Are your needs ‘reasonable’?

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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 sense is that all triangulation is somewhat dysfunctional, but I’m not sure. For example, if I ask my partner out on a certain night, he can say “Let me check my calendar and get back to you”, or he can say “I want to but my other partner thinks you’re asking for too much time”. Is the first response “healthy” (non-triangulating) and the second response triangulating (or otherwise wrong)?

Another question I have is about boundaries. When I’m with my non-monogamous partner (i.e. it’s our date night), is it reasonable for me to ask him to not receive or send texts from my metamour? My BF has one other partner. We’re in a “V” relationship for now.

There are two very common things I find people ask me that I feel can be traced back to who gets the message from society that their needs are ‘too much’. All sorts of people can get this message regardless of how society reads them in terms of gender identity.

Certain circumstances in our lives as well as the effects of living in a society which, in my opinion anyway, fetishises ‘individualism’ over community means that we’re often expected in relationships to somehow be able to get on without ‘bothering’ our partners with our needs.

A lot of polyamory advice compounds this pressure because it ads this element to where if you ask for your needs to be met, you become ‘controlling’ or ‘manipulative’. Many people receive the tacit message through popular advice that they should just not have any needs and, if they do have them, they should take care of them themselves.

‘Reasonable’ needs

While I can easily say to you, “It doesn’t matter if your needs are *too much*. They are your needs,” sometimes that doesn’t seem tenable or realistic. Especially if you struggle with mental health issues like I have and do in the past. Some of my needs are literally about the fact that, for example, if my partner doesn’t tell me they’re okay when they’re out after a certain hour, I start imagining them dead in a ditch. Is that too much? Well, yeah. It is. But I also can’t help having those thoughts to a certain extent.

Personally, I don’t think it’s ‘unreasonable’ to request someone’s full attention when they are with you. Some people may not mind that, but for me, someone’s attention means a lot to me. A good yardstick to apply when thinking about your needs is to think about how this might apply in a friendship. I would also be bothered if I were out with a friend and they spent the entire time texting on their phone or seemed distracted or busy. I think when thinking about whether needs are ‘reasonable’, it’s more about understanding the reasons behind it. For me, time is one of those things I value the most with partners — more than anything else. So that’s why it means a lot to me.

But equally, the thing that concerns me about this situation is whether or not your need is ‘reasonable’ but also the way your partner chooses to respond to meeting it — which is the second common thing I’ve referenced in the beginning of this response: a lack of emotional responsibility in relationships.

Polyamory and responsibility

People go on and on about how bad hierarchy is and it’s situations like this that they point to as reasons for why hierarchy doesn’t work. But this isn’t a situation of a problem with hierarchy in and of itself. It’s a failure of your partner to take responsibility for their choices. Imagine you had a friend who you enjoyed hanging out with (that yardstick!) and every time you made plans, they cancelled on you. After awhile, you get frustrated and say “What gives?” and your friend goes, “Well my partner says I spend too much time with you.”

The problem with that response isn’t only that someone else is dictating to someone who they can spend time with — but they are listening to that dictation. Abusive situations aside, people are responsible for who they choose to spend time with. It’s only acceptable to say that someone thinks that they’re spending too much time with you if you’re both under the age of 18 and it’s a parent deciding who their child can hang out with — and even then, it’s probably not the best way to get that message through to a child.

Your partner has a choice in taking responsibility for their choices and owning up to their choice to decide to text during your dates or make time for you. Their partner may very well have feelings about the time your partner is spending with you, but that’s neither your concern nor your business. What the problem is is that your partner avoiding the heat of their decisions by blaming their partner for what is essentially their choice.

Now, as I’ve said, this is abusive situations aside. Abusive partners can and do try to control who their partners see, even as friends. What I find is that sometimes people struggle with knowing how to hear that their partner is struggling without taking an immediate action to solve it. Many times I see situations in polyamory where people do not want to sit with or explore discomfort and instead, knee jerk react to stop it for fear it might end their relationship. And the more wobbly the foundations of the relationship are and the more uneasy the people in it are to manage discomfort, the more likely that anything which causes a ‘threat’, no matter how minor, will be disposed of without thought.

To your partner’s credit, they may not feel like they can do very much about their partner’s emotions but cancel your dates. They may be stuck in a very difficult situation where their partner is telling them about the sadness and difficulties they’re going through, and they are unsure of what to do but may feel they need to do something in response. Unfortunately, they have their own journey to go down with regards to figuring out how to manage difficult feelings without resorting to allowing one person’s emotions to, intentionally or not, control their actions. Sometimes the only way out is through, as I’ve said, and it may be that your metamour has to sit with their anxiety to learn they’ll survive it.

Being your metamour’s therapist

But ultimately none of this is within your control. You cannot and should not be your metamour’s therapist. And you should not have to accept being jerked back and forth because your partner cannot manage the feelings within their other relationships without allowing it to impact you. At the very least, your partner could fully admit that cancelling your dates or doing whatever they’ve done is their choice. You don’t need to know that your metamour is unhappy about things. And adding that to the situation wreaks of trying to prevent you from being angry with them because it isn’t their ‘fault’.

Ultimately, whether your needs are ‘reasonable’ or not, you have a partner who is not willing to take responsibility for not meeting them. And that spells difficulty for future things regardless of whether they’re ‘reasonable’ or not. Your metamour is not your partner’s mother and it’s high time they grew up and took responsibility for their choices instead of breeding resentment between you and your metamour.

Think about what your needs are, maybe a bit as to why you need them, and also demand that, if your partner doesn’t want to meet them, they stop blaming their metamour. And then think about the consequences of what happens when your partner continues to not meet your needs and whether or not they have the capacity for a relationship with you.

I hope that helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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Can I be replaced?

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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 in a poly relationship for six months now and just recently, my boyfriend started having two other serious relationships. Before that, he just had flings.

And I feel so threatened by these other women. I know my bf loves me and he cares a lot about me but it’s been difficult to do my own things when I know he is with one of his other girlfriends.

I KNOW they can’t replace me but I feel threatened anyway. How can I feel less threatened ? I know it has to do with a poor sense of self. But I’m already working on it with a therapist. What else could I do ?

I also feel a bit jealous of him. He has other meaningful relationships and I don’t and it’s been hard on me. I remember how hard it was before we started dating, how lonely I felt. And, even if it is not to the same degree, I still feel lonely sometimes when he’s not with me.

It’s like I need to have other relationships. But it’s been hard putting myself out there and finding someone I actually like. Moreover, I don’t want flings.

I’m sorry, it’s kind of a rant more than a question per se.

Your letter is such a perfect example of why I feel like most polyamory beginner advice doesn’t work properly for a lot of people. I could be guessing incorrectly, but I’m imagining that you read some advice regarding your feeling of being threatened and they told you to focus on the fact that you’re unique and what you should focus on is remembering that you hold a special place in your life that no one else can fill and so you *can’t* be replaced, right?

Unfortunately for you and a lot of other polyamorous people, that advice is trash.

And here’s why.

Being replaced in polyamory

The first reason your brain is not digesting this information is because your brain knows it’s not true. I mean, sure, yes, on some sort of deep philosophical level we’re all these amazingly unique individuals that deeply impact every person we meet in such a way that no other person can… sure. But when it comes to the position of ‘loving partner’, you can, in a way, be “replaced” in the sense that there is absolutely, fundamentally nothing you can do to prevent someone from falling out of love with you.

We all want to be good partners and we all want to have positive relationship with people. There are obviously things we can do as individuals to make ourselves more agreeable or more in tune with the needs of our partners, but on a basic level we have little control over whether or not someone ultimately decides to stay with us because they don’t necessarily have complete control over who they feel love for.

It’s never going to work to tell your brain that you can’t be replaced because you can. But this isn’t unique to polyamory, this is true of any relationship style and any relationship type. Your parents can decide to ‘replace’ you emotionally with another child. Your best friend can find a new best friend. And even if you return to monogamy, that will not guarantee that you will never be ‘replaced’ in a sense. The only reason you are fearing it so much more now in terms of your romantic relationships is because you don’t have the cultural backing behind non-monogamy to give you stability.

Building your foundation

On top of not having the culture around you telling you that non-monogamy is secure (and, in fact, sometimes giving you the opposite message) or having markers of ‘commitment’ that have cultural weight (such as the steps on what’s known as the relationship escalator), you’re also dealing with the fact that you’ve only been together for six months.

For as much as you may like each other, you’re still getting to know one another. Every new relationship, even if people wildly get along, has to begin by growing a foundation of trust between the people involved. Sometimes that trust is encouraged in monogamous relationships through the promise of exclusivity, but you don’t have that. So it makes complete and total sense that you would feel scared.

Additionally, you, like many other people starting out in non-monogamy, have a situation of partner imbalance. It’s very usual for two people who opened their relationship to end up with a disparity in partner numbers and it’s very rational and understandable that you would have some feelings about this. If your partner, let’s say, got a huge bonus from work and was able to buy, for example, a very expensive signed memorabilia from his favourite artist — you might be jealous too! Especially if you wanted something very similar to that.

Jealousy is not irrational

While I’m not your therapist and am not going to tell you the status of your self esteem, what I can tell you is that regardless of your ‘self image’ status currently, any person in the same combination of situations you’re in right now would rationally and logically be threatened *and* jealous. Unfortunately, a lot of polyamory advice encourages people not only to see all fear as jealousy but also to see jealousy as some type of character flaw or issue you have to ‘work on’ and not a very understandable response to a number of situations.

You feeling threatened is not likely due to a poor sense of self, but due to the fact that you’re afraid of losing someone you care about, you’re just starting to establish trust with someone new, and you’re also dealing with very understandable feelings of loneliness and jealousy. Especially if it’s hard for you to get out there.

I currently, due to the way I prefer to do relationships, deal with a lot of frustrations with not being able to have as many relationships as my partners do. Initially it caused me a lot of heartache, jealousy and sometimes made me feel self-conscious — especially since it really seems like your level of ‘success’ in polyamory directly correlates with the number of partners you can maintain.

I want you to re-read your question: “How do I feel less threatened?”. The only way to feel less threatened initially is to feel less — which some people can do but others may not be able to do.

How to feel less jealous

Fundamentally, you can’t feel less. You can’t stop your feelings like a tap but what you can do is reframe your perspective. The first step in doing that is, instead of trying to stop yourself from feeling or convince yourself that your feelings are unfounded or a result of a personal issue with yourself, is *accept* your feelings and validate them.

It makes sense for you to feel threatened, jealous and scared. Give yourself permission to feel these things. You cannot work with feelings you refuse to accept you have. Once you validate your feelings to yourself, you can then work on finding ways of coping with them rather than trying to reason your way out of them. It seems contrary to how you should work with anxiety, but my experience with anxiety has always been that avoiding or trying to reason my way out of anxiety has never worked very well.

At this point, it helps me to remind myself that there is nothing I can do to prevent my fears and, even though that sounds a little hopeless, it actually helps take the burden off of my shoulders. Accept that, if someone really wants to ‘replace’ you, they can and will and there isn’t anything you can do to stop that.

