Episode 5: Tricky Triangles and BPD

When is a good time to try and see if you are non-monogamous? And how can borderline personality disorder impact it? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Listen below or on Libsyn.

Episode 5: Tricky triangles and BPD

When is a good time to try and see if you are non-monogamous? And how can borderline personality disorder impact it? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon.

 

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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:

Alright, where to start.

I have a BPD, it is untreated but I have been fine. For the time when I ever was in therapy (several shorter periods, some only for urgent needs, with different therapists in different cities) I wasn’t diagnosed as one. I had a lot of different diagnoses but only after getting my life a bit more stable last year, I was able to realise that this is what I should have been diagnosed with. I identify very strongly with all of its features. Since I have done a lot of work with myself to be able to handle this and my grounding (at the time monogamous) relationship helped me tremendously. I think I’ve been through the worst already, and I have been able to live quite balanced life for some time now.

But about the relationship situation. I had to break up with my aforementioned partner for long time as the relationship and both of us were kind of stuck in it. There has always been much love between us, even after the break-up. So we dealt with some personal issues and realized that we still love each other unconditionally and want to be together. But during our separation, my partner (at the time ex) and my best friend fell in love with each other. I wasn’t living in the same country during this time and suddenly they spent a lot of time together.

They didn’t want to start a romantic relationship because there was still a possibility for me and my ex and we had to figure out how to be together, but of course this didn’t stop my ex and friend for having those feelings for each other. And as I wasn’t around and the relationship situation between me and my partner was open, the relationship situation between them had to be open and waited for me to come back to the country and figure things out with my partner. We talked about things a lot during our separation too, and started to have conversations about non-monogamy as an option.

Meanwhile (for a few months) my ex and friend started working together and really spending a lot of their time together. Additionally, I see them as very similar types of persons, and am envious for their connection on many levels (work, sex, energy levels, and communication skills). I have been looking for that kind of connection myself and am happy and jealous for them.

Little bit of background. My friend is non-monogamous and has done the emotional work for transforming from monogamous to non-monogamous for a few years ago. Me and my partner, we have been together for four years. The relationship started out as a non-monogamous one, but we weren’t able to handle that ethically back then, we really didn’t know what it was about and only ended up hurting each other. They had two relationships back then but wasn’t able to handle the feelings and responsibilities that come with it, and their actions and sayings also ended up causing me some very painful traumas, some of which due to the non-monogamous situation and rating and comparing the different aspects of the persons in the relationship.

For example letting me know that they would like to have sex with the other person more than me because she was better at it. After some very painful periods and a break-up then, we decided to have a monogamous relationship. So, we were in this relationship for more than three years and worked a lot with the traumas in the relationship. After over three years I thought that we were through those. And to be fair, I am guilty to this equally as well. I knew that we had to break up in order for us to be free to move forward with ourselves. I had decided to break up with my partner before they really got to have a say in it (part of my BPD, maybe). I fell in love with someone else and slept with him before our break-up was talked through.

Now, after this we have talked about non-monogamy and in so many sense that is the right type of relationship for us. I think I am a non-monogamist, or at least becoming one but I am not sure yet. I know that I should be sure about this first rather than be sure about the person I want to be with. I am working with this and learning about non-monogamy now and so is my partner. We have agreed to build our relationship on that basis now and are slowly coming to terms with it. But there is the pressure from my friend’s side. They want to have a relationship with my partner as well and my partner wants to explore that possibility too.

They have deep feelings for each other and this situation seems to be pending mostly because of my emotional work and me not knowing yet how to be in this relationship situation. So I feel a terrible pressure from both of them and also because I want to do the right thing for them both and see that they could provide much happiness for each other. We have tried solving this situation together, all three of us, talking honestly about it. But then I see my former emotional instability kick in and I don’t seem to have any tools for handling it anymore. I feel ashamed that I am not able to handle my BPD better and the severity of this surprised me too. Also, the traumas from the history of our relationship kick in with force and I find it very difficult to handle those with my crazy emotions. And because of these I am thinking if this is too much for me.

So, this feels extremely complicated. I am trying to write down some of the core issues in here.

