especially since life happens and sometimes we need more support at times than our partners do. And you may enjoy supporting your partner in some ways. But be aware when it starts to make things difficult as it can when someone seems to have more energy for romance than they do for giving you the support you need too. Be willing to withdraw that support and secure your own mask and your daughter’s mask so that you can make sure you’re taken care if she continues to refuse to have the energy to devote to your family.

In summation, I think you need to consider what will happen if she refuses to give you any additional support but for the time being, be explicitly clear about what the consequences of her continued neglect of the family will do and what you want her to pitch in. Start with a few tasks and ramp up until there is more of a distribution of duties. You will be anxious and scared because she has to build up the trust with you that she will step up and do the things you need her to do to raise your daughter, but give her the chance to show that to you. And lastly, really consider the role you play in supporting her and whether or not that is actually benefiting you as a whole or will inevitably lead to resentment.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Episode 23: Abusive Metamours

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

What happens when you feel pressured to associate with an abusive metamour?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. We’re also introducing discussion topics this week.

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

Discussion Topic: What slightly unhealthy things feel attractive in a partner? How might this relate to your relationships with your parents?


Episode 23 – Abusive Metamours

Your partner is trapped in what you think is a psychologically abusive relationship. Can you get them to leave? 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 slightly unhealthy things feel attractive in a partner?

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

Podcast transcript


I’m in a poly[am] relationship, my current girlfriend started to have feelings for someone else and we decided it was allowed for us to have a polyamorous relationship for a short term of time. I’ve met this girl and her personality is my complete opposite so I didn’t like her. Rough exterior and her actions of making fun of the relationship in Im by telling me I’m not enough. And every time she doesn’t get her way she goes suicidal.

So my girlfriend has been pressuring me more and more so she could spend more time with her and extend the period of which we’re doing this. She still chooses to have me in the picture, it seems like psychological abuse and I feel stuck in between a relationship with my girlfriend and babysitting an unstable woman. My girlfriend hasn’t told anyone about her, but everyone in the girls life knows about the situation. And as much as everything feels like my girlfriend is pushing me away I have to put on a smile for family events or friendly gatherings.

How do I end this relationship?

I love my girlfriend and I know she loves me to, I just don’t want to keep dealing with the insecurities and harm this other girl brings and the guilt trip she gives my girlfriend.


So, there a few things in here at that are very big red flags that I want to point out, which I kind of feel like you already know are red flags. It’s fine if you don’t like the person that your partner wants to date. That’s fine. For some people, that’s not ideal but this kind of goes beyond that. Like it’s not just that you don’t get along, it’s that she makes fun of you or she makes fun of the relationship you have with your girlfriend and tells you you’re not enough and then you say if she doesn’t get her way, which I don’t necessarily know what that means, but she becomes suicidal at certain points.

You know, if you had said that she becomes suicidal at certain points, it would be one thing. Because quite a lot of people do deal with suicidal ideations and it is a difficult thing for some people to be able to know how to respond to. But the fact that you… Not only does she make fun of your relationship, makes fun of you, tells you that you’re not enough really really bothers me in this situation. Like you say it seems like psychological abuse and it is very much looking like psychological abuse in this situation. Unfortunately, when it comes to someone in an abusive relationship, forcing your girlfriend to leave this other person or trying to force her will not work because essentially you become just like the person who is abusing her. You’re trying to force her to do things. You’re trying to guilt trip her into doing things and that will never work. And it’s really difficult for a lot of people who are either in relationships with or who are friends and family of someone who is in an abusive situation.

You also should not be expected to sit back and take this or deal with this. Like… you by sitting back and not doing anything about also won’t necessarily help the situation. Because it just allows this person to continue to manipulate your partner. I would suggest, and I do recommend this book quite often to a lot of different people, there’s a book called “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft. Although the title is gendered, Lundy Bancroft does realise that anyone can be abusive but just that the title is kind of more about his experience working specifically with abusive men. But I do think that that book could be incredibly valuable to you. Both in recognising abusive patterns and also in helping you cope with the situation and understand what is helpful when you’re in the situation and what isn’t. If you can get your girlfriend to read it, even better but I don’t necessarily think that her other partner will react to that book very well.

What you can do in this situation other than saying, “You know what? I can’t deal with this. I’m gone.” is you can set very very firm boundaries, and this is something that anyone can do even when they just don’t get along or don’t like their metamour. This is actually something that monogamous people can do if you know their partners best friend, they can’t stand them. I mean, it is very worrying to me— I will kind of highlight before I go into this — that your girlfriend, you know… It’s one thing to have partners who don’t get along. It’s another for one partner to say that the other partner isn’t enough. That’s a personal attack and your girlfriend really shouldn’t put up with that. Like compartmentalisation is one thing and I get that. You know different people, different relationships. But when one person… even I don’t know…

To me as a person, I’ve always been mystified by people who can compartmentalize things as such where they can be best friends with someone who has been nasty and disgusting to other people that they claim to be friends with. I don’t get that. That’s not how I am. That’s not how I operate. Generally speaking, if I consider someone a friend, anyone who attacks them or hurts them is not going to be my friend and I don’t understand—  friend, let alone partner— so I don’t really understand people who can do that. I’ll give a little bit of credit to your girlfriend because if she is in a psychologically abusive relationship, even if she does feel like that the girl  shouldn’t attack you, she may just not have any… she may be too scared to say anything because as you said is if you know… if she is prone to using suicidal threats as a means of control then that may be what will happen and she might not want that to happen.

But what you can do in the situation, is you can set some very very firm boundaries. You don’t really say what the living situation here is. Like if your girlfriend lives with you, how close is other girlfriend lives. But you can say, “You know what…”— if you share a place together, you can say, “You know, I don’t really want this person in my house.” You can ask your… you know because you don’t need to know about— you don’t need to babysit this person, as you said and you can say “I don’t want to hear anything about her. I don’t want to… you know, you can come to me if you are scared or if you are feeling upset but I don’t want to be the person who can give you advice because I can’t”. And it’s ok to set that boundary.

Like… one time a person I was dating was really good friends with someone who was a total jerk to me and that was fine but you know, when my partner would bring them up in conversation I would be like, “I don’t really want to hear about this person”. And maybe that seems extreme to some people but if the opposite of that is you end up holding in all this resentment and it sours a relationship anyway because you haven’t set that boundary and you haven’t said, “I don’t want to hear about this person. Please don’t talk to me about them because I don’t like them and it’s only going to create resentment if you sort of force me to have to deal with this person.” You know it seems quite cold and it seems quite harsh but sometimes I do think that people have to reach a kind of point where they they can reckon what the abusive relationship is doing and sometimes that can lead to that.

Now it’s really important that you do this in a loving way and that’s why I recommend that book because it really shows you like how to enforce these kind of boundaries and how important this for you not to be like “Don’t talk about her! I don’t want to hear anything about her! I hate her!” So you don’t become just another abusive person that’s sort of pushing and pulling her in this tug of war. But you are setting very clear boundaries and you can say how you feel about this. “I don’t feel like this relationship is healthy. I don’t feel like this is ok. I don’t feel like she’s good for you. It’s unacceptable that she uses suicidal threats to manipulate you and I don’t want to hear anything about her”.

And those are things that are ok for you to say. You can set those firm boundaries. But you also need to make it very clear that you are there to support her if she is really scared or if she needs it. The good thing is… I mean hopefully she doesn’t live with his girlfriend. If she does live with this girlfriend and it doesn’t seem like that would be the case in this situation. Like it seems like it’s more likely that you would live with your partner and then this girlfriend would be not living with you. If she’s living with you that creates more complicated situations about leases and then you may have to kind of think about a lawyer or finding a way to figure out what your legal recourse is here.