And even if you could, if someone wants to ‘replace’ you so badly… would you want to stop them? This is a roundabout and, in my opinion, more sound way of comforting yourself. Especially if you struggle with affirmations and feeling worthy of things. Rather than making it about how amazing you are in comparison with others, simply refuse to do any kind of comparison at all.

Distractions and coping

The next point and what I find really helps when I’m feeling anxious about any situation within polyamory is having a distraction. You can’t necessarily ensure you always have romantic dates at the same time your partner is out — but you can still have plans! Do something fun with yourself, go out with friends, start a new hobby, etc. Find something that you can do to take up your time and it will be more likely to fly by.

Other than that, the last step is really just coping. You can’t stop yourself from feeling threatened or scared, but you can survive it. Sometimes I find that with anxiety and all of these types of feelings, once I have them and I go through them, it gets easier to cope with over time. And that’s part of building that foundation with your partner. You have to go through trials and tests of trust and know that they will be there for you in the end. That will help you counteract anxiety in the future and help you feel less threatened over time.

Last but not least, try to reassure yourself that you are not a bad person for having feelings and that the feelings you have are very normal to feel. Someone doesn’t have to be terrified of heights to not want to skydive. And you don’t have to have an inherent character flaw in order to feel terrified of being replaced when you’re both new to polyamory and new to this relationship.

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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When polyamory makes you feel inadequate

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This content is 3 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 wife just dropped this on me.

We have experimented with swinging, and we have gone to a swing club a few times, and I was ok with it.

But she had also been talking to various individuals online, and had been wanted to be dominated (BDSM stuff), which I also have a problem with doing. I can’t slap my wife, it just feels wrong. I can’t choke her or anything like that, I could spank her, but that’s about the extent of it.

So we went to the Swing Club on NYE, and she ended up walking around topless much of the night and just in her underwear. I didn’t have much of a problem with this, as I got to touch her boobs all night. We even fooled around a little in the open in front of people.

Then we swung with another couple that we had been talking to. I was not interested in the girl at all, but whatever, that’s beside the point.

That’s where the pain happened for me. My wife had what appeared to be mind-blowing orgasms with the other two people, the guy and the girl. And I was crushed.

Then the following day, she said how free she felt and that she’s never felt that way before. And she was so happy, but here I was not feeling like myself anymore, even though we had swing previously with other people, and I was fine then.

Then she drops a bombshell on me, that she wants to be non-monogamous and that she would love to be poly[am] and be dominated by others and all that stuff.

And I was destroyed, felt inadequate, I was bawling uncontrollably, and I felt complete betrayal. I told her I didn’t think I could do that anymore and I wanted to just go back to being monogamous, and now there is this HUGE divide between us. I don’t want to swing anymore, I don’t want her talking to guys online anymore, and I don’t want to feel this pain anymore.

We have kids, and that’s why I’m even still here at this point. I want to make my marriage work and I want us to be able to get things back into Pandora’s box. I don’t want to feel like I’m not worth anything, and I want to have these same people in my life in a normal marriage, like it used to be. What can I do to get back to that? Or is it a lost cause? I love my wife and don’t want to lose her, and I love my kids and don’t want to lose them either. I don’t want them to grow up without a dad. Please help.

I’m sorry to hear that you’re going through so much pain. There are a couple of things that I can see in your letter that might help you figure out what to do next:

  • Polyamory vs. swinging
  • Inadequacy and competition
  • Wants and needs
  • Parenting agreements

Polyamory vs. swinging

The first thing that I have to say to get it out of the way and because it’s really important is that there isn’t going to be a way to make things go back completely to how they were. Things can definitely change for you for the better, but in many cases, ‘closing’ a relationship after opening it isn’t really returning back to a state a relationship was in before it was opened.

‘Non-monogamy’ is a wide umbrella that covers both polyamory and swinging, but the two are not the same in terms of what actually happens and what it means for you emotionally. So it’s important to nail down and understand what it is that your wife wants. Does she actually want other romantic relationships with other people? Or does she want to do more swinging? Does she want to do things with you? Or is she fine operating independently? Is she interested in an ‘anchor’ style relationship with you or is she wanting to create a fundamental change in how your lives are organised (assuming you live together with your children)?

Whenever a massive change happens in your life, anxiety and pain is likely going to follow. Change is difficult to cope with. Sometimes a big change can be welcoming and be happy, but it still creates fear and anxiety. So even if you were happy with the swinging and had a good time and your wife suggested being polyamorous — you might still end up feeling scared by the change. I don’t want you to think of your anxiety as necessarily a bad sign. It’s very normal. What helps to moor you when you’re lost among all of this anxiety is getting a good idea of how things are going to change and how you can cope with it.

It’s also going to help you realise what you want to do next if you understand what it is your partner wants. While you can’t go back to your relationship before you opened it, all of the things you’re afraid of losing if she, for example, just wants to swing with more people, you may not lose at all. It all really depends on what she wants to try. And she may not have all of the answers now, she just might want more of the experiences she had on New Year’s Eve, and that doesn’t necessarily mean ‘polyamory’ and it doesn’t necessarily mean your life will change. Which brings me to the next topic.

Inadequacy and competition

While part of your anxiety is coming from the unknown, a good part of your pain is coming from the idea you have that your wife wanting to have sexual experiences with others — or having good sexual experiences with others — is inherently a judgement on you as a person. This isn’t a ridiculous feeling to have. It’s a feeling that, unless you grew up in a completely different society, a monogamous-centric society will have endorsed in as many narratives as possible.

Many of us grow up with narratives that tell us there is ‘the one’ for us and that narrative comes with competition. We’re not inherently ‘the one’ for someone, not if capitalism has anything to do with it. We have to become ‘the one’ by being the best looking, the best in bed, the best in so many other ways, etc. But the reality of the situation is that — whether you are monogamous or non-monogamous — one partner you have will not be the best at every single thing they do. Even if you were to break up with your wife, date someone knew, they might’ve had more mind blowing orgasms with another person before you, and there’s little to nothing you can do about it.

It’s completely understandable to feel self-conscious if your partner has an amazing sexual experience with someone else. A lot of polyamory advice would tell you, “But hey isn’t it great because then you can learn what made them have these great orgasm and you can do the same thing”. And yeah, theoretically that does work… sometimes. But you’re going to have feelings about that, and that’s understandable.

Underneath all of that pain, it’s important for you to remember though that you cannot control who is ‘better’ than you at anything, whether it’s orgasms or cooking. Other polyamory advice would tell you “you have a lot to offer, not just one thing and you’re worth more than just one thing”, but it’s not easy to feel that when you know you haven’t measured up in one way — especially when sex is involved because it can be so personal.

The reason why I think it’s important for you to remember that you can’t control how you compare to others is because inadequacy and fear will be something you will still come up against, even if you were to divorce your wife and be monogamous. Many monogamous people struggle with this as well, so it’s very common. But, if you want to stay with her and work things out, understanding you can’t control this will help you out immensely in the future.

What may also help as well is that you don’t need to know things like that either. There may be all sorts of reasons that your partner might have had this great experience. It might be the rush of a new experience, incorporating some fantasy things you don’t wish to participate in, or it being a threesome — who knows? But in the future, your partner can have these other experiences and maybe tell you if there are things you can do to make things more exciting between the two of you that you can do, but she doesn’t have to share things that are inevitably unhelpful. Some people like hearing the details and it’s okay if you don’t.

A lot of your pain and fear comes from the idea of you being replaceable. And while the advice that you’re one of a kind and not replaceable, which many polyamory advice says, may be logically sound, it doesn’t always help with your feelings. I find it more helpful to accept that I have absolutely no control over whether or not I ‘measure up’ to someone else, especially since no matter how good I am at anything, given the billions of people living on the planet, there will almost definitely be someone who is better. And, more importantly and contrary to what the mono-centric narrative encourages folks to think, we don’t pick or fall in love with people because they are ‘the best’ at everything. That leads me to the next point.

Wants and needs

At this point, you can’t change what has happened, but you and your wife can decide what it is that you both actually want and how you want to proceed. And that means some explorations about your wants and needs instead of just your fears. You have perfectly understandable fears of being replaced or that you’re not ‘enough’, but think more deeply about what you want. You say you want to make your marriage ‘work’. And it’s very possible that you can make that happen and your partner can get what she wants as well.

Are you at all interested in any form of non-monogamy? You said you weren’t interested in the woman who you swung with on NYE and I would suggest in the future you not push yourself into situations where you’re not into it because that will only compound anxiety. But have you ever enjoyed the swinging elements? Are you interested in other relationships or other sexual experiences? It might be that you’re not terribly interested in that, but even so, it can still work.

Your wife is clearly interested in a non-monogamous situation. While you need to clarify whether it’s swinging or polyamory she wants, that does mean that she will not be devoting 100% of her attention to you in the way someone who is monogamous and doesn’t have a time consuming job or hobby would. You may have to decide if that’s something that you want or not. It might be that you don’t necessarily need that from your wife — you just want the stability of her being there for your children and also to feel like a solid partner in her life, which can be done through other means than just focusing all of her time on you.

Once you have a good idea of what you both need, you can negotiate what that looks like in the real world. You have children you should both be focusing the majority of your energies on, but what would your relationship look like if, for example, your wife was to swing? Or have another partner? Would you prefer to have an anchor/primary style relationship where you still live together but she spends some of her time with another partner or swinging? Maybe you’ll decide that she can go to swinging clubs on her own (if you’re not into it) one weekend a month. You might agree on safer sex rules.

This type of solution may actually help your relationship because it is clear that your wife has interests sexually that you don’t have. That isn’t necessarily such an incompatibility that you have to break your current relationship over, but it does mean that things won’t be exactly the same as they were before you opened your relationship because you do have inherently different wants. It just comes down to how you negotiate this. Depending on what your wife feels she wants, you might be able to come to agreement that works for both of you and still allows you to stay together and, more importantly, remain happy together. Which brings me to my final point.

Parenting agreements

I don’t understand why you would be worried that your children would grow up without a father. Because, even if your relationship with your wife doesn’t work out, nothing stops you from being a father in your child’s life except yourself — barring maybe a court that orders you to stay away. You have control over that. And what worries me about this statement is that either you feel an urge to abandon the situation all together or you have reason to fear your wife would ‘take’ your children from you and cause a problem.

Regardless of what happens in your sexual relationship together, you both need to be on the same page of committing to be good parents. And that means trying to give your children the best life that you possibly can. It is better for you to be separated and stable individually as parents than force yourselves to pretend you’re together and create an unhappy and unstable coupling. Take it from a person whose parents stayed together ‘for the kids’ — it’s not always the best option if the people involved are completely unhappy with one another.

It’s important to remember, even in the discussion of your wants and your needs, that providing a stable and happy home is also very important and sometimes that may mean you aren’t together but that doesn’t have to mean your children go without loving and caring people in their lives. So it’s important that you both remember that throughout your negotiations and you don’t involve the children in any of the pain and hurt feelings going on.

