Can one person fulfil every need?

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’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

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

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.

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Is this jealousy or something else?

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.

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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

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.

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

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 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

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 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.

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Incompatibility and polyamory

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 a very unique and complicated relationship that I need help with. I am M, 23, and my partner is F, 25. I read in some of your posts that just because you’re different doesn’t mean you’re incompatible. I want to start by listing some of our major differences. I come from a conservative Christian community, and monogamy is all I have ever known. My partner comes from a very sex-positive background, and is set in her identity as polyamorous, (solo polyamorous to be exact, which means she values independence and doesn’t have any primary partners, and feels like she can’t emotionally stay with one person too long). To complicate things further, I identify as demisexual, which means I need to develop an intimate emotional connection before I feel sexual attraction. Now to add the icing on the cake, I am nomadic, and the max I’ve stayed at one location in the past two years is 2 months. She is pretty much tethered permanently to her home (student loans, work placement etc..).

We may have the chance to travel together in the near future, but I don’t think it’s going to happen often. We are madly in love with each other, and have been trying hard to express that love regardless of our differences. What is the best thing we can do for our relationship, without hurting the other? Thank you for any help!

There are a few things here that I want to discuss.

  • Differences in backgrounds
  • Solo polyamory
  • Long distance relationships

Differences in backgrounds

You mention in your letter that you come from different backgrounds, but I don’t see this as a potential incompatibility. We all have to start somewhere in our lives and I don’t think that where you grow up is necessarily an indication of where you will end up in any sense of the word. When I was young, I was very anti-choice because it was an opinion that had been passed on to me by the adults in my life, but I don’t feel that way now. I wouldn’t necessarily assume that polyamory comes easier for some people of different backgrounds because it really depends on the person. So don’t count that necessarily as a massive difference.

While it’s true that coming from a very conservative Christian community might present some obstacles for you personally that you have to work through, I wouldn’t assume that is exclusive to this relationship. If it doesn’t work out with you and your partner, you may end up in another relationship where it challenges this more than your current one does. It’s worth thinking about it that way rather than an obstacle.

Solo polyamory

I’m a tiny bit confused by your partner’s definition of solo polyamory because it doesn’t seem to be accurate. I don’t know if this is your assumption or her definition, but I would definitely recommend having a discussion with her about, specifically the idea that solo polyamory people ‘can’t emotionally stay with one person too long’. It’s hard for me to even parse what that exactly means. It doesn’t sound like solo polyamory to me. It sounds like someone afraid of commitment or wanting to avoid emotional labour and responsibility that a relationship can often include.

Solo polyamory is literally just about not necessarily wanting or having a ‘primary’ partner and living independently. I know many solo polyamorous people who are very emotionally invested in all of their relationships, they just don’t want that emotional investment to include cohabitation and prefer to live on their own. If your partner has explicitly told you that she doesn’t want to ‘emotionally stay with one person too long’, I think you need to have a discussion with her to understand what that means.

Individually, each of you need to think about and communicate to each other your expectations of what not only this relationship might look like as things develop but also what you want out of a relationship and what it means for you. You state you’re demisexual, which is fine, but do you have an interest in polyamory? Or are you only doing it so you can have her as a partner because you’re already emotionally invested? Have you really considered how you might feel if/when she begins to date other people and how that might affect you? Because if you aren’t interested or motivated towards polyamory on your own, this might be a much bigger obstacle than anything else you’ve listed here.

Once you’ve both thought about that, then you can decide how your relationship can or can’t take form in the future, which leads me to the next topic.

Long distance relationships

Your nomadic lifestyle is what it is and it doesn’t sound like this is going to change any time in the future, but it might be worth thinking about if this will be true for the rest of your life or if you will, for lack of a better expression, ‘settle down’ one day. Can your partner do long distance? Have you talked about this?

Polyamory isn’t a stop gap or a life raft. And it’s really important to not consider it a stop-gap solution to keep a relationship alive or to give a relationship which won’t work a chance. You might be motivated toward polyamory because your relationship with this person will be long distance and because you are demisexual and aren’t frequently attracted to people so you might be thinking about all of the ways you can make this work and it might very well work for a good period of time while you are nomadic. It may be possible you don’t mind at all her dating other people and things work fine.

But what happens when you want to settle down and you’ve spent years in a relationship with someone who has absolutely no interest in ‘settling down’ in the way you are going to want? What are you going to do then?