Maybe if not a lawyer than something like a renter’s alliance. But you don’t have to keep just putting on a smile. You can clearly set your boundaries. And it might be like, in setting your boundaries, that your girlfriend reacts badly to that. She might be really really upset by that but you need to really remember what the alternative is here. The alternative is you as you said, putting a smile on your face, the resentment growing and growing within you, you feeling angry and angrier and then you just leaving. You don’t want to have to deal with these… the harm that this person has bringing in both of your lives and you don’t have to deal with it. She can… It’s not necessarily that you’re asking for a don’t ask don’t tell situation where you don’t know that she’s with someone else. You know that she is with someone else but you don’t need to hear about it.

You don’t. You don’t need to like… I have partners who date people— I have no idea what goes on. I don’t know what goes on. I don’t know about their partners. I don’t need to know about any of that and that’s not necessarily because I’ve sent those boundaries but just because you can totally have a polyamorous relationship where you don’t really know very much about your metamours. Like that is a thing and it’s not don’t ask don’t tell. It’s more like I didn’t ask so no one’s telling. So you can not ask and also set that boundary of “I don’t want to know”  if you know… if you don’t want to be responsible for it then that’s kind of the best way you can go about it. I recommend as well like encouraging your girlfriend, if it’s an option, to get therapy. Because I do think a therapist is going to be someone who can really make her look at the situation and also advise her— you could even kind of suggest, based on the fact that this person is making suicidal threats, that your girlfriend go to a therapist for advice on how to deal with that, on how to best support the girlfriend.

And it might be that through talking with the therapist, the therapist has the… not has the ability because they are separate from the situation, but also the training and the understanding and the knowledge to be able to say “Maybe you shouldn’t be in this relationship. Maybe it is psychological abuse and maybe it’s not good for you”. That’s kind of what therapy should do for people in general is help them come to terms with things like that. But you cannot do that. You cannot be that therapist for her unfortunately. And I don’t think you should just cut your losses at this point because it’s also really really important— the one thing that abusers do, and you’ll figure this out as well through the book I recommended, is try to isolate their victims. So there’s a reason why and this is why it’s a red flag. The reason why she’s kind of picking at you and saying you’re not enough is that she wants you to get sick of it and leave so that she can have this person to herself.

And then she isolates, isolates, isolates and that kind of is how she’s going to win. I bet.. It wouldn’t surprise me a single bit if she went to meet your girlfriend’s family and started picking at that relationship too. And that might be another thing that you can reach out to. You know, family events or friendly gatherings, your mutual friends and your family banning together and just kind of making sure she doesn’t basically feel like she has no one because that’s the worst situation. Like it’s so difficult for people in abusive relationships to leave their abuser quite often because they are isolated. They have no other options and if you give her options and her family gives her options on then that will help her.

And I do also think as well like if you make sure her family… give the book to her family. Make sure her family understand the situation that she’s in. Then if at some point you feel like, “You know what? I really can’t continue. I’ve tried to put these boundaries”. Because you need to also decide what you’re going to do when those boundaries are crossed. You know, you can’t say “I have this boundary” and then someone keeps pushing and pushing. If there’s no consequences to someone violating your boundary that you’ve set, they you know they’re going to keep doing it.

So you might have to really think about, “Ok if I say I don’t want to hear anything about this person and then I keep getting pulled in, pulled in, pulled in to the drama, then at some point, I’m going to have to go.” And that’s ok. It’s ok. I’m not saying like stay in this forever but what I am saying is that if you have to enforce that boundary and leave, you can still say you know “I’m doing this because I don’t want to be a part of this. I think it’s unhealthy but I’m always here for you if you need me. If you need to get away, I’m always here for you”. If your girlfriend’s living with you and the only other option is for her to move in with the girlfriend. Then you’re gonna… I would get help from her family.

Like hopefully her family isn’t abusive or terrible but her family need to know that she’s in this situation, that she is you know teetering on the precipice of being in a very abusive situation and you can’t be expected to stay around and pull her out of it especially if you’re also getting the flack from this person. So her family can be that person to step in if you decided “You know what, I can’t deal with this anymore I need to tap out. I need to go away for a while. I need to think”. Her family may be the people who can come in or your mutual friends, people who really care about her. Do not let this person chip away at her relationships because you know if other people are around to ground your girlfriend and say “Hey this isn’t ok,” eventually she’s going to realise it’s not her responsibility to save someone from suicide.

I know that’s a really harsh thing to say and I know that’s s difficult thing for a lot of people to deal with but unfortunately there are people who are suicidal and need help and that’s totally valid. And I think even when someone is threatening suicide as a cry for help that’s not necessarily good reason to ignore their cry for help. They do need help. However there are people who are abusive and who use suicidal threats as a way to manipulate people and that is not acceptable and not ok and I do think that if you… if that is happening to you or happening to anyone who’s listening to this then you setting your boundary of not responding to that threat— I think people feel really bad about it because they think, “Oh what if I am responsible for that person committing suicide?” And you’re not responsible for that. Your girlfriend isn’t responsible for that and eventually she’s going to be able to learn this. But it’s going to take a little bit of time.

So to sum up everything, I think your girlfriend in a very very difficult situation. I think your gut instinct is right. Whether or not you like her is kind of the irrelevant and I wouldn’t really bring that into any discussions. It’s the fact that knew she is making fun of your relationship and telling you you’re not enough. Those are unacceptable things and you shouldn’t have to deal with those. But I do think it’s really important for you to realise how difficult of a situation that your girlfriend is in because if this partner is already using suicidal threats to manipulate her behaviour, than it is psychological abuse.

And you know it’s kind of hard for me to say at this point whether that’s the case or whether this is a person who does genuinely need help and maybe isn’t aware of their actions— either way it’s.. her behaviour isn’t acceptable and so you kind of have to recognise a complicated situation that you’re in and a complicated situation that your girlfriend is in and be there to support your girlfriend. However you are allowed to establish very firm boundaries about this. You don’t have to be held personally responsible for this person. For managing their mental health. You don’t have to be personally responsible. You don’t have to put up with insults. You can put those boundaries up. You can say, “I don’t want to have this person in my house. I don’t want to be around them. I don’t want to hear about them.”

You can put those firm boundaries up. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to sound harsh. Your girlfriend may not like it very much but you are allowed to put those boundaries up. And lastly you need to really think about what you’re going to do if and when those boundaries are crossed. You know it might be that as soon as you put these boundaries up and you outright, blunt to her face say “I don’t think this relationship is healthy, you know. She’s making fun of me and our relationship saying I’m not enough and she’s using suicidal threats to manipulate you and I think it’s an abusive situation” and maybe if and when you say that your girlfriend goes, “Oh crap I don’t even realise that.” Who knows?

But you need to kind of think about the worse situation and decide what you’re going to do if you do have those boundaries crossed and she doesn’t respect that you don’t want to hear about this person and you keep getting pulled and pulled and pulled back into this drama.

And also like… Again reach out to her family and mutual friends that you have and do your best to kind of… I’m not saying have an Intervention because, you know, unless you get advice from a psychologist that that’s a good idea I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s a good idea. But it’s always good for those people because people really don’t understand it. And they get… you know they have someone in their life who’s in an abusive situation and what they do is that the demand that they leave that abusive person. The person doesn’t do it and then they go, “Fine. If you won’t leave, I’ll leave,”. And that’s what the abuser is hoping for, that everyone gets sick of it and leaves and abandons this this person so that they have them all to themselves.

So it’s really really important that, even if you decide that you can’t deal with being in a relationship anymore with her and you want to take a step back and you want to say, “I’m done with this however if you ever need help in an emergency call me.” Or if there is a situation where are you have to get separate houses or you have to move out or something like that… that’s a situation that potentially makes this way more complicated because then the girlfriend can move in and she’s kind of sinking the claws in even more if she is abusive and it’s not helpful. But that’s why you need the family and mutual friends because they should be able to step in and say “hey, come home and stay with me and we’ll talk about this” and they should be able to provide that support rather than her just leaning even more heavily on this person who is… doesn’t sound very good for her.