In summation

Overall, your feelings are completely understandable, but your situation isn’t completely unworkable. It all comes down to what it is that your wife is interested in and how you feel about the situation in your life changing — it’s going to change regardless, but there are different ways it can change that might not be as terrifying and as painful as what you’re going through now.

You’re going to experience anxiety and fear, and this is true in general even if you were to start a new monogamous relationship. See if you can find a polyamory friendly couples therapist that can walk you both through a discussion of your wants and negotiation, as well as addressing your fears. They might be able to help you work out a solution that can work for you both or work out a way you can separate and still create a stable and happy environment for your child.

Things around you are shifting and changing and this is going to cause you a lot of fear and pain, but I want you to remember that you’re always able to be a good father for your child if you put forth the effort. As scary as it might seem, especially given the way this society also makes it seem like a ‘broken’ home is a divorced home, what children need in their lives are consistent loving people who care about that. They can have that even if their parents divorce. It might be difficult for their lives to change in such a big way, but a home can be ‘broken’ even if the parents are married. No matter what happens between your wife and you, you can still be great parents.

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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Can one person fulfil every need?

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This content is 3 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’m in a partnership with my nonbinary trans partner for over a year almost two. They have been stating from the beginning that they would want to be in a open relationship but we never discussed anything further.

Recently it’s been pressed and they want to start ironing out the next steps…

I understand everything logically (opening our relationship)from them stating how no one is enough for anyone and cant fulfill every need… I feel like then what’s the point in any relationship then.. What makes me so special to be the primary if they can get their needs met by anyone and everyone else. How do I figure what I need to feel validated from them?

I also feel I could be in an open relationship, I like other people…I know time is short and all of this is small in the worlds problems.. but I guess I feel like I just don’t matter, if I left we’d both be fine and that makes me feel so empty.

Am I doing this relationship injustice for questioning how much love I should give to partner now. I feel the need to protect myself which in turn makes me want to do less loving things to them because well they could find someone else and I like any human want to protect myself.

I look for your response, thank you for reading..

This is a philosophy I see going around in polyamory circles a lot and I’ve written about it before, the idea that one person can’t possibly fulfil every person’s need. And I honestly and truly feel it’s 100% bullshit when applied to every single human being.

It’s sort of like people who say monogamy doesn’t work because there is cheating and dishonesty in the world. I don’t think one relationship style or way of living works for everyone because people are individuals and everybody is different. Different people have different needs. And different people have different reasons for choosing non-monogamy.

I, personally, am not a person who chose non-monogamy because I have a burning need to be with multiple partners. I could be monogamous (provided that monogamy didn’t include some of the more negative and unhealthy attitudes that usually accompany monogamy), but I just don’t want to be. And I don’t have to *need* to do something for it to be a reasonable and valid choice in my life.

But I know many people who physically feel they cannot be monogamous because fundamentally it isn’t how they operate. And that’s also valid. My great grandmother was ‘successful’ at monogamy: she was with my great grandfather until in died in the 60s and then spent the rest of her life alone until she died in the way many people think you ought to. If you’d have asked her if she was going to find someone new to marry after her husband died, she would have said she was already married. To her, his death didn’t matter so she held true to that.

The idea behind this philosophy is that all relationships require some form of compromise because it’s very, very rare that two people — in *any* kind of relationship — are completely and totally compatible or have a relationship that doesn’t have any kind of arguments, disagreements or ‘rifts’. And that’s pretty true. Most people will not get along all of the time, whether they are friends, friends with benefits, dating, etc. And I think it’s very healthy to have as many relationships as is reasonable for one person to sustain because the more people you know and talk to, the more perspectives you’ll have in life and the wiser you’ll be.

But whether or not you get along all the time with someone is not the same as whether or not you have a deeper need or desire for different types of romantic partnerships or sexual encounters. That’s a separate thing. While I understand where people are going with the idea that no one person can fill one person’s needs completely, because that’s also a lot of pressure to put on one person’s shoulders… it also assumes everyone has the same needs and they just don’t.

It may be for your partner that one romantic relationship just isn’t what they either need or want in their life — and that’s valid. It may not have to do with you being ‘enough’. People who want more than one child don’t want another child because one is not ‘enough’ for them. People who want more than one friendship don’t want that because one best friend isn’t ‘enough’ for them. There isn’t a scarcity here that applies. And I don’t want more romantic relationships because one is not ‘enough’ for me. Nor do my partners want other partners because I’m not ‘enough’.

For me, I also want my romantic relationships to have significance in my life and meaning. I don’t really want to be interchangeable to someone. I want my presence to matter. And many people feel that way. And how they feel as though they matter to someone is through exclusivity. Other people like myself who are non-monogamous use other ways to gain this meaning. Usually, for me, it’s about time and emotional effort put into me. Someone can make me feel important without only dating to me by spending time talking to me, engaging with my life, and showing up when I need them. That to me is more important than exclusivity.

For you, exclusivity might be important — and that is just as valid as your partner’s want for multiple romantic relationships. Both of your ways of thinking and rationales and feelings are valid. You just have a basic inherent incompatibility, unfortunately.

Given you’ve only spent almost two years in this relationship and it doesn’t sound like either of you have necessarily begun any nesting or permanent bonding type of activities (buying a house together, starting a family) I think it might be worth seeing this as an incompatibility and, as tough as it might be, parting ways. If there was more in what you wrote that indicated that you either could get something personally out of polyamory or that you didn’t have a problem with your partner being not exclusive, I would encourage you to try it at first.

But your letter really sounds to me like you need and want someone to be exclusive with you and that has a lot of significance to you in terms of how you feel about your relationships — and that’s totally fine. Maybe for you, one person *can* meet your needs because part of your needs are exclusivity. That’s legitimate and totally okay. And if that’s definitely the case, trying this, in the end, will only result in more hurt feelings and confusion than it’s worth. It’s better to end a relationship on a simple incompatibility than it is to end it among pain and difficulty.

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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The devil’s in the details

Reading Time: 10 minutes
This content is 3 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.

About three years ago, I approached my husband with the idea of being non-monogamous. I had several situations pop up where sexual encounters could have happened, but did not due to my loyalty to my marriage. One of them, I kissed someone and then immediately left the situation in horror. My husband, let’s name him Noah, is my best friend and most trusted confidant. I wanted to be honest about these encounters without hurting him. After some convincing, he agreed to be open. I started seeing the person I kissed, let’s call him Daniel, and began a relationship with him.

It was incredibly intense and I was open with my husband about it. Although I never admitted until recently that my relationship with Daniel went beyond sex, we had a crazy intense emotional connection. Long story short, it lasted about 18 months and then crashed and burned. Daniel completely broke my heart into 5 trillion pieces. Noah, as amazing as he is, helped me emotionally and mentally pick up the pieces and gave me back a sense of stability in my life.

I think I was truly afraid of telling my husband about my emotional connection with Daniel, in fear of losing Noah. I truly see myself spending the rest of my life with him and we have two really amazing kids. I quickly realized that I could not have sex with someone who I had no established emotional connection with. I thought this would complicate things for my marriage, but Noah is actually completely fine with it and is willing to let me explore the waters.

My dilemma is this, I have not been able to find anyone to compare to Daniel, and in a way I’m not truly over it. It ended about 8 months ago. I also want to mention that my husband has been completely monogamous throughout our entire relationship until maybe a few weeks ago. He said he truly did not find the need to be with anyone else and only wanted to be with me for comfort reasons.

A few weeks ago, he was on a business trip and a colleague of his hooked him up with a friend of his. They were only together for one night and my husband waited to tell me until he got back in town, several days later. Even a few days of him being home, he said nothing and acted super strange. Eventually, I made a joke about him hooking up with someone else and he spilled the beans. This seriously changed our entire relationship. I asked him in detail about what happened.

He also would ask me to go into grave details about Daniel. We were very honest with one another but my heart sunk into my stomach. The more he described this other woman to me, how beautiful she was, how small she was, etc… the more I wanted to throw up. I had a complete emotional breakdown. I keep checking his messages on his phone, and wondering where he is when he comes in late. I looked her up on Facebook and scrolled through about 500 pictures of her. I really did not think I would react this way but I am so incredibly mentally unstable after he’s told me. I know this is jealousy.

After this news, I immediately tried to convince my husband to become monogamous again. He agreed he wouldn’t see anyone until I felt okay with it, and even suggested that we ask another partner into our bedroom to make me feel more at ease about him sleeping with other people. I think I am in some shock because he has never expressed any interest in other women. I also know monogamy is not realistic for either of us, because I know eventually, one day, another situation will most likely arise where we sleep with other people. I just know it will happen to him before it happens to me.

I know I am being selfish, but I really can’t kick this feeling of jealousy. I am a complete wreck and I’m deeply afraid of losing my husband. This obviously bothers me more than it bothers him, and the whole thing was my idea. How do I not get jealous when he’s sleeping with others? How can I slowly accept that I am no longer the only woman he wants? I need advice and none of my friends have non-monogamous relationships. I’m finding it hard to find someone to turn to.

There are a few things going on here I’d like to address:

  • Anxiety is not a death sentence
  • Details aren’t helpful
  • Establishing boundaries and trust

Anxiety is not a death sentence

Although this looks like jealousy, I don’t actually think this is what you’re experiencing. I might be being a bit pedantic in how I define jealousy, but I really believe that the trademark of jealousy is wanting something that someone else has and being bitter about not having it. You aren’t bitter about not having partners. You’re having a very logical, very understandable bout of anxiety and fear of being replaced.

It feels absolutely horrible, I know. But it’s actually quite normal and it also isn’t a death sentence. You can survive it and you can outlast it. But the first thing to do is to understand it better, recognise your triggers for it, and develop better coping mechanisms when it rears its head again.

The first thing you should try and recognise is that just because someone doesn’t look like they’re afraid or nervous, doesn’t mean they are. Especially when a person is socialised to repress their emotions and not show them or share them. I’ve noticed a trend in people read as men to experience just as much fear and worry, but not really tell their partners about it or show it much. Your partner has likely been encouraged his entire life to suppress and not show his emotions — but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have them.

Secondly, give yourself a bit of slack here. You have a society around you that has sent you a lot of strong messages both about you needing to go to the sky and beyond to attract or keep partners but also about your physical appearance and how important this is above anything else. Even if you move towards a relationship style that is unconventional, it doesn’t mean you immediately shed the influences you’ve grown up with your entire life. It’s very understandable to be terrified of the idea of being replaced by someone else. It’s going to be very hard for you to cope with anxiety if you’re busy beating yourself up for having it.

Overall, your feelings, even if they seem ridiculous and overblown, are very understandable. This is a change in your relationship and your life and that always causes stress. It’s very well-known that moving, a death in the family, a new child and other big life events cause relationship stress — and so does opening it up. It’s very understandable to be worried and scared when the threat is knocking at your door. So give yourself a break. Because once you do that, it will be easy for you to identify your triggers.

