Episode 58: Sexual Incompatibility

After more than a decade, your partner wants to open up because he’s not happy, but you think things are going too fast. What do you do?

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

Discussion Topic: How much detail do you want to know?

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

Episode 58 – Sexual Incompatibility

After more than a decade, your partner wants to open up because he’s not happy, but you think things are going too fast. What do you do? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website.

 

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

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

My husband of 5 years, and partner of 11 years, recently came to me and asked to see other people sexually.

He sat down and we had a conversation about it where he hit me with a lot of reasons for wanting this and said he was scared to ask me. He said he felt sexually frustrated because when we got together he was mostly a top and I am also. I have tried to be versatile in many ways, but he is rather large. I have tried to use toys and devices to practice to make it easier or even pleasurable, but I can’t manage to. I just receive no pleasure from it. He said he felt betrayed and lied to. He said ultimately it wasn’t fair.

On top of that we never seem to be “in the mood” at the same time since we work different schedules. When he said these things it hurt to find out this way and that he’s been feeling this. I told him I didn’t like the idea and I was uncomfortable with this, but I would think about it and it’s not an easy decision for me. He said it’s not an ultimatum and that he won’t divorce me over it or anything, but deep down I’m still afraid he might since he brought divorce up.

You see he’s asked me for a divorce in the past and then changed his mind when I started to pack my things to move out, he broke down and said he didn’t want to lose me. He wanted to get a divorce but still live together and be in each others lives romantically and sexually. He told me then that he was feeling we had become friends and grown apart romantically. It hurt to hear him say that since I felt that we had become more than that not less. Ultimately I love him and want to make him happy, so I agreed to the divorce and when he changed his mind I agreed to stay.

I thought about it for a few days and told him I don’t like the idea and I am uncomfortable, but if it’s what he needs and makes things feel fair then we can do what he needs. He said for it to be fair we should both have the option, I said ok but told him I probably never would because of how I feel about it. I did ask him to think about some ground rules and guidelines and get back to me on what he thinks.

Less than a day later he is already “going out” (his way of not telling me he’s going to have sex with someone else) and has not even talked to me again about the subject let alone the ground rules I asked him to think about. The entire time he was gone I was a mess of emotions, I tried to distract myself with tv, video games, music, anything I could think of really. When one hour turned into two then three then four then five it got progressively worse and harder to even find a momentary distraction.

Nothing worked and all I could do was think about how I wasn’t enough for him. Would he want anything more from me than to take care of the house and clean up and cook and help pay bills? Would he be asking for that ever looming divorce when he realises he no longer wants or needs me for anything or falls for someone he’s with? Have I failed in this relationship? Have I not done enough, or shown enough affection over the years? By the time he came home over seven hours later I was emotionally exhausted and unable to sleep in our bed so I was trying to sleep elsewhere.

He wanted to talk and cuddle and tell me about it. By this time trying to sleep where I was was causing my back to hurt and I told him I was tired and hurting and needed to alone for a while. He went to his office and waited for me start to fall asleep then came back and tried to cuddle, when that woke me up he tried to talk to me again about his night out. I couldn’t emotionally process anything at the time so I again told him I needed some time and to let me come to terms with the new situation and we could talk later. He wound up getting mad at me and stormed off to bed.

I can only imagine that most of this is due to the fact that he’s asked for a divorce in the past and it feels like a guillotine hanging over me waiting to fall at any point in an argument. I want to make him happy and give him everything he needs to be happy and satisfied and feel fulfilled in his life. I have made many sacrifices over the years both in and out of our relationship. So if a sacrifice is what’s necessary from me I can do that with ease. I guess my questions come down to, does it get easier? What can I do to support him while not destroying myself? How do I learn to cope with this new situation?

Extra information:

When we got together and got to the point of discussing sex he said he was a bottom that occasionally liked to top, and I said I was a top and I had tried bottoming before and didn’t really like it but I would try for him. So throughout the years he was bottom and I was top, and I would try to bottom for him occasionally but it never really worked out, it was too painful for me or I didn’t seem to enjoy it so he couldn’t stay aroused. I have tried to use dildos and plugs to work up to it, but ultimately if I could I didn’t receive any pleasure from it.

Yes, he has accommodated my topness. When we got together, at least to me, I thought I was clear I was a top and it sounded to me that he was mostly a bottom. It seems to me that over the years he has become more top than bottom in desires than when we met, or didn’t want to “mess things up” by saying the wrong thing in the beginning of the relationship. That was part of the reason I was hurt to find out this way and that he had apparently (since he said he was always mostly a top) been holding onto this feeling for so long.

He says he loves me and wants to come home to me and enjoys our sex and doesn’t want any of it to change, but he just needs to be able to top more than bottom.

Response:

So the biggest issue that is coming out for me here first and foremost is that when you did when he did ask for a divorce. You both had such different perspectives of the relationship and that is a really really really huge red flag. Before we even get into all of the details about whether or not you should, or how you should be comfortable with him sleeping with other people, the fact that you’re on such different pages is a huge red flag. And that really really needs to be addressed.

If one person in a relationship feels like you’re just friends and another person feels like you’re even closer than you were before, that is a big problem. So you’re not really on the other page. The second problem here, and this is going to get in the way, not just of, if you both decide to open your relationship up a little bit more and it sounds like you kind of already have, and it’s already becoming a problem. There is a really huge lack of communication here and that is kind of what leads to the first problem.

But if he failed to communicate from the beginning and you’ve been together for 15 years. And he’s failed to communicate all of this time that this isn’t sexually what he wants, that doesn’t really bode well. And the fact that you know you open the relationship and you wanted to set some ground rules — and I’ll get to the concept of rules in a second — but you communicated that you’re going to try it but you wanted to have a little bit more discussion and his first reaction is to immediately go out for a very very long period of time.

And not only do that but then come home, and then you are emotionally distraught. You ask to just be given some space, and he doesn’t give you that space and then gets mad at you when you are expressing that you are uncomfortable. That is a huge, huge problem. That to me doesn’t bode well. And he has to be able to not only communicate his wants and his needs but he also has to be able to respect your space, and he has not really shown that here. And that’s what really really worries me about the situation.

I think that it’s understandable for him to feel like the situation has been unfair. I don’t think it’s fair to say that you’ve been unfair because you communicated from the very beginning what your preferences are. You have attempted to do your best to accommodate him. It hasn’t really worked for you. I don’t think it’s necessarily fair for you to sit there and do something which is not pleasurable at all for you. I think that that’s a bit much to ask. But you have always tried to be extremely clear in your communication. He has hidden his preference it seems like.

And then he doesn’t really communicate very well with you so that is a huge problem. Let me address first before I go on to anything else the concept of “ground rules”. Now, you are understandably worried and scared that you’re going to be replaced by someone who is more of his sexual preference and that is a valid fear, and there’s all sorts of these other things like, you know, is he going to fall for somebody else? This that and the other, have I not been enough? These are all very typical feelings that people have.

And usually when people have these feelings, the first thing that they try to do is address them by making what you called “ground rules” and boundaries. I do think that there are important boundaries and things to discuss about opening up your relationship, especially because that isn’t one thing. And sometimes you need to establish, you know, what time are you going to spend with other people? What time are you going to spend with me? What do you want this open relationship to look like? There’s a lot to discuss.

And I do also think that sometimes when people have all these fears they want to create rules like “You’re only going to love me and nobody else” and I don’t think that’s helpful. I think that’s reassuring in the moment, but at the end of the day, whether you’re open or closed, he can fall in love with somebody else and you can’t prevent that with a rule. You can’t prevent that with the rule of monogamy let alone with any rule that you set up within the standard of an open relationship. So I think that, your first instinct to say, “let’s create some rules” is probably founded in that fear, which is very understandable.

When you open your relationship, it isn’t an upgrade. It is a complete change to how you do the relationship. And not only is it a complete change but he’s basically told you that he’s been unhappy for a very very long time. And so there’s a whole lot of processing that you have to go through in terms of why did I not see it? There’s a lot there that needs to be addressed. Essentially, this has been an issue for a long time and he hasn’t communicated that so it’s almost like you have to rebuild foundations of trust with one another.

And so while you’re doing this, you can’t really do that if he is unwilling to at least discuss things with you first or give you a little bit of time or give you a little bit of space. Those are really really big things and the fact— the thing that really worries me about this, is the fact that when you clearly — and I don’t know how clearly. Maybe you were more upset at the time, understandably. The first night is honestly always a shitty night. I would have told you if you asked me before that night, how should I prepare? I would have said, “You’re gonna feel terrible” because it’s sort of— that is pretty much going to happen.

I think it’s very rare that somebody doesn’t feel terrible when this sort of thing happens so I would have told you to be ready for that. I just think that even so he could have, the second you said “Hey, I need some time, I need some space. Please give me some space”, he should have been like, “Okay, I’ll give you that space”. And the fact that he got angry and stormed off because you asked for space is really really concerning and that is the thing that worries me.

Now, the other thing and the last thing before I kind of will get into summarising my advice here that you also need to worry about is you are saying, “I’ve given the sacrifices. I’ve done this. I’ve done that”. You need to make sure that you are taking care of yourself. Because here’s the thing about sacrifices. A lot of times and all relationships, typically, you know will often require some type of sacrifice in some points depending on how long they are. Maybe they won’t.

It’s not completely unusual for there to be some sacrifice in a relationship. However, you need to be able to have that in a way that doesn’t create resentment. And the problem with this kind of attitude of like, “Okay, I’ve sacrificed so much. I can do one more sacrifice”, is that if you feel like you’re always giving and giving and giving to someone who doesn’t give back to you, that will create resentment. That will become a problem.

As much as you want to give a gift, and have it be a gift, the thing of it is is that if it is a situation where you feel like “Okay, I’ll give up this. Okay, I’ll give up that” and you really don’t want to, you’re just doing it to keep this person. Inevitably, you’re going to want basically repayment in kind for the things that you’ve sacrificed, even if you don’t think so now, it does have a way of creating this resentment.

And the thing that I worry about here is that you are so focused on his happiness that you aren’t really focusing on your happiness. I mean in a way you have had your topness needs filled by him and a lot of ways so that’s not an issue. But that doesn’t mean that you know you have no other needs, and that he should be able to behave the way that he’s behaved. So just make sure that you’re actually taking care of yourself. And that you’re finding ways to support yourself because even if he hadn’t behaved this way, even if he had been giving you space and been more receptive and understanding to your situation, you are still going to need that ability to take care of yourself because it’s going to be difficult.

You’re going to go through a lot of stuff in terms of being afraid of loss, all that sorts of things so you need that ability to take care of yourself. And you also need the ability to understand like… they call it in the UK they call it an MOT when you kind of like get your car checked up. But I don’t know if that’s what they call it in other places. I don’t drive so…. Can you do a check up on your relationship?

Are you satisfied with your relationship or are you in a sunk cost fallacy where basically you feel like you’ve given so much to this relationship that  you would kind of essentially lose all of your investments in the sacrifices you’ve made? And you don’t want to lose that so that’s why you’re staying in it. That’s never really good reason to stay in a relationship.

So it’s really important that you ask yourself, “Am I really happy in this relationship? Are things really going well for me in this relationship?” That’s really important to— even though there is a bit of a mismatch in terms of your wants and desires. That doesn’t mean that you get, you know, because you’re getting your needs filled as a top that you don’t have any other needs or that you’re completely satisfied,

With all that in mind, I think that the thing that you should do in terms of how you approach this—  I’m willing to understand if his reaction to you needing space, and his sort of jumping at the chance to go sleep with somebody else. I’m willing to understand that as a first timer error, and just you know him being excited because he has been with you for a long time. He’s really been unsatisfied for a long time, which isn’t your fault.

So maybe he did get a little bit too excited. I think that first thing you need to do is find a polyamory friendly couples therapist and talk about first and foremost, the issue with the divorce, and you two being on completely separate pages, when it comes to how you thought your relationship was going because that is really a problem and that is going to be a source of anxiety and fear for a long time.

I don’t necessarily think that it’s the divorce that sort of hanging over your head like a guillotine. I think it’s the fact that when he did ask for divorce you were on such different pages, and that created understandably a heck of a lot of anxiety for you. Because essentially it came out of nowhere, so what you’re afraid of is not necessarily a divorce. It’s that it will come out of nowhere. So you have to kind of address that first and foremost with each other.

Work on your communication issues. Have that discussion about… not necessarily ground rules. And always question your rules. Is this about preventing emotion? Preventing loss? Does this rule actually address the situation that it’s meant to address? Thinking about what your ideal relationship looks like— how will he go out and meet people? Is that something where he is actually going to develop relationships with other people?

What will you do if he starts to have emotions for somebody else? You know all this stuff are things that you both need to have a talk about, and he needs to be able to do that without, you know, getting frustrated and upset and having a therapist there can sometimes help with that. Also, maybe he needs to come to a better understanding of how to give you a little bit of space when you need it. I understand that it’s frustrating. You know when you want to tell your partner — maybe what he wanted to tell you, was that “Hey this can actually work!”.

And he is actually relieved because he was afraid you would have to break up but then it’s like, oh no I can go out. I can do this and then I can still come home and my partner still here and I’m really happy about that. It’s cool. It’s great that he’s happy but you’ve just sat there for like seven hours and understandably been freaked out and you need some space, so you need to work out things like that together.

I would say it does get easier in terms of those kind of raw emotions and that fear. It definitely does get easier when you rebuild that trust together, but you have to be able to communicate well in terms of “this is my boundary” or allowing yourself to sit in the discomfort and see that he’s still there and he’s not going anywhere. But you have to address that ultimate issue of the fact that you didn’t know that divorce was coming because if you didn’t know, if you had no inkling, then that just tells you that something else could be around the corner without you knowing and that is what is going to freak you out the most.

Also, last but certainly not least, just as a reminder, you have to be able to support and take care of yourself and maybe you should see a therapist on your own about your willingness to sacrifice things. I’m not saying that no one should sacrifice anything in a relationship at all. I do think that sometimes you know we make compromises and that’s okay. But you can’t be the person that’s always sacrificing, always sacrificing because as much as you might think now, “Oh I’m absolutely fine with this. I just want to make my partner happy,” if you are not being satisfied or if it’s not mutual, resent will build.

And that isn’t necessarily about you being a bad person. I’m a sacrificer too. So I totally understand. And it can feel really hard because later on you’re like, “Shit I gave up all this stuff and I’ve been trying so hard and working so hard and nothing is coming of it”. And then you almost feel like, “Am I secretly manipulative and passive aggressive? Did I only just give this person or did I only just work this hard to get something in return?” It can be really hard. It can be really difficult.

There’s lots of fucked up ness about it. I do think people can be naturally giving and naturally sacrificing and I don’t think that just because you end up in a situation where someone isn’t giving you the support that you need, it doesn’t mean you gave with the expectation that they were going to return— I mean everyone should have that returned to them by someone that they care about. It’s not manipulative to give something in a relationship and expect that that person will also be there to support you and be sad when they’re not.