  • The trust issues between me and my partner because of our history and our ability to work through those as we apparently haven’t already. Or is this just something this new situations causes and we could be past those sooner than expected. I am pondering if we are able to work through the traumas really, or have we already damaged each other too much, is there too much emotional baggage between us.
  • There certainly would be easier situations to find out if I am a non-monogamist and I am seriously thinking if I should do this and leave the situation even though I love my partner unconditionally and know that we could build a future together.
  • The terrible pressure I get from outside to this situation. I feel that I should be able to give answers to my friend and to my partner and that it is not okay for me to keep their situation pending.
  • My apparent emotional instability and all the feelings of insecurity and unworthiness that come with it. I thought that I was fine with these already, but this situation surfaced them again. I don’t know if learning to be in a non-monogamous relationship is going to be the healing process for me or is this too much and it will shatter my mental health. The latter feels especially dangerous because I currently have no access to therapy and will have to mostly rely on my own means (and my partner’s and friend’s support) for coping. I don’t really have anyone other than those two whom I could trust.
  • Related to the previous point, I am not sure if I can see my boundaries in this situation. And if I can see them I am questioning if I should move them a bit further and learn more. And this particularly because of my partner and my friend. I feel like that I owe it to them, that I have to show them and myself that I am for sure doing everything in this situation to be able to live in a non-monogamous relationship. And I feel like that if I don’t do this I am not worthy. So in a way I feel like that I should find my boundaries but also be able to work through them to a situation that pleases my partner and my friend. Or my partner’s love for me will fade at the same time when my friend can present themselves as mature, emotionally stable, and empathetic. And even if this doesn’t happen knowingly I sense my partner’s feelings growing stronger towards my friend while I am struggling. I see this as a natural process. I find it already difficult to accept that anyone other than me should deal with my mental health issues.
  • I feel ashamed of my BPD and the emotions it brings to the equation. I am trying to work with all my personal issues constantly but because of the former point, am partly afraid of bringing them all out.
  • I see that this might teach me a lot and at its best heal me and help me to live more balanced life in a relationship that I am content with but from this point I can’t tell if this is possible in this situation.
  • I find it really difficult to give space to any other people and love now when I am in the middle of this emotional turmoil, so I also find it difficult to understand if I am really non-monogamist or if this is just something I am doing for my partner and/or my friend.
  • I feel like my friend is too much trying to solve this situation according to their needs and that I don’t really have the space I would need. But I also feel that I can’t claim that and keep them waiting. I feel there is hurry to somewhere and it is painful to see my friend and my partner being in this anticipating situation. I feel like my friend is also too much aware of the situation between me and my partner and somehow that has started to feel intrusive. I don’t want them to know about all the issues we have in a relationship between me and my partner.
  • I have noticed that I have started to have some serious trust issues in this situation, I am afraid to completely trust either of them because I can’t be anymore sure if they know what could be best for me. That their own agendas are impacting the help they give me.
  • I am also starting to doubt if my partner can really handle a relationship with a person with BPD, they seem to be afraid to cause me emotional trouble and therefore they are not always being totally honest with me.
  • Being in a hierarchical relationship is not an option for my friend or my partner. My friend needs this to be non-hierarchical. They feel like that they should be able to be with each other as they want to.

There are probably many other issues at play but I seem not to be able to access them now. I would so much appreciate any advice on this situation, I feel almost helpless and my tools for coping are running out. What would you suggest, how to approach the issues and in which order? And to end this on a high note – of course this is a big issue only because of all the wonderful things I have with my partner. One should imagine that after all this we should already be able to let each other go but our mutual love has only grown. That love is something I can really trust, and that is why I am putting myself through this emotional purgatory.

Response:

So there’s a lot of stuff going on here.

I think my first question and the first consideration in all of this is firstly what’s the rush? Does anybody have a terminal illness in this equation? Is anyone moving? Is anyone dying? Is anyone… you know what’s the rush? I feel like whether it’s you or it’s your friend and your partner or a combination of both putting pressure on you to decide this… you know it’s not that big of a deal.