Details aren’t helpful

Honesty is important in all relationships, but the details are not. Sometimes the details aren’t helpful or even really necessary. I can tell you that probably the most awkward thing about being in an open relationship for me is figuring out how my partner tells me that they’ve slept with someone else and to be honest… I’ve not worked out a way that’s not weird. On the one hand, we don’t want to lie to each other but on the other hand, it feels weird to “report” to each other that we’ve had sex with someone else.

I’ve talked about it with my partner at length and we’ve decided that we just have to accept the awkwardness and go with it. We’ve both agreed that phoning each other directly after having sex with someone new isn’t really necessary, but we do need to tell each other. If either one of us are going through a mentally difficult time, then we might wait a few days until we’re okay again to tell, but other than that, that’s what we’ve agreed on.

I feel a lot of sympathy for your husband because he probably didn’t want to hide it but literally had no idea how to tell you and a lot of people, when they do first try non-monogamy, experience a lot of really complicated feelings internally. A lot of people can’t shake the feeling that they’ve done something wrong. And, oddly enough, for some people it feels better to not say anything than to be honest and say because they really feel like something bad will happen. I’m not saying it was right of him to hide it, but I don’t think he did it intentionally or he did it with malice in mind. It might be good for you all to sit down and figure out what the process is to tell each other about new flings or partners and this might not be an issue.

But the other big thing you need to do, is stop asking for and giving details. Unless one of you is turned on by that sort of thing, there is absolutely no reason to divulge that type of detail to each other. I feel like people do this because they think it will help them ‘get over’ their jealousy or anxiety and… I just don’t think that’s the case or that’s even necessary. You don’t have to enjoy hearing every detail about your partner being with someone else in order to be *truly* polyamorous. And it’s not jealousy to not want to hear those details.

I can say that I’m 100% uninterested in hearing details about my partners being with other people. Because I know full well the way my anxiety works and I know that if I give my anxiety an inch, it will take a mile. If I get the tiniest bit of suggestion that there is someone who is “better” than me, my anxiety will take it and run with it no matter how illogical it sounds — and that’s exactly what your anxiety did.

Looking this person up on Facebook, looking at photos, doing all of this just dug your anxiety deeper. You need to accept that you have these feelings, but that doesn’t mean indulging them. Neither of you need the details, outside of sexual health information, so stop sharing them. It’s not hiding anything, it’s just realising what does and doesn’t help.

Establishing boundaries and trust

Once you realise what your anxiety triggers are and know how to avoid them, you need to work with your partner on re-establishing your trust with one another. It’s not acceptable for you to be going through his messages on his phone and you need to be honest with him about that. I think once you understand why he didn’t tell you right away and you both sit down and have a talk about how you disclose this to one another, you will probably be able to understand that he wasn’t trying to violate a boundary and you can make it clearer for each other on how to operate in this case.

When difficult times like these hit, it can feel comforting for you to ‘return to monogamy’ for a short period of time, but I honestly don’t think this actually helps. In very dire situations, it can create some down time that’s much needed, but ultimately closing a relationship for a short term is only delaying the inevitable and it’s actually caving more into anxiety than actually addressing it. Whenever I had more intense anxiety and I started caving into my thoughts and avoiding the things that were giving me anxiety, my anxiety just grew in response. And it can just grow and grow until you’re trapped in a corner.

What actually helped me overcome my anxiety was honestly accepting that I was going to have it and that I wasn’t a failure for having it. The more I faced my anxiety, the better I got at coping with it. Having anxiety and fear about your partner leaving you is absolutely understandable but accepting that there is ultimately nothing you can do to stop that is probably going to help you more. I think if you really think about it, you’d understand that monogamy does not stop people from leaving their partners for other people.

There really isn’t anything you can do to prevent your partner from leaving you. Becoming smaller, skinnier, or anything else that this other woman is won’t stop your partner from leaving you. On the one hand, that’s scary but on the other hand, it’s a weight off of your shoulders. Because it means you don’t have to compete with anyone that your partner dates or is attracted to in order to keep them. It means you don’t have to keep fighting to interpret messages from your partner that aren’t there. If someone doesn’t see the value in staying with you, then there is absolutely nothing you can do to force them to do that.

You have to accept that, closed or open relationship, this is out of your control. And that will help you cope with some of this anxiety. You’re going to fear being replaced, but realising that all of these things your anxiety is telling you to do to avoid it (looking at photos, hearing details, being paranoid) isn’t actually going to change or prevent that. Your brain is trying to help you really, but it’s not helping — it’s just making it worse.

I would suggest finding a polyamory friendly therapist and talking through what each of you want from polyamory and how you both envision this working out in your life. Figure out if you both want the same type of structure in your life. I think once you and your husband are clear about what polyamory means and is in your life, it will be less terrifying for him to see other people.

Right now you’ve just encouraged him to be open, but it sounds like you haven’t really discussed how having other partners is going to impact your relationship. You can both have strong feelings for other people. That’s totally possible. But the reason you’ve been freaking out about that is because for you strong feelings = huge commitment or a life that looks a certain way, and it doesn’t have to be that way.

Once you work out what your polyamorous relationship will look like and how you will negotiate time with new partners and how to tell each other about other things, it’ll be a lot less terrifying when new people come along. But always give yourself the freedom to feel anxiety. It might just be that you need to re-establish the trust you had before in a new context and that takes a bit of time.

Sometimes the only way to learn how to cope with anxiety is to sit through it, experience the fear and the terror, and come out of it the other side seeing that you didn’t die and everything is okay. I can say that I’m far less anxious about my domestic partner seeing new people than I was when we first got together. Sometimes it takes time.

In summary

It feels like jealousy, but I don’t think it is. It’s perfectly understandable anxiety and fear. It’s your brain trying to protect you and not really knowing how. What you need to do is stop listening to the details, stop caving into the strings your anxiety is trying to pull you along, and identify the things that cause the fear to explode. Reframing your anxiety should help you learn how to cope with it and re-establishing trust and boundaries with your partner, especially exploring how you plan to do polyamory in the future, should help calm your anxiety down loads.

But never, never, ever, ever beat yourself up for being afraid. It’s okay to be afraid. It doesn’t make you a bad person. And it doesn’t mean you can’t do polyamory.

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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Non-monogamy and being replaced

Reading Time: 6 minutes
This content is 3 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 am 34 and my husband is 39. We’ve been together almost 17 years and have 2 kids. I know now that I am heteroromantic bisexual. I like to be proactive and keep finding ways to keep us engaged and not get bored in our marriage. After looking for ways to keep our marriage spicy I came across open marriage information. It got me thinking about how I never got to explore my bisexual side because I committed so young.

My husband and I have now considered a temporary open relationship for 3 years. We already have a solid foundation in our relationship. We great sex, support, communication, love, care , kindness, etc. We both just want some variety and to explore some new sexual experiences. The issue is I have generalized anxiety and clinical depression. I have inadequacy, insecurity, jealousy, possessiveness, controlling tendencies, and fear of abandonment issues. Before we open our relationship I obviously need to work on my self esteem, worth, value, self care and self compassion. Although we are going to wait a year or even more if I need to do more self work. We are reading books about opening up and I can’t help but feel intense anxiety. My mind goes to worse case scenario that he will find smarter, younger, sexier and better than me.

I know this is irrational, because it’s not about better it’s about different. The irrational part of me also fears I am opening pandora’s box by opening my marriage and my family to the possibility to be ruined and end. The thought of him with other women makes me kind of sick to my stomach and petrified. I know we need to do this because I don’t want to get to old age and regret never being with a woman or experiencing other things that could make me happier, learn and grow. But my mind keeps coming back to losing the love of my life. I know no reward without risk, but I wonder if this risk is too great to take. I know my husband loves me and his family. He would never intentionally do things to mess up this life we built together. But, you never know once emotions get involved.

Some may say he is taking a risk too and I could leave him, but nope. I am an analytical, self aware and can overthink things, so I know myself enough that no one will come before him and my family. I am loyal af, and deeply in love, so I know I ain’t going anywhere.

It also doesn’t help that most of the open relationships stories I heard about are men leaving their wives for younger and hotter women. I also worry he may want a permanent open relationship and at this time in knowing myself I don’t see being able to handle that either. Of course once we get going my feelings may change, but I doubt it.

I agree five or six decades is a long time to ask someone to refrain from sleeping with others. I have heard about couples who opened their relationships temporarily and that’s what I want. I discussed this with my husband, but before we go forward we need some guidelines.

I know I could be overthinking and most likely I am stressing myself out for nothing. Also my husband wants a dont ask dont tell, but wants to also have the option to spend the night with others. I agree I don’t want the other person feeling used like he just picks up and leaves, but if he stays the night I will know he is with someone else. The dont ask dont tell wont work if he doesn’t come home every night. So, how can we make this work and before we start what are some other things we should discuss?

My husband has no worries at all. He is the opposite of me. Lol. How can I focus more on the positives of opening my relationship and what I will be gaining over what I could possibly lose? How do I prevent myself from sabotaging this and creating a self fulfilling?

There are a couple of things I want to address here:

  • Fear of being replaced
  • Types of open relationships

Fear of being replaced

Your fears around being replaced aren’t irrational at all, but considering the context of these fears might make you realise that their intensity is lying to you. It makes perfect rational sense to believe that opening up your relationship could be opening up Pandora’s Box, because it may very well be, but what you need to realise is that the box is already open and there isn’t any way to close it.

Because monogamy is given to all of us as a cultural script and default, we take it for granted how much it can soothe our anxieties. When we go along with these scripts, we have something to follow and we feel a lot more stable because we know where the path leads. Non-monogamy doesn’t have this same cultural script. You’re walking alone, through the wilderness without much of a path to follow. So it is very rational to be afraid.

The truth is, however, that the cultural script is just that. A script. It’s a guarantee. It’s not a rule. You and your husband could abandon non-monogamy and forget it ever happened — but that will not mean he will not leave you for someone younger and more attractive. People develop feelings and fall in love with or without permission to do so. There isn’t going to be anything you can do to stop or control that. There are billions of people on this planet and there will always be someone out there who is ‘better’ at something than you are. You also can’t control that. And anxiety is all about giving you the illusion of control so you focus on what you think you can change so you can be less afraid of what you can’t.

You’re going to feel anxiety when you try something new. And different people are going to feel anxious at different points. Your partner may not feel anxious *now* but that may change when you actually start dating other people. I think you’re in a way self-sabotaging yourself in a way that a lot of people new to non-monogamy do. You see it as a freer option and a space to explore your sexuality, which is legitimate, but in that regard you would think that you would feel happy, but you don’t, and that’s confusing. It would be helpful for you to accept that you feel anxious and instead of expecting yourself to feel happy all of the time. Embrace that you’re going to feel scared and learn to cope with it instead of beating yourself up for it. Which brings me to my next point.

Types of open relationships

Non-monogamy is an umbrella term for all different kinds of lifestyles and different ways of approaching things. You can have a setup as your husband suggests where you don’t ask, don’t tell. Or you could potentially consider swinging as an option. This is something you’re going to have to work out with your partner to compromise and figure out something that works for both of you. There’s no quick solution on this and it might end up being something you need to discuss for a long time.