But that sacrifice thing is a doozy and you need to be able to be really introspective about, “I’m going to sacrifice this with the caveat and know that okay— at what point am I going to say I’m done giving. I am not being supported in this relationship— And this isn’t necessarily about how much I’ve given—“ although that will absolutely frustrate you. But, “I am not being supported in this relationship so I need to start giving to myself”. And that’s really important for you to remember and for you to work on.

Right, yeah. I think I’ve summarised all the points. I don’t think it’s completely lost. I do think that if your partner continues on this path of just doing whatever, not talking to you about it and also getting mad at you for wanting to have your space, that is really not a good sign and then you really need to think about whether this is going to work. Because I think if everything was perfect and you had a partner who got angry at you for putting down a boundary and saying that “I need space and I need time,” that’s just a bad sign overall.

And not a good sign. Even if he were like, “Okay, fine I’ll never sleep with anybody else. We’re closing this up”, the fact that he got mad when you said, “I need space” is a huge problem and so if that happens again, you definitely need to think about other options unfortunately.

I hope that helps and good luck.

Episode 57: Begging For Time

You’ve started in a new triad but you’re feeling like the third wheel and no one is spending time with you. What do you do?

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

Discussion Topic: What is a gift you’ve been given that’s made you cry?

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

Episode 57 – Begging For Time

You’ve started in a new triad but you’re feeling like the third wheel and no one is spending time with you. What do you do? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website.

 

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

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

Hello. I’m a 27 year old bisexual female who has been in a monogamous relationship for almost 2 years and we have been close for almost 5 years.

We both are Aquariuses and born the same year 2 days apart. We have been traveling homeless together for years and finally got together. We bonded right away because we are so much alike.

After almost 2 years, we recently met a girl who is really cute and down to earth. Me being bisexual, I want to have sex with a woman and the way I see it if I’m in a relationship with a man, if i have sex with a woman so does he.

So I met a girl who accepts both of us who we both like a lot but she had a boyfriend at the time. She is now single so recently we fooled around one time.

Two days later they decided they want her in our relationship. I instantly felt hurt. I agreed out of my love for him and out of curiosity because I have never been in a polyamorous relationship.

But I also told them I don’t know how it will go or how I will feel being that I’m very insecure and emotionally unpredictable. I believe that I have borderline personality disorder. So I constantly am either very mad, very sad, or very happy.

This has been going on for a month now and they are constantly in each-other’s space always making out or loving on each-other or finding ways to be alone but I am not getting the same love or affection. It feels that me and her are sharing him.

I am fine when we are all together or when me and him or me and her are together but when they are alone which is a lot of times they are constantly running to the store together or going to take a nap together or finding any way they can to be alone and it leaves me sitting in the living room alone.

Every time I feel very upset and often lash out or cry. I try to vocalise my feelings to them and somehow I’m selfish or I need to get over it. That I’m just insecure and need to calm down.

The last 3 days I’ve been asking him to have alone time with just me. Alone time with my partner that I have had for the last 2 years! And we work at home, so when she’s at work we are working.

The second she gets home he spends the entire time following her all around (we live at her house until we find our own place). So I’ve been trying to get him alone for 3 days. I’ve been on shark week for about 4 days so they have been having sex without me since I started. Also we switch off who sleeps at night together.

Day 1

I asked if we could have some time he said yes after work. She’s at work. Then once we got work done she requested he spends time with her. So he does…. I am left sitting alone. I got upset they told me I’m being irrational and need to stop. I cry. I’m still alone. We all go to bed together.

Day 2

She’s at work. I ask again. He says after work. So we work till 7 pm. We finally are done she asks him if he will go drive with her to a friends. He does. Again I’m on the back burner sitting here alone… He tells me we when he gets back we will. He promised me the 2nd day that we would. We never did. Me and him go to bed and I try to have sex. He lays there like a dead fish. No effort. I got upset and told him to at least pretend he is enjoying this. He said she’s sleeping. He doesn’t wanna be loud. He told me to get off of him. We went to bed.

Day 3

I ask to spend some time just us. He says yes. We finish working and fall asleep. When we wake up I ask again. He gets irritated and says I’m bothering him. At 2am they go to bed together, I asked them not to have sex until he keeps his promise. They get irritated but agree.

Today is Day 4.

Me and him slept in until she got home. I didn’t ask again today. Yesterday he mentioned in front of her that I’m bothering him about it and she chimed in that if I leave him alone he might try harder.  We woke up. He instantly went to the living room to give her attention didn’t even say good morning to me. She took a nap after work.

Hours later still nothing. I took a shower with him. We tried for a whole 2 minutes. He got soft. We got out of the shower and he said after we get out the shower but she’s sleeping. So she wakes up and she asks him to shower with her. They have sex even tho we have not still! And he tells me its ok. Don’t get mad. This is what you always do. So they fuck and its 3am and we still haven’t.

She’s now going to bed which means he wont want to. They’re talking about how we should try again in the shower and they don’t want a mess on the futon. I don’t know what to do. I feel like I’m being ran over. It was my relationship to begin with. She has made no effort towards me but is infatuated towards him.

Response:

So, okay, there’s a lot going on here.

Honestly, why are you with these people? I want to be delicate about this situation but it’s really really horrible. This is a really horrible situation. Really horrible. You’re being treated terribly here. I know that there is a kind of midway point between you know — people can overreact.

People can have very insecure, very instant emotional reactions to things especially in polyamory. Especially when there’s this attempted triad situation and it feels like there’s not a balance of time being spent between both people. But you don’t respond to that, by gaslighting somebody,

So it can be possible that two types of realities exist where, yes this person is having an intense emotional reaction that maybe they could learn to regulate themselves a little bit more and therefore not react so emotionally to the situation, because they are in a situation where they’re actually safe and they’re thinking that not safe while also — yes maybe we need to have a bit more of a talk about things and work things out.

You could be in a situation where this whole entire situation can be different and he could be spending equal amounts of time with you as you would with this person and you still get very upset. He still would be unjustified in saying that you’re irrational and that you just need to get over it.

That’s not an acceptable response, even if you are being irrational. Because people don’t regulate their nervous systems or learn to calm down or learn to trust or learn to feel safe with people who are basically telling them that they are being ridiculous. That’s not a response that helps anybody come to terms with a situation, and that may be how he feels and it may be frustrating for him, and that’s fine too. But in this situation in particular, you’re not overreacting at all.

You’re basically being ignored. You’re basically being completely rejected constantly and a certain amount of rejection will happen in any relationship. Most people are not going to always match up exactly when it comes to wanting to spend time together, when it comes to having sex. Two people aren’t always going to have matching identical desires so rejection is normal and will happen. That is fine.

However, when you’re constantly being rejected, not only for sexual things but also just for time spent with somebody that is going to impact you. And you’re going to be upset by that. And that is perfectly valid. And I think that the things that you need to ask yourself first and foremost — do you want to be with someone who you have to beg for them to spend time with you?

I feel this so hard, because I don’t know what kind of environment that you grew up in or what kind of situations you were around. But for me, I always felt like, if somebody wasn’t calling me names or beating me up, they were a good partner and that’s what a good partner was, and I always thought that anything that I wanted was an add on. Anything that I wanted wasn’t standard or acceptable.

And so I had, not this situation, but I had a similar situation where I was with somebody that I felt like every time I tried to ask them to spend time with me, or hang out with me or anything they would react with disgust, or frustration, or they just obviously didn’t want to spend any time with me. And because it wasn’t an overt rejection or an overt dumping, I put up with that for a very very long time.

Because I thought maybe if I just ask them right or hit them at the right time or if I— you know. I blamed myself for that reaction instead of realising, hey, do I want to be with somebody who isn’t enthused to spend time with me? No, I don’t. So, really think about that. You’re sitting there and even when it comes to sexual situations, you’re like “he could pretend to enjoy it”. Do you want someone who’s pretending? Do you really really want that?

Do you want someone who is with you out of some type of emotional manipulation or guilt, and who is pretending to like you? Do you really really want that? You don’t want to be around somebody who was only spending time with you because they promised, and all of the rules and situations like when you’re asking them not to have sex because he hasn’t had sex with you and he promised… while I totally get that, You’re not going to be able to fix his shitty behaviour by restricting what they do together.

And it’s not her responsibility or her fault that your boyfriend is behaving in this way, but she’s also not helping by basically contributing to your gaslighting by basically saying, “well maybe if you left him alone he would try harder” bullshit. Obviously, okay it’s fine for him to feel bothered by you if that’s how he feels. Okay he feels that way. But equally you need more time with him and if he doesn’t want to give you that, then he could also do something about that and he’s not.

Instead he’s telling you that you’re a irrational. Oh he keeps promising. Oh, we’ll do that we’ll spend time. This time we’ll spend time. He’s not being a grown up about it and going, “I don’t want to spend this time with you”. You know he could say that overtly to your face, instead he’s just pushing it off and pushing it off and then basically saying that you’re doing it wrong and that’s why he doesn’t want to spend time with you. Bullshit. Bullshit.

Ask yourself if these are the kind of people that you want to be in a relationship with? I know you’ve clicked with this person. You’ve been together for two years. Hopefully he hasn’t spent the entire relationship being this way but even if he hasn’t, he is now showing a side of himself that is really not great. If there’s any side of himself that’s basically going to

ignore you or treat you poorly then, do you really want to be with this person?

I think that there is an element and a part of, you know— you say you think you have borderline personality disorder. There probably is definitely things for you to work on in terms of feeling more secure, but this is like a perfect example of when I talked about how you can be the most secure person in the entire world, and have the best self esteem in the entire world. But if you’re with someone who’s treating you poorly, you’re still going to feel like crap. There’s no amount of self love, and, you know, self care that’s going to make up for being in a situation where someone is completely ignoring everything, and not treating you right which is what is happening here.

Of course there’s an element where you know you have some anxious attachment stuff going on, where you could work on that. But you need to work on that in an environment where you’re with someone who actually wants to be attached to you and someone who actually wants the best for you. You can’t fix that in a situation with people who don’t want the best for you or don’t care about you.

There’s a brilliant piece about— I don’t know if you’re familiar with nonviolent communication, but it’s a whole way of phrasing things that’s supposed to be really really helpful, and someone has pointed out how with nonviolent communication you assume that everyone who is communicating doesn’t mean any harm.

And how nonviolent communication can actually help abusive and horrible people because they do mean harm. And when you assume that they don’t mean harm, that is actually giving them a benefit of the doubt you shouldn’t give them. So you could work on all of these parts of yourself but you can’t do that in this environment. This is terrible, like I’m not saying he has to have sex with you every time you asked him to. I’m not saying yes to drop everything to spend time with you, but he needs to be better at communicating that he doesn’t want to and be more honest about that if that’s the case.

So then you can make a decision. “All right, do I really want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be around me?” This is such a bad situation. I feel so bad for you because you’re sitting here, begging for time for someone, and begging for attention from someone who is just like telling you not to get mad because he’s not meeting your needs and he’s also— this is like one of the most painful aspects that you can have in polyamory in my opinion and in my experience is seeing your partner give something to somebody else that you want from them that they refuse to give to you. That hurts so much.

That is so shit. And it’s so painful, and you’re sitting here watching him basically give time to her and give none to you. And that’s — ugh, don’t be in this situation. Honestly that’s my best advice. Leave, both of them. Both of them. This clearly isn’t a triad situation. Y ou didn’t even want to be in it to begin with. They just decided that this was a triad relationship, and no effort has been made on her part to form any kind of bond with you. So, just leave this situation.

It’s such a bad situation in so many ways that you deserve much much better than this. I feel so bad for you. This is horrible. You don’t deserver to be treated this way. This is absolutely terrible. These people— I’m sure that there are obviously positive sides to their personalities and, but this is a truly despicable way to treat somebody.

So to recap, ask yourself if you really want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you and who puts off being with you, who complains about being with you, who responds to your distress with annoyance and with gaslighting behaviour, basically telling you that you’re irrational. You can acknowledge and validate someone’s feelings in the moments even if they aren’t rational. If you feel like, “Oh, I think you’re gonna leave me”. Okay. You can, as a partner go, “It’s okay that you feel that way and I see that you feel that way. Here is why I’m not going to leave you. This is what I feel,” and, you know, that is a helpful response.

Saying you’re irrational and you’re just jealous and you’re just insecure and you just need to get over it. That is not a helpful response, regardless of whether or not someone is actually under threat of their partner leaving them. That’s not helpful regardless. Ask yourself if you want to be with someone who responds to your distress in that way, because that is rubbish.

And then, yeah. Last but not least, you deserve to be in a better situation than this, and you should absolutely leave because you didn’t want to be in a polyamorous relationship. This isn’t really a polyamorous relationship in my opinion. I’m not trying to be all no true Scotsman or anything but this isn’t— If you didn’t consent to it and you felt forced into it— It’s one thing to try polyamory because, and I think that you were open to the concept, but it just doesn’t sound like this was actually polyamory.

It just sounds like he wanted to be with this person, you know. Polyamory isn’t cheating with permission. That’s not what it is. This isn’t a situation that I would describe as polyamorous. This is highly unethical. And it’s hurting you. And you shouldn’t have to deal with that you should find someone who responds to your distress with empathy and compassion, who wants to spend time with you and who is excited to spend time with you. That’s what you deserve. You deserve someone who is ecstatic about spending time with you and you can find that and you will find that, but not with these two people.

So I hope that helps and good luck.

How to ask for reassurance

Much of the advice I have seen about dealing with jealousy in polyamorous relationships involves telling your partner so that you can communicate about it.

When I tell my long term partner I am jealous of him and his girlfriend it makes him very sad, and he begins to avoid me. We have had an open relationship for many years, but only late last year decided to try being poly[am] (he met another women he developed romantic feelings for).

How can I communicate to him that I am jealous and sometimes ask for his reassurance without making him feel bad? If this can’t be done, how else can I seek reassurance and/or learn to deal with my jealousy on my own? I don’t want my jealousy to be the cause of the end of our relationship.

I suppose it comes down to the reasons you’re feeling jealous and what in particular is sparking it. Obviously your partner is going to feel sad that you feel unhappy and feel pressure to end the other relationship to save you from pain, but a lot of times when people say they feel “jealous” this ends up covering a whole range of things that, in my opinion, aren’t actually jealousy.

You can address this by trying to break it down. What is it that you are actually feeling?

Wanting what you don’t have

To me, jealousy would be specifically that you want what he has — meaning that you want to have another relationship but don’t have one. If that is the case, I don’t know as that going to him for reassurance would actually be helpful. It’s sort of like if your partner had a stable, high paying job and you didn’t and you felt jealous of that. You’re allowed to feel things and may very well feel frustrated by that kind of thing, but going to them and saying, “I feel jealous of your luck or ability” might actually not help anything because there is nothing concrete they can really do.