You need to really think about not just whether or not you and your partner can do a long distance relationship if your nomadic lifestyle continues, but also what happens if and when you no longer become nomadic. I don’t believe relationships have to last until you die to be ‘successful’. I think that there is a possibility you both can approach this like adults, have a good relationship and then understand that when you decide to be less nomadic, things might fundamentally change to the point where the relationship ends. I would not put your bets on her changing her mind and wanting to ‘settle down’ too in the future and focus on what information you have now.

To summarise, I think you need to think about what you want out of polyamory, if you want polyamory and she likewise needs to think about what kind of relationship structure she does want and what that means for someone wanting to be with her. You both need to think about whether you can do long distance and what happens if and when you become less nomadic.

The last thing I’d add is that pain is an inherent risk of meeting new people and developing feelings for them. You already have feelings for one another and I don’t think that there is anything you’re going to do to be able to prevent hurt. Hurt can and does happen. Instead of trying to avoid it completely, try to think about how you might cope if and when the hurt does happen.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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

Do you have a question?

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

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

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

Can one person meet all your needs?

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.

Am I Poly[am]? I need help with deciding whether I’m poly and whether to tell my wife.

OK, so, we’ve been married for 24 years. I love my wife very much. It’s not the same romantic one that we felt before getting married. But we are an ideal couple, the envy of many of my friends. Our marriage has been great, we have two lovely children.

So, about 8 months back, I fell in love with an old friend, let’s call her Q. We have some common interests and we have been exchanging mails for the last decade or so. Q and I didn’t get to meet often because we live in different cities. Last year, my travel to her city on work suddenly shot up, and we started meeting more often. We must already have had some feelings for each other before, because soon enough, we fell in love.

I haven’t told my wife, and Q hasn’t told her husband. I think my wife will be hurt, and ask me to stop meeting Q if she found out. I am not sure. Neither Q or I want to get out of our comfortable marriages. Yet, we yearn, long to see each other. We talk over the phone almost every day.

How would I feel if my wife fell in love with someone else and the tables were turned? I’d be a bit upset, but I’d get over it. My reasoning is that just like my wife cannot satisfy all my emotional needs, I cannot do the same for her. It’d be justified for her to seek that out in someone else, so she can be happy. Just like I found someone else to supplement what I have with my wife.

There’s also this weird thing. Both Q and I are normally accepting with each other’s spouses, there are times when we feel jealous and upset if either of us talks about an intimate moment with our spouse. But we quickly reason it out and get back to normal.

So, help. Am I poly[am]? Should I come out in the open? What about Q? What should she do?

There are a few things in this letter I want to point out:

  • Polyamory as the solution
  • Meeting emotional needs
  • Assumptions and cheating

Polyamory as the solution

There are a lot of people who believe that polyamory is the solution to infidelity. I see this jokingly referred to sometimes when there is a love triangle in a popular television show. Relationship broke? Polyamory. But I often wonder if people are genuinely interested in being polyamorous or non-monogamous, or if they just want permission to have their affair without having to hide it. And there’s a big difference.

People can and do fall in love with others regardless of whether or not they are monogamously oriented. Whether or not one considers themselves naturally oriented towards polyamory or not, you have to make an active choice in your life to date multiple people and to do so ethically. It’s not the kind of thing one usually finds themselves accidentally falling into. I’m of the opinion that in choosing polyamory or non-monogamy, you should do a lot of soul searching to try and figure out what kind of partnerships you want, whether or not you want to have a domestic partner or not, and how you envision things will be. This could change of course, but it’s good to know what you want out of it before you jump in.

You and Q haven’t thought about this. You’re not really interested in polyamory, or at least that’s not the intention you’ve expressed. You’re interested in having the ability to maintain your affair. There’s not a consideration or thought process as to how, if your spouses were okay with it, that would change your lives and how you would manage your time. There’s not a thought process as to how you would handle it if one person’s spouse was fine but the other person’s spouse wasn’t. You’re caught up in giddy love and new relationship energy, and possibly the hidden-ness of it all, that you’re not thinking about what this is realistically going to mean.

I’m not sure what type of setup you have with your wife, but you’ve been married for 24 years and have two children. It stands to reason that you have some physical ties with each other. What’s going to happen to those? What about retirement? What if Q’s spouse gets a job on the other side of the country and wants to take Q and move away? I think that you need to really have a good realistic look at your relationship with Q, what it means and how it’s supposed to work with your current relationship before you even begin to suggest polyamory. Which leads me to the next point you brought up.