I would consider speaking to a polyamory friendly therapist to talk out different ways of how you might want to pursue things. You might sit down together and both think of your ideal scenarios and how you could potentially meet in the middle, what you can compromise on and what you can’t. This is a scary process because you might find that what you want is not compatible, but it’s better to address this early on than agree to something you don’t want and end up being resentful. I think it’s very possible that you can find something that works for the both of you if you give it some thought.

Part of what could be triggering your anxiety is that this is so up in the air and you either haven’t thought or clarified what your new non-monogamous life is going to look like. It could be wildly different and that prospect is going to be worrying, so of course you’re afraid. I think when you nail down what you both want and get a clearer picture of what non-monogamy means to you and what you both want out of it, you’ll feel more stable and secure.

But don’t beat yourself up for being scared and don’t assume that just because your partner isn’t *currently* worried that there is something wrong with you. It’s okay to be afraid of new things and its okay to worry, even if you’re changing things for the better.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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

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

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Is this jealousy or something else?

Reading Time: 9 minutes
This content is 3 years old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

My husband and i have been married for 7 years. I’m 43 he’s 40. We’re young 40’s fit and fun and do well financially. We have 4 kids and are in business together. Not that much matters. But I wanted to give an idea as to our character.

We been having threesomes. Almost from the get go. Maybe a year or 2 in. We’ve always kinda just had little trysts. Nothing lasting more than a few dates. About 13 years ago we had our first triad relationship. It went ok for the most part. Until she and my husband spent a weekend away without telling me. That was hard. Sleepovers were a hard no. My husband and I think he is addicted to sex. And needs it. I’m bi (and possibly gay-working on that currently)

It’s been a long time since we’ve considered a triad. (Also because of that elusive unicorn. ) for the last 4 months we have been in a second triad. I found her initially. And introduced her to my husband. My husband doesn’t have a o t of friends. We’re busy with work and kids and life. He really attached himself to her. I’ve been trying to as well. She’s great. And I like her. Tho in small doses. My husband goes to see her once a week. She lives 90 minutes from us. The sex is great. She and I have tons in common. He gets along great with her. And she seems to like everything he likes.

He has assured me ok more than one occasion that he only loves me. And he could never love anyone else like he loves me. He has assured me that he would never leave me for her. And that he would never be with her. Even if I died and he was single again. She has expressed that she would never love anyone. Let alone him. She tried hard to make sure I’m happy and thought of. There’s just something. I can’t put my finger on.

I am so jealous I can barely breath when they’re together. I have a full on stomach ache every time. And I cause a fight every time as well. And he’s miserable. He said he would never leave me for her. But he would leave because he can’t handle how things are at home. He needs this. And I need him to be happy. And I need to be happy. But I’m terrified I’m gift wrapping him for her. I need this to work. I need to figure this out. I would love some help. How do i trust them? When they’ve really given no evidence that I shouldn’t. Other then their convos. And sweet talk.

This might surprise you to hear but… this is a classic case of a person who thinks they are jealous when they actually are not jealous at all. Let’s clarify a few things.

  • Polyamory, ‘sex addiction’ and cheating
  • Unhelpful reassurance and love
  • Rebuilding trust

Polyamory, ‘sex addiction’ and cheating

Generally speaking, cheating is something which I think people in relationships need to define for themselves. For some people, watching pornography is “cheating” in their relationship and, while many people may think that’s silly, I am a firm believer that it’s very much up to the individuals and how they want to define it.

However, I generally feel like lying to your partner, whether or not it constitutes “cheating”, is a pretty damnable offence. If you were jealous, you would have had problems with threesomes from the very beginning. But you didn’t. It only became a problem after you were essentially lied to by both parties, your husband and his girlfriend.

Even if we removed the cheating potential from the situation, how messed up would it be for someone you love to just be away inexplicably for a weekend, especially if you share a life together and see each other on a daily basis? Whether or not you consider it cheating, he crossed a boundary and violated your trust and that, in and of itself, is going to take some time for you to deal with.

Feeling nervous about your partner crossing a boundary, especially when they have already crossed it before is not jealousy. It is understandable fear in response to a scenario which has happened before. If you had a friend who abandoned you one night drunk and alone and you were afraid when they asked you to go out again that they would do it a second time, you wouldn’t be jealous of alcohol or jealous of your friend’s hookups or whatever they decided to do when they ditched you — you would be understandably worried about something horrible happening to you yet again. But before I go onto rebuilding trust, I want to address a few other things here.

‘Sex addiction’ is one of those things I don’t really like to postulate about not only because I’m not a psychologist but because I think that this is one of those areas where people who can sometimes claim to be ‘sex addicts’ seem to be misunderstanding the term ‘addict’ to begin with. Being an ‘addict’ is never an excuse for anything and anyone who has serious problems with addiction that they take seriously knows and understands this. They understand the seriousness of what it means to be addicted to something and seek the appropriate treatments for that.

If I were to think your husband was an actual ‘sex addict’, I don’t think that having threesomes would actually be helpful for him. And if he seriously did consider himself an ‘addict’ in any way where he is going to actually take that seriously, he would be taking the appropriate steps to address his behaviour, including apologising to you for the damage it has done to your life, not blaming being a ‘sex addict’ for being unable to keep it in his pants.

But, and I give you my unlicensed opinion on this and feel free to seek more professional advice, I don’t think he’s an actual sex addict at all. If he was, he would not need your help finding people to have sex with. If he was addicted to sex, he would be ditching work and responsibilities and the “life” that is taking up his time to feed his addiction.

If he was an addict, he would not feel great about what he was doing and he would be using sex to compensate for something, just like what most addicts use substances for, because that’s what being an addict is. So honestly, I don’t think he’s a sex addict. I think he’s just trying to avoid taking responsibility for his actions which, at 40 years old, he really needs to start doing.

But part of that is you holding him responsible as well. This “sex addict” stuff is an excuse for him as much as it is for you. And when you said in your letter that you haven’t considered a triad “because of that elusive unicorn” you are placing the entirety of your husband’s complete dishonesty and failure to respect your boundaries on her shoulders when really, it belongs on him more than anything.

He is the one who was responsible for telling you what was up and he failed to do that. She failed too, don’t get me wrong, but considering you have four children whom he also has a responsibility for, he failed not only you but your entire family in a way and you are pretty much letting him off the hook for it.

And let’s say he is a sex addict and he does have a problem and is using sex to fill some type of hole.. he is still responsible for his actions. Addicts do not get to excuse their behaviour on being addicts. That’s not what addiction is about and anyone who thinks that being any type of “addict” is somehow the correct response to hurting someone and not “I’m responsible for that. I am sorry. And it won’t happen again”… that’s a bigger problem. Because this ‘addict’ excuse coupled with his attempts to reassure you, which I think he believes is himself taking some responsibility, is absolutely never going to work. And I’ll explain why.

Unhelpful reassurance and love

Most people’s response to “jealousy” is to reassure their partner about the importance of the relationship and that can work wonders when the problem is actual jealousy. But that isn’t your problem here.

No one can ever assure anyone that they will only ever love that person. Not even someone who is monogamous can make that guarantee because no one controls your feelings. Maybe he can assure you that now he only loves you, but he cannot make any promises that he will not fall in love with anyone else.

I find it deeply, deeply troubling that he is reassuring you to the point where he is completely excluding the possibility of this other woman ever being in his life — even if you were dead. It is one thing to say to someone, “You are my primary, domestic relationship. We have children together and have built a life together and I have no interest in abandoning what we have built together for someone else” but it’s another thing to say, “I will never love X as much as I love you, no matter what.”

Not only is that something no one can guarantee, but, even as it may seem like the perfect thing to say to you when you are worried he’ll run off with someone again, it’s actually completely unhelpful. Because what he’s basically communicating is that there is one position for “love of his life” currently available and, while you’re in that position now, you could potentially not be in that position in the future.

And since he has a history of lying to you and running off with someone else, you have every reason to believe that your position as top dog in his love pack isn’t necessarily going to be secure unless you somehow keep it secure. And what that creates is essentially is an environment of constant vigilance on your behalf, waiting for the “sign” that your time is up and someone else is going to take your crown.

This is furthermore exacerbated by the fact that this girl is saying she’s not going to love anyone else but him. It doesn’t seem like you’ve had a discussion about where long term triad partners actually fit in your life and the last time you tried it, you got lied to. So why, logically, would you believe anything to the contrary now? No one is talking about what this triad is going to look like so the only model your feelings have to go on is one where you’ve previously been lied to. So it’s absolutely no wonder that your emotions are flipping the hell out right now. And that brings me to the next part.

Rebuilding trust

First and foremost, realise that you are not jealous. If jealousy were an issue, you would have had problems with threesomes from the beginning. You are legitimately worried about being lied to again. And even as you’ve tried to shift the blame onto the “unicorn” for that, your brain and your gut know a lot better in this case.

Your husband needs to do the work to accept responsibility for his actions and try and rebuild that trust with you. Part of that needs to be more talk between the two of you about what these relationships are and what they mean. He needs to stop giving you reassurance about things he cannot promise. Maybe it seems like what you want to hear at the time (and it’s very much a takeaway from monogamy-centric culture where that tends to be the canned response to any jealousy expressed in monogamy), but it’s not actually helpful.

You both need to accept what you can’t control. I don’t advise you try and make rules about feelings. You can’t promise not to fall in love with anybody else. And part of having a healthier relationship means also accepting that it might come to an end, as much you might not want it to. Remember that going back to monogamy or stopping threesomes isn’t going to magically stop your husband from falling in love with somebody else because if it did, there wouldn’t be any cheating in monogamous relationships and we know there is.

If you are going to have a triad, she needs to be part of this conversation. You need to talk together about what your lives are going to look like if you want to make this a committed thing. If it’s not that serious, then talk individually about what you want out of relationships and how you envision this working among all three of you.

But you and your husband also need to see a polyamory friendly therapist to talk through the ‘sex addiction’ excuse, the lying and rebuilding trust together. I think having a better understanding of what it means to have a triad might help you, but he might need to rebuild your trust slowly through some slight restrictions at first. Maybe no sleepovers for awhile, etc.

As long as those rules are put in place with the idea that things will change and aren’t put in place to prevent your anxiety completely but to slightly prevent an overload at first, that will help and a therapist can help you work through that and decide which rules are helping you cope and which rules are preventing you from experiencing the fear you have and knowing you can live through that.

And lastly, part of this is going to mean experiencing all of these negative emotions and seeing yourself come out of the other end. Part of building trust with anyone is being vulnerable enough to open yourself up to being hurt again and then seeing that you aren’t.

Because your trust has already been violated, this is going to be very terrifying for you, but rather than trying to avoid the feelings or fight over them, if you work to a place where you accept that you’re going to have the feelings and learn to cope with them, you may find over time your trust gets better.

Finally, I want you to look at your last paragraph and examine the priorities of your worries. Notice how you are putting yourself last. It might seem selfish and contrary to how you were probably taught growing up, but you need to stop putting yourself last. You need to secure your own mask before you worry about securing other people’s masks.