If you wanted a relationship and were jealous of your partner having one in that sense, I would say that you should explore some of the reasons why you feel like you have to be in one, whether there are avenues in your life you may be able to receive more love and attention (even if it’s not romantic) and if you could see a therapist on your own to speak about some of what may be a justified unfairness. Especially if you have a partner who socially may find it easier to fit into many communities where you may be disadvantaged. Those are all things that would probably be more helpful than going to your partner and asking for reassurance.

Fear of being replaced

However, when most people say they “feel jealous” when they are trying polyamory, more often not, they are feeling a fear that their partner will leave them and they are seeking reassurance from their partner. I feel like, if your partner pulling away is exacerbating these feelings, then that might be what you’re actually feeling. Splitting hairs on the definition of “jealousy” aside, if this is what you’re feeling, assurance from your partner can help, but it may also help to identify and face your worst fears.

Unless you grew up in a different society, you were likely given very mono-centric messages growing up that endorse the concept of “the one”. We’re encouraged to see relationships, love and sex as a competitive sport we can only succeed at if we look a certain way or buy certain products. The style of monogamy that society wants us to live that puts romantic love above all else compounds the importance of this competition.

Even when we move away from monogamy, we can still feel like we can be “replaced” by a better model. And sometimes, in an effort to comfort us, people trying out polyamory can reflect these concepts through rules like, “I’ll only ever love anyone but you” or trying to reinforce the value of one relationship by devaluing others.

Recognising you grew up in a society that encourages you to compete with others and that it’s just not as simple as that is part of exposing that fear for what it is. Because, especially if you have gone through any kind trauma in your life, your brain will be wired for survival in such a way where it will encourage you to believe that if you behave in x, y, z ways, your partner will stay with you.

Facing what you can control

Mostly when people are jealous and scared in or out of polyamory, they’re afraid their partner will leave them for someone “better”. Polyamory makes this fear more pronounced because, well, your partner actually sleeping with or developing feelings for other people makes this look like a more likely scenario. But in reality, people fall in and out of love all of the time, regardless of whether they are polyam or not. People dump and leave people they have been with for decades, married to or had children with. There is very little you can do as an individual to completely prevent this.

It seems contradictory to throw your hands up and “give up” in a way and a lot of polyamory advice would encourage you to look inward and see your own inner value and recognise that you are unique and your partner has a good reason to be with you — and while I think there’s no harm in building your self esteem, the fact of the matter is this advice reinforces the idea that someone is with you because of an innate value you have and that, regardless of what it is, must be maintained to keep that person around.

It abates the fear you have that someone will leave you because you aren’t good enough. But instead of saying you’re good enough and great and why would anyone ever leave, maybe flip it on it’s head and ask yourself if you can really control whether or not someone leaves you? Obviously, you could choose to be a mean, cruel or just neglectful partner and someone will leave you — you can control your actions. But your actions aren’t always going to control other people’s emotions. Especially when they cannot always control their emotions.

Your partner can and should generally offer you reassurance that they love you especially on days when you’re feeling down, but also it helps to remind yourself that the responsibility to keep someone around doesn’t depend on what you have to offer them. You’re not a product for sale. You’re a person and you’re complex. And the last thing you want in your life if someone who refuses to see your complexity. When you remove the responsibility to entertain and keep someone around with your value from your shoulders, the anxiety you experience when you fear they may leave lessens.

In summary

So, to sum up, addressing jealousy greatly depends on what it is that you’re feeling. If you are actually craving another relationship and you’re frustrated your partner has one, finding a place to vent that frustration, focusing on the positive aspects of your relationship, and seeking some attention and love in other forms may help address that.

But if you’re feeling something else — such as the fear you will be replaced or your partner may stop loving you — realising what little control you have over that situation will probably help you stop fretting over how you can or can’t stop it. Even when it comes to coming to your partner for reassurance. While you need to be able to give your partner space and also not solely rely on him for all of your emotional reassurance, if he is the kind of person that wants someone who he doesn’t have to give any emotional reassurance to (which is really unrealistic) then you’re not going to be able to change that through your actions.

Figure out what specific things you’re afraid of and ask him to give reassurance based on that. Find other sources of comfort in your life where you can. Absolve yourself of the responsibility to keep people around. Accept that also he may feel sad about you being sad — and unless he’s threatened to leave you for that (in which case… not sure if you’d want to stay with someone who threatens that anyway), feeling sad may just be how he copes and it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to leave you because of it.

If therapy is accessible for you, seek out a polyamory friendly therapist to work on some of the emotional things you go through when you’re feeling at your lowest. Research a bit about nervous system regulation and attachment theory so you can identify things in your past that may be ringing alarm bells now. And last, but definitely not least, being okay with not being okay.

I wrote a bit more about this in detail when I wrote my polyamory introduction article and that might help, but overall it’s okay for you to feel anxious and scared. That doesn’t mean you can’t do polyamory and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.

I hope this helps and good luck.

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Getting over a partner’s sexual history

I am 34 years old, female and since more than 10 years I am in an open relationship with my boyfriend. We follow the concept of a “primary relationship” (so most of our daily life we live like a monogamous couple) but we are free to have external sexual contacts. Most of the time we meet people from our broader circle of friends and sometimes we meet people that have nothing to do with our hobbies or social surroundings.

Our relationship has a very solid ground, but (as you can imagine) the openness keeps us emotionally busy from time to time. Especially I am struggling with the classic feelings of jealousy, fear of loss, conflicts of consensus and so on. But I (and we) managed to conquer most of it and I am much more relaxed compared to our first years.

There are still many “construction sites” we need to work on, but there is not much which deeply makes me feel insecure when it comes to our future. Only this one thing keeps eating me from the inside (if that’s a correct English metaphor): the fact that my boyfriend had (and I assume also will have) a large number of female sex partners, I would say the double of what I experienced. And I am aware that neither will I turn him into a different person (like, a less sexual/attractive person) nor do I want to restrict his openness.

What makes me feel desperate is the simple fact that there are so many people out there in this city, who know how my boyfriend looks naked and what it feels to be in bed with him. It concerns me so much that I already evolved a type of paranoia. Sometimes I even look at people in the metro thinking “who knows, maybe even she was already in bed with him. Who even did not go to bed with him?”. It’s absurd, I know. And I am also aware that there is a notion of sex-negativity coming with it, that I can’t avoid.

Though I am exaggerating a bit, it is still true that many women surrounding us where in bed with him, and it is overwhelming me constantly (even though there is no current case), every time I think about it. It automatically leads to feelings like inferiority, helplessness and anger. It has the power to make me lose my ground, to feel insecure about my role or my place in our relationship until I am no longer able to feel why I am special or not in the place to be compared with others. It’s like I don’t know how to act or to think about that fact. I don’t find my position.

And so many times when I find out about “another name on the list” it just weakens me a lot and I would just like to feel indifferent about it. But the feeling is too strong that I feel beset, and that way too much people are too close to my life and my relationship. I think it’s not the problem that I cannot handle it at all, it just feels like it’s too much, that my patience is always challenged and that I don’t have enough “openness battery” to digest these informations.

In a way I feel so dumb and also “poor” being on his side, having to arrange myself with his quantity of intimate contacts. I think one big factor of the whole story is my strong strive for justice, balance and equality. In my head and heart it feels impossible to perceive our roles as equal when I have to face so many more people around us that have been sexually involved with him. In my ratio I know it has nothing to do with a number, but more with the way how we treat each other and so on. If I could make a wish I would like to have a recipe how to not take it personally that my boyfriend does what he does and how to feel unimpressed by all these women.

Long story short, until now I didn’t find any articles or podcasts referring to that problem. The question of not feeling devalued just because your partner has a large number of sexual contacts, that most of the time are part of our circle of friends. And let’s imagine the future will be different. Let’s imagine my partner will calm down a bit because of changing life circumstances (which truly is the current perspective), how can I arrange myself with his past?

How can I evolve a relaxed feeling about many people out there knowing my boyfriend in a sexual way? I simply don’t know how to find peace with this fact and I just want to be aware of it without getting deeply desperate every time I think about it for some minutes 🙁 I am talking to my therapist about it since some time and still we don’t find a way out. And also we are seeing a couple therapist since two months now and it’s great, he is great. But still, I was just asking him about my problem today and he didn’t have concrete ideas of how to help me out.

I hope I managed to make my point.. there is much more I could describe and tell you about, but I suppose in the core you know what I am talking about. Also it’s not that easy for me to express myself in English..

I would be really happy if you have some ideas or suggestions for me and maybe some reading advices. Because, being honest, until now your writings gave me the most satisfying perspectives. Because you seem to take everything into account, while being authentic and very close to the emotional reality of many people, without idealising anything. I like that 🙂

There are a variety of issues that are going on here. First, I want to say that it’s not necessarily completely unreasonable to feel insecure about the number of sexual partners your partner has had. There are a lot of cultural factors that would encourage you to feel this way in addition to some of the issues going on in your current relationship.

It’s worth remembering that, unless where you are located is wildly different, we are encouraged to see partnership as a competition where we consume to be “the best”. Even if you don’t logically believe this, you’ve likely had a lot of messages throughout your life telling you that you need to be X, Y, or Z in order to be attractive and gain a partner. For women in particular, there is a lot of pressure to somehow be both sexually experienced but not have sexual experience.

Even if you are a woman who doesn’t buy into those ideals, it can be hard to escape that pressure. Women are also encouraged to believe that their true value is what they can add to a man’s life and that their primary goal in life, beyond careers and anything else, is attracting and keeping a man. And that’s just for starters.

You have a relationship where you are a “primary” and while there may be many upsides to this way of doing this, it does mean that there is essentially an MVP slot in his life that only one person can fill. When you create this type of hierarchy, with it comes the fear that you will replaced by someone else and it does compound your fears.

When you’re coming from a monogamous-centric culture, you have to remember as well that it’s taught you that exclusivity is the ultimate sign of devotion and meaning. Given that, we can feel like we are only special with someone if they are exclusive to us in some way. I think this has a knock on effect when it comes to sexual partners.

Without a doubt there is an aspect of sex negativity and even some slut shaming that is impacting how you feel about the number of people he has slept with but it seems less motivated by shaming him or seeing him as disgusting and more of a concern about what it means for the meaningful times you have with each other.

Something that might be helpful is reminding yourself of your own experiences. It doesn’t take away from your experience with your partner when you have sex with other people. He doesn’t mean less when you have other experiences. And it might be helpful to remind yourself of that. I wrote a polyamory intro article that might help you figure out how to reframe your fears and find an anchor that can bring you back when you’re afraid.

It might also be helpful for you to remember that there is an aspect of your brain that is trying to prevent you from hurting or feeling pain. Especially when you are out and about and your brain decides to go into a bit of a spiral wondering about who he has or hasn’t slept with. While I can’t say what’s true for everyone’s anxiety, I can say that my anxiety is usually trying to help in a sort of weird backwards way. It might be that your brain thinks worrying about this is going to change something. It’s less about stopping yourself from having these thoughts or feelings and more about recognising what their goal is and realising that worrying about this isn’t going to change anything.

In addition to working with your own personal therapist about these issues, I think what might be helpful for you is to reframe your fears and think about them within the context of the world you’re living in, the pressures you might be facing, and the culture you’re around. Your partner could also provide you some reassurance about how important you are to them and what your relationship means.

Lastly, give yourself a bit of a break, especially since it doesn’t sound like you’re using these emotions as a reason to control your partner’s behaviour. You’re aware it’s an issue and you’re trying to work on it. That’s the best you can do. Having these feelings doesn’t mean you’re a bad person and it’ll be harder to work through these feelings if you’re punishing yourself for having them.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Comments from the therapist

A reframe that occurred to me: Look how desirable my partner is! I must be hot stuff for him to choose me as his primary!
I focus on the power of being consciously chosen by partners as way to help soothe anxiety with some of my clients. I wonder if her thoughts tend towards comparing herself to these other partners and thinking she’s lacking, rather than thinking how magical she must be for him to prioritize her.

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Episode 52: Anxious After Marriage

Anxiety can often become so overwhelming that you begin thinking non-monogamy just isn’t for you.

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

Discussion Topic: What is your ideal living situation? With or without partners? How would you organise your space?

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

Episode 52 – Anxious After Marriage

Anxiety that’s so overwhelming can make you feel like non-monogamy isn’t for you at the time. That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – What is your ideal living situation? With or without partners?

 

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

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I identify as queer and genderfluid, am in my thirties and recently married my partner. They are from the UK, we live in Berlin and think about having a child. So this has been a practical decision mostly. However, this process was also very emotional. We had a really lovely weekend celebrating with many different people in our lives. I felt really out and open and vulnerable doing this. They are the first person my mum met.

I came out as queer when I was 16 and my mothers reaction was just generally horrible. So horrible in fact I did not involve her in my life beyond talking about weather, work and studies. I have been living non-monogamous since I am 19 and started being part of queer, kinky and sex-positive spaces in my 20s. This was a very important part of my life, discovering the possibilities of queer bonds, love and intimacy. Last year, I was finally able to start therapy and starting to deal with childhood trauma – mostly emotional neglect and abuse from my mum.

This is a very intense process, bringing up a lot and I come to see more and more how panic attacks, dysfunctional behaviour and self harm affect me and my intimate relationships. I moved in with my partner last year – we have separate rooms and live together with another fab roomie – but I feel like the closeness can be a really big strain on us when I start spiralling again. In addition, they started a relationship with another person right after our wedding – for the first time since our relationship began.

I am really not coping well with this situation, in the first couple of weeks after they told me I broke down a lot and hurt myself. They are really loving and caring, showing me how much they love me and that in fact they want to include me, want me to get to know their lover and build a connection of my own. A really loving and great base to built a non-mongamous relationship on.

However, I constantly feel triggered, I am dealing with jealousy I seldomly have felt in my poly[am]-past before and I am really wondering if for the sake of my mental health I need to open myself up to the possibility that I might not want to live non-monogamous right now. That would mean though, that our  relationship might end.

I feel so guilty, I can’t possibly tell my partner to end a relationship with someone they love. My partner themselves is not sure they would want to end that relationship. Understandable, none of us wants to suffer and resent each other, but I feel so sad! We recently started couple’s therapy and decided that it might be more healthy for boundaries and our intimacy if we don’t live together and I have my own space to live in -> where ultimately we also have space for the two of us (living with a roomie had a big effect on our sex lives). This is good.

It all boils down to: Am I monogamous? What happens next? How can I continue with this person I love so much?

I find it really hard to find helpful resources beyond: Poly[am]  is superior or mono is superior. Are there any queer people moving from non-monogamy to monogamy and dealing with the complexity of this development?