So yeah. That is what I think that is the best for you to do in the situation. I’m really really sorry that you’re having a deal with this. One last thing that I want to mention is that, you mention that your girlfriend started to have feelings for someone else and you decided that it was ok for you guys have a polyamorous relationship for a short period of time. In the future, I think some people choose polyamory as an option so they don’t have to break up and I think that sometimes that works but it really only works of both people understand what they get out of it and I am not really sure if you get anything out of this relationship being polyamorous.

It just seems like your girlfriend had feelings for someone else and you agreed to it because the only other option was losing your girlfriend and that’s really really unfortunate but I do think that after this storm has blown over you really need to think about if polyamory is actually even for you. Aside from this person that your partner is dating been a terrible human being or sounds like at latest, is polyamory something you actually want to do or is it just something you’re doing for her? Because you say “for a short period of time” but that’s just not the way feelings work. And especially if what you’re pursuing is polyamory which is about multiple romantic relationships which isn’t something that would maybe be a short period of time like sexual exploration or things like that, so you can’t really like… you can’t put a stopper on the human heart, to be a bit sappy. But you really can’t.

You can’t sort of say “Ok I’ll let you have this relationship for a bit but after 5 months that’s it.” You might think that and she may have agreed to that but it’s just really… that’s not a realistic thing for any relationship. You can’t kind of stop people from having feelings for people and it’s also kind of really harsh for… I mean if you can imagine… I think you can put yourself in into the shoes of someone who has feelings for someone and then someone comes along and says “Well that’s it.” It’s not only… I mean, the terrible actions of the person aside, it’s not really fair on either of them to just be like “Well that’s it. You’re done now. The time is up”.

She may have agreed to that but it’s not very realistic and I wouldn’t have agreed to that in the beginning. I would have probably suggested that if she really wanted to date this other person that she go about it and I mean it’s kind of lucky in a way that she didn’t because you’re at least there and it doesn’t sound like this relationship is good. And it might be that after this has blown over as well, she might want to figure out what it is about this person like… that’s why I’m hoping her family isn’t abusive. I’m hoping this isn’t a pattern of her identifying behaviours that maybe she grew up around and seeing them in other people and gravitating toward them because it’s something she finds familiar. Hopefully that’s not the case.

But yeah I think you know… the deeper question about whether or not polyamory is for you or is serving you or something you’re actually interested in is something that you probably need to explore. But first you know set some boundaries around this and read the book “Why Does He Do That”. It’s a really really good book. I feel like I should have an affiliate link at this point but it’s a really really great book and it opened my eyes to so many things and also made me feel less helpless in a lot of these situations and I think that’s what you might need. And if you as well have the facilities to get a therapist to support you, please do so because that will also help. So yeah definitely put some boundaries up around this and there are ways you can support her through this but ultimately she has to make the decision to stop seeing this other person unfortunately you cannot do that for her as crappy as that is. I hope this helps and good luck!

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Unethical hierarchies in polyamory

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

I have been currently investing my time in a polygamous relationship. My partner and I have been talking since February and I would say officially together since March as we are now fluid bonded and consider ourselves boyfriend and girlfriend. I am however his secondary partner and therefore our relationship is very much influenced by his want to protect his primary. The struggle that I am having is that it is very apparent at this point that we both love each other and are heavily committed to being together, but I am scared and have lost a little bit of trust in our situation.

His primary partner has been struggling with our relationship and I don’t think non-monogamy is really working out for her. I am very familiar with his primary, she’s a terrific person, we’ve met many times. My partner and I are long distance and don’t see each other regularly and don’t get the most time together when we do see each other. But we still very much love and enjoy the time we do get until recently, when tension and stress caused him to end our relationship.

So now I’m very worried and can’t help but feel like I am overthinking because I feel like even though I know we have a deep connection his other partners needs totally trump mine. We have talked since then and the situation very clearly broke both of our hearts and we have discussed us being together again. So i am wondering if this is a common thing that I have to be mindful of in non monogamy, is it common that as a secondary partner you fall behind what’s best for the primary partner?

I think I’m just worried because I know he wants to be with me and his primary, but I just don’t know how to trust that as a secondary partner my feelings matter and I’m going a little crazy trying to understand what the place of a secondary partner is and how to trust that we love each other enough to continue to make our relationship work, because it’s been pretty perfect up until now.

I’m sorry you’re going through this right now. It sounds challenging. There are a few things going on that I want to address:

  • Motivations to be polyamorous
  • Good and bad hierarchies
  • Priorities and choices

Motivations to be polyamorous

You said you’re investing in a ‘polygamous’ relationship but also say ‘non-monogamy’, so I’m going to assume that you mean polyamorous. Generally speaking, while people are free to do what they like with their lives, I can’t find myself morally agreeing with a relationship structure where one person was allowed to have multiple partners but all of their partners could not date anyone else, which is what polygamy is vs. polyamory. If folks want to agree to that sort of thing, then that’s up to them, but generally I would say that dynamic leads itself to unfairness and that’s worth considering.

Throughout your letter, you don’t really identify whether or not polyamory is something that you are pursuing because you’re interested in it independent of this person or if it’s something that you’re doing for this person. Sometimes it can be a bit of both. There’s not anything necessarily wrong with choosing to try polyamory because you’ve met someone who is polyamorous, but I do think that you have to be somewhat, if not interested in polyamory for your own reasons, very aware of what it means to agree to that vs. to monogamy.

You seem aware that being a ‘secondary’ in a relationship might mean that you have less time than others do — but I would say that regardless of hierarchies involved (which I will address later), you have to be okay with the idea that your partner will not devote a majority of their time to you. I think even people in monogamous relationships can make this sort of agreement if their partner has, for example, a demanding and time consuming career or hobby. Even being monogamous isn’t a guarantee that you will get all of your partner’s undivided energy or attention.

Some people take this into consideration in terms of how they want to practice polyamory. They may decide to set up a structure where they are ‘solo polyamorous’ and have no ‘primary’ partners or live-in partners. Others might live with some or all. But I think what helps you whenever polyamory gets rough, and it does, is understanding your motivation for doing it. And if your motivation is purely because you want to keep one person in your life, I don’t see that leading to a stable foundation in the future

So take a moment and examine your motivations for trying polyamory. What do you hope to get out of it? What does your ideal look like? What do you think you need from each partner at minimum? What do your ideal relationships look like? This can sometimes help you check your current situation and see if relationships are meeting your needs or fitting in with where you want to be.

Good and bad hierarchies

A lot of people would take your letter as tacit proof that hierarchies don’t work — but this is because people assume that having a ‘primary’ partner means that, as you said, the relationship with them should be protected at all costs and the ‘secondary’ relationships are up for grabs. I don’t see this as inherent part of a hierarchy, nor do I see this behaviour only happening in hierarchies. I’ve seen people ‘sacrifice’ one relationship to ‘save’ another in supposed ‘relationship anarchy’ situations. I’ve seen people do this in monogamy. I’ve seen people do this among friendships. I’ve seen people do this in families. It’s a behaviour that isn’t inherent in a hierarchy.

For me, having a ‘primary’ partner does not mean that this is the relationship I save above all else any more than having a married spouse means I don’t care about my friendships. For me, the ‘primary’ is more about communicating expectations and time management. I’m disabled and don’t have a lot of spoons. And even for people who are disabled — love is infinite but time is not. Very few of us have the luxury of living with all of our partners or living within a close distance. And some of us have children who, in my opinion, should be the relationship that we are willing to save among any other relationship.