You need to stop putting his needs ahead of your own and start worrying about your own happiness. You deserve to be happy too. And if you are ever in a situation (barring your relationships with your kids of course) where someone is forcing you to sacrifice your happiness for their own, that is not a relationship you should ever want to or have to be in.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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

Do you have a question?

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

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Rules and non-monogamy

Reading Time: 15 minutes
This content is 4 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.

CN: This question and column has explicit discussion of sexual acts.

My husband and I have started doing soft swaps recently. We’re about two years into the LS.. Once he tried kissing another woman. It upset me at the time. (I believe it is the meaning I attribute to kissing and how intimate of an act I feel it is). I didn’t stop it during but talked about it afterwards and he’s OK with a no kissing rule.

The funny thing is… the kissing doesn’t bother me and neither do the other acts when we’re all doing whatever act in a big mushy pile together. It is when he is engaging on his own and I feel like I’m observing on the outside. (Like I’m giving her oral and he’s got his dick in her mouth that bothers me. If I look over during play and see him caressing another woman that bothers me. It doesn’t bother me when he’s touching erogenous areas though… When we play with others if I’m not directly involved I get really bad after. (I replay the things that I feel are intimate in my head… kissing/caressing and I start thinking thoughts like my husband love is not just for me but it’s a shared love, my relationship is not safe for me to be vulnerable, it’s only a matter of time before he chooses that over me… )

We had our first orgy. This woman kissed me and her mouth was amazing… the same woman started giving him head without me… and I had a small panic attack, I got down there to help out which usually helps, but the thoughts in my head got me so worked up… (I started thinking what if she’s better at it then me and then I’ll never be able to meet his needs and not be able to please him in the future)… About 20 minutes into playing my anxiety was so high I kept pulling my husband close to me… which usually helps… but it got so bad

I had to take a break to get a drink to relax and then came back… yes this has happened before in group play…taking a break helps… yes my husband leaves play with me to comfort me… it helps… I know that my husband does not attribute the same meaning to sexual play as I do… I’m working on it… it means nothing to him… just a new toy out of the drawer…Is there anyone that Has experienced this? How did you get past it????????

I want my husband to feel free to enjoy himself and have a good time. I don’t want to constrict/restrict his play. But I also want to be comfortable during play. He’s tried to keep me engaged with him with whatever he’s doing and I’ve kept myself engaged also and that helps. When I distract myself with another playmate that helps. I would rather not watch because it hurts to think he’s choosing them over me… yes I am possessive of his cum and where it goes. I’m that girl… sorry… we’re both bi so he can do whatever wants with a guy, it doesn’t bug me at all including sex if he wanted. Why do I feel so different about gender.

Yes… I feel like women are competition to me. Yes my last two husbands cheated on me, yes I am afraid they will be better than me in some way even though I’m a very experienced lover… then I’ll never be able to compete and yes I have a religious background that I no longer live. Yes I have anxiety… yes my husband is thoughtful loving and kind… and we talk a lot… there is no problem we can’t solve together… no everything has not gone smoothly.

The first time he kissed a girl he changed our no kissing rules up at the club and asked me if it was OK in front of the girl. I said ok. But felt pressure to do so… he apologized later and we went back to the no kissing rule. I often cannot get the big O when we play. We have done lots of FFM…..and yes I was originally doing swinging for him… I found myself getting resentful at not getting my needs met… and so I have started playing with men.

Although I do enjoy playing more so if I play with a man. I will often have blue balls by the time we get home. I know my O is my responsibility. I’ve asked my partner on many occasions if we can end play early to take care of me and reconnect in a private room prior to going out and play. I do not push for it when we get to the club… he is always willing to take care me when we get home but has already spent his energy on playing with other women and will fall asleep 5 min in without me getting an O. We get back late.

His response to my request to take care of my needs at the club was not great… he said “I take care of you all the rest of the time we are together. Why can’t I just go and enjoy myself when we go… that’s why we go to play with others… we only have a small amount of time that we get to actually play. If we end early that will cut that time even shorter…it’s not my fault you’re not coming to the group play we are doing. I’m spending a lot if time taking care of and touching you while we play”… and he does…

I know he wants me to cum during play and is disappointed also that I’m not. I have only climaxed once during play… it feels good but for some reason I hit a plateau and can’t get there with others. I think it because I’m anxious about what my partner is and is not doing… He cares about me. Doesn’t want to hurt me. And has suggested at times when I get the afters that we just stop. He is definitely a swinger, I’d be afraid of the long term effects that stopping would have on our relationship because later when I’m doing better he says he doesn’t want to stop… he just doesn’t want to see me hurting.

We recently reached out to find a male to play with because I haven’t really found a bi-male playmate at the club we attend that I would want to engage with because we have a unicorn and sometimes I feel left out… even though they are both trying very hard to include me! I’ve suggested playing in separate rooms because I don’t like watching… he only wants to do it together as it leaves no question as to what’s going on or not. I value that… I enjoy playing with women and am into women. I don’t want to stop but I want to enjoy it also.

This column is usually designed for people who are in non-monogamous/polyamorous types of setups, rather than just swinging, but I’m happy to give advice in this case. And there are a few issues I can speak on here.

  • What if someone is better
  • Rules, anxiety and group sex
  • Negotiation and gender based fears

What if someone is better

Since you said you were okay with bluntness, OP, let me tell you something which is 100% true: There absolutely is someone out there who is better than you at every single possible thing you can think of. There are six billion people on this planet, and that means that it is very, very likely that any given person you and your partner come across will be “better” at any given human activity than you are.

Sometimes these will be things you can control, like a skill you can build. Sometimes it may be something you can’t control like smells or the way your body is formed. But there is almost definitely someone out there who is better at something than you are. But equally, there are definitely people out there that are “better” than your current partner. But ask yourself, lets say you met someone at now of these swinging events that could make you orgasm very easily, for example… would you abandon your partner for them?

You’re focusing all of your energy and your partner is trying to help you focus on the idea that you’re experienced, you’re good, no one is better than you, etc. and that totally makes sense, but I don’t think it’s actually going to make your anxiety go away. Because the hard and cold facts are that there’s always going to be someone out there who is better than us at anything. But relationships are not, despite what capitalism might have us think, trophies and rewards for being the -best- at anything. People don’t end up in partnerships or fall in love with people because they are amazing at everything.

Because most people, in addition to being great at some things absolutely suck at other things. Most relationships involve some amount of understanding that a person has real benefits and also massive flaws. But so long as the people in the relationship are contributing positively to one another’s life and making folks happy… that’s why we’re in relationships.

The other thing you need to realise and accept is that you have absolutely no control over whether your partner decides to stay with you or not. And I know that’s hard to believe because anxiety is this little thing that sees ourselves living in this massive world of chaos and it goes, “but no, there are ways to fight this chaos” and it convinces you that if you could just be x, y, or z, then everything will be fine, but it’s really just a mirage. People fall in love with people and break up with their partners all of the time. And you, having experienced cheating, are going to feel all the more pressure to keep your partner because there might be some parts of your mind that are blaming yourself for being cheated on.

And we see this type phenomena in so many things. When our minds are faced with the existential and debilitating fact that we live in a world where there are so many things we can’t control about our lives, we don’t want to feel powerless. In a way, your anxiety is trying to help by convincing you that if you do something or be something then nothing bad will happen. But I’ve found that the more I’ve believed that, the more I’ve tried to control everything, the less in control and subject to anxiety I felt. When I embraced the idea that I cannot control what my partners do or how they feel, it was actually much easier to cope with the anxiety that they might leave me.

So what you need to do is, rather than fighting this never-ending battle, pushing this boulder up a hill only for it to roll back down again, is for you to try and accept some very hard truths which is that your partner could very well meet someone and leave you. Stopping him kissing them is not going to change that. Stopping him having sex with others is not going to change that. Short of locking him inside of your house (and I’d even argue that, no, that won’t work either) you fundamentally cannot control who your partner fancies or falls for. Once you accept that, you relieve yourself of the burden of making sure you always have his attention. Which brings me to the next issue.

Rules, anxiety and group sex

I’m a strong believer that rules can and do work, but they have to put in place for the right reason. Your ‘no kissing’ rule is a classic case of rules put in place that are meant to control emotions — and that just doesn’t work. Because essentially with this rule you are treating the symptom and not the disease. When you give your anxiety an inch, it will take a mile. if you give the space to grow, it will. And even though making a rule sounds like you’re fighting your anxiety, you’re actually giving up more and more freedom to it.

Now this doesn’t mean that you throw yourself off of the precipice. You’ve clearly got anxiety around watching your partner have sex with others. What you could do is slowly try and wean yourself off of this anxiety by, instead of throwing yourself into orgies, doing some light play and working your way up and sort of doing exposure therapy on yourself. You can experience the anxiety, realise over time that your partner is not going anywhere, and then eventually you might not be so threatened by him focusing on other people… but one thing is… do you have to do that?

I’m all for people facing their fears, but I also don’t see a point in facing a fear that you don’t actually have to. Because sometimes what you have is anxiety that stems from it being a new situation and your connection with your partner not feeling solid enough for you to not be anxious when you see them with other people. But other times… it’s just that you don’t like it, and you know what? That’s okay too.

The biggest problem I see here is that you are both making and enforcing rules based on anxiety. You mention that you don’t like to watch… and it’s clear you don’t. You aren’t going to force yourself to like it. You might eventually lessen your anxiety over it… but you can’t force yourself to like it. In response, your partner has said he wants you there because it “leaves no question as to what’s going on or not”. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt here and am assuming he’s worried about cheating on you or you feeling like you’ve been cheated on… but this isn’t the way to solve it. What this suggests is an inherent lack of trust between both of you. And a relationship that isn’t built on trust just isn’t going to work.

There really isn’t a good reason you both have to be in the same room all of the time. He might feel anxious about what you’re doing with other people and you might feel the same, but forcing yourself into sexual situations just because you feel anxious clearly isn’t working either. You have to begin from a basis of trusting one another. Rules you can use that work are rules around the use of barriers and safer sex rules. If you want to start playing separately and do it slowly, perhaps you can say that the first couple of times you play, you only do X activities. But these rules aren’t designed to forever prevent anxiety from happening, but to slowly introduce you into situations which may cause you some anxiety, allow you to manage it, and then eventually go away as the level of anxiety decreases.

Personally, I don’t like being involved with partners as a couple with other people on the whole. For me, just the anxiety that I might be jealous makes me feel so on edge that it completely defeats the purpose. I didn’t realise also until much later that some of my feelings around watching/being watched come from surviving sexual abuse. But at first, I assumed that my feelings around this was ‘jealousy’ that I needed to conquer. I forced myself into a lot of uncomfortable situations that were completely unnecessary and it just ended up making me feel terrible and my anxiety didn’t go away, mostly because I just don’t enjoy these situations.