Response:

The first thing I would say here is I’m really glad that you are doing individual therapy. I think that that is really really really important. I think that you need to work something out with your therapist, about strategies for addressing self harm. If you are self harming, and you know that you are kind of slipping back into that, there are quite a lot of good resources online about how to not self harm but like, how to relieve that anxiety.

Because generally speaking self harm comes from a place of being overwhelmed by feelings and wanting to get them out, or control. There’s lots of different reasons why people self harm, but there are other things that you can do that aren’t as harming. Like one thing that I’ve read about is holding ice or things like that. You need to work on a kind of emergency plan for that, so that you can, the next time you sort of feel yourself going down that road, you don’t have to call up your therapist and say, “Ahh help me”. You have the sort of tools in your toolbox, as it were, to actually address it and actually do something in the moment.

And that way you don’t necessarily need to lean on your partner for emotional support. It’s not bad to lean on your partner for emotional support. I think that a lot of polyamory resources are really shitty in that they’re very Western bootstraps mentality and sort of encourage the idea that if you need your partner at all, you’re being controlling or manipulative or whatever. That’s not the case. We need other people, as much as I— I’m like the biggest introvert. I’m the biggest recluse like, you know, I don’t like people at all. And yet, I know that I need people.

So, this is a situation where you need to, yes, lean on people but also give them— you know, figure out what works for them in terms of how much emotional support that they can provide you. I think that you also need to think about what is triggering this. I have a feeling that what is triggering all of this upset — because you said you never felt this way before in other polyamory situations. I feel like what is probably triggering this is the fact that you have married this person.

So, we don’t— I mean I’m not, I don’t think hierarchies are always bad in polyamory. I am more of a— I would probably define myself more as a relationship anarchist then, I mean— if that’s part of polyamory or not that’s a debate or whatever. I try not to operate on hierarchies, because I don’t like them. And people can I think queer marriage and be married. You might be married for immigration reasons which, hey, can understand. However, marriage does, regardless of whether you are actually invested in the institution of marriage or believe that it means anything, it’s still, especially if it’s done for immigration reasons, creates a power imbalance.

And the thing about a hierarchy and this is one of the big reasons why whenever people start polyamory they… So, one of the first rules that they create is like I will never love anyone but you or you are my primary or you are the most important person, and everyone else is not as good. And I understand that. I understand why people do that. However, the problem with that is that once you create a hierarchy, it means that one person is  sitting at the top. And when one person is sitting at the top it’s all well and good when you’re that one person but it also means that you can be dethroned basically.

And my guess is that what’s triggering all of this upset in you, is the fact that you are now married. So you’re married. You want to have a kid. Even if you aren’t necessarily hierarchical, you are creating a situation where this is the partner that you want to have kids with. This is the partner that you you are married to and you can be replaced in that sense, and that is going to kick in all of these fears, because you have more to lose now. You have more to lose. Now you could become divorced. Now your whole entire future of, oh I want to have kids with you, can be interrupted. And so that is what I’m guessing is causing all of this panic for you.

And that, you know, what I always advise in terms of this panic when it comes to— because everyone has panic. Don’t believe a lot of the kind of rose tinted bullshitty polyamory resources that will act like “It’s so lovely and yes I did feel jealous once, but I feel so much better now and everything is perfect”. Everyone feels shitty, and you can’t be raised in a society that tells you that monogamy is the only option, and that love is best expressed by being exclusive to one person and not feel a way about your partner being with somebody else. Like you just can’t, it’s, you would have to be…

I mean, unless you were raised in a family where there was non-monogamy and it was sort of normalised to you. You’re going to feel a way. You’re going to feel scared, you’re going to feel you know— you’re raised with all of these messages, you’re going to feel a way about it and that’s okay. It’s okay to have these feelings. It’s okay to freak out. It’s okay to think you’re going to be replaced and your partner’s going to leave you and oh my god… Like, all of that is okay. What I find helps in that situation, and in almost any situation where I’m trying to compare myself to other people, is that I have to realise, like I have with a lot of the anxiety that I’ve had in my life: There is only so much that I can control.

I cannot control everything. And what anxiety is — at least for me and my experience of anxiety — anxiety is a response to the trauma that I’ve been through. Because of things that I have experienced which I could not control my brain has gone “Oh crap, we’re in the situation that we can’t control. We’re constantly having to experience horrible things that we can’t stop. Well, I guess what we’ll do is that we’ll distract this brain into thinking that there are things that they can’t control, so that it doesn’t have to focus on the things that it can’t”. My anxiety has always been a very big distraction and coping mechanism.

It goes, “Actually, instead of, you know, facing the fact that you can’t control that there are people in your life who treat you like shit,  we’re going to make you think that if you behave a certain way, then you will. You will unlock the magical key, and you will all of a sudden get all of the things that you should have which is love and care and support”. And in a way, we believe this on a societal level as well, like rape apology is exactly this. People believe this. People believe that “if I don’t go outside wearing a short skirt I won’t be raped”. And we know it’s

just ignorant and foolish and ridiculous, and that is not how sexual assault works, but people believe it because it’s easier for them to cope in a world where all they have to do is not wear a short skirt and they can avoid this thing that can happen to them regardless.

So it’s that kind of a thing, in my experience with anxiety and I think that maybe now that you’re having to all of a sudden — Oh, now you’re married. There’s a new relationship. Ah! You have all this to lose your anxiety is kicking up because it’s like, “Ah, we must do something to prevent the loss of this valuable thing. We must do something.” And, yeah, it’s totally understandable but at the same time like… you can only do so much like really genuinely speaking. There was only so much you can do to prevent someone from falling out of love with you.

If a promise, if a marriage, if saying, “Oh I love you and I’ll only love you” prevented people from leaving then monogamy— there would never be anyone who divorced. Unfortunately, all you can do is just be your best partner, be your best self and treat— you know you can obviously be an asshole to your partners. You can mistreat them and that’s going to make them not want to be around you, but sort of just trying to be a good partner and trying to communicate and trying to give them attention and give them love, there isn’t anything you can do to stop someone from falling out of love with you.

There isn’t anything you can do to prevent being replaced and that’s really really frightening and so your brain is going, “AH! We don’t want to think about that so let’s just do all this other stuff and pretend like if we’re the perfect partner and we never have any problems and we were always happy, then it’ll be all right”. Unfortunately it’s just not the case and even though it seems counterintuitive, when I realized that and when I was like, “Look, I can’t prevent someone from leaving me. I can’t stop someone from no longer being attracted to me. I can’t do any of that. All I can do is try and be the best partner that I can be”. And I know it can be a damn good one. And it is what it is.

There’s nothing else I can do and I have to let go of the idea that I can control that. So, I think, and if you look up — I wrote an article called “13 Mistakes That People Make When They Try Polyamory” which encompasses a lot of this information about dealing with these emotions and how you kind of face your fears a little bit and sort of go, “Okay, what can I actually control?” and that will help you a lot, if you actually go into that article and read through some of the bits about finding an anchor. I don’t want to keep repeating the same things if t hat’s not helpful in the same podcast so yeah.

I think that your change of living situation might be helpful as well. But just keep in mind that I do think that if the core issue is kind of that you’re afraid of being replaced and you haven’t really dealt with that or addressed that then moving apart may not necessarily fix that. So, and also I can’t really tell you if you’re monogamous or not. I do kind of feel like just because you have all these feelings, it doesn’t mean you’re not, you’re monogamous like. It’s so hard for people and that’s one of the reasons why I hate, hate to me use these intro polyamory resources because people start to think that having these negative emotions means they aren’t polyamorous and that’s just not how it works.

Everyone has these emotions. When you having them doesn’t make you less polyamorous, so I can’t tell you if you are or not, that’s up to you, but I do think that if you think about what you can and can’t control — try to remember that. Work with your therapist on some specific strategies against self harm in the moment. You may not have a therapist that you can call right at the time and maybe there’s some help lines you can call but work on specific strategies about countering self harm that can help. Then you can also think about what is triggering this. My notion of what is triggering this is that is the fact that you’re married now, and it’s the fact that you have so much to lose now. I could be wrong.

It’s something you might want to explore with your therapist. I think couples therapy will help, but I also think that you trying to figure out what’s different about this situation— Is there something different about this person? Because you did also mention that living with a roomie have had a big effect on your sex life so has there been something that’s changed within your relationship with this person other than the marriage that might have made you feel like you were disposable or you were going to be replaced or anything like that? Just think about what has changed, and how might that affect your mental state. And then, yes. Last but not least, you know. Don’t beat yourself up for the feelings.

Just because you have them doesn’t mean that you’re monogamous. Plenty of monogamous people may not experience any jealousy if their partner were into someone but they still choose monogamy because it’s something that they want. So, yeah. Basically, don’t beat yourself up for having anxiety. It’s okay to have anxiety doesn’t make you a bad person. Doesn’t make you a bad partner. It’s all just about figuring out how to cope with things and another thing before I finish.

Check out Clementine Morrigan, because Clementine writes specifically about trauma informed polyamory, and that might be really really helpful for you if you have specifically had issues with how you were raised and things like that. I’ve found… their are zines, you can order online there’s a workshop on trauma informed polyamory I’m not sure if Clementine is running that still now when I published this. But, there definitely zines on Clementine’s website, you can you can download or for, and pay to have. Check that out. And yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

Episode 48: Too Much NRE

Is 18 months long enough to wait for someone to decide if polyamory is for them?

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

Discussion Topic: What is your love language?

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

Episode 48 – Too Much NRE

Is 18 months enough time to give someone to decide if they want polyamory?  That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – What’s your love language?

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

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I have been in a relationship with my husband A for about 12 years.  Initially we started off in an open, polyamorous relationship (back when we didn’t know the term).  At the time, he was polyamorous and seeing two other women in addition to myself.  Even though I was allowed to see others, I felt myself only wanting him, and therefore assumed I was monogamous.

At one point, I told him kindly that I would likely need to leave the relationship because it was hurting me too much that we were not exclusive (not blaming him at all, because he was completely honest about who he was).  At that point, he told me he didn’t want to lose me, and that he would try monogamy.

We were then monogamous together for a few more years, after which time I developed an intense crush on someone (B) at work, who I almost ended my relationship over.  Now I know that was NRE.  My crush on (B) was mostly an emotional relationship, with some physical involvement with (As) subsequent permission.  Too many details, but A and I briefly decided to open up our relationship, at which point A immediately found a part-time girlfriend.

At the time, I convinced myself I had a crush on B because A wasn’t ready to marry me, and I therefore didn’t “feel loved enough.”  A gave me a choice to either stay in the relationship or leave to be with (B).  I chose to stay with (A) and work on distancing myself from (B) to try and get over my feelings.

Also (B), though also having intense feelings for me, was not looking to settle into anything serious in that moment.  And was also confused about what he wanted.  B also had a lot of other emotional issues he was going through at the time, and it would have been a very unstable relationship.  And I knew I still loved (A).

After deciding to stay together with A, things went well.  We remained in a good relationship together, decided to get married, at least on my end felt generally happy.

We had some issues.  One that kept on repeating itself is that my love language is through words.  And for as long as we’ve been together, it’s hard for me to feel emotionally reassured or supported by A when I’m dealing with something stressful or upsetting..  Although I find he is really trying, it is difficult for A to comfort me without getting defensive, or telling me he feels “attacked,” because my voice sounds angry or upset, even though I’m upset about something that has nothing to do with him.

After a lot of thinking, I realized though B was not an emotionally stable man, that comforting me when I felt upset was something he had kind of been able to do.

Moving forward about 3 years after A and I got married, we settled down for another traveling gig in a new town.  And several months into my new job, I found myself developing a crush on my coworker (C).  This time it was different.  I was shocked with myself.  I couldn’t understand it.  This time there was no excuse.  A had given me everything I had asked for.  He was committed, monogamous, he had married me, he was so good to my family.  I still loved him.  I knew that.

And yet, I found myself falling deeply in love with C.  He returned my feelings.  He was married.  We both worked very hard on trying to remain just friends, no matter what our feelings were.  I even tried to coordinate couples dates with me and A and C and his wife.  A was very agreeable, but C’s wife kept on giving excuses for why they couldn’t hang out with us.  So it never happened.

After a year and a half of holding back, I felt I didn’t want to hold back anymore.  I was so in love with C, and I didn’t want to lose the chance.  I kissed him at work (and some physical involvement as well).  So yes, I cheated. I was planning on eventually telling A.  A few months into the affair, A asks me and I tell him the truth.

In all fairness, I should’ve spoken to A.  And I do take full responsibility for the cheating.  It was wrong.  And at the time, I was so scared he’d tell me I’d have to choose, like what happened the last time.  And my NRE was so strong, I felt I wouldn’t be able to bear it and would have to leave A.

Well, A was understandably hurt.  But, literally about less than 48 hours later, he tells me he has a realisation that we should go back to being polyamorous.  After all, he was polyamorous already, had known that about himself for years, and I was obviously not doing well with monogamy.  I still feel A should’ve yelled at me, punished me.  Been upset with me for longer.  I deserved it.  I admit I am still having a hard time forgiving myself for my affair, even as I write this.

Well, A restructured into polyamory quite quickly.  Within several months, he had a few new girlfriends (these were serious relationships with women he deeply cared for – not casual encounters).  This is who he is.  (Later A explained to me he had been very unhappy for the last few years, and had felt himself becoming more emotionally distant as a result;

A does admit he believes some of what drew me to C is that C was a strong emotionally supportive friend who was there for me for over a year, when A had been emotionally distant. A is still so thankful I met C and that C was there for me during that time).

So after A found out about the affair, I spoke to C, who was adamantly opposed to polyamory, not because he judges it, but because he doesn’t believe it’s for him.  Initially he attempted to leave his wife, telling her he wanted to be with me, but later went back to her when he found out I had no intention of leaving my husband.

He tried to bring up polyamory with his wife, who declined it, and gave him an ultimatum that he had to choose between her or me.  (C admitted to me later that he had initially left his wife because he was hoping I might choose him and leave my husband).

To be clear, C didn’t want to pull me away from A, but was hoping that maybe I’d realise he was a better choice for me, and that maybe A and I were growing apart.  C never gave me an ultimatum.  He has a kind heart, and told me he would’ve worked on being happy for me if I chose A and was happy with A.  But he had difficulty with the concept of polyamory.

After discussing the option of polyamory, C asked me to wait, because he wanted to try and learn more and consider whether he could open himself up to this idea.  Initially he dived in, began reading books, going on poly[am] blogs, and talking of a potential poly[am] future with me.  But a few months in, he stopped, not really explaining why, other than to say he was busy with all this other stuff in his life, and didn’t have the time, and that he still was processing things.