Personally, I distinguish between my romantic partners and friends because I do have a closer, more intimate and different bond with my romantic partners than my friends and that is a useful distinction for me that comes with helpful boundaries. That doesn’t mean that I value my friends less in my life. And even if I were monogamous, my monogamous partner wouldn’t immediately be valued more than my friends. Life is just not as simple as that.

Sometimes people are afraid when they open their relationships. They are afraid of messing up something they know ‘works’. And rather than finding stability within their own bond and establishing a means of communication that accepts that life is ultimately out of their control, they react by establishing boundaries that restrict. Boundaries can be a great thing. They can help us navigate through difficult decisions. But at times they can also prevent us from sharing ourselves with others.

We put boundaries in place sometimes when we’re afraid to protect ourselves. And this idea that all other relationships are not as important as one other and adhering to that despite how life changes is not a good behaviour, even if it sounds to your partner like the safest way of protecting himself and his partner. Ultimately, all it will do is drive people away from them. And it will not prevent what they are trying to prevent which is them breaking up.

Imagine if we did something similar to this when we had friends. We say we have ‘best’ friends, but does that mean that it’s a simple as prioritising that friend over other people? No. That’s just not what we mean by ‘best friend’. We create labels to distinguish relationships from one another to communicate intimacy, closeness and emotional responsibility — not as a means of dictating how people ought to ‘choose’ ignorant of the idea that being forced to ‘choose’ is kind of the problem. People who have a problem or think hierarchy is always problematic are targeting a symptom, not the disease. Which brings me to the next subject.

Priorities and choices

You no more should expect as a ‘secondary’ to be at the whims of a ‘primary’s’ needs than you should expect to be subject to the whims of one friend choosing another friend over you. What if your aunt told you that your needs would come ‘secondary’ to the needs of her own children? You might expect that your aunt is going to pay attention to her own children, but someone who sets something out so clearly as that or behaves in that way has some deeper problems that you cannot address.

There are a lot of reasons why people defer to their ‘primary’. Usually it’s out of fear. But what’s particularly cowardly is when people blame what is their choice on their ‘primary’ rather than taking responsibility for their own choices. If I were to inform my place of employment that I need time off to help support a partner or a friend, I would ask because it is my choice. I wouldn’t approach my employer saying “Well my partner says I need to be off work so…”. If I had to cancel a meetup with my cousin because a friend needed me, I would tell my cousin that we needed to re-arrange our meeting because there was something that needed my attention. I would not blame it on my friend.

We all make choices every day about how to manage our time. It’s rarely as simple as ‘choosing’ or ‘valuing’ one relationship over another because it depends on our time, our capabilities, and what someone else needs from us. But we have to own that. Your metamour may indeed be struggling with non-monogamy, but the solution to that is for your partner and your metamour to work that out on their own. And yes, maybe there might be times when dates with you could need to be rearranged, but he needs to take ownership of that as his decision, instead of blaming it on his relationship structure.

Another mistake people often make in polyamory is trying to etch-a-sketch their way out of fear or negative feelings. Because people expect that polyamory will be so great and fix some of the problems in their relationship, when they are actually confronted with fear of losing their partner, they do not know how, other than trying to un-do what they did, to fix it. Cancelling your dates will not magically make your metamour better at handling non-monogamy. In fact, if I were advising him or his partner, I would say that they are delaying the inevitable — but this is not your problem to manage!

What is your problem is that your partner is making it your problem — and this can happen in *any* type of relationship structure. I think ultimately if you want to try again with him, it’s up to you but he should really be able to say what is different about this time than the last. You can care for each other as much as you’d like, but if he continues to allow one relationship to dictate another, he is going to struggle regardless and so will you. Hierarchy isn’t the problem. The behaviour is.

In the future, be wary of people who communicate clearly that you are never going to be a priority in your life. If this is a behaviour you wouldn’t tolerate from a friend or family member, why tolerate it from a romantic partner? You cannot do anything to make a relationship ‘work’ with someone who is unwilling to take responsibility for their decisions and communicate clearly to you what times they are available and commit to those times barring emergencies. And you deserve someone who does that.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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

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Episode 21: Walking on Eggshells

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

A metamour’s temper has this individual walking on eggshells. Is it because they aren’t doing enough?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. We’re also introducing discussion topics this week.

Discussion Topic – What negative character flaws do you fear other people see in 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 21 – Walking on Eggshells

A metamour’s temper has this individual walking on eggshells. Is it because they aren’t doing enough? 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 negative character flaws do you fear other people see in you?


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


Recently I’ve been venturing into the world of polyamory. My partner, let’s call him Darren, has been with his partner for a little less than a year. Their relationship seemed very stable and everyone met and we had discussions about communication and boundaries and were working on strengthening our relationship as a couple. Darren and his partner had hopes of having a kitchen table poly[am] relationship and so we were all very open with each other.

Darren and I were out in the community as a couple. We would all go out on very public dates, or I would go on dates with them separately (most dates were with Darren of course). We had also opened our relationship up to the possibility of us all seeing each other romantically but each of his girlfriends preserving our individual relationships with him as well.

My relationship with Darren has been about 4 months long and to say our feelings have been heavily involved is an understatement. I definitely love him, we exchange I love yous fairly regularly, and I care deeply about his partner because he loves her as well. However, jealousy has been an issue that has started to plague our relationship.

Recently Darren’s partner has been struggling with how fast our relationship has progressed, which makes perfect sense, but led us to a standstill with some confusion on how to proceed without hurting her feelings. But, unfortunately it’s been hard on me, I’m not sure if I am overthinking.

Darren and I spend one day a week together and the other 6 days he lives with her. They get to go on fun trips together and take time of from work together to do exciting things. But the idea of him taking time off to do things in our relationship is clearly a stressful thought for him. On social media they are out and I feel like the same level of sensitivity for my feelings isn’t really applied, if he even felt comfortable to post about me (which I feel like he isn’t, and for other reasons than even just her feelings).

I feel words would be chosen selectively to protect her feelings. And I surely don’t feel comfortable posting anything about him for fear of hurting her feelings. But, I really feel he fears rocking the boat with his primary partner and that is understandable, I am very fearful of that as well. I don’t think they have veto power but I also would hate to find out, so I avoid triggering her. But I also feel as though my feelings are rarely taken into consideration.

I’ve been as open with Darren as I could be with my feelings. But I am also not sure if I have any right to feel this hurt. I know he loves me and wants to spend time with me. I just feel like my feelings get hurt a lot trying to protect her feelings, the partner who already has a lot of privilege and opportunities to be out and enjoy a relationship without any rules or boundaries placed upon it. If that makes sense?

I’ve been wondering if I should be pushing a relationship with someone who doesn’t put concern into my feelings as much as his other partner? The hardest part is Darren does try to address my issues but I feel like the bottom line is I feel like the fact that I have emotions and that my feelings can and have been hurt is not something that is thought about as much as it would be for his primary.

Am I overthinking this situation? I feel like I am complaining about something that I should just be appreciative for because he does give me his undivided affection and time and love when he is with me. But that’s not often, which is okay. I deeply appreciate any and every day I spend with him. It’s just most of the time I’m trying to make sure that I am not flying off an emotional roller coaster when something happens that hurts my feelings, and just constantly reminding myself that it’s okay because he loves me and cares about me.

Telling myself that this is what happens when you are involved in a relationship where someone has a partner who is their primary concern? But am I wrong in justifying this behavior, or is it silly that I keep allowing myself to feel like I only matter part of the time.


So, first I’m going to say, I’m really really sorry you’re going through this because it does really seem crappy to have to police all of your behaviours and just feel so watched. It sounds like a really intense situation.

The first big thing that I want to say– and I think that your story is a big reason why people think that hierarchy is bad. And it’s not necessarily inherently bad in and of itself, it’s the way that people behave in hierarchy such as this situation with Darren that is the problem. The first thing is that your metamour or Darren’s primary partner is really not your responsibility. And this sounds really really cold and I get that because you are an empathetic person and you obviously don’t want to hurt her feelings but it really shouldn’t be. And I know that if Darren wants this kitchen table polyam thing… It’s just that you need to be able to step back and not take emotional responsibility for something that you shouldn’t be responsible for.