You need to think about the rules you’re trying to make in your life to prevent your anxiety and understand that trying to prevent your anxiety by making rules is almost always doomed to failure. Sometimes in order to overcome anxiety you have to experience it, live through it, and come out of the other end and see that you’re okay. You don’t have to participate in swinging together. And to be honest… it doesn’t really sound like you’re having that much fun anyway.

Because it sounds like you spend most of what little time you have to explore fun with other people either watching what your partner is doing or doing your own thing and then getting dive-bombed with emotions when you notice your partner with another person. And it sounds like your partner has to constantly spend time coming around and making sure that things are okay. Wouldn’t you both rather be at an event where you can relax and enjoy yourself without having to constantly worry about something else? Wouldn’t you rather be in a situation where you’re not going to feel obligated to participate in a sex act just to stop anxiety from happening? It’s not surprising you’ve not been able to orgasm if you’re spending the entire time walking on eggshells around your anxiety. Which brings me to the next issue.

Negotiation and gender based fears

Part of what anxiety does is has you hyper focus on details. It tricks you into thinking that small things matter because it wants you to think you can control these things. That’s why you’re more anxious about your partner having sex with certain people. Your letter is a little cis-centric and doesn’t really state what it would be about women that would make you nervous, and maybe you don’t really know, but it does make sense to me that you would feel like people who look like you or are more like you are ‘competition’. It might be that a man is so far out of the spectrum of what you could provide, that it’s difficult for you to focus on a detail of where you might ‘compete’.

Likewise, you obsessing about where ejaculate goes is the same thing. It’s your brain trying to make you think that all these little things matter — when the truth is they don’t. I know how this feels though. I have very similar hangups, albeit for different reasons. Sometimes I worry when my partner sleeps with cis women that they will realise how much of a fake I am and then leave me for someone who is ‘real’. I know this makes no logical sense, but my brain is still more fearful that I’ll be replaced in this way. I have to actively remind myself though that I can be replaced by anyone regardless of what’s going on in their pants.

These are operating almost like rules in trying to make you think that if you could control some of these things, then you wouldn’t lose your partner. They’re trying to help, but like I’ve said, they’re not helping. What you need to embrace is that you do not have control over whether or not your partner replaces you, cheats on you or leaves you. Deciding what gender he can/can’t play with or where his ejaculate goes or who he kisses will not change any of that. Forcing yourselves to always have sex together is not going to prevent anyone from cheating or hurting someone else. And while that may seem terrifying… it also means that those people who cheated on you did so of their own accord and choosing, not because you failed at providing something they could find elsewhere.

When you are under so much stress and anxiety, it’s going to be very difficult for you to orgasm, and I see the issue with your partner from both sides. He is already focusing a lot on trying to soothe you and I can understand that this is a limited time he gets to play with other people. The point of having sex with other people is to… have sex with other people and not the person who is at home who you see all of the time. I can’t really blame him for wanting to do that. But I also can’t blame you for being angry if he’s promised to sort you out and… hasn’t done so. And that sucks so much because it can be hard knowing how to navigate complaining about a lack of sexual satisfaction without also feeling like you’re having to beg for sex or manipulate someone into having sex with you… it’s not fun.

But… it also seems like you’re doing all of the sacrificing to try to make yourself okay with this situation but you playing separately is not something you’re pushing for, and you should push for it much harder. It might make him feel anxious but… that’s kind of part of life and part of the road that this will take you on. I don’t see any reason why you should be the only one battling your anxiety. I do think it’s worth confronting some of these ideas and embracing your anxiety, but if you don’t enjoy watching, the very simplest solution that is that you should not watch.

I’m assuming you’ve only been together for two years. That seems like awhile, but sometimes it takes longer, especially depending on when and how long you were with your previous partners when they cheated on you, for you to feel secure in your relationship. All new relationships have periods of insecurity that is natural because you’re getting to know and trust one another. Already you’re starting from the standpoint that all sex acts have to be witnessed by each other… and that’s just a foundation of mistrust. You’re building your house on a sand foundation instead of a stone foundation and no wonder it’s not standing.

And I see you trying to give your all to make him comfortable… and the result that you’re not getting your needs met is unsurprising. No one wants to be the wet blanket. No one wants to be the one to poop the party. One of the things I try to remind my partners about is to not put me in situations where I have to “okay” or give permission because, like you described, I am almost always going to feel pressure to pretend like I am okay with everything just because I want to be. But sometimes I am not and I can’t help that. By being constantly forced into these situations where you’ve already said you’re not interested and are clearly uncomfortable in, you’re continually feeling like you’re not cool enough to hack the Shortbus and it’s giving your self esteem a one two punch. Why should you be the one to be in the emotional Gladiator pit? Negotiations need to happen that keep your needs in mind too. You’ve tried being there. You’ve tried watching. It doesn’t work. Now it’s time to try something else.

In summation

Embrace the fact that you’re going to be scared and anxious about swinging or your partner sleeping with other people — and he needs to embrace that too. It’s not your emotions running wild, jealousy or something terrible — it’s a perfectly logical conclusion and fear, especially given the fact that you have been cheated on in the past. It might be that you can eventually do group sex and all of this stuff just fine in the future but… do you have to do it right now? There is no reason to force yourself. And you need to not be put in a position where you are the one who is facing the anxiety and he gets to have everything he wants about the situation because it makes him feel better. That’s hardly fair.

Confront your fears by accepting them and asking what if this happens and this is where you both need to have discussions and reassure one another. What if your partner did love someone as well as you? What would that mean? Maybe you need to talk with each other about where you see swinging working in your relationship. Think about some of the worse case scenarios and talk about what you would do if those things happened. Shining a light on some of these fears and examining them with a reality check might make you feel less inclined to speculate about what ifs, because you’ll have those answers.

But most of all trust one another. And you have to start with trust. Embracing your anxiety and facing your fear is one part of this, but it won’t mean a thing if someone doesn’t trust you, especially because someone not trusting you is almost always going to make you wonder whether or not you should be trusting them.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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

Do you have a question?

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

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Bare minimum in relationships

Reading Time: 6 minutes
This content is 4 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 in a relationship for 4 years, and it has been an amazing relationship. Throughout, we have been open and not defined our relationship. Which I was ok with because of my feelings for him, and sensitive to the fact that something was sensitive and hard for him to express and share with me.

Having no defined title or relationship has been a struggle for me, for a long time I didn’t want to seem like I needed more, too much, or to infringe on his life too much, so I haven’t.

In the past year and a half, he has been a very big part of my life. Opening himself up emotionally and letting me into his life, family, friends. To me this has been great and I have done the same for him. My struggle is that he hasn’t really told me what he wanted in life and in this relationship, or in general.

I have recently told him I love him, which was no easy feat for me. Because I know I want him in my life and I want even more than that to express my feelings when I have them; it’s been painful to not express my love out loud in the past.

He has another person in his life that he has known for 2 years. He has told me that recently, I don’t know any more about her or the extent of their relationship. It was his first time telling me that he is non monogamous which for me was a big win that he started to Talk to me about his feelings and needs. (I have gathered this over the 4 years, if I hadn’t been ok with it, I wouldn’t have stayed)

What wasn’t a win for me was he assumed where I was feeling, because I told him I love him. Which makes me think that to him non-monogamy means you can’t love someone and express it. he started the conversation saying I want something different than he does. he assumed I wouldn’t be ok with non monogamy. And he assumed that my reaction would be to tell him to leave. That is not who I am, and especially not with who I am in love with. when I have something great I fight for it. But is he not going to fight for me? Does he not have the capacity to love and express this in words?

Is he ready to have a non-monogamous relationship with me as one of his loves if he hasn’t been honest and open about defining the relationship before? is this pivotal time a time to move on because he’s not ready? or Is it something we should work through?

If he hasn’t been open and communicative with me will he be able to start so that this can work?

I really, really sympathise with you in this situation, but I’ve got to tell you… you 100% absolutely deserve so much better than this.

Labels can be constricting in some cases, but they can also provide the structure people need. Sometimes I think people dislike defining a relationship because, in some cases, the definition of that relationships comes with a lot of other baggage and bullshit they don’t want to deal with. Then there are others who resist defining their relationships because defining a relationship also means defining an expectation of the work they will have to put into it — and they’d rather just not have to put in any work into any relationship. This is why I say time and time again that non-monogamy is not inherently more egalitarian because I think a lot of people see it less as a way to commit to multiple people and more as a way of never having to commit to anyone.

What makes me feel so incredibly sad for you in this situation is that you are describing the bare minimum of what should be expected of a human being in an adult relationship as if your partner has just completed some Olympic triathlon. Him talking about his emotions and feelings with you is absolutely not a “big win” — it is the bare freaking minimum a human being should be able to do with someone else. And I honestly feel like this is incredibly common for people who are dating men.

While I totally understand and acknowledge that men are constantly taught to suppress their emotions and their feelings (except for incoherent rage that is) and to not talk about them, every time we consider the basic human expectation of emotionally letting someone into your life something that’s above the bar and not the lowest bar of engaging in a relationship, we’re basically allowing this type of standard to continue.

You have sequestered your own feelings and needs for this guy for four years. You have, in your own words, done your best to not ‘infringe on his life too much’, despite the fact that he is a big part of your life. Yet he can’t even bother to tell you what you mean to him? You have to restrain yourself from being able to express your love for him because you are convinced that you need him too much but you need to really ask yourself if that’s true or if that’s just a lie that this society has told you time and time again. Your needs are your needs. And some people do need more than others and you know what? So what?

If he cannot meet your needs then he cannot meet your needs, period. You should then find someone who is willing to step up, tell you what you need to know, let you into their life, and not force you to play some type of tip-toe waiting game. A relationship is an equal exchange. Why should you have to compromise so much to make him feel comfortable when he is clearly not doing the same?

To add insult to injury, he’s basically been hiding a relationship for you for two years and his excuse is that he hid it because you said you loved him (which… you’ve only done recently so what’s this excuse for hiding it before then?) and he assumed you wouldn’t be okay with non-monogamy and assumed you would leave him… how is this even remotely an acceptable excuse for you?

And maybe this dude is new to open relationships and he started seeing this new person and didn’t know how to communicate this to you or explain it to you and was just afraid so he somehow thought pretending the problem didn’t exist would solve it but… is this really someone who you want to spend the rest of your life with — or even a portion of your life with? Someone who can’t even tell you they’re dating another person actively? Someone, whom you have to drag every single bit of communication out of like drawing blood from a stone? Do you really have something that great? Because honestly… you can do better.

You do not have to accept this standard of communication. He is an adult and he needs to act like it. There is no excuse for him being unable to take responsibility for himself. You are being walked over completely like a doormat and it isn’t acceptable. And maybe I’m interpreting something more sinister here, but the way he basically makes his own lying somehow your fault because he thought you would be uncomfortable with it makes me feel even more convinced that this is not a guy who is going to be there for you when you need it.

You talk about how hesitant he was to have you be involved with his family and friends — and maybe that’s because this other person has been involved and he couldn’t figure out how to explain what’s going on and doesn’t want his family and friends asking you too many questions. That’s not to say this other person is necessarily “more important” than you are to him (she may have had to push to be involved just as much as you have) but it doesn’t bode very well in either case. It doesn’t really sound like he’s as confused as he’s pretending to be.