It feels very melodramatic, soap opera-y. “Oh these two people just like each other so much and they just can’t…”. You know, it’s a bit dramatic and it’s a bit overhyped. I mean these people…  your ex (or I don’t know if you still consider them your ex) with your partner and your friend already have a very close relationship. They’ve already spent tons of time together. You know, they are already… I mean what is the difference….

One of the big things about non monogamy that I appreciate is, within the type of monogamy that society encourages there is a very big line between friend and partner and I’m not saying that for me that doesn’t exist but for me friendships mean a lot. They mean a lot to me and I can be very very close and very intimate with friends. Maybe not in the same way personally that I’m intimate with a romantic partner but for me the only real difference is a sexual relationship. But that’s not true of all people. But that doesn’t… they already have this intimacy so the only thing theoretically that I’m seeing that they’re not doing it as having sex.

And can they not just chill? You know? Like where is the rush? Why is there such a rush? I’m a little bothered by the fact that there is all this pressure on you and I just think that, you know, I think it’s partially… you’re doing it a bit yourself it sounds like. It doesn’t sound like they’ve given you a deadline but they need to just freaking cool it it for a bit. I don’t know how how long you’ve kind of been in this situation but they can chill. So I just feel like that’s the first issue. Like calm down.

But the other big thing here is that there is… you’ve pointed out there’s a lot of pressure and the situation and what really strikes me is… I mean, you know BPD is a thing. Mental illness, a specific mental illness, is a thing but… everyone, and this is not to downplay how serious BPD can be but, a lot of people struggle with mental health issues. And a lot of people who are non-monogamous struggle with mental health issues. And there’s things I’m seeing in you like… you kind of seem to expect that there’s going to be some point where you want have any mental illness problems and that’s certainly not true for me. And I have anxiety and I have social… I’ve got all sorts of different types of fun anxiety. I seem to have collected all all different flavours and my… part of for me dealing with having anxiety is accepting the fact that I will always have it and that seems depressing and defeatist but actually not putting myself in a position where I constantly have to fight and I’m constantly judging myself as not good enough because I’m having a panic attack or that there’s something wrong with me because I have a mental illness, it actually it makes it much much easier to cope with it.

And what worries me about this situation is you’re kind of… you’re doing what a lot of people I think coping with mental illness do which is put themselves in a position where they define success only by not exhibiting any symptoms of their mental illness. And that’s just not realistic or feasible especially if like many other people your mental illness and issues around mental health become completely out of whack when things in your life change.

I mean most people… it is not even about mental illness. For the vast majority of human beings, when something massive changes in their life, they experience emotions about it. You know, there’s that list of like the most serious maybe not traumatic, but the most difficult things to go through like moving, someone passing away, the birth of a child… even good things can cause a complete upheaval in someone’s emotional wellbeing, whether or not they have a mental illness. It’s change and it’s constant and it’s part of life.

No one, mental illness or not, BPD or not, is going to be able to escape that. There’s never going to be a perfect equilibrium of emotional stability where you or anyone else is going to be at where you can handle anything without… you know, it almost seems like… and I don’t blame you because this is the problem with I think a lot of polyamory advice and a lot of the way people talk about polyamory  because the first thing people talk to you about is, “Do you get jealous? Do you feel jealousy?” And it almost seems like people are constantly expected to perform this, “I don’t feel jealous” or “Yes I did once, but I processed and I’m fine now and everything is fine”.

It’s almost like we’re expected to be emotionless. And when we exhibit emotions about things it’s jealousy. And it’s not always jealousy. Or you know, we’re controlling our partners by having feelings about things and it’s just so shit especially for people who have mental health struggles because you have fucking feelings. You’re not a robot. You’re not going to go through difficult situations in your life and be emotionless. So I think that’s a big thing here. You are defining success and whether you can “do non monogamy” by whether or not you have feelings about things and I don’t think you’re ever going to reach a state where you don’t have feelings.

The other big thing that really concerns me here is that you don’t have any other means of emotional support except these two people. Now hierarchy is a thing I have a lot of capital O, opinions about. I feel like when people say they don’t want to hierarchy, I think they need to be clearer about what that means but I also think you need to be realistic about what your needs are to yourself and to other people.