You can’t be the one to manage Darren’s relationship. Darren needs to step up and manage whatever is going on with his primary partner and not blame them. Which is what he’s doing. He’s kind of telling you about her feelings— unless you can see her reacting— you really should know because it’s not your concern. And if he only has you to talk to about it, then he needs to find a therapist. He really shouldn’t be involving you in this because it’s not something that you can control and it’s also not really fair on his primary partner for you to know so much about this situation.

A lot of people have flare ups with jealousy. A lot of people have problems dealing with anxiety that non-monogamy can cause and sometimes it’s made worse by everybody knowing that. I think, in situations where I’ve reacted really poorly and have not really done the best I could do and didn’t manage my anxiety very well, the last thing I would want is for the person— my partner to go and tell someone else that I’m not feeling well. That wouldn’t help the situation. How does that help me? I get that you care and I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing.

You don’t have to be involved in it. You can care, but you being involved in… you can control any of that you know. Involving you in that is not really fair so it’s not really your responsibility. It really isn’t your responsibility how… and this person should dictate your relationship.

I have a hierarchical structure and that is because… that is less about the deciding who dictates my relationships because nobody dictates my relationships. I dictate my relationships. I make decisions and I step up and I say that I’ve made those decisions and I have a hierarchy purely to communicate to people the time and energies that I have, because I don’t have infinite time and energy. I can love as many people as you know whatever but I don’t have infinite time and infinite energy and that’s really what the hierarchy is about for me and that works and that’s fine. And I actually find that is easier for me because it communicates to me clearly what’s going on in this situation.

What’s happening here is not a fault of the hierarchy. What’s happening here is that Darren is, for whatever reason, there’s some stuff going on in his relationship with his primary. She’s struggling and that’s fine. I’m not saying that she’s a terrible person for struggling. She may very well have a lot of feelings and that isn’t really something that you can fix. It’s not necessarily even something that Darren can completely fix. But he should not be involving you in that because you double-y can’t fix it. You’re not in a relationship with her and maybe one day you could be in a relationship with her but even if you were, it’s not really fair.

I mean imagine if you had two friends and they didn’t get along or, you know, you had a best friend and your best friend came to you and said, “Oh you know I’d really love to hang out with you but my other friend just really doesn’t like you”. Why would your friend tell you something like that? What can you do? That just puts you in a very awkward position because it’s like you can’t manage this other person and whether or not they like you. And putting that responsibility on your shoulders isn’t really fair and that’s what’s causing you all this hurt.

It’s like you feel like you have to police your behaviours to make her feel better and nobody’s caring about you. And that’s not her fault. That’s Darren’s fault. Darren is not managing the situation. Now if he needs to cancel a date or he can’t go somewhere because she’s having a bad time and he wants to focus on her for a certain period of time, he can do that, but he needs to be able to communicate that in a way where he is owning that, not blaming it on the hierarchy or blaming it on his partner.

He needs to be able to clearly say to you, “I can’t do this right now because I have to manage this situation”. He doesn’t have to give you the details. But he can make it clear that that’s the decision that he’s making and own it. And he isn’t doing that precisely because of what you are getting at eventually in your letter when you say that “I have been wondering if I should be pursuing a relationship with someone who doesn’t put concern into my feelings as much as other partner”. He knows damn well that he’s doing this. I mean maybe he doesn’t consciously know but he knows that he’s choosing one person over the other and instead of being upfront about that and allowing you to say, “Ok well I don’t know if I want to be part of this,” he’s spreading the emotional responsibility on to you which makes you feel like you have to do something to fix the situation and you can’t.

You cannot fix the situation. You’re not her therapist. You’re not her partner at present and even if you were her partner, it wouldn’t be fair for you to feel responsibility for fixing the relationship between the two of them. That’s just not something that you are responsible for and it’s really really unfair for Darren to put you in that position, whether he intends to do that or whether he doesn’t intend to do that. So someone failing to meet your needs isn’t a problem of hierarchy but I do think— And I will say here that you are really selling yourself short in this situation. Like you have the right to have feelings and you have a very, very low bar as to what you expect from this person.

Like you say “I should just be appreciative because he does give me his undivided attention and time in love when he is with me”. That’s what he damn well should do. That’s what a partner should do. You don’t want a partner who doesn’t give you their undivided attention and time and love. You only see him one day a week and you admit that’s not often enough for you but you came off—  “That’s OK because I just I appreciate every day I spend with him”. What is… like… Is he Jesus? Why is… He doesn’t have… He is just… And I know you love him I’m not trying to diss him or anything but like you get one day a week with this guy and you’re just grateful for that?

Listen to the situation that you’re in. You get one day a week with him. You can’t post about it on social media. You have to tip toe egg shell across everything because it’s somehow your responsibility to manage this other person’s emotions and you know… you’re grateful for scraps. This is scraps that you’re getting. Some people are fine with one day a week. There are some people who are like, “You know what? I hate people. I don’t want you in my house. I don’t wanna be around you that much. If I’m around anyone for that much I’m done. One day a week is good”. That’s good for some people. It doesn’t sound like it’s good enough for you.

It sounds like you are being influenced by love and influenced by how strongly you feel that you’re just taking what little you’re given. I don’t know what your background is. I know in the past for me personally because I’ve been a really horrible life situations and because I’ve dealt with so many shitty relationships in my life that one of my first relationships I thought it was great because he didn’t hit me or call me names. And that’s just sad. Sometimes when you’re given very little, you learn how to deal with it and you try and convince yourself that that is some gift.

You know there’s a previous episode if you go back into the one about gold medals, I talk about giving someone a gold medal for something they should be doing. You know you’re giving him a lot of credit for what he should damn well be doing anyway. So stop selling yourself short. You don’t deserve to be in a relationship with someone were you have to tip toe across everything and that’s not a consequence of a being with someone who has a primary partner. That’s not what a primary partner is. I mean, that’s what the way some people behave and I can see why some people don’t like hierarchy if this is how the majority of people with the hierarchy act like.

This isn’t about… You know a hierarchy doesn’t have to be about “this person gets to overrule everything”. If someone’s going to behave that way, they can at least cop to it and he’s not copping to it. So not only does he have a hierarchy were clearly his primary’s emotions and needs are valued more by him than yours but he’s not even going to be upfront about that. And he’s not even willing to clearly communicate that to you so you’re a left in this weird limbo where you feel you’re responsible for managing this other person’s emotions.

Where you have to tip toe on eggshells around everything and make sure you don’t offend anybody because even though she doesn’t supposedly have veto power, she may as well have. But if he’s always going to make you a part of that and if he’s always clearly going choose her over… And I’m not saying he’s like evil because you know he may very well be unsure of what to do if his partners like, “I really don’t want you to go out.” But that is a situation that needs to be worked on by them.

I’ve been in that situation. I’ve been in… I did not want my partner to go out sometimes and I felt really really jealous and really really upset but I’ll tell you one thing. It doesn’t go away by you ca— if you give it an inch, it’ll take a mile. But that’s a separate thing. I could totally give you your metamour advice on this podcast about how to manage jealousy, but it’s not about her. And it’s not fair that everything that’s about you gets to be about her too. And he needs to manage that and the fact that he’s not managed that is bad regardless of how much love… That’s great that he loves and cares for you but he has to behave like that.