He can’t even tell you his feelings. And if he needs help with that, he needs to get a therapist. You are not his therapist.

Not only is he not ready, but you deserve better. Please, please do not waste years of your life on somebody who cannot do the bare minimum of communication with you. Expect more for yourself and demand more. Never, ever push yourself into hiding your feelings or pushing down your legitimate needs because you are afraid it will be ‘too much’ for someone. You are not “too much”. You are enough. And good enough. And someone who is worthy of you and your time will have no problem communicating with you, no problem having you be apart of their life, and no problem with being honest with you and loving you just as much as you love them.

Be your authentic self and never allow someone to force you to be anything less. It might be difficult because there are so many men in this world who have been encouraged by this society to not express their emotions, force the women in their life to do all of the emotional labour, not pull their weight — but there are men who are not like this, who will and can behave like adults in a relationship and not pull this kind of nonsense.

Watch this conversation with Eartha Kitt and keep telling yourself that you deserve to fall in love with yourself as passionately as you’ve fallen in love with other people. You deserve someone who proves to you that they have earned the right to be your partner. And don’t ever accept anything less.

Best of luck to you and I hope this helps.

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

Do you have a question?

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

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Ultimatums and polyamory

Reading Time: 9 minutes
This content is 4 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’m a woman in my late 40’s, married for 4 years to a woman in her early 50’s. About a year ago, we decided to open our marriage and date other people. We were both on board.

We shared a couple of threesomes, and all was well. Then I decided to begin a FWB relationship with my ex, who happens to be friends with both of us. Still, all was well. Then, about 4 months ago, I found a woman on a dating site that I was interested in. I met her and we had this intense connection immediately. Still, all was well. Until my wife began to pick up on how happy I was with her. That’s when she started having a problem with it. She accused me of falling in love with the other woman. I couldn’t deny it. But I still loved my wife, too.

After a week or two, my wife mentioned that she would like for me to stop seeing the other woman. I told her I didn’t want to, and wasn’t even sure that I could if I wanted to at this point. She was hurt, and began saying that she only agreed to the open marriage for me, to make me happy. Although she didn’t participate much in the one on one dating, she was always very excited about hearing all the details about my encounters. And she was very much into the threesomes.

After a lot of berating by my wife, I agreed to go to couple’s therapy with her. The counselor told us that she wasn’t sure our marriage could be salvaged. Part of me really wants to salvage our relationship. She has many good qualities and is very important to me. However, I have emotional and physical needs that she can’t or won’t meet. She was fine with me going outside our marriage to get my needs met until I met this other woman. Then it was all bets are off because I fell in love with her.

We did agree when we started the open marriage that we wouldn’t seek out a relationship, that it would be sex only. And that was my intention. But I didn’t bargain on falling in love. My wife argues that I could’ve stopped myself from falling in love with the other woman. I completely disagree. Falling in love is not something that can be controlled.

My wife is really pushing me to stop seeing the other woman and to close the marriage. I really have no desire to do either. In my past monogamous relationships, I’ve always struggled with fidelity. I don’t think I’m cut out for being with just one person. I know deep down that if I agree to do as she’s asked, I’ll more than likely end up cheating sooner or later.

I’ve already explained to my wife that even though I’m in love with the other woman, I’m also still in love with her and I have no desire to leave her. The other woman is fantastic, but I can’t see the two of us being successful in an exclusive relationship or marriage, for several reasons. However, I know the other woman expects me to leave my wife within the next couple of years. I’m not sure she will ever be okay with being the 2nd in line indefinitely.

I’m really confused. I don’t want to lose either one of them. I don’t know what to do.

This sounds like a very difficult situation to be in. You’ve got a few issues going here that I want to address.

  • What we expect from love
  • Controlling behaviour
  • Replacement partners

What we expect from love

Had I been able to advise you when you started opening your relationship, I would have told you to never, ever establish a rule against falling in love with someone. That absolutely and fundamentally cannot be helped. You feel your feelings and while we absolutely can control what our actions are, we can’t control our feelings. I don’t necessarily blame your partner for feeling betrayed if you agreed on only seeking out sexual relationships — but at the same time, I don’t think it is fair for her to, after the fact, say she never wanted to do this or was only wanting to do this for you.

It may be true that she only did this for you, but she is a grown adult who agreed to this of her own free will. She may not have been primarily motivated by this for the purposes of getting her own friends with benefits, but that doesn’t mean she can pretend like this agreement was a favour to you that you must repay by dumping someone she doesn’t like. But I think what is lying behind your partner’s fear is a real lack of understanding behind what it means when we say we love someone.

If you haven’t heard of the relationship escalator, it’s basically a framework that we culturally come to understand the progression of relationships from not serious to serious. When we’re operating outside of this framework or we don’t desire some of those hallmarks of ‘progression’ in relationships, we have to find other ways to define commitment and intimacy. We have to reframe sometimes entirely what ‘progression’ means in a relationship. It’s these hallmarks that soothe our anxieties about our partner and whether or not they will leave us. And love is a big step on that escalator.

What your partner may be doing by trying to get you to get rid of this relationship is she may be really afraid of what it means for you to love someone else and how that will change her relationship with you. And to her credit, you have not really ever said here at least what it means for you to love this other person. You didn’t necessarily expect to be in love and you began this exploration into non-monogamy with an agreement and understanding with your partner that it would only be sex. Well, now that this might not be the case, what does that mean?

Love may be infinite, but our time is not. And committing to non-monogamy ultimately means committing to a situation where any partner you have does not spend all of their time with you. And I would say monogamy, if it’s with someone who has a time-consuming job or when people have children, also involves committing to an agreement similar to that. So your partner’s fear and attempt to control this situation likely stems from the very real fear that your love for this other person may mean less time is spent with her and she may be afraid of how that will affect her.

Regardless of what happens with your other partner, if you want to salvage your relationship, you need to have your wife understand what it means for you to love more than one person and how that will impact her. Think honestly about what it means. And think about it in terms of tangibles. Will anything actually change physically? Will you want to spend more time with this other person? Maybe so or maybe not. But, I think if your wife can understand that another love in your life does not mean you have any interest in leaving her, she will feel less threatened by it. But she’s also going to have to really have an honest look at some of her behaviours — which leads me to my next point.

Controlling behaviour

Your partner is being controlling here, maybe for an understandable reason, but it’s no less controlling. And your other partner is also being controlling and that is throwing up some red flags for me. But first, let me say that your current partner is going to have understand that is not appropriate or okay for her to demand you leave anyone. Just as it would not be appropriate or okay for her to demand you stop being friends with someone or cut off ties with a family member. Your relationships are your relationships. It doesn’t sound like your partner is trying to be abusive or is intentionally trying to isolate you or anything, but that doesn’t make it okay. She cannot, even if you were monogamous, reasonably expect to control your relationships. She’s welcome to end your relationship if it’s not going a way she likes, but she cannot make these demands of you. It’s not fair and it’s controlling.

When she says that you can control who you fall in love with, she is to an extent incorrect about that. No one can necessarily control that type of thing. But I think what she means is that when a person begins to fall in love, there might be signs that this happening a bit earlier on before it officially happens and, in the future, if we’re aware of it, we might be able to pinpoint the likeliness of this happening earlier than when it’s already happening. Because, while it might have felt slow and gradual for you, it probably felt very jarring and sudden to her.

I do think that there is not much of a point in arguing whether or not you could have realised this earlier or not. You could look at what happened between you and this new person and think about signs that you could have noticed earlier where you might have discussed things with your wife before you truly ‘fell’, but at this point, it’s more important to be apologetic about how shocking this might be for her.

But she also needs to understand that this wasn’t intentional and you absolutely did pursue other people in good faith in terms of the agreement you originally had. You cannot continue a relationship with your wife is she believes you are operating in bad faith or you intended to violate the terms of your agreement. She might feel betrayed, but that doesn’t mean your intent was to betray. And while she should and can express those feelings of betrayal, ultimately if she can no longer trust you, you both can’t operate on a cracked foundation of mistrust. She either has to understand this wasn’t planned and reconcile that or progression may not be possible if she can no longer trust you.

Either way, you need to think about what it might mean if you’re in love with someone else and have a discussion with your wife about what that means specifically and whether or not it’s something she would be okay with. Reassure her that you don’t want to leave her and that loving another person does not mean that you feel less for her. You have to accept that if your loving someone means spending more time with them or changing any of your time commitments to your wife now, then she will understandably ‘lose’ something. She may not want to lose anything at all. But if you can have a discussion with each other about what it means for you to be in love with someone and she understands she is not being replaced, she might feel less threatened and afraid of it. Or you might be able to come to a better understanding of what your wants are.

You may decide that you don’t need to ‘act’ on your feelings of love. Technically you could have someone who is no different than a FWB but whom you just have feelings for. Just because you love someone doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have more commitment, more time together, or more of anything. It may just mean you have feelings. explore what it means for you to be in love with someone, clarify that with your partner and she might not feel so threatened and afraid of it. But the question is whether your relationship with your newest partner is worth saving, which brings me to my next point.

‘Replacement’ partners

What really strikes me is that your newest partner is expecting you to leave your wife… which is really not healthy either. People on either side of you should not expect you to leave anyone. And most certainly, one partner should not expect to ‘replace’ another partner because that is absolutely not something that should be happening.

You need to really think about whether or not someone who is putting this pressure on you is someone you should want to be in a relationship anyway. I’m not sure if she described herself as being ‘2nd in line’ or if those are just your words, but even among a hierarchical situation… this isn’t a queue and anyone who doesn’t understand that and is pushing you, regardless of your feelings, to leave someone just doesn’t strike me as a good person to partner up with.

And it makes me wonder if this is something your wife knows about and if that might be another source of anxiety for her. If your wife knows that someone is purposely trying to replace her… well, I can’t really say I blame her for wanting you to leave this person. She might be going about it in a very controlling way, but if my partner were dating someone who was basically trying to replace me, I’d be pretty uncomfortable about that. You might actually consider ending this other relationship, not because it’s something that’s being demanded of you but because it’s just not healthy, even if you are in love.

I do recommend you continue to go to couple’s therapy, but you find a polyamory specialist or just a different therapist. I don’t think it’s time to call it completely quits with your wife because I do feel like it’s worth seeing what’s lying behind her fear, exploring what she might be fearing, and see if you can actually address that together in a healthy way and move on from that. It may be a situation where you are just incompatible and you discover that you do want to fall in love with other people and you want to explore that and she doesn’t — and that’s fine.

Or you may find that you can feel this love, it doesn’t change anything in the physical word for your wife, and she isn’t as threatened by it because she’s been reassured what ‘love’ means in the right context and that works. But you’re going to need help walking through that together. You may not ever have meant to fall in love or mean to fall in love in the future, but you now both need to work with the understanding that you can’t control it so you need to decide what you’re going to do about it if it happens and what i means when it does.

I hope that helps and good luck.

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

Do you have a question?

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

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

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