I’m super realistic about that. I have social anxiety. I have generalized anxiety. I like a situation where I have you not a partner that I live with who I can lean on for emotional support. I do have a therapist but I do like to have emotional support from my partners. I couldn’t date someone who has no interest in providing me any emotional support and that may be to them what they want out of relationship. Maybe they don’t want to provide emotional support for the people. Maybe that’s what they like about polyamory, that they can take as many people as they like and not have any of the responsibilities that usually comes with monogamous relationships and in my opinion non-monogamous relationships which is emotional support.

I know that I probably need more emotional support than maybe other people do because I don’t have a family. I don’t have family connections. I don’t have a lot of really close friends just due to the way that I am and that’s just me. I can’t change that and I’m aware of that. And so you know I’m very conscious when I go into a relationship to say “Hey I don’t have this massive support network that everyone else probably has. Therefore I might have more emotional needs” and so that’s the really tricky thing. And one of the things that I find frustrating about the idea of no hierarchy because some people have more needs than others and that’s just how it is. Sometimes you can’t balance everything equally across the board because some people need more help.

It is really worries me that that the way that your best friend is saying “I want everything to be equal”… it’s sort of like saying this means you’re not going to be able to rely on your partner for as much emotional support as you would need because they need to be worried about balancing everything. And you do probably need more support than other people and it just kind of worries me that these, I’m assuming that the friend you mentioned is also this friend, that these two are the only people that you have to rely on and that creates a really awkward situation as well for your friend. And that might be why they’re being sort of like everything has to be equal.

Because using your metamour as an emotional support…  ideally I think…. You’re already expressing discomfort about the amount of information that your friend knows about the relationship that’s between you and your partner. That’s only going to increase if you need them for emotional support. And that is understandable for you to feel uncomfortable with that because you probably don’t and won’t know as much about their relationship because your friend doesn’t need that kind of emotional support from you.

And that’s fine and that’s no one’s fault but it’s only going to continue to be unequal and so that’s that really worries me… the fact that you would be relying so much on both of them. Because this is a very, like I said, this is a very pressurised situation. Not only are you pressurized to do non-monogamy when you’re not really sure if it is for you but you’re also very pressurized to perform for both of their happiness. And throughout this entire letter you’re not even remotely considering… you’re barely considering your own happiness here.

I mean you say a lot about… I want to prove myself to be worthy. I want this to be a learning experience. Non-monogamy is not a lesson. If you were to have that same approach to monogamy… like if you were to meet someone who’s like all “I wanna have a boyfriend because he’ll teach me a lesson” that would be appalling. I mean… I would hope it would be appalling. So why is it that that acceptable for non monogamy? Why do we look… you talk about your friend has done all this emotional work to be non monogamous… The only thing that is required to be non-monogamous is just saying “I’m not monogamous”. That’s it. There is no test. There’s no qualification. There’s no emotional battlefield that someone has to go through and they get a trophy saying “I’m non-monogamous now”. There’s no licence. There’s no test.

All you have to do to be non-monogamous is just go, “Oh, I’m non-monogamous now”. That’s it. You have this conception of non-monogamy as somehow better than monogamy. Somehow you ascend to some type of higher level by becoming non-monogamous and you’re emotionally centred and somehow better as a person for being non-monogamous. I really think you need to question that because it’s not true. People who are not monogamous are not necessarily any better or more capable and handling what life throws at them as people who are monogamous.

That’s it. Non-monogamy may require some different coping skills and some different approaches and it may require different considerations but it doesn’t mean you’re automatically better at anything. So it really worries me that this is adding to that pressure. Not only will you be expected to perform for the happiness of these two people, not only are you relying on them for emotional support but you’re also putting yourself up to this idea of non monogamy as “I want to become some type of emotional gladiator and be better and and excel and pass this test and then I am non-monogamous”. Do do do do!

And that’s just not how it works and not what it is. So I really think that if… it’s not even necessarily about having BPD and I do think that you know, I understand you’re not in a position right now you can get therapy and it really really sucks that therapy is not accessible for all people easily. That’s horrible and shit. But I do think that regardless of whatever kind of relationship you’re in, BPD is the kind of thing but you really do need to work through things with a therapist. You need to have that because what BPD does is constantly questions your own reality. It constantly makes you feel unworthy. It constantly puts you in situations where you know you are very emotionally fragile and that’s not your fault.