During this time, we have been seeing each other secretly (his wife doesn’t know, although I have repeatedly told him he should tell her).  My husband A knows everything.  Actually, A and C have met and like each other.  Though they aren’t friends, they get along.  A is comfortable.  C has never quite felt comfortable, and always worries he’s in the way of my marriage with A.

It has been about 18 months total of me waiting (basically putting my life on hold) for C to process what he wants.  It’s not that C told me I couldn’t date anyone else.  But he did say that if I began seeing someone new, he would have an emotionally difficult time starting a new relationship with me, and may have to really leave.  He’s obviously ok with me continuing to see A.

So I’ve been seeing A.  And I’m seeing C in secret (because he hasn’t told his wife).  And because of this dynamic, I barely get to see him.  Just briefly for a few hours once or twice a week when his wife is at work.  And it’s so hard, that I’ve given myself a deadline that I’ve told him about where I will eventually need to leave.  Because it hurts too much, coming second to his wife all the time.  Not getting to really even date, no overnights, limited phone time, mostly texting.

I won’t go into this part in detail, but C’s wife (per C’s description) is controlling in many ways, does not treat him respectfully, and keeps him away from his kids from his previous marriage, forcing him to choose.

During this time, my husband A has developed several significant relationships with 3 other women, and also developing some relationships with a few others that are yet undetermined status.  Our relationship has shifted.  We are no longer a couple in a primary relationship, with secondary relationships.

He considers himself egalitarian poly[am], and solo poly[am], and I am now one of several partners he loves.  I only see him about 1-2 days a week (so we have maybe a day date together, and one evening).  Occasionally we have a bit more time when one of his girlfriends is out of town.  He even had his own apartment he is subletting, where he goes occasionally.  And he has moved into the spare room in our apartment, so that our relationship is no longer like a couple, and more suited to dating.  Though we are dating about once a week, our situation at  home in our apartment is more like roommates.

This has been very difficult for me, because I was used to seeing A all the time, every day.  I know I still love him, and that he still loves me.  Even though I’ve been having the affair with C, the concepts of polyamory are still very new to me, and I struggle a lot with insecurity, and things I’m working on with myself.

I do have emotional outbursts intermittently, and am still processing through multiple monogamous concepts I am trying to restructure in my mind.  I am learning as I go, and do believe I am slowly making progress, identifying where my insecurities lie.  I do believe seeing an individual poly[am]-friendly therapist would be good for me.

As I explained before, A has always had a difficult time emotionally supporting me when I’m upset – so this has caused a large strain on our relationship over the last 6 months, especially if I’m upset because of something he is doing.  And I am still working on creating a poly[am]-friendly support group.  For a while, A was one of my only emotional supports, and that’s a large burden to place on A.

It got so bad that we separated for a couple of weeks, and I was almost ready to leave him.  But then I realized I still love A so much, and don’t want to give up on our relationship yet.  But 1-2 days a week is not enough for me.  I enjoy being in a couple.  It’s what I would want.  I think I’m polyamorous (still not quite sure), but not a solo poly[am].  It’s important for me to have quality time in my relationship to develop the intimacy I need.  I need more time in a relationship than 1-2 days a week.  But this is all A can give me at this point.

And I do have to add that with everything that’s going on with C, he is able (more than any man I’ve been with) to emotionally comfort me and reassure me when I’m upset.  It is a need I never really had met until I met C.  And it’s a need that is very important to me. .

So my dilemma is this:

I love A and C.  They both love me.  Ideally, I’d love to be with both of them.  C has similar values and life goals to mine/  Ideally I’d love for him to be a primary partner with me – in terms of living together, time spent together, etc – and for A to be my secondary partner.  A is cool with that.  C is not.  After 18 months of processing, C is still not sure he can handle polyamory.  The idea of me possibly meeting future men upsets him.  He is still not even sure he can share me with A.

Though A and I have gone in very different directions since we became poly[am], I still love him, and don’t want to leave him right now.  I feel I may regret it, and possibly end up resenting C for it later on.

Ideally I’d want a fully polyamorous relationship that is non-exclusive, but I am willing to compromise on a closed triad (well, A will be fully polyamorous, but I will be exclusive with A and C only, and C will be exclusive with me; and his wife if she wants to continue seeing him – I have never asked C to choose between me and his wife).

Part of me still wonders whether I’m truly polyamorous, or whether my need for emotional support and comfort/reassurance was just not met in my relationship with A.  Would I be happy with C alone?  Or am I poly[am]?

At this point, I’m planning on ending my affair with C, because I can’t go on barely getting to be with someone I deeply care about, and I don’t feel good that his wife doesn’t know.  I feel both she and I deserve more respect in our relationships.  Not that he is intentionally disrespecting us.  He just knows if he tells her he’ll have to lose her; and he loves us both.  Though he says he’s pretty unhappy with her.  And prefers to be with me.

At the same time, I am not sure if I should just give C what he wants – monogamy.  24/7 exclusive relationship.  I don’t want to lose him.  And he is willing to offer me things that A is not.

If I stay with A, and lose C, I end up with a relationship where I only get to date A only 1-2 days a week.  Is that kind of relationship worth giving C up over?  And at this point I’m still really high on NRE with C.  I feel so in love with him, and the idea of letting him go overwhelms me.  I know I can do it, but it will hurt so much.

But I love A, and I don’t want to leave him.  He’s been such a good man to me over the past 12 years, and I still think we have potential.

Any advice on what I should do?

Response:

The first thing that I would say with this is that— one thing that I’ve kind of repeated a lot in the columns and in the podcasts occasionally, is that polyamory isn’t about having multiple unfulfilling relationships. It’s supposed to be about having multiple fulfilling relationships, and I sometimes feel like people choose polyamory, not because they’re actually interested in polyamory but because they don’t want to break up with someone, and I don’t really think that that’s the same thing.

Like, you shouldn’t use polyamory as an excuse to stay with people who aren’t really meeting your needs. And that’s kind of what I feel like you’ve done with A for a very, very long time. A clearly is not really capable of giving you the emotional support you need. And I think you can deal with that if you don’t have to rely on A. But I still think that the fact that A reacts so badly to you being emotional about things that do involve him

is a little worrying.

Because even if you only have a “secondary” relationship, you still may have issues and you still may have things that you need to discuss, and it’s going to be really hard for you to actually discuss them if, you know, A reacts or has this kind of reaction to you being emotional. And that might be worth working on with each other. I don’t know, like, far be it for me to say when someone else has too many partners, but the fact that he has like so many people that he has to focus on. It just makes me wonder like what the deal is with that.

And people can have multiple partners and lots of different partners and that doesn’t reflect anything, but sometimes I do think that sometimes people choose polyamory because it means that they don’t have to emotionally support anybody. Do you know what I mean? Like if they’re just a “secondary”  to everybody and they don’t have to live with anyone, and they don’t have to be a primary or any kind of an emotional support to anyone then they can get away with not being able to emotionally support anyone. And I think that that’s okay but I do think that that merits some kind of communication and I just, I worry that there hasn’t really been a situation where A has sat you down and said “Look, you need this, and I can’t provide this”.

And that’s a little worrying, because even if you are to date A as a secondary he still… you can’t even tell him right now that one to two days is not enough for you because he reacts so poorly and feels attacked every time you bring something up. So it’s like you have to be, regardless of how often you see somebody, you have to be able to tell them if they’re not meeting your needs. You have to be able to have difficult discussions. It’s really really funny because I actually spoke to my therapist, about, you know, with the— If you’re listening to this right now. Right now I’m recording this, we’re in a pandemic so we’re in lockdown. And with my partners— like my with my domestic partner that I live with— obviously we are around each other 24/7, and that causes a lot of friction in a lot of ways.

And because we’ve been bickering so much that has sort of signalled in my head a panic kind of thing and has made me go, “Oh my god we’re bickering we’re gonna—“. You know because I’m used to big family arguments ending up in something huge and dramatic happening. I’m used to a family argument ending with someone getting kicked out. So, for us to bicker, I’m not really used to that and it really really throws me off. And so— but my therapist actually said like, “Look, if you go in a whole relationship without ever arguing— You know, sometimes arguing get your feelings out and it helps you work through things and you become stronger together because you argue. It doesn’t weaken things”. And it makes me wonder like if you can’t argue with A, if you can’t bring things up, if you can’t have a disagreement because every time you bring something up, he’s like, “Oh you’re attacking me”.

That doesn’t bode well for any kind of relationship with him, and that’s that’s kind of a worry and I do kind of wonder if this is what you’re actually, you know— this is what’s happening to you. You are basically you know in this relationship— and keeping it open because and seeking other partners because you feel lonely and because you’re not getting the things that you need, emotionally . So that is something that you really need to think about, because, I mean, you are incompatible in a lot of ways.

A second thing though is that you’re making C out to be a lot nicer than he is. You say he’s not intentionally doing this. He is intentionally doing this. Like he is intentionally choosing to cheat on his wife with you. He is. And he doesn’t have the sort of ability to state his needs with his wife, either. He is not able to accept the fact that two people, even if they’re married and even if they love each other and care for each other can be incompatible, and is totally is like— I’m almost annoyed— heavily annoyed with C because he’s such a massive hypocrite.

He doesn’t want you to be polyamorous. Basically he is dictating to you, you know whether or not— you say “well he doesn’t—“. People don’t have to specifically say you’re not allowed to date other people. If they create a situation where you feel unsafe or you feel like you can’t like that. That’s the thing like he is basically making a situation where you can’t pursue anybody else. He’s fine to cheat on his wife, but he has a problem with consensual ethical open relationships, and like, I’m not saying he has to be polyamorous and I’m not saying he has to be okay with it, but it is very hypocritical for him to be in a situation where basically he’s allowed to cheat but you can’t have another ethical relationship because he will have a problem with that.

It’s… yeah, he’s not as great as you’re making him out to be like he may be great at emotionally comforting you. And to be honest, like that’s— that isn’t… that’s not a high bar. Like all due respect to you. All due respect to A. All due respect to the situation. Someone being able to comfort you when you are upset is not like a… There’s another podcast that I recorded earlier about gold medals. Go listen to that. It’s not like— so many people are in situations, and I’m gonna be honest with you, it’s usually women who are in situations with men or in relationships with men where the man does something very very basic, that should be expected in a romantic relationship, and the woman is like, “Oh my god, he’s just so amazing he does such a—“. No.

He’s doing what he fucking should when he’s in a relationship which is being there for his partner. That’s not a gold star. That is the lowest frickin bar in the world. So, yeah. Stop. It’s probably your new relationship energy, even though you’ve been in this situation for 18 months. It is definitely— You’ve got some rose tinted glasses on when it comes to C. Probably because he comforts you so well. But he’s not all you think he is because if he was really an emotionally responsible person, he would go, “Huh”.

And this whole— this whole bullshit about like his wife is really mean to him or whatever. Anytime a man slags off his ex think about that situation. Okay. I’m not denying that maybe his wife isn’t that great and that may be the situation. Then why is he there? So, no, like, like come on. Think about this for a minute, like. You cannot have someone who is emotionally responsible and is going to be there for you and you’re giving him all these excuses and saying, “oh he’s— but he’s lovely, he has a kind heart, and he just doesn’t want to leave his wife because he loves her but he, but he does want to be with me, but she’s really bad and he does really want—“ This such a lie.

If it’s not a lie, it’s such a fucking cop out like, come on. If he if their relationship is that bad and if he really doesn’t want to be with his wife, then why is he fucking there? Why is he there? What is his frickin excuse. 18 months?! Come on. No, no, no, no, and like you’re basically— here’s the thing. If you are monogamous and you—  let’s just put aside the polyamory for a situation. If you are  monogamous, and you were dating— and I know that people cheat for a lot of different reasons and it can be complicated and I get it. Generally speaking, though, if you’re monogamous and you are cheating on someone with someone. What that tells you about that person who you are cheating with, even though A knows that you’re that you’re with C and is fine with it. But C’s wife doesn’t know. He is okay with cheating.

He is okay with non-ethical behaviour. He is okay lying to his wife and it stands to reason that if he’s okay lying to his wife, he’s okay lying to you. Like, and it means that if your relationship goes sour, or for whatever reason it doesn’t work out, then he’s fine lying to you. Like you’re not special and he might say that, but you really really really really need to not to believe that because… Yeah, it’s just not a good situation. He’s not as great as you’re making him out to be. He may be great at emotionally validating you but once again that is not an extreme relationship skill. That’s just a basic thing, and he probably knows that and he’s using that a bit to his advantage. So that’s one thing.

The other thing that really concerns me about A that I need to mention is that your relationship changed. He decided he’s ethical solo polyam, and now you only see him one day, two days a week. Where’s the fucking conversation about that? Like, I totally get that people can explore polyamory and come to find out that different situations suit them better. And oh actually I don’t really want to be in a primary relationship. I actually want to have more freedom, and that’s fine. That is absolutely fine. But a discussion needs to be had. And why hasn’t A sat you down and said “Hey look, I’m not feeling this primary situation.”

Like it just seems like all this sort of just slowly happened to you. And there was just no discussion and now you only see A one to two days a week, and it’s just… I mean that’s not to say that like. It’s not to say that you necessarily would then go “well I don’t want this” and A would go “okay let’s stay primary then”, but at least

if he had some kind of discussion with you, then you would be able to go, “Hmm, I’m not cool with that. Like one to two days a week isn’t great for me”. And maybe you could have, like, I don’t know, slowly, you could have gone from six days a week to five days a week to four day— like you could have, it could have been a little easier on you, especially since A doesn’t even emotionally support you very well in general anyway.

But instead he’s just sort of— and I don’t know how fast this happened like if it was just like, one day he was like, “Oh, I’m gonna move into the second room and blah blah blah”. But I mean you gotta have a kind of discussion about it. He’s not had any kind of like… how was that ethical? How is it ethical to just slowly completely pull away from your partner without really addressing it or talking about it? That’s… that’s not great, like for any kind of relationship. So, yeah, I think you are in a bit of a situation but. And I wish that I had some something better to advise because I feel like even if you sit down and have a conversation with A and say, “one or two days a week isn’t cutting it for me”. I don’t think A is wanting to give you anymore. I don’t think that’s going to fix that situation.

You can absolutely leave C, but you know— you’re just going to leave C. He’s not going to dump his wife for you. And even if he does, you are in a situation where he does have a problem with you being with A. Like he does— even though he’s okay with it right now, he does have a problem with it and he’s going to want you to dump A. He is going to want that. And then he’s going to bring up the fact that he dumped his wife for you. So like, don’t pull the frickin wool over your eyes and realise that he is—  that’s what’s gonna happen if he did dump his wife.