Meeting emotional needs

You state that your wife ‘cannot satisfy all of your emotional needs’ and visa versa. While I totally understand the thought process behind the idea of telling people that no one person can always meet another person’s needs completely — this is really a polyamory parrot line that needs a gigantic ‘Your Milage May Vary’ attached to it.

My great grandmother was married and had 8 children with my great grandfather and when he died, she never remarried and always claimed she was still married to him. Many people are in monogamous partnerships for their entire lives — and it works for them. For many people, one person does meet all of their emotional needs. Whether or not someone meets your emotional needs depends greatly on not only how much that person is giving, but also how much any one individual may need. You have children, so I’m sure you know that no two children are the same. One may need more support than the other and it really depends.

While I’m not going to tell you what your own emotional needs are, I would really hazard you against making the assumption that just because you are in brand new puppy love now, doesn’t indicate that your spouse is incapable of meeting your emotional needs. Especially because this is a very classic case of new relationship energy. There is always a honeymoon phase of a relationship where the newness is no longer as novel. That doesn’t mean there is no value in the relationship, but it’s just part of the natural change and adaptation we make around people. Your current new love with Q will, just like any new relationship, stop being new at some point and begin to be similar to your relationship with your current spouse.

You’re also making the assumption that your spouse has the same emotional needs that you do and she may not. She may be perfectly fine with your relationship. It may be that if you were non-monogamous and focusing your new energy onto someone new that she may need some other emotional support from others if you’re no longer providing that. But you don’t know what her emotional needs are and it’s safer, especially since she’s never indicated (at least in what you wrote) that she has a problem with your current relationship, that she’s unsatisfied.

Assumptions and cheating

Another mistake you’re making here is assuming you would not have any problems with your current spouse dating other people. You won’t really fully know how you’re going to react until you’re put in this situation. It’s easy to think you’re going to be okay with things when you’ve never actually been put in that situation. I often find within polyamory that you can be fine with something at one moment but then things can change.

You don’t say in your letter whether or not you’ve slept together or whether this is something that you want to do in the future. It’s pretty clear since you and Q both feel you have to hide this relationship from your spouses that, even if you weren’t sleeping together or kissing, something you’re doing is something you don’t think your spouses would approve of and therefore, at least in my criterion, it is potentially cheating. But the question I would put forth to you both is that, while it’s clear you want to see each other more, how critical is that need?

If this is a situation where you both enjoy speaking with each other, are in love, and aren’t physically violating any of the boundaries or things you agreed upon with your partners, why not just continue to have this close friendship and love with one another and get on with your lives? Why does this necessarily have to develop into a ‘relationship’ and what would that entail? I feel like we put a lot of assumptions and expectations on romantic feelings and the idea that they inevitably have to lead somewhere when they can just exist and we can be happy with them without it having to develop.

Before you approach the discussion of whether or not you are polyamorous or not, I think you need to figure out what being polyamorous means for you. I think you need to ask yourself if you are willing to sacrifice this 24 year relationship and your family to test that theory. Because if your spouse is not happy for you to be polyamorous and Q’s spouse is, you could find yourself without the strong base of emotional support you have now with Q being unable to actually meet that need.

Ultimately this is a question I cannot fully answer for you. People can and do grow apart all of the time. I don’t think this is about being polyamorous. It may just be that you’ve fallen in love with someone new and you would rather be in that relationship than your current one. Polyamory really should be a dedicated choice, not a means of you being able to keep your affair and your spouse at the same time. Because polyamory means that your spouse has the freedom to explore her options as well and that may not be what you entirely mean when you say you want to be polyamorous.

Overall, my suggestion is for you and Q to do some soul searching. Figure out what you actually want to do, figure out how much this relationship between you is ‘worth’ and how much you’re willing to sacrifice to have it. And most importantly, if you’re going to continue to have an affair, be willing to accept the consequences of what this means down the road for your spouses.

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.

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When reassurance means denial

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.

My wife and I sat down after our one year anniversary, and she advised me that she has always been polyamorous and wanted to experience this part of herself. I am a monogamist, and even though I do not fully understand this, I told her that I was willing to be understanding and trusting while she does this. She has met someone, and they have a good connection, and a lot in common.