I’m not saying… It’s so easy when someone says “I feel ashamed of this” to say “Oh don’t be ashamed”.  “Oh, thank you that’s the… thank you so much that fixed everything”. You need to work through that shame with a therapist. You need to come to any relationship, non-monogamy or not, I think you know once you accept… “Ok I have BPD. This is what it does. This is what it is. This is what I need”. It will be much easier for you in general in life, regardless of what emotion or what relationship style you choose.

And I really think you need to do that and I’m not sure this is the healthiest environment for you to do that in because there’s so much pressure for you to perform. There’s so many options for your brain to say that if you don’t do this you will be abandoned. And that is a really terrifying thing and it’s going to be really hard to cope with. I think you’ve already talked about how you feel like you have to be this non-monogamous person and you have to go with this because your partner is slowly falling out of love with you and falling more in love with this other person.

You’ve already had like… situations where she’s out and out… I forgot what their pronoun is… where your partner’s out and out compared you to somebody else and literally said “I like having  sex with this other person because they’re better at it”. I mean that’s a horrible ass thing to say to somebody. BPD or no, that shit hurts. Like damn. We all have different likes and dislikes and you know when you have multiple partners sometimes one person is technically better at something then the other. But it doesn’t have…. first of all if I had one partner that was better at something in the other I probably go to the one that isn’t so good at whatever was and say, “Hey do you want to try this?” I wouldn’t tell them, “Can you kiss like my other partner cause they’re  much better at it”. I’d never say that to somebody because that’s horrible.

I mean if we took this out of relationships and took it out of sex and you went home to your parents, assuming you got along with them, and you said, “Mom, I love this spaghetti but it’s actually not as good as I had at this place. Can you make it that way?”. You wouldn’t say something like that even about spaghetti to a family member so why would you say to a partner? So you’ve already been in a situation where you’ve been directly compared to somebody. BPD or no, that’s going to trigger somebody’s feelings of like oh shit now I’m always going to be compared to somebody else. And that’s really hard.

I just… I don’t know if this is the best situation for you to be in, in any relationship to be honest. Because you really need to find an emotional support that isn’t just this person and I think that might be why you’re holding on to the situation. I know you say you love them and I’m not questioning that but if you only had your partner and your friend as emotional support in your life altogether… you may be holding on to that because that’s your emotional support. And you know that if you say, “No I don’t think I want to do this”. They’re gonna go off and do their own thing. I think in the in the periphery you’re kind of worried that they are just gonna forget about you and then you’ve kind of lost them both. So you’re trying to kind of get into a situation where maybe this isn’t emotionally healthy for you but you still at least have those two people to rely on.

And I don’t think that that’s a good reason to be in any relationship, not monogamous or no. Because you are relying on that person. I mean we all to a certain extent… I don’t think it’s completely unhealthy to rely on someone for a bit of emotional support. There are people who do that “Your emotions are your responsibility” and all that bull shit but you know… I think that it’s very human and very expected to want to have some emotional intimacy with with a partner and to rely on them a bit for assurance, for backup, for a listening how bad your day went.

This to me is the bread and butter of what a relationship is. If I don’t have that with someone, I don’t have a relationship with them to me. But that’s up to you to decide so all-in-all like… There’s a lot about this situation and there’s a lot of issues that you’re dealing with but ultimately I think there’s a big rush on this. And there shouldn’t be such a big rush.

Like I said that may be just as much you putting that on yourself and not necessarily them completely putting that on you but I do feel like overall… the fact that you are relying on these two people for your emotional support and then also you’re being pressured into a situation…  even if they’re not pressuring you, you’re pressuring yourself into this situation where you’re going to be expected to be ok with everything, or at least that’s your goal.

You’re setting yourself up for failure because your goal is to do this and be awesome and be ok and not have any mental health problems and I’m just the best and I’m cool with everything. And that’s just not a good goal. It’s not a realistic or reasonable goal and regardless of how non-hierarchical your friend wants to make this, there is going to be an imbalance or not a perfect equal balance of needs because you are going to need their emotional support more than they probably need yours.