He would then immediately expect you to dump A. I doubt— heavily, heavily, heavily, heavily, heavily doubt that he will be okay with you being with A in any context, even if you only saw A one to  two days a week, he’d never be okay with it. So, and you say “oh well, maybe I could go 24/7 do monogamy with C”, but the thing is, you’d be doing monogamy with somebody who cheated. And is that really what you want? Like, I’m not saying that like people— like “once a cheater always a cheater” or anything like that. Like people cheat for all sorts of different reasons. It can be really complicated but at the same time, if he’s not even acknowledging the fact that what he’s doing is wrong…

You know I just, I don’t think that that would be a good situation for you to be in, especially because, if you just happen to fall in love with another co-worker, there ain’t no way C is ever going to hear of it. You know, if you do find out that you are more polyamorous than you think you are, you’re kind of screwed in that regard. So, yeah, I think that the thing that you need to do is be comfortable being alone. Unfortunately I think that you need to dump C immediately, like it’s— Cheating is not polyamory. What you’re doing isn’t polyamory, I’m sorry. Cheating is not polyamory. You’re helping C cheat, which isn’t polyamory. It’s unethical. It’s wrong. You shouldn’t do it, even if you love C so much, I get that. But it’s wrong. So you need to dump him. Like, you need to make him choose.

Sometimes making someone choose isn’t a bad thing. It’s not always controlling and bad. Sometimes when you say, “Actually you need to choose because if you don’t, it’s unethical. And I’m not going to participate in that”. So giving him an ultimatum isn’t a terrible thing. It doesn’t make you a terrible person. It just makes you a person with self respect and dignity. So, do that. Get rid of C. I don’t even think you should continue dating him. I think even if he dumped his wife for you. I mean, ask him say— I guarantee you… I guarantee you anything if you say, “oh, if you dump your wife…”, he’s gonna go “well then you dump A”. Like that’s gonna be— that is going to be what it is. Like, honestly, so I just think you should just get rid of C.

I get that he’s emotionally supportive but you need— what you need out of the situation is to learn how to be alone. Because, especially if you’re going to be polyamorous. You can’t always have, you know, it’s not Pokemon. It’s not Polymon. It’s not picking as many people, and avoiding being alone by having as many partners as possible. Sometimes you are alone. Sometimes you have to be comfortable being by yourself and being alone and being fine with that. You need to be more comfortable being alone.

You need to let go of the expectation that A is going to give you the emotional support that you want. That’s just not going to happen. And I think if you focus more on yourself, maybe see a therapist, if it’s accessible to you for yourself, find ways to gain emotional support through yourself, through therapy, through your friendship network, because that’s the thing. Polyamory is not just about, usually —it’s not just about multiple romantic relationships, it’s also— many people feel like polyamory opens them up to seeing all relationships as equally valid, so your friendships are also important relationships that should also be valued and that should also, you know— romantic relationships don’t necessarily mean so much more than friendships.

So your friends can emotionally validate you. Can you accept and receive emotional validation and help through your friends? Does it always have to be somebody that you’re sleeping with, or that you’re romantic with? So that’s what I think… that’s what you need to focus on. Get rid of C. Get rid of C completely. And you could keep A, but you need to let go of the expectation that A is going to be like C. There are other stuff to work on with A. Like whether or not you keep A around like, I don’t know… I do kind of feel like if you are in a relationship with someone who is unwilling to listen to you or if you can’t actually talk to him about anything— like even a friend should somewhat be able to emotionally validate you and that’s why I feel like if you had better friends, you would actually be like, “Oh, actually. Fuck A.”

Because sometimes and I’ve had that situation before where I have been in a partnership that I thought was fulfilling. And then I had friendships and I was like actually my friends are being more supportive than my partner is. So why am I with this person? And I think that if you, you know you could keep A around for a little bit. But I do think that once you realise that you can provide your emotional validation and you can get that from your friends, your community from people around you like… have more friends. Like it doesn’t always have to be someone you’re dating and I think once you do that you will then look at the relationship with A and you’ll be like, “Actually, you aren’t even that good of a friend. So maybe not. “

That’s kind of like my best advice to sum up really quickly. Get rid of C. No, no, no with C. Seek multiple fulfilling relationships, rather than collecting multiple unfulfilling relationships until you reach some sort of stasis. It’s not what I think, personally, what I think polyamory should be about. Focus on yourself. Be okay with being alone. Be okay with finding emotional support in people that aren’t immediately romantically connected to you. Value your friendships more.

And, yeah, seek polyamory friendly therapy if you have access to that. Be okay with being alone, because I do think that unless you have flexible schedules with five to seven partners on the go or your life is set up in a completely different way, you’re going to have to sometimes be okay with being alone and I think more people— monogamous people even in general, need to be okay with being alone. Because when you’re not okay with being alone then you stay in relationships that you shouldn’t. Yeah. I hope that helps and good luck.

Episode 42: The Dreaded Veto

When you’ve conceded to many rules but your partner demands you dump another, what do you do?

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

Discussion Topic: What do you most regret so far?

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

Episode 42 – The Dreaded Veto

When you’ve conceded to many rules but your partner demands you dump another, what do you do?  That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – What do you most regret so far?

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp.

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I’m in a tough situation and would love your input.

I’ve been in a relationship with my wife for 10 years, we’ve been open for 7, married for 5. I’ll say that aside from sexual intimacy, my life with my wife is beautiful. We have adventures, we have amazing friends, we travel, and we have shared goals. She’s struggled with depression off and on, and the most recent time lasted 3 years. It’s been challenging, and I’ve supported her through all of it.

When we got together, I didn’t know that for my own fulfillment, I absolutely needed to prioritize sexual compatibility. To be happy, I need to feel sexually valued and desired by a partner. A strong, ongoing sexual connection is a cornerstone of a romantic relationship for me.

When we started dating, we had a pretty good sexual connection for about 3 months, but then her interest in sex began waning. Since then, she’s generally rejected me when I’ve attempted sexual intimacy, she’s avoided flirting with me so as not to lead me on, but when I’ve come right out and asked whether she’s attracted to me, she says she is. I’ve asked if she would prefer we take sex off the table in our relationship, and she got angry and said no. I’ve also read a lot on AVEN and asked if she’s noticed anything on the site that resonates with her— and I told her I would love and support her however she identifies. She got angry with me when I asked, and said no.

In the times that we have been sexually intimate, it hasn’t been very fulfilling for me, because it felt disconnected, and she didn’t seem present— for the most part she’s had no passion, no zeal. She’s even fallen asleep during sex on 3 or 4 different occasions. For a while I thought something was wrong with me. After almost 10 years of continual rejection, my self-esteem was shredded and my sexual well-being was impacted in a lot of ways. I’m now working to heal those wounds with a sex-positive therapist.

Because I was young, naive, and in love with her, I always made excuses, expecting things to change. I would tell myself, “Things will be better when x, y, or z happens… (name any and all external factors here).” I tried a lot different things to fix it, but I tried to tread lightly because the last thing I wanted was to make her feel pressured or inadequate.

Over the 7 years that our relationship has been open, my wife and I have had multiple connections with others, and it’s always been a really fun and positive element of our relationship. In fact, she always said she thought it was hot when I had sexual encounters with other people. It was fun for me, and I felt sexual validation from my other sex partners, but I found that I still felt empty and unhappy, because my connections were casual, rather than the sustained sexual, romantic bond that I need to be happy.

My wife and I never defined ourselves as poly[am], and we’ve never gone as far as to have girlfriends or other committed romantic relationships. We’ve had connections that have felt more romantic than platonic, but we’ve always said that our connections would be based more on friendship and sex rather than romance and love.

A year and a half ago, I met someone who I have an incredible, life-changing connection with. (I’ll call her A.) In the time that I’ve known her, I’ve felt more happy and fulfilled than I have in almost 10 years.

Several months ago, my wife started seeing a therapist to work through her sexual and mental health blocks. I’ve been supportive of her the whole way. She’s now in the process of rediscovering her sexuality and is asking me to end things with A so that we can work on our (nonexistent) sexual connection. She says that it’s incredibly painful for her when I spend time with A, because it triggers her feelings of inadequacy— that she couldn’t give me what I needed, so she feels that I replaced her with A.

My wife and I are seeing a poly[am]/queer/sex-friendly therapist together, and even still, the therapy isn’t helping, and my wife is devastated every time I do so much as go to lunch with A.

I don’t want to hurt her, and I don’t want to destroy our marriage, but she says she’s distraught and can’t live like this anymore. I want to be a good partner and continue to support her. And I suppose being a good partner means ending things with A. But just the thought of it makes my stomach churn. It’s so hard to lose someone so important to me. I can’t string A along like this, and she doesn’t deserve to be treated as disposable.

My wife is upset that I’m hesitating to end things with A, and she’s telling me that if our marriage was my priority I’d do it.

I’ve developed strong feelings for A, which is not actually allowed in our version of non-monogamy. But I want it to be, and I want the opportunity to expand into this connection. Despite developing feelings, I’ve continued to respect my wife’s boundaries. To help her feel comfortable with A, I’ve complied with the rules that she’s lain out over these past 18 months. (A is well aware of all the boundaries as well.)

The thing is, the sexual connection with my wife is not there, and I don’t know that it ever will be. When we are intimate, it’s not pleasurable for me, and in fact makes me a little uncomfortable, like being intimate with a family member. I don’t know whether or not this can be fixed. I hope that it can?

I just don’t see a way out. Not one where I can be happy, anyway. If I lose A, then I’ll go back to living the way I was before. Content enough, but never fulfilled, because it means abandoning a big part of myself. If I don’t end it, I’ll devastate my wife, injure our relationship beyond repair, and likely lose my marriage and the entire beautiful life we’ve built together.

The rules I’ve complied with have included: Seeing A a limited number of times per month, a curfew when I do see her, texting my wife every couple hours, including each time I move from one location to another when I’m with A, and setting up times for the 3 of us to hang out. (For a time, I couldn’t spend money or go out for meals with A, so A and I would watch movies or play board games at her apartment, but then my wife changed her mind and asked me not to hang out at A’s apartment. But neither of these last 2 rules are in place anymore.) To further demonstrate to my wife that she’s my priority, A and I paused for 5 months last spring. A was understanding, but it didn’t help my wife, and it only hurt A and me.

My wife has an intense connection with someone I’ll call H. They had (and still have) a close, special bond, but then my wife deescalated their relationship to platonic friendship when we moved out of state 4 years ago. At the time, she told me it was because she wasn’t feeling it anymore. Now, she’s revealed that it was incredibly difficult and painful for her to end things with H, and that she only did it to prioritize me. (I was going through a rough time with the loss of a friend.) I never asked her to do this, and I never would have. Last weekend we were all at a wedding together, and my wife expressed interest in reconnecting sexually with H again. I gave her my blessing, because I truly do want this for her. But when I bring up A, my wife tells me that she can have this with H, because A is “a different situation.”

Response:

So this is an incredibly unfair situation. That’s my first comment about this.

Like, it’s so massively unfair in so many different ways. Like when you first started describing what was happening, and you started saying about, you know, how you basically haven’t been sexually compatible. And that’s the truth of it, you’re not sexually compatible, whether it’s due to reasons that, you know, your wife needs to work through things, or it’s due to her being naturally the way she is, which you’ve also been really, really supportive of, you just aren’t sexually compatible. And you’ve tried your best to work through this. And yet, it’s never enough.

And then you add this bit at the end, where you’ve complied with rules about, you know, you have— you can only see her a certain— see A a certain times number of times per month, and you have a curfew, that you’re texting her when you’re moving from location to location like… And then you’re not allowed to spend money together, and then you’re not allowed to hang out at the apartment, and then you’re not allowed this, you’re not allowed that. You know what, why not, instead of demonstrating that your wife is a priority, demonstrate that you are a priority to yourself?

You are allowed to be happy and you are bending over backwards in all of these situations to make your wife happy. And you’re doing it sacrificing your own happiness. And it’s also impacting A. Like, as you said, A is not disposable, and she shouldn’t be treated like she’s disposable. And given the fact that you know, you mentioned this side relationship with H like.. if anything— Well, first of all, she lies to you and for the re— like she can’t even honestly communicate about it because she knows that she’s making this decision. And I mean, it’s just wild like I don’t even have the words to…

She sacrifices something for you without telling you without you requesting it and then expects you to do the same when when you never talk about it or agreed on it. And the result is that it you know, you are being hurt and A is being hurt. Ahe should know exactly how it feels to just give up a relationship and throw it out the window. But she doesn’t care. Because it’s all about prioritizing the marriage and prioritizing you two and prioritizing her. What about prioritizing yourself? Like, you know, you’ve given up so much in this relationship, to try and make her happy. And it’s not even about the sex anymore.

Like, here’s the thing, like, if you had come to me to ask for advice about rules and starting off, I would have told you to stay the hell away from rules that say, ”I won’t fall in love with somebody” because I don’t think that’s realistic. So it already kind of got off on the wrong foot. But it became— it has now become something where you’re just literally not allowed to have anything that makes your wife feel slightly uncomfortable. And unfortunately, sometimes things make people feel uncomfortable. And I can understand why that freaks people out.

But she’s just kind of like, dictating what you’re allowed to do with other people. Now you can’t even talk about A. You can’t even go out to lunch with A without it being you ripping her heart out. And it’s not fair. Like that’s— it’s just fundamentally so unfair. The situation is… I’m like angry on your behalf by how unfair The situation is. now in this situation, like, you know, if it were one thing if… if she were making the simple request, and there hadn’t been all these other issues about H and about her basically controlling every aspect of your relationship with A and she just wanted to

stop non-monogamy because the reasons that you started non monogamy were because of the sexual incompatibility.

You know, then I might ask you to examine the reasons that you went into non monogamy and be really honest about them. Because the thing is, is that the whole reason for you— you need to get rid of A because A reminds her of her inability to please you. And I just think that you guys need to be really, really honest about this. You did go into non monogamy seemingly, unless there’s something you haven’t included here, because she didn’t want to have sex with you in the way that you wanted. Like, you have a base level incompatibility. And I know that it sucks. And I know that it’s going to be a source of insecurity for a lot of people.

But sometimes people are at a base level incompatible. And the only thing that you can do is either break up, or you can choose to make some compromises. And this is a subject, in terms of sex, you know, where you can make compromises by opening up your relationship. And I don’t think it necessarily has to be about incompatibilities. It doesn’t have to be like your wife wasn’t enough. It’s about the fact that for whatever reason, she wasn’t interested in having sex and rather than pressuring her or, you know, making the situation into something that you would resent, you both agree to something else.

And she also had other encounters it sounds like not just with H, but maybe with other people. So you know, the kind of trigger for it, even if you don’t necessarily believe she’s completely and utterly, you know, not good enough or anything like that— the trigger for it was very much that you wanted to have sex with other people. And if you revisit that and say, “Well, our connection isn’t really, you know what I need yet. So I don’t want to end my relationships with other people”. And I think that’s totally and completely valid.