You can’t just… Someone caring about you and loving you is not enough in and of itself to sustain a relationship. People can love each other very very much and feel intensely for someone and still be very bad at relationships. I had people who treated me like shit who told me they loved me all the damn time. It doesn’t matter. He needs to behave in a way that shows his love rather than just saying it and just giving you undivided attention is what he should damn well be doing. Okay? So…

What you need to do from now on is… number one. You need to stop concerning yourself with your metamour’s feelings and I know that sounds cold and it sounds a bit cruel but the thing of it is, is that you can not fix it. Okay? There is no point in you being so concerned about her feelings when you can’t fix it and it’s not your responsibility to fix. It’s not fair. And it’s not fair of him and you also need to stop allowing him to make it  your concern. If you need to say to him like, “Listen, I get that you’re having issues but I really don’t want to know the details of what’s going on in this relationship because I then feel responsible for policing my words and I don’t want to feel that. I want to be free, just as she does, to say whatever I’d like socially, publicly and to behave the way that I like. And if she has hurt feelings based on that then I really feel like that something that you need to manage.”

You need to put up some boundaries and make it very clear. Do not allow him to make it your concern. If he needs to find someone to talk to about this relationship, he needs to get a therapist. You’re not his therapist. You’re not their couples therapist and you need to not allow yourself to be made into that.

Now you said yourself he’s clearly prioritising his partner’s feelings over your feelings and you need to decide what you’re going to do if that continues. So you can identify that with him now. You can say like, “Look you know, we have one— I have one day a week”. Figure out what it is that you want. Do you want to go out on these outings that they go out on? Identify things that he does with her that you also want to do with him. Now obviously there’s twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week. You know, he has to divide his time and he has to manage his time and he may not have the time or the energy to give to other people.

If he doesn’t have the time and energy to give to other people, he needs to be clear about that with any other partner he has so that they can make the decision without having to learn it the hard way. But he needs to manage his time. So you need to just be really clear about what it is that you want and you need to stop accepting scraps. Are you fine with once a week? You said it’s not often but it’s okay. Is it okay? Is it really okay? Figure out what’s your ideal in this situation would be. Be willing to compromise. Like you can’t go, “Well I want to spend 6 nights a week with you”. Obviously that’s not really going to work but just figure out what it is that you want. Come up with some compromise. Agree to something better.

Put up those boundaries of you know… it’s great that he wants kitchen table polyam but he cannot have it if he’s going to make one relationship other people’s business like… even in… I mean, maybe there’s other ways of doing it. Kitchen table polyam is not personally for me. It’s not something I’m interested in. It’s just… I think an unrealistic expectation to be quite honest to put on anybody. The idea– I mean it’s great. It’s a great situation if you and all your metamours get along. That is an awesome situation. If you can all live together and be one big happy family, that’s fantastic. But the likelihood of it being a real possibility is just…  I feel personally, is very very very unlikely so clearly in this case because of… if he is going to have this person be his primary partner, and she’s struggling this badly right now and he’s managing you this way, it’s not going to be possible for him anyway.

So he needs… You need to come to him and go, “This is what I want”. Compromise. Figure out something. That’s your agreement. You also need to think about what’s going to happen when that all falls apart? If he ditches a date with you, what’s going… what are the consequences? How much are you going to be willing to put up with? And what are you going to do it if he doesn’t honour his agreement with you. And you need to really think about that because you know you’re already putting a lot into the situation. So, do you want to continue investing, as you said yourself, should you be pursuing a relationship with someone who doesn’t put concern into your feelings as much as other partner?

It’s a little less than a year or he’s been with his partner for a little less than a year. Relationships go through different periods of stability but like, you’ve been with Darren for 4 months and this is how it’s been so far. I mean everyone has some establishing of trust to do when they first start into a relationship and it might be that the relationship between him and his primary partner is being tested because this is changing and opening a relationship— if they didn’t begin from open. I don’t know it doesn’t sound like they did? It’s always going to be difficult for people and that’s fine but that’s not your responsibility to manage and you really can’t manage it.

It’s not fair for you to be put that situation, but you need to decide, how long is too long? How long are you going to invest in seeing if he changes his behaviour? Because you really don’t need to sit around and be grateful for scraps and be grateful for someone paying attention to you when that’s what they should damn well do and who clearly isn’t stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility for his decisions. If he’s going to choose to bow to the whims of his primary partner and allow his premier partner to dictate his other relationships, then he should at least cop to that.

And if he’s not willing to cop to that and if he takes that responsibility and says, “Oh well you how she’s having a hard time and I just…” No no no no no. She’s having a hard time. Okay. But he is making a choice and he needs to own that. If he’s not willing to own that then honestly you need to really think about if that’s something that you want to stick around and deal with because… I have to say that if someone isn’t willing to own their choices and be really clear about… And to be fair, it might be that he doesn’t know this. Sometimes you don’t know these things. You don’t know how little you can manage a situation until it’s unmanageable but he at least needs to own it.

And until he’s willing to own it, I really really think that there are going to be bigger problems than this down the line. Like if you now, without any children involved or you living together, if you now are walking on eggshells and you’re only spending one day with him a week, yeesh. That’s… that doesn’t give me a lotta hope personally.

So yeah, to sum up. Don’t allow this to become your responsibility. Set some clear boundaries. Try your best. I know it’s like… you’re an empathetic person and I feel for you in the situation. Try your best to not make this your responsibility anymore. Make it really clear to him. Figure out what you want. Do you want to go on the fun trips? Do you want to… What more do you want? And try and make that really clear. Negotiate that with him.

Come to a decision together and then figure out what the consequence will be. And you can communicate that to him or you can not communicate that to him. But figure out what the consequences will be for if you… if he goes back on your agreement. Yeah, that’s basically my advice in this situation. Again I’m really really sorry that you’re going through this because it sounds really really crappy. Walking on eggshells in any situation, in any relationship is no way to live. It’s a horrible way to live and I wouldn’t wish on anybody. So I hope this helps and good luck.

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Episode 18: Monster of a Metamour

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

You don’t get along with your metamour and what’s more — you think they might be unhealthy for your partner. What do you do?

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

Episode 18 – Monster of a Metamour

You don’t get along with your metamour and what’s more — you think they might be unhealthy for your partner. What do you do?&nbsp; That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon.

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

Podcast transcript


My partner and I have been together for almost six years. We married three years ago.

My wife asked to changed the parameters of our marriage five months ago so she could more seriously see someone. This guy was a person I’d already vocalized having issues and red flags for but my wife said that her partner choice is not mine to make.

It’s been five months now and I find myself not wanting to go out to community events for fear this dude will be there, blocking him on social media and considering blocking her so I don’t have to see their interactions online, and still deeply uncomfortable with her partner choice.

He is unhealthy. She is often hungover after spending time with him which infringes on our time together, and he still gives me and others in our immediate circle red flags. He is unhealthy in his drinking, drug use, depressed, doesn’t exercise and eats a poor diet.

She’s right, her partner choice isn’t up to me, but I can’t stand this guy and am saddened that her relationship is making me want to retreat from my community.

She has said that she enjoys dating people beneath her, but this guy is the bottom shelf at best.


So there a few things here. First and foremost, she is right. Her partner choice isn’t really up to you and I think that that’s an important thing for you to remember and it really does suck. Because there are situations like this where are you really don’t get along or like who your partner dates and it’s kind of a thing that you have to navigate.

One thing that I really, really want to stress and this is really important for you and other people who are in more dire situations. Because I do think the situation is… because you don’t go into specifically what type of red flags this person flags up. And I’m going to talk about the ways that you describe him being unhealthy. It’s obviously not great that your partner is often hungover but at the end of the day it is her life.