So it’s just it just seems like it’s doomed for you to be in a horrible horrible shit place and especially when you don’t have access to a therapist. I just don’t think that this is a good situation to put yourself in and I think it seems worse. The alternative of saying “I don’t think I want to be in this relationship” and losing that romantic intimacy with your current partner and may be driving a bit of a wedge between you and your friend because obviously the more they get together the more maybe crappy you’re going to feel about it but actually I think that even as you might be reliant on them right now, putting yourself in a situation where you’re also in a relationship with them… it’s just making it worse. It’s ok to be reliant on people from emotional support. It’s not all bootstraps and every human for themselves.

We rely on each other. That we humans do and that’s the reason we’ve survived is because we work together but putting yourself in this kind of a pressurised situation is really, really difficult and I don’t think that it’s the best move for you right now. I really think that… like I said, don’t put yourself in a situation where you expect to come out of any therapy situation where you never have any emotional reactions to anything or you never have any feelings of worthlessness or any of that. I don’t think that’s realistic. But you want to get to a point I think where you accept that you have BPD. Where you understand your BPD enough to know what your needs. To understand your BPD well enough to know what triggers those feelings of worthlessness, what triggers fears of abandonment, what triggers splitting, what triggers you going down that difficult snowball where you’re just going and going and you can’t stop.

It’s good for you to know what triggers that. It’s good for you to know coping mechanisms. It’s good for you to be able to come to a new partner in and say “Look, this is what I’ve got. This is what I need. This is the way you can help me”. You want to know that somebody is comfortable with that and that they can deal with that and that they’re not going to, as you said, be less honest with you because of it because that isn’t going to help either.

So yeah I think overall this is probably not the best situation to put yourself in and it does sound more difficult to separate yourself from the situation but I think ultimately that is probably what’s going to be better for you.  As best you can, reach out find some resources. There might be a therapist who’s willing to see you for a low-cost or for free. You never know what kind of resources are out there. So invest your time into making yourself feel better. Invest your time in to you and not trying to please everybody around you.

Because I think that’s what you need. Rather than just trying to like, “Oh I want to be in this thing where my partner can date my friend so that they can be happy and I can be happy and we all can be happy”, I think you need to think about what makes you happy in the long run rather than just having this emotional support now. It just feels like a situation where it’s kinda going to collapse in on itself a bit if I’m honest.

I hope that helps. I really hope that helps. Really difficult situation to be in. Really confusing.  I really hope that things get better for you.

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When non-monogamy hurts

Let me start by saying I’ve always been a monogamist. I was married for over twenty years before my wife and I divorced. Last year I met someone I’ll call Lily. Lily and her girlfriend had been together for over 10 years. They had lived together briefly before Lily’s partner moved to another city, yet they were still maintaining their status as partners. I got the feeling that Lily was not very happy in this relationship, that it was unfulfilling, the two of them were rarely if ever intimate, she was very lonely, and from what I observed, her partner took advantage of her by doing things like dumping her dogs on her to take care of for the weekend.

It didn’t take long before Lily and I acknowledged our mutual attraction, and after weeks of flirtation and some intense make-out sessions, we ended up sleeping together a few times. Lily found out during this time that her girlfriend *may* have been cheating on her (although I never knew this for sure). Lily was very upset, even though she was doing the same thing. By all observation, I thought their relationship was doomed. I went full-throttle into pursuing something with Lily. By all regards, Lily is perfect for me — physically and intellectually — and we have the best sexual chemistry ever.

As time has gone on, though, Lily and her girlfriend have stayed together. She sent me a link to an article on polyamory at one point, and I think she is truly in love with both me and her partner. She has told me she loves me, and though she tried to play it off as something she says to her friends, her actions say otherwise. As far as I know, the partner doesn’t know Lily and I have been physical, although she knows we spend a lot of time together — movies, dinner, TV, etc. I’ve met the girlfriend several times (very awkward) and had dinner with both of them a few times. I think the girlfriend is beginning to suspect there is something going on. Lily says she has made surprise visits to Lily’s apartment, and I think she’s hoping to catch Lily and me together.