And it’s not fair after all of this stuff like I am— quite frankly, I’m surprised that A is still hanging around. Because if anyone asked me to pause our relationship for somebody else for five months, and I was being jerked around like this, and my partner had to like, text someone every time we moved, and then oh, now they can’t spend money on me or we can’t— like I would have dumped you quite honestly a long time ago, because I wouldn’t be okay with someone who’s not involved in the relationship dictating my relationship. So I’m surprised A has held on for this long given given the push pull of this.

So it’s just not fair. Like and and you’ve demonstrated that she’s a priority over you. You’ve already demonstrated that and yet it feels like her level of anxiety— and I totally understand her level of anxiety and I don’t blame her for having it. I don’t think she’s a horrible person. But there’s a thing about anxiety where if you give it an inch, it will take a mile and this is one of the reasons why I really advise people to sit with their discomfort when they’re in polyamorous situations, sit with that and don’t immediately start creating rules around it. Sit with it, go through it know that you’ll survive.

Because if you just, you know, I found it very similar to the anxiety that I’ve felt in other situations in my life when I’ve had compulsions. And when I’ve been like, “Oh, you know, I’ve created, you know, these fears in my head that, Oh, I can’t do this thing or something horrible will happen”. And the minute I fed into that, and I stopped doing that thing, it— just more things will be added to that list. Oh, now I can’t do this, because something horrible will happen. Oh, now I can’t do this because something horrible will  happen. Feeding my anxiety or validating it never made it go away, it only just helped it grow.

And I think that, because you’ve complied with these rules, it’s only just fed her anxiety. She’s only allowed her anxiety to continue to grow. Because it’s just growing and growing like at first, you know, you’ll only can see her a certain number of times a month, then you have a curfew, then you you know, and I don’t know at what point these rules were all in effect, or whether they were all in effect all at the same time. But now you can’t even talk about her. Because, you know, it tears out her heart every time you talk about her, it’s— or go out to lunch with her like… it’s growing and growing. And it’s, it’s not— she’s never really going to be satisfied unless she either addresses this anxiety and learns how to cope with it with whatever therapist she has.

Or until you break up with A. Like, unfortunately, she’s putting you in that position. And you throughout this whole letter, like you’re trying to be a good partner, and trying to prioritise her and you’re— like, it’s so sad, because it’s, it’s she didn’t she’s not doing that for you. in this situation. You know, the only time when she’s actually prioritising you is when you don’t even ask for it. And she’s making herself into a martyr for a cause that no one asked her to be a martyr for. So it’s just— it’s not a fair situation. And unfortunately, I don’t— Unless your wife decides to address her anxiety, I don’t know as that there is a situation where everything’s gonna work out fine.

I think that you need to put your foot down and prioritise yourself. Okay, stop prioritising her, stop prioritisng the marriage and prioritise yourself. You are happy with A. You have this great connection with her. And it’s not so much about choosing A over your wife, it’s about saying to your wife, “I want to be in a non-monogamous relationship, I want to continue my relationship with A. I will not be dumping A at your request. I will not be— and I don’t think you should— I will no longer be allowing you to dictate the time that I spend with A and when I can. Obviously I’ll try and work with our schedules and make sure that I give you enough time, but you will not be dictating to me at what times I can or can’t be with A and I will work with you to rebuild our sexual connection. I will work with you to rebuild our trust. I will work with you to rebuild whatever it is we need to rebuild. But I’m not going to get rid of this relationship to do that, because I don’t believe I need to do that. I don’t believe that A is preventing me or preventing you from actually working through this. You may be feeling insecure about A. You may be feeling challenged about the situation with A and we can work through that. But I’m not going to react to your insecurity around it by dumping someone that I care about.”

And I think you can totally do that. You can still continue to support her and you have supported her. All the times that you’ve been with A you have consistently demonstrated that you care about her even when it has been unfair to you and unfair to A and I don’t think you should do that anymore. But I do think you can say “I’m absolutely willing to stay in this relationship with you. I’m absolutely willing to make sure that I give you the energy that this needs in order to work”. It’s not about prioritising one relationship over another. Because it’s— that’s really just weird.

Like, I mean, imagine if you know, you were tending a sick cousin or something like that, like, would you be thinking about “oh, I have the sick cousin but I need to prioritise my marriage”? I just human relationships don’t work that way. Like and it’s and it’s just weird and competitive to be like, yeah, I need to— I have this other relationship but my wife is more important than anything else. Like that’s just not how humans work. Different— like obviously, like, you know, we care more about the people that we have relationships with than random people we see off the street at certain points, you know, but I just feel like even those cut and dry situations are like, you know, anyone who forces you to choose… That’s not a good thing. And she shouldn’t be forcing you to choose.

And if she’s using exact language, like you described about saying that basically, if you cared about her, you’d dump A. That’s just not fair. That’s absolutely, completely unfair. And whatever couples therapist you’re working with, if she’s saying that while a couples therapist is in the room with you, and the couples therapist is not saying anything about that, then you need to fire that person and find a new one. Because that is fundamentally horrible. I mean, it’s emotional blackmail, like absolutely, no, no, no, no, no, no.

So yeah, to sum up, yeah, this is an incredibly unfair situation. And I’m sorry that you’re in this situation, because it’s really shitty. I think that A is absolutely not disposable. And you shouldn’t treat her like that. And if anything, your wife should know what it feels like to have to— to feel like you have to dump somebody, even though you never asked for that. And the biggest kind of message that I have for you is that rather than prioritising your marriage, you need to prioritise yourself, you need to secure your own mask before you start putting on everyone else’s mask, and figure out what it is that you want.

And put your foot down and say like no, and if that’s not a tolerable situation for your wife, like, I understand, like, you know, yes, it’s going to feel shitty when you know, your partner, and you have a have an in compatibility. I mean, I’ve had similar situations with my domestic partner, where I’m not a big party person. And my domestic partner is a big party person. And it took me a long time to not feel inadequate. It took me a long time to not be scared that my partner would chuck me and leave me for someone who loves parties too.

And I understand that and she’s allowed to feel those feelings. But just because she feels those feelings, doesn’t mean that A needs to be thrown out, you know, and chucked out. Like that’s not how you handle that. You can be absolutely willing to work through her feelings with her, absolutely willing to reassure her. But

I wouldn’t dump A especially not in this situation. And I would actually stop doing all of these things like I would absolutely refuse to allow someone else to tell me how often I could see someone else.

Like it’s one thing if you were going out with A all the time, and she said, “Hey, I don’t see you, as often as I’d like to see you and it’s really hurting me”. That’s one thing. But she can’t dictate to you, the number of times you’re allowed to see someone per month you’re not a child. You don’t have a curfew. And I don’t think you should put up with that anymore, let alone dumping A like, absolutely not.

So yeah, I’m sorry, I’m just— I’m kind of very frustrated on your behalf. It’s just… it just seems like you’ve, you’ve done so much. You’ve bent over backwards for this person. And then they have the audacity to say to you that you need to dump this person or else you don’t care about me like, wow, that’s horrible. Yeah, and I’m really I’m really sorry, again, that you’re in this situation. But yeah, I don’t I don’t think you should get rid of A. I think you should put your foot down, figure out what you what your wants and needs are. I think you know what they are. Put your foot down. And unfortunately, if it makes— if it means that, you know your wife can’t be with you anymore, then maybe that is the way that things should be, unfortunately.

Because you know someone who— is someone who clearly isn’t prioritising you. Just.. I don’t know if it’s worth it. To be honest, even— I know it seems hard because you put 10 years of your life into this situation. But don’t don’t do something for a sunken cost fallacy. And that’s— look that up. It’s basically the idea that like you’ve already put so much into this, you have to keep putting things into it. Like, okay, 10 years, that’s a long time. But just— as I said in the beginning of this episode, didn’t even mean for it to be necessarily related to the letter today. But just because you’ve known someone for longer doesn’t mean that they have your best interests at heart.

So yeah, I hope this helps and good luck.

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Can you learn compersion?

I really enjoyed reading “Thirteen things I wish I’d learned before choosing non-monogamy.” I’ll start by saying I’ve started exploring my sexuality and what makes me happy just this June. So, I’m still learning. My original intent was not related to non-monogamous relationships at all. It just so happened that in my own explorations I met someone that is poly[am].

This person is amazing in so many ways. He communicates, he’s sensual, he’s understanding, he’s knowledgeable, he’s a giver and very open and not afraid to discuss anything. And there’s a great connection that was instantaneous when we first met, though I had no intentions of getting involved past our first meeting. But he’d mentioned he’d enjoyed our times together and would like to continue being intimate with me and getting to know each other, as long as it was ok with me. I couldn’t say no, it felt great to be with him, if only once a month for short periods. But from the beginning he’d said he doesn’t have the bandwidth for more than what he already was giving me.

That he already has partners and that when he partners with someone he invests time and much more emotional energy than what he can give currently. He works a lot too, so he wanted to be clear in any expectations as he doesn’t like to cause people pain. So, even with all this, I thought it’s better to have what I can of him in my life than not at all. Which I still would like, but it’s not easy.

I struggle so much with issues, like issues with self worth stemming from things in my past. That I’m learning I need to face as it’s stunted me in opening up in any of my relationships (platonic or romantic). But then there are the insecurities that stem from knowing I’m not a partner and can’t be one. And all that I read says that these insecurities can be worked on with your partner. But what if you’re not a partner?

How can you work on these insecurities when you’re not something more? When it’s supposed to just be casual and fun? It’s hard when this (whatever it is) is helping me grow in so many other ways and actually makes me happy most times. But it can hurt and be lonely sometimes. I become afraid to go to events where his other partners will be, where I’d have to look at what being his partner would be like but can’t have. That allow for the insecurities to set in without an outlet since I’m not partnered. How do you learn compersion in this scenario?

First and foremost, personally, I absolutely despise “compersion”.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit strong. But I deeply resent the term. Mostly because of letters like yours. It’s not your fault at all, but you’ve fallen exactly into the trap that the term “compersion” creates. For as much as people say “There’s no one right way to do polyamory”, that’s just not what the term “compersion” creates. I wrote a bit in the article you referenced about how it’s not compulsory — and I think that you should really take that on.

You don’t learn compersion. You just feel it or you don’t. And there isn’t anything wrong with not feeling it. And likewise, compersion is not an inoculation for jealousy. You can be both jealous but also happy your partner has found someone they like at the same time. You’re making a lot of the assumptions that I hoped to challenge in my article but let me expand on some of those and why you need to reframe your perspective, specifically referring to these topics.

  • What stops people from opening up
  • Insecurity or insufficiency
  • What makes a partner

What stops people from opening up

In your letter, you said that your insecurities and lack of self worth has “stunted” you from opening up. I definitely do think that someone’s lack of self worth and insecurities can make them afraid to open up to others, but what I want to avoid is you assuming that polyamory or open relationships are somehow going to help this. Polyamory isn’t a therapy program and it isn’t necessarily going to encourage you to be more open. In fact, if you’re insecure and scared, it’s going to be harder to operate in a different relationship style which lacks the cultural script that monogamy often provides people.

I mentioned in the article you referenced that people often mistake being insecure for self-hate and I do think you’re making that mistake here. Someone who believes themselves to be all around worthy can still have moments of insecurity. You’re setting yourself up here for failure by assuming there is some self-worth pinnacle you’re going to reach and that you won’t struggle with periods of insecurity your whole life. I think even the most well adjusted person would still struggle with insecurity — especially when faced with trying something new.

Even if you were to decide this was too hard, you might still be faced with these issues and I think the best way to actually address them is to not set yourself up for believing that this is your obstacle particularly in getting what you want from this person. He’s being quite honest with you about his ability and resources, which is good, but you’re making the mistake of believing that solving your insecurity will change his mind or somehow make you okay with having less, which brings me to the next issue here.

Insecurity or insufficiency

Someone who has a large amount of self worth will feel insecure or not happy with a relationship that doesn’t meet their needs. Sometimes there is both a problem with personal insecurity and not getting what you need in a relationship and that’s where it’s tricky. Not every bad feeling is a reflection of a personal problem that you need to address in polyamory. Sometimes you feel bad because you’re not getting what you need in a relationship and I’m wondering if that’s what’s going on here.

So many people who try polyamory assume every single negative thing they feel is either jealousy or a personal problem. You said it yourself. There are insecurities that stem from you just not being a full partner in that sense and that isn’t an insecurity that can be solved if what it is is actually an insufficiency in the relationship.

And this would be true if you were in, for example, a monogamous relationship with someone who had a time intense demanding career and you needed more attention than they could give you. You would probably also begin to feel insecure — but not as insecure because you don’t have the immediate thought process of assuming you’re not as good as a specific other person or the insecurity you felt wouldn’t feel the same because it would be over a career, not other people.

I don’t think your insecurity is an outlet for anything. I think it’s a very real and understandable feeling to have when you, especially being monogamous are used to the feelings you’re having with this person being coupled with more than what he’s able to give you. Many people, especially who only have relationships where they either don’t have a primary or domestic partner (and want one) but have partners who do have those things feel a gap in their lives for a short period of time. It’s not really a personal fault. It’s normal to feel. But some of this can be solved by understanding what he means specifically in terms of his boundaries.

What makes a partner

Some people have very clear definitions of what makes someone a partner. Other people, not so much. And personal definitions of what makes a partner can wildly vary. My domestic partner has people in their life who, if they were in my life in the exact same way, I would consider a “partner” but my partner doesn’t consider them “partners”.

Because we don’t really have a diverse set of terminologies for the different types of relationships we can have with people, we’re stuck with one group of words (partner, girlfriend, boyfriend, lover, etc.) that can all really mean very different things to very different people, especially to those of us who have no interest in formal marriage.

So what you need to understand is what he means by “bandwidth”. It sounds like what he’s afraid of is that you, by virtue of trying out non-monogamy for the first time and not having any other partners, may want to lean on him for emotional support that he can’t provide because he already provides that to other people.

What he was trying to do was manage those expectations with you and he did it, I think, in as clear of a way as he could. We can set physical boundaries quite easily in terms of the number of times we may think we can visit, but it’s really hard to grok what ‘emotional energy’ really means until it’s not being given or we’re giving too much of it.

With the way your partner has behaved and understanding that you’re new to polyamory, I think he’s going to understand as well that you might be confused by new situations. He doesn’t sound like the kind of person who wrongfully expects you to be happy all of the time, especially if you’re not getting as much as you’d like from him and you want more.

That’s going to hurt but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing something wrong or that you should stop seeing him. He’s not going to be able to solve that hurt and working on your insecurities won’t solve that hurt. That might be something you need to consider solving by seeking other partners for yourself.

Otherwise, you can ask to talk to him about your fears around seeing his other partners. Because I doubt necessarily that he treats you physically different from his other partners. He probably is the same amount of loving towards you as he is towards his other partners. It’s just that if you need to rely on him, he can’t commit to that.