I guess I have this stupid fear that I am not good enough anymore and she can find someone that is on the “same wavelength” that she is. It has been very hard on me, I feel okay for a little bit, and then some negative feeling gnaws at me and makes me sad, angry and jealous all over again. I am finally going to seek therapy to assist me in dealing with my demons.

My wife has told me that this is not something that she wants to do for the rest of her life (as we have decided to have children soon), and that this part of her will only make us stronger. We will be able to communicate better, and have a stronger bond. She has always been honest with me, and I know that we have been through so much in the two years that we have been together. I want her to be who she is, and I accept all of her, because I love and do not want to lose her.

Also to note, my wife has never made me doubt her love for me. She said that she married me because i am her life partner, and I am her life and that she loves me a lot. I just cannot understand why I am constantly seeking unnecessary reassurance from her all the time and causing a rift between us.

Can you please give me some advice that may just give me some ease while i deal with this? How long until it gets easier? What recommendations do you have for someone that is really trying to make this work? Your input would be greatly appreciated.

There are a couple things here I want to address:

  • Polyamory as an identity
  • Misconception of monogamy as ‘stable’
  • Not being ‘good enough’ in non-monogamy

Polyamory as an identity

The thing I find as slightly odd here is that your wife has said that she has ‘always been polyamorous’ but yet she knows that ‘this is not something that she wants to do for the rest of her life’. This strikes me as odd.

Polyamory, from what I’ve gathered, can be a core aspect of someone’s identity. They can feel like it’s part of who they are. I’m not one of those people. I could theoretically do monogamy, I just really don’t want to. And certain aspects of monogamous culture which aren’t necessarily inherent in monogamy (such as not being able to flirt or show interest in other people) would feel ridiculous to me.

I don’t want to assume that your wife can’t be the type of person who feels naturally inclined towards polyamory while at the same time feeling like monogamy is do-able for her, but she can’t do it if she never gets the chance to do polyamory. It’s possible that her expression of wanting to try polyamory at this point does really reflect the fact that she wants to spend the rest of her life with you in a monogamous partnership because she’s keen to try something new and doesn’t want to end up resentful or regretful that she didn’t.

However, in her attempt to reassure you, I feel like she’s not really being honest with herself about the uncertainty that lies ahead. She may think that she’s just going to try polyamory and she can go back to monogamy when you’re ready to have kids, but she cannot guarantee that. She cannot guarantee that she will want to return to monogamy. She can feel like that is likely, but I do feel like she’s over-reassuring you to the point where she’s giving you reassurance about things which she cannot possibly predict or know.

Part of being honest is also being honest about what you don’t know or predict. It’s really important within non-monogamy, and within life in general, for us to be honest about what we don’t know and what is unpredictable. So many people avoid doing this because it’s scary. Right now, your relationship is changing and you want to feel stable and your partner is trying to provide that to you but the reality is that she can’t.

But the good news brings me to my next point.

Misconception of monogamy as ‘stable’

People assume quite often that monogamy is ‘stable’, which makes sense. It’s culturally reinforced and encouraged. We believe that when we’ve married someone and committed our life to them and they are committed to us that things are ‘stable’ and ensured. The truth is though that just because we’ve committed to someone and they’ve committed to us doesn’t mean things can’t change.

The only thing constant and for sure is change. Your partner could change her mind today about trying polyamory and then in a year, she could still meet someone new, fall in love, and then decide to end your relationship. People can meet new people and fall in love at any time, monogamous or not. Nothing can really stop that. So I would challenge you to re-examine what assumptions you may have accidentally made about monogamy.

Yes, things are changing now with regards to your relationship, but things are going to change anyway. That is guaranteed. Children will most certainly change your life in ways you can’t understand right now. Regardless of the strength of the bond you hold, one of you could pass away or become disabled and need more care. Nothing is guaranteed. And I think that sometimes we get caught up in seeing polyamory as such a threat because it means our partner is dating other people and therefore might leave us, that we don’t realise that just because your partner isn’t dating or looking for other people, doesn’t mean they won’t find anyone and leave you.

Along with recognising that nothing is certain, you also need to embrace the idea that this change is going to scare you — and that is okay. You mention getting therapy to ‘deal with your demons’ but these are not demons. These are completely logical and understandable feelings that come with a change in your life and trying something new. You’re going to be sad, angry and jealous. There is nothing wrong with you.