Lily has not actually said she wants to be anything but a FWB with me. But as much time as we’ve spent together, I’ve fallen in love with her. I couldn’t help it. If I had known she and her partner were never going to split up I would NEVER have gotten involved with her. For now, I think Lily is comfortable with the situation. I’ve seriously thought of how I would feel about being in a polyamorous relationship (although I could never be in a triad as I am not the least bit attracted to her partner). I love Lily to the point I would almost consider such an arrangement, but only if all parties agreed to it. And I have no idea if the girlfriend would be open to it or not. But then I have to wonder what the future would be for Lily and me. I can’t see myself staying in that kind of situation long-term.

I’m wondering if I just need to break things off with Lily, painful as it would be. I don’t have any experience with polyamory, and I just don’t think I’m cut out for it. What’s your advice?

This is quite a dilemma to be faced with and you really do have my sympathies.

It looks like from the start you weren’t very honest with yourself. You’ve known yourself to be monogamous and it doesn’t sound like you have any genuine interest in polyamory and, as you said, you probably would not have got involved with her if her and her partner weren’t going through such a hard time. One thing I want to highlight in this letter though for you and anyone who reads this is that, if Lily had better boundaries in place and was actually polyamorous, she probably would have also not let this progress this far either.

Whatever is going on with her and her partner, I find it extremely odd that you would know so much without also having a clear conversation about what your relationship is meant to become. It makes me feel like Lily was using you from the start. You provided her the emotional support she could not find in her partner and also physical fun. She gained your sympathy by telling you about how difficult their relationship was going, letting you in on more information that wasn’t really your business to know, and kept you going on and on, all this time.

Then she sends you a link about polyamory and, in credit to Lily, sometimes this is how people discover polyamory. Monogamy is a cultural given and a lot of people who can’t do monogamy find this out the hard way. I’m not going to say that someone who cheats is incapable of being polyamorous because there are so many reasons people cheat, but what concerns me about what Lily’s doing is not the suggestion that she’s been dishonest with her partner but that she involved you so much in this process and really has never made it clear to you where you lie.

If her partner is making surprise visits to Lily’s apartment, it’s safe to say that Lily is cheating actively and involving you in that. And the fact that she’s comfortable with that is the biggest red flag here for me. She hasn’t bothered to ask you what you want out of this. Does she know that you came out of a 20 year marriage? I would expect a person like that to probably want monogamy and my suspicion is that Lily knows that’s what you want but, rather than being honest with you, she’s going to keep you for as long as you’re willing to entertain her.

Likewise, she’ll keep her partner stringing along for as long as she can. Ask yourself if this is a person you would want to date monogamously or polyamorously. She has proven to you on multiple occasions that she is primarily interested in getting what she wants. Whether you are dating one or more people, you need people in your life who care about your wellbeing and will not be willing to sacrifice your needs for theirs.

I don’t think this is a situation where you should try polyamory because I don’t think this is a situation where you should even try monogamy. I think you should find someone who isn’t already in another relationship. If Lily had made some type of commitment to speaking to her girlfriend about polyamory, of giving you a timeline for when she would introduce the concept, or even trying to make it clear to you what you mean to her and where she sees your relationship going… then maybe I would be more optimistic. Sometimes this is how people discover they aren’t cut out for monogamy.

But, the fact that, as you said, Lily is comfortable in a situation where her partner doesn’t trust her, where she’s potentially cheating on her partner, and she’s happy to keep you along even when you feel uncomfortable… I don’t think this is really a situation you should engage in at all. You could try giving Lily your own time limit to discuss this with her girlfriend because you do not wish to stick around but… if you are not sure you want this kind of situation long-term, even if it’s not cheating… It might be best to cut your losses and find someone else.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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

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Getting over your partner sleeping with others

I have a question, am looking for advice on the topic of free/ libertine sexuality and eroticism.

Me and my boyfriend of 5 years are in a polyamorous relationship. We both have another long term relationship. I am very much in love with my boyfriend and also love my long term partner a lot.