But I do think that if people are really worried about their partner dating someone who is showing some specific signs of abuse such as their partner trying to control who they interact with, things like that. Even friends of people who are you know basically in a relationship that seems abusive, it can be really really hard to know what the right thing is to do. Because I think most people’s first Instincts is to confront their friend and say “You need to stop dating this person. This person is terrible. This person is bad.” But actually that approach can often backfire so I would you know… even as much as you may have very good reasons for feeling like this guy is not good for your partner, any attempts you make to try to change that situation either by saying “Dump him or I’ll leave” or you know… even polite things, even to the extent of reminding her constantly— all of those to a person who is going through a situation where their partner’s slowly kind of entrapping them and putting them in an abusive situation…

Because people aren’t just of a sudden abusive. Like it slowly and slowly escalates and for someone who’s in that situation, if their friends or their family or other partners start to be even more controlling or controlling to them, they’re going to retreat from that. So I think it’s really important for you to remember throughout all this that you trying to control the situation for her is just never going to work. You can’t force her to see this person the way you see them. Even if… and I understand that it’s not just you who feels this. You say that, you know, that he gives you and other people within your community red flags. You’re never going to be able to force her to see it your way.

And in fact, if this guy is specifically abusive, one of the first things that abusers try to do is isolate their victim. So they’ll often, you know, sometimes outright tell their victim that “You can’t be friends with this person. I’m really jealous of this person.” Yada yada. Sometimes people help the abuser do that by deciding to further isolate that person. So it’s really really important to remember that if this person is a *red flag* red flag in terms of being really abusive, you don’t want to put her in a situation where she’s going to be further isolated and doesn’t have anyone else to talk to.

Now, that doesn’t mean that you can set your own boundaries. You’re totally allowed to decide what is healthy and isn’t healthy for you. You’re totally allowed to feel the way you feel about, you know, seeing their interactions online and you’re allowed to make your own boundaries. Like you’re allowed to say that she can do whatever she wants with this person but for her to show up hungover on your time together is unacceptable. But the thing about these boundaries you have  is that you have to be willing to enforce them as well. So if you’re going to say to her, “Regardless of how I feel about this situation and regardless of how I feel about this person, I don’t want you to be hung over when we have our time together. It’s not acceptable to me for that to happen”.

You can say that but what’s going to happen if and when she does show up hungover? What is… What you need to think about in your mind is what are going to be the repercussions of that? And that can be really tricky because it’s really hard to feel like you’re… it’s really hard to not feel like you’re punishing someone but at the same time like you need to be able to say, “You know what? I’m not going to have this time.” And so you need to think about you know the worst case scenario here.

What if you know… You don’t want to punish her but you do need to decide are you going to spend less time with her? Are you going to change the times you spend with her? I don’t know if you live together. I assume maybe, if you’ve been married for 3 years, you might live together. Maybe you might consider not living together anymore. It can be really really difficult to face these kind of situations but she’s not really giving you any alternative. Like she’s allowed to date whoever she wants to date. That is very true, but it’s not fair on you for her to show up hungover and infringe on your time together.

When it comes to your community, like I understand how you feel in terms of not wanting to go to community events. I think that’s where you need to focus less on you know your personal feelings and talk to the people who are also feeling red flags. Because the thing of it is… The thing I’m worried about and the thing that I often find that people… the struggle people have with this kind of situation where there is somebody in the community that is throwing up red flags, quite often community organisers and people who are in charge don’t know how to deal with that.

It can be very very difficult to know what the right solution is. Especially when you know if they were to say bar this guy from all community events and that meant she never went to any more community events. And then let’s say you decided, because she showed up hungover again and again on your time together, you moved out. So now she’s completely isolated with this guy and she can’t go to any more community events because he’s not there. You know, it becomes really difficult.

I think sometimes communities feel like they have to choose between letting everything happen and just letting everything go and not getting involved or completely banning someone and I really feel like there is a third option that involves potentially holding accountability. Holding, you know… thinking about all of these people who feel like this person is throwing up red flags… Can you not get together as a community and think about how to confront him? How to tell him? What about his behaviour is throwing red flags for you and you know bring him into the conversation rather than kicking him out. That’s something that you need the help of a community to do, but I do think that if you’re feeling uncomfortable at community events, that’s not necessarily her fault.

And I don’t want you to feel like you’re pitted in between him and her and I don’t want her to feel pitted in the middle, but I do think that if you seek the advice and the opinions of other people in the community and unless… you know, banning together to kick him out because you’re just kicking him out to go to another community where he might still be crossing people’s boundaries or, you know, showing up their red flags. You know, actually create a situation where there is a solution to this. You might think about holding him to account as a community, if you feel like that’s something that the community can do. It’s a very difficult and tricky thing to do and I think not all organisers and events people are going to be prepared for that kind of thing.

There’s quite a lot of people, especially if they running an event on their own time and they’re volunteering, just frankly don’t have the spoons for it or don’t have the patience for it. And you might consider, you know, all of those people that you’re together with who are feeling uncomfortable, maybe you guys have your own time. You know, organise your own things with them. You know, nobody owns community events. Nobody owns community. You can get together with whomever and whenever you want.

I mean it’s hard for me to say. I don’t know if you’re like in a really really small town and there are like only one of two bars or maybe one bar to go to or something like that, but you can create… you can make an attempt to create your own community spaces with those people who also feel like you do. And it’s an unfortunate thing to have to kind of like splinter in a way but I do think that if that’s something that’s going to make you feel more comfortable than do it.

If you really feel like as well like blocking her so you don’t see those interactions, it’s perfectly fine for you to say, “Right, you can date who you want. I really really don’t like this person. I’ve blocked them already.” I’d do a little bit more research to see because I’ve been in situations like that where my partner is just friends, not even dating, but just friends with someone that I just really don’t like because they’re really terrible to me and I didn’t want to see them so I blocked them. And I haven’t been able to see their interactions online.

So there may be other filters that you can use and things, but you are allowed if you want to say to partner like, “Look, I don’t like this person. I support you. I care about you. But I don’t like this person. Maybe we won’t be friends on social media”. You’re friends of real life. You don’t have to be friends on Facebook as well. If that’s what you need to do to make yourself feel better than do it. You know, it shouldn’t be… She might get hackled about it but explain it. You know, your concern here should be less necessarily with how irritated you are by it and more about, you know, you have genuine concern for her.

And that’s another thing that I think that’s worth you looking at as well is what you think is healthy. Because there’s a lot of things that you cite like… drinking, drug use, depression, exercise, poor diet… There are a lot of different things all meddled up within that one thing. People can drink responsibly. People can use drugs responsibly. People do have depression and that doesn’t make them undateable. A lot of people struggle with depression. It’s not their fault.

Not exercising, you know… for some people exercise can be dangerous for them. It’s not really up to you to define whether or not someone doesn’t or doesn’t exercise and weather or not that is healthy for them. That’s a discussion that they need to have with their health care provider, if that’s something that they need to address. And poor diet again like… I don’t… You’re not a nutritionist and it’s not you who gets to decide what is a bad diet and isn’t a bad diet for someone.

You may have an opinion about what is healthy and not healthy to eat and you’re welcome to that opinion but you don’t really get to decide for other people, you know, what they should and shouldn’t eat. And equally, you don’t get to decide that for your partner either. You know, if you are eating together and you’re sharing a meal together and you don’t want to have things which you would consider poor eating or not good eating, whatever you want to consider that as, that’s one thing. But when they’re eating their own food on their own, that’s their responsibility and their life and I think that you should really do a little bit of self-exploration about what healthy means.

Because what concerns me is that… you know red flag is a very broad term. And you know, if you said that this person was attempting to control who she was friends with, if you said that this person she was dating was spreading lies about you or trying to basically manipulate her against you— those are red flags to me. I think that you know… drug use and drinking may not be something you approve of or like, which I can understand. I’m not necessarily a huge drinker myself and quite often end up very frustrated when only you know social gatherings focus around drink. But at the end of the day, it’s their life and their decisions.

Those aren’t red flags in and of themselves. Somebody drinking, someone using drugs, someone being depressed, not exercising and eating what you would consider a poor diet are not red flags and are not necessarily “unhealthy things”. They’re unhealthy for you and that’s valid but that’s not really what you get to decide. So I think that you need to rethink your framework here.