I do believe seeking therapy is still always a good option because it’s good to have a third party to help you work through your emotions, but don’t assume you will *get rid* of your emotions. That’s not the same thing. Your emotions are part of you. And they exist to help keep you safe, as silly as they see, now. Pain isn’t weakness leaving the body. Pain is the body making you aware that you might hurt yourself seriously. And in this regard, your brain is helping you realise that this does have the potential to change your life and you may lose your relationship with your partner.

What is important to do is embrace your feelings, don’t beat yourself up for them and be honest with your partner about your fears. Find ways to work through them but allow yourself permission to have them. Being afraid to lose your wife does not mean you don’t accept her. But try to remember that losing her is something you ultimately do not control. Which brings me to my next point.

Not being ‘good enough’ in non-monogamy

One of the major things people don’t understand about polyamory is how jealousy doesn’t happen because they assume there is a ‘competition’ between partners. There is an unhealthy aspect about a monogamous culture that encourages people to see finding a romantic partner as a ‘competition’. I think this has historically been fuelled by capitalism and the very real fact that marriage has been about consolidating power and exchanging property for a good long while. Not to mention, companies can sell more products to you if they make you believe that buying their product will get you a partner and therefore happiness.

But I want you to step outside of this for a second and flip the script. Did you choose your wife because she was the ‘best’ person? Did you choose her because she was ‘better’ at everything than all other people? All people have positive and negative attributes. And, as I said before, the only thing constant is change and that’s true also for people. We should and do continue to change and grow as people. You will not be the exact same person you are now in 5 years.

What makes a relationship constructive isn’t that both people are the best people in the world with the best skills and the best bodies and the best lives, as much as fairy tales would have us believe. What makes a relationship constructive is whether or not people, with their positives and negatives, ultimately create something that benefits them more overall. Relationships should not be stagnant things that are crystallised, perfect and sit under glass glistening and being admired by the world. Relationships should grow, twist, turn, burn, rot, sprout, reach towards the sun and run deep into the soil. They are dirty, twisting, confusing, complicated and imperfect things, as we are people.

Your anxiety is there because it is trying to give you some semblance of control in a world you cannot control. Your relationship is changing, you feel unstable and you feel scared so your animal brain in all of it’s brilliance and complexity, is saying “But if you’re perfect, then your partner won’t leave you”. It’s giving you the false notion that there is a way you can ensure that what you’re afraid of doesn’t happen.

And, in its own fucked up way, it’s trying to help you. If you’re in a terrible, sad situation, having some hope is better than none. If you’re a neglected child whose parents don’t care about you, thinking getting straight As will change your parent’s behaviour gives you hope. If you’re a woman afraid of being raped or abused, thinking that wearing turtlenecks and never going out at night will change the behaviour of rapists gives you hope. There are so many ways that our brains try to make sense of what is a chaotic world to try and help us manage it that sometimes it ‘helps’ in ways that are unhelpful.

This is not going to stop you from feeling afraid or jealous or sad. But when you accept that you are going to have these feelings, and you try and learn how to cope with them rather than get rid of them, you will be a lot happier overall than if you keep thinking you can exorcise these demons. These demons are apart of you and a part of us all.

Embrace the unknown

To sum up, I think that you and your partner should find a polyamory friendly therapist. I think your partner needs to stop reassuring you to the point of trying to predict the future. Both of you need to embrace the unknown here. She may decide polyamory is something she wants to do and she doesn’t want to be monogamous and you all need to think about what you’re going to do if that’s the case. Sometimes people, as much as they love each other and respect each other, grow apart. And that can and does happen with or without the element of polyamory being added to the mix.

Communicating better isn’t a given with polyamory. All being polyamorous is, is dating or trying to date more than one person at a time. No one has to complete a course to be polyamorous. Building better communication is something everyone in partnerships should do and I would not assume that a challenge like changing your relationship will always mean that you will and can rise to the challenge. Setting this as a challenge for you both to ‘complete’ isn’t going to help the pressure of the situation.

Embrace the fact that this is a change to your relationship and it may indeed cause some difficulties and be willing to embrace the emotions come with it. If you both force yourself into a situation where your relationship is not only changing but you have to put on a smile happy face and be okay with it all (or else you don’t accept your wife or want her to be who she is) you’re going to crack from the pressure. Your relationship does not have to be neat and clean. No one is coming to inspect it. Allow yourselves to be honest in a way that allows you to be messy because that’s how people are. As long as you’re not causing harm to one another, you’re allowed to have feelings.

I hope that helps and good luck!

Note: I wrote this column in 2017, 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.