But it’s not to say he feels less for you or that he would be less loving with you than other people. In general, I think if you feel it would cause you upset and you don’t have to go to events with his other partners, than don’t put yourself through some emotional decathlon just to prove a point. Avoid unnecessary pain and drama where it need not ought to be caused.

Because I do think that it will remind you, even if he doesn’t treat you different, of what you can’t have. And ultimately this is where you need to figure out what makes a partner for you. Is this relationship meeting all of your needs? It doesn’t sound like it, even as wonderful as it is. Some people can operate in relationships like these because they need or want a lot of alone time. It doesn’t sound like that’s the case for you. So you need to decide if you’re going to seek other partners to address what’s missing or if you can’t or don’t want to do that — in which case, you’re going to have to accept the level he can commit to you and decide if the moments of loneliness and pain are worth the ultimate benefit he brings to your life.

In summary

If it’s accessible for you, I definitely would advise a polyamory friendly therapist to talk this through with because every relationship involves compromise and no relationship is without some type of difficulty. It may be that there is something in staying with this, even if it’s not 100% what you need right now. Because having 40% of what you need right now is better than 0% in some ways. A therapist would be able to talk you through that.

Overall, though, I think you need to stop setting yourself up for failure by assuming this is a personal problem and not a fundamental lack of satisfaction you may have with this level of commitment. You need to figure out if you’re willing and able to date others and what a “partner” is specifically to you so you can have a better understanding of the ways this relationship doesn’t meet those needs.

Give yourself permission to feel sadness, fear and insecurity without assuming there is something wrong with you that you need to fix.

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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Curing codependency with polyamory

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

I was in a three-year monogamous relationship recently. I had an experience with the entheogen/psychedelic ayahuasca that helped me see that many of the issues in that relationship and all my previous relationships had roots in co-dependency. I realized that exploring ethical non-monogamy could be a powerful tool to help me release some of my own co-dependent habits, mostly around clinging too tightly to my own standards and expectations of my monogamous partners to take care of themselves in certain ways that didn’t always have a direct impact on me and that I had a new-found wish to simply accept and hold space for change (or not-change).

This thought process was also sparked by a friend who expressed a desire to enter into a romantic relationship with me. So, I wasn’t just introducing my existing partner to the general idea of non-monogamy, but also to my more immediate desire to begin a relationship with another man. My existing partner tried to the extent that he could, but it was overwhelming for him and he acted out in ways that I found fundamentally unacceptable and I ended that relationship.

The problem now is that the man I began a new relationship with was also never interested in non-monogamy. He was ok with me continuing my existing relationship, but once I was out of that relationship and exploring the possibility of others, he expressed discomfort. Finally he asked me to choose non-monogamy or him.

I see great potential in my relationship with him that I haven’t seen in my other relationships. The communication and openness has been wonderful and he’s someone who really takes care of himself — and the lack of that in my last relationship was one of the things that sent me on this non-monogamy journey. I recently told this person that “I can’t do monogamy” in response to his request that I choose.

In the absence of a clear answer, I felt that choosing a personal principle over an individual might be the right path. But I find myself wondering if I’m holding onto an ideal instead of being present with what’s in front of me. I don’t know for sure yet whether non-monogamy is the right fit for me — I haven’t had a chance to fully explore it yet. I have a sense that it’s the best path for me, but I’m not clear on whether or not it’s so important for me that I want to choose it over someone I have grown to love.

There’s a lot going on here.

With the full recognition that I’m not a therapist (but I will be checking this with the therapist I work with), I’m not convinced that polyamory and/or non-monogamy are tools that can help people break bad habits. In fact, I think that codependency isn’t something that’s going to be solved by trying non-monogamy. You can accept and hold space for change within monogamy. And people can be codependent and be non-monogamous.

And actually, given what you’ve said about how your codependent habits have to do with with “clinging too tightly to my own standards and expectation of my monogamous partners to take care of themselves” — I don’t necessarily think that this is specifically codependency. You don’t explicitly say what sort of things your partners aren’t doing for themselves that frustrate you, but I wouldn’t describe that as being codependent. It’s not unreasonable or unrealistic for you to want your partners to take care of themselves and to feel frustrated when they don’t, even when it doesn’t have a direct impact on you.

Your aim shouldn’t be to distance yourself from these feelings but rather accept them and learn how to cope with them better. I don’t think non-monogamy is necessarily going to change that or fix that. That has to be done by seeking out therapy, if it’s accessible to you, and identifying ways of rerouting your energies to more productive things.

That said, it’s hard for me to be able to tell you whether or not you should or shouldn’t pursue non-monogamy or not. I think if your main motivation was seeing this change within yourself, it’s worth you really trying with someone who you have communication with and who does take care of themselves if you don’t have that behaviour anymore.

Ultimately, non-monogamy isn’t supposed to be a way for you to find other partners to distract you from one partner getting on your nerves or to keep someone who you have an incompatibility with around so you don’t have to hurt them. It’s about wanting more than one romantic and/or sexual relationship in your life or that freedom to explore that and I’m not sure if that’s really what you’re seeking.

Have some introspection with a polyamory friendly therapist and talk some of these things through. It’s possible to be someone who can do both non-monogamy and monogamy, it’s not always an either or situation. But what you don’t want to do is give up a good connection you have just because you feel you will reach some type of higher level more “adjusted” state as a non-monogamous person than you would being monogamous. Because it’s not a higher path, it’s just a different one.

I hope this helps and good luck.

Do you have a question?

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

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Episode 34: Afraid of Loss

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

Your partner is interested in polyamory (and so are you) but they are afraid of losing you. How do you move forward from that?

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

Discussion Topic: Over the last five years, how do you think you have changed?

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

Episode 34 – Afraid of Loss

Your partner doesn’t want to try polyamory because they are afraid to lose you. How do you move forward from that? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – Over the last five years, how do you think you have changed?

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

Me and my wife have now been married for 3 years. It’s a very loving and happy relationship. About a year and a half in, my wife brought up the topic of polyamory and at first I was kind of taken aback just because I’ve always felt polyamorous but didn’t think it was normal because of societal norms. I didn’t want to feel like the typical guy just trying to be a player.

I did some research and come to find out many people are actually doing this. So we get to talking about it and it’s not something she wanted to try right away. Two years into the relationship and I bring it up again if she wants to give this a try. She wanted at first for us to be a triad then later decided we should look for our own partners which I was ok with. About 3 months down the line she no longer wants to continue doing this for fear of losing me. And myself being her husband did not want her to feel uncomfortable in our relationship decide we would stop and go back to being monogamous.

Three years in and in the back of my head this is still something I want to do and want to be part of my life. I don’t know how to bring this up to her and without her feeling less than of herself or even that she has to choose this or leave because I love her very dearly and don’t want to lose her but at the same time I want to express myself and be who I am.

Response:

So the biggest thing here is the fear of loss.

I think that a lot of people have this fear that… for an understandable reason, opening their relationship is going to make them lose their partner. From a certain logical perspective, this makes a lot of sense. Because you would think that if you allow your partner to sleep with other people or have relationships with other people, then they might sort of get wooed away from you.

And to a certain extent that could happen. It totally could happen. Like, her fear of this— even if you feel like quite honestly like it’s never gonna happen in your mind, her fear of this is very, very valid and makes a lot of sense, especially with all the narratives that she’s grown up around. You know, you say that you were afraid of being polyamorous or you felt that way but didn’t want to go that way because you didn’t think it was normal, and you thought that it was just about being a player.

And that whole societal narrative kind of gives you this idea that exclusivity means love. That in order to express love with someone, or for someone, you have to be exclusive with them. And it also kind of encourages the idea that being jealous of who your partner is attracted to when you’re with them, or showing that kind of thing is a sign of love as well. There’s a lot built up around that.

And I think the society we’re also surrounded with, encourages us to see the result of a relationship as a win, competitively. So you know, you can’t sell things to happy people who are happy with themselves and happy with what’s going on in their lives jenerally speaking. You can create a kind of demand by you know, making people feel scared. And I think that we grow up in a society that tells us— unless you grew up in a very different society, and apologies for assuming— but the society I grew up in at least tells me that if I want to find a partner, then I have to be the best at everything.

I have to be, you know, amazing. I have to look this way. I have to do this thing. You know, it gives you a lot of messages about what you should be, so that you can find a partner. But the truth is that we don’t pick partners because they’re the best at everything, because nobody is the best at everything. And in fact, there are billions and billions of people on this planet, and guaranteed there will be somebody who’s better than you at any given skill that you have. So if your partner’s fear is that you’re going to find someone who’s better than her at something, you probably will. But that’s not why you’re with her.

You’re not with her because she’s the best at every single thing that she does or that you do together. So sometimes what I encourage people who have this fear to think about is that you know, to reframe their perspective that they have to be the best of everything.

The other thing that I would also encourage your wife to think about is that monogamy isn’t going to prevent that from happening. It’s totally understandable that she would fear losing you because everyone fears losing people that they love in their life. But there isn’t anything she’s going to be able to ultimately do to prevent that from happening. You know, if you are going to dump her for some random person, then that can still happen even if you’re monogamous.

It happens to monogamous people all the time. Monogamous people in closed relationships, meet somebody else decide that they don’t want to be with the partner that they’re monogamous with and dump them. That happens. So monogamy isn’t going to prevent that from happening. And it’s understandable that she’s afraid, you know. You’re always going to be afraid when you try new things. But there isn’t ultimately anything that she is going to be able to do to prevent that.

And even though it sounds quite horrible, you know, especially from your perspective.You’re trying to reassure her and trying to say you know, “I’m never gonna leave you. I love you”. You know all that kind of thing. The truth is that, you know, there isn’t anything either of you can do even being monogamous to prevent each other from leaving, if that’s what you really want to do.And trying to prevent that puts a burden on your shoulder to save and keep your partner by your actions when you can’t actually prevent that with your actions.

So I think if this is something that matters to you—I mean, you’ve only been… you said you’ve been married for three years. I don’t know if you’ve been together for longer than three years.

You could have just been married for three years, but then you were together for maybe five years before then. I don’t know how old you are. I don’t know if you have kids together. Those are all things to consider when it comes to this. But if this is something that you really feel is part of who you are, and it’s something that you really want to explore, you know…

Obviously, you don’t necessarily want to twist your arm into it, but at the same time, you know, if you were all of a sudden massively interested in golfing, and you desperately wanted to you know, go on a golf tour… And if you didn’t you feel miserable. You know, there’s all sorts of things in life that could come up that could be incompatibilities between you, that just won’t be able to be negotiable.

So I mean, even having kids, you know, if one of you does want to have kids, the other one doesn’t. I mean, there’s only so much you can negotiate around that. So if this is something that’s really, really important to you, and it is something that she showed an interest in, she’s just afraid of. I think that you can bring up a subject in order to kind of say, “I realized that you know, you didn’t want to try it, and you weren’t comfortable with it because of these fears. Can we talk about these fears?”

So you’re not really saying like, “I definitely want you to try it. I definitely have— you have to do this or I’ll leave”. It’s about talking about her fears. And it might help to even ask her to listen to this if that’s helpful for you, because… all of these fears she’s experienced. are totally normal. They’re exactly what people often experience when they open their relationship up and when they try polyamory for the first time. And I think if people could think back on, on what they thought when they actually entered in their first monogamous relationship, they would find that they were probably just as afraid.

But the difference is that with monogamy, you have these cultural scripts. You have everything in society telling you like, “this is how you do this relationship. You know, first you go out some dates, and then you, you know, become an item because you become exclusive”. It has all these milestones. There’s a thing called the relationship escalator that’s worth looking up. It has all these milestones that allow you to feel comfort, and security. And you don’t really have that with polyamory, because it’s not, you know, it’s not considered normal in society, or people don’t really talk about it.

So you don’t really have these norms. And sometimes you kind of have to create those norms. So you’re going to be terrified and you’re going to be scared, you’re gonna be worried about losing, you know, one another. You may not be as worried as she was, but you’re both going to be scared. You’re both going to be anxious. That’s very, very normal. And maybe if she kind of thinks about these fears— it’s less about trying to get her to agree to be polyamorous and more about thinking, you know, how can we address these fears? Because when you mentioned— you mentioned that she wanted to try to be a triad and then later decide to look for your own partners, which is good. I think that out of fear, a lot of couples initially think that a triad is safer. And so they go for that, but actually, you know, finding one person to love you, in general is hard enough.

Like expecting a third person to come in and love you both in a way that isn’t threatening is impossible. Like it’s just a very tricky situation. And people always think that it’s somehow an ideal situation because they think it’s the situation which is less likely to end in jealousy. But let me tell you, I had somebody I knew who was in a triad relationship, and she was dumped by both of her  partners on the same day and ever since then, I’ve never really felt that triads were very safe. For me, I’d never had that illusion.

It’s seems like a nice thing. Like, obviously, it’s nice if everybody likes each other. And, yeah, it’s nice if you both have— if you all have the same amount of love for each other, but I think people don’t choose that, because they’re trying to create a certain lifestyle, I think mostly they choose it out of fear. And so I do think that your wife has been making some decisions out of fear. And she’s the one who brought up the topic.

So I don’t think— you know, as long as you approach the situation, and you say, “I’d like to discuss with you the fears that you had”, and you know, what you might be able to find in your area, or maybe even via Skype, a polyamory friendly therapist who can sit down and have these discussions. And then you know, because there’s all sorts of other things to think about. You may both want to try polyamory, but maybe you both have a very, very different idea of how you want to structure your life and relationships. You know, lots of people are you know, have a basic interest in being polyamorous, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have the same type of goals in terms of what kinds of relationships that they want. So, you know, that’s not even necessarily half the battle.

It’s important for you to think about things like that. But I think just starting off, you know, just approach the subject in a way that’s like, you know, “I know that you express the fears. I’m not trying to say we have to do this. But I’d like to talk about those fears, and introduce these ideas”. I’ve written a few columns about the fear of being replaced, which you can find, if you’d like, and just see what she thinks, you know, it doesn’t have to be an either or situation.

Later on down the line. If you really feel like this is really, really part of you. And you can’t, you know, you can’t say no to it, and you can’t pretend all your life that you’re fine not doing it, and you desperately desperately want to do it, then you’re going to have to really think about the situation unfortunately, But that happens. And it’s not necessarily polyamory’s fault. Sometimes people just have different priorities and different things that they want to try. And I think you know, you only live once. And if this is something that you really, really want to try, then you should go for it.

I think, in the meantime, you know, I don’t think you should go full tilt right now. But you can have some discussions about her fears, and see if that changes her mind. And you know, find a polyamory friendly therapist, if you have the opportunity. Maybe that person can also like talk about— find a good way to bring up this subject. And, and you can talk about it, and you can work out what you want out of polyamory and what she wants, and maybe she’ll be less afraid. But yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

Do you have a question?

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

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