And I do kind of wonder because what really you know confuses me about this situation that you’re in is that you know… you’re really heavily judging this person for not being healthy and yet at the same time you say that your partner has said that she enjoys dating people beneath her. And what does that say about you, though? And that… I am really surprised that you don’t, you know… It doesn’t seem like this is something that you’ve reflected on.

She enjoys dating people beneath her. I mean, that’s a very strange thing for anyone to say and I don’t know as that I would…. it depends on how she said it. If she’s specifically said “I enjoy dating people beneath me,” I don’t know. I think that would, regardless of who that person dated, would kind of be a little bit strange for me to hear because basically what they’re telling me is that they think that I am the beneath them. So you know… I’m worried about this situation in terms of… you’re so busy looking at this other guy and thinking he’s the bottom of the shelf, you’re kind of on the shelf with him, if that’s the case. You may think you’re better than him in terms of how healthy you are or you may think you’re not as bad as him but if she enjoys his dating people beneath her then you are beneath her too.

And is that something that you really want to be? You know, putting aside like… Because I totally think it’s understandable for you to be upset if someone shows up to a date that you’ve planned or time that you planned together hungover and doesn’t have the energy for you. I totally get that and that is totally fine to object to. But you have to kind of…. one of the things about polyamory and one of the unfortunate experiences people can have one when they open up their relationship or see their partner dating other people is that they can realise their partners tastes and who else their partner dates and what their partner does when they date.

And maybe you know…. maybe this is part of the irritation of this. Especially if your partner has said that she enjoys dating people beneath her. Are you really irritated by this guy completely or are you more irritated that she’s dating him and you and what does that say about you? So I think that’s something that’s really worth exploring because putting aside all this like… yeah, it’s not up to you who she dates. Yeah, you’re allowed to put down your boundaries. Yeah, you know, you’re totally understandable with objecting to someone showing up hungover. And you do need to re-examine what you think health means and why that applies to other people and why it’s necessarily your business but at the same time I also think that this is a red flag that you’re kind of ignoring — that she enjoys dating people beneath her.

And again like… you said that she has said this. It’s not just your own personal commentary and that’s the thing that I think you really should think about. Sometimes when we see our partner dating other people and we see how they behave in other relationships and we see you know… who they pick, sometimes that changes how we feel about our partners because you know… when you first meet someone, if they’re not currently in a relationship with anyone else or you know you both can start in a single position and then you start dating, you know, you can kind of have those rose tinted glasses. And you can think that they chose you because you’re the best, you’re healthy, you’re… whatever that means, but actually maybe the reasons that you think they chose you are not the reason that they chose you. And it’s hard for me to say what her reasons are for choosing you, but I do think that this is worth you really thinking about.

So yeah, to kind of some up the thoughts here: I think that she is right that it’s not up to you who she dates. It isn’t unfortunately, as uncomfortable as you are. And also I really want to impress upon you that even if it were, even if you could make a rule and say “Break up with this person,” that isn’t going to solve the underlying issue. That isn’t going to fix everything. Controlling the situation won’t fix it.

It’s not really up to you who she dates, however you are allowed to have your own boundaries and that does mean if you want to remove her as a friend and not see their interactions you can. If you want to set the boundary that you know you’re not going to tolerate her being hungover when it’s your time to spend together and she needs to manage her time adequately so that she can make sure she’s not hungover and has the energy for you that you want, that’s a fine thing to say.

But, with all these boundaries that you are allowed to have, you need to really think about what you’re going to do if they’re crossed. What are the repercussions of that? And really think about how you’re gonna enforce them, because it’s not really you know good enough for you to say, “Right, no more coming to our dates hungover,” if she does and nothing happens, then it doesn’t really matter. Does it? You need to think about what you’re going to do if this continues and where that leaves you.

I think that you should really examine what health means because I understand some of your objections to this person but the others may just be personality differences in how you like to live your life and that’s fine. If you are super into going to the gym and that person isn’t, that’s fine. You’re allowed to have that but it’s not really up to you to decide what is unhealthy and whether or not he’s unhealthy is kind of irrelevant to you. What he is is kind of irrelevant and it’s more that you need to think about what those red flags are and if they are red flags or if it’s kind of like you, you know, just not liking him very much. You can be a kind of person that you might consider a messy person but not be abusive. People can have depression and that’s not something they can control. They can not exercise if they don’t want to and I can eat whatever they want and that’s not necessarily a red flag in and of itself. So think about what that means.

Lastly like… I think this this last comment about… she enjoys dating people beneath her. I think you should really think about that. And I think it’s worth you finding a polyamory friendly therapist like. You can find a couples therapist to kind of talk these things out and maybe that’s a consequence. Maybe if you make it really clear, you know, you don’t have to hear anything about this person. You don’t even have to know anything about them. People kind of do all this like compersion and “oh wouldn’t it l be great?”. It would you know… it would be great if we all get along with our metamours, if we all loved our metamours and they were great people yada yada. That would be great but that doesn’t always happen. It’s not really realistic to expect that and it is ok if you want absolutely no information about this person because they annoy the piss out of you.

Regardless of what health or unhealthy or whatever you know… it could just be that you know you don’t like the person. She could dump this guy and time can pass and then she could date somebody else who just like maybe you know does all the things you would consider healthy but is just super annoying and you just don’t get along with him and that’s fine still. You’re allowed to say, “Right, you date that person. That’s fine for you, but this is my area. These are my boundaries. This is my space and I don’t want to have to deal with any of this stuff in my space.” When it comes to your individual personal space within your house and your social space where you have people as friends or not friends on Facebook, you can decide that.

When it comes to your wider community like I said you need to circle around. Gather together with those people who also feel the same way. See if there is an accountability process to be had, if there’s something for that person to be accountable for. If there is a genuine red flag, then maybe that’s something you pursue or just kinda hang out with the other people. I mean it does suck like that you know you… if you feel like he’s going to the same community events and you don’t like him but this kind of thing happens in general.

I am in that situation now. There  area lot of people who have either been shitty to me or who I just don’t like who are at a lot of polyamory themed events where I am and I don’t go to them because I’m like… ugh that person is going and I don’t want to go. Unfortunately the polyamory communities even in big cities tend to be quite small. Small worlds and this kind of thing unfortunately happens. I don’t think there’s enough still a huge amount of things you can do. If there’s a serious cause for concern in terms of like abusive red flags and this person needs to be brought up on those kinds of things, I would look up kind of accountability processes.

There’s one right now going on if you look up the “Polyamory Me Too Movement” there is a big accountability process going on with quite a well-known writer of different on polyamory resources and that’s might be a model you might consider, if that person is to that level of a red flag situation. If they’re just kind of a jerk and they aren’t what you would consider healthy, that’s not a red flag situation. That’s just a difference in personality and how they like to hold themselves vs what you think they should do.

And then lastly like… I really really think you should think about you know the worst case scenario unfortunately. Like if this situation progresses, you know, where are you? You can’t fix everything. If this person is a red flag in terms of abusive, you can’t really fix everything. You can’t rescue her from that situation. There’s a really great book called “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft which I think every human being in the world should read because it’s kind of like about abusive mindsets and how they impact people and how to help people in those situations who are kind of caught up in or in abusive relationships.

But the long and the short of it is that there isn’t any magic solution that you can do to pull someone out that situation. If they want to date someone who is causing them to be hung over there really isn’t anything you can do about that yourself. But you can control your own environments and your own actions and it’s worth you thinking about unfortunately what you know the worst thing that could happen? Nothing changes? Where does that leave you? And I think that’s certainly worth you having a think about.

So yeah there’s lot of different things I addressed. I feel like I want to sum up things again by think I’ve summed up everything as much as I can. I really hope this helps and good luck.

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