The bound with boyfriend feels very intimate, our erotic connection is tantric and very fulfilling for both of us. Yet, we seem to disagree on the topic of “freedom”. He is very curious about all aspects of the erotic spectrum and we already explored a bit together and went to some libertine clubs and play parties where we experienced a couple of things with another couple, all very loving and playful. I liked the experiences because we went through them together…

His curiosity leads him however to want to experience a couple of things alone. For example he would like to experience a gang bang without me. He would like to be free to go to libertine clubs without me as well…He says it has nothing to do with me or us or with our fantastic erotic bound. It has to do with his need for variation and his fascination by this world.

And even if I want to support him and feel thankful that he is open about his fantasies and fascinations, it still feels threatening to me. I cannot bear the thought of him experiencing intimate things there without me…I am also a bit tempted to think about these club experiences as being more “ trivial” and afraid it might “trivialize” our sexuality…I know this is a tricky way to think about it…

Any advice on how to handle/ see this?

I can see this issue from both sides. What it comes down to is an issue of compatibility, but I would encourage you to try and think outside the box on this and unpack your feelings.

Different concepts of freedom

You don’t say whether or not your relationship began polyamorously or if you moved towards polyamory from monogamy. I do feel like sometimes that can have an impact on how things go. Specifically, I ask because when you initially set out to do polyamory, it would have been good to discuss with each other what types of relationships you wanted. It would have been, at that point, when he could have made it clear that he was interested in sex with other people without you present.

Still, having that discussion now may be what you need with regards to reassurance. It’s worth you thinking about why you’ve chosen polyamory, what you get out of it, and where you see yourself with your boyfriend and your long-term partner in the long run.

You mention that both you and your partner have other long-term partners and you don’t specify that you’re present for every one of his sexual encounters with his other long-term partner, so I’m wondering if what you’re saying about yourself is true. It is possible he’s not sexually active with his other long-term partner, but if he is, then your problem isn’t so much that you must be there when he’s intimate with other people, but that the thought of him being on his own makes you nervous specifically when it comes to more explicitly sexual situations.

I don’t think you disagree with the concept of freedom here, I just think you had different things in mind when it came to where your polyamorous relationships would lead.

When we feel threatened

Though there haven’t been many studies done on polyamorous people, I would gather that there are a good number of people who feel more threatened by their partner having casual encounters than ‘stable’ partnerships. On the surface, there is a lot more to be threatened by in a casual encounter. Fundamentally, your relationship is very different to a casual encounter. A casual encounter is, presumably, simple and doesn’t involve the emotional labour of a relationship.

There is a dynamic that exists between domestic types of partnerships and casual types of partnerships that creates an ideal environment for threat on both sides. Domestic partnerships are accompanied with all of the hassle that is living with another human being and potentially even dealing with children or owning a home together — all not very ‘fun’ things. Whereas for those on the side of a casual fling may feel like they never get the sense of commitment that a domestic partnership can bring — there are reasons to be threatened on both sides.

It’s possible you are threatened by the casual encounters your partner wants to have, and not by his other long-term partner, because of either your assumptions about what his motivations for wanting them are or the fact that they have a more ‘fun’ aspect than your current relationship does — it’s hard to really say. You mention the idea of “free / libertine sexuality and eroticism” which… this might be due to a language translation, but it makes me wonder if you are threatened by the idea of him being alone because you are internally trying to prove yourself to be as ‘free’ and ‘libertine’ as you say you are.

It’s worth you unpacking what it is about the idea of him being alone that bothers you and unpack why it is and what fears might be hiding behind that.

Different strokes for different folks

The idea of your boyfriend wanting to experience things alone is understandable and doesn’t necessarily reflect a lack of interest in experiences with you. Just like him wanting to masturbate on his own doesn’t mean he’s not interested in you. Just like if he wants to go do something by himself, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t value the time he spends with you. He may wish to have his own experiences and that might be something that means something to him. And that’s okay.

It’s also okay if you prefer to have these experiences with him if the value you see in some of these experiences is the increase in intimacy it builds between the two of you. That is the value you have of this experience, and that’s okay. You and your partner do not have to have the same exact feelings and motivations for you to respect and understand one another. What’s worth you remembering is that your boyfriend values things in different ways than you do. For him, these experiences have a value in and of themselves, independent of intimacy between established partners, and that doesn’t mean that he values you and your experiences together any less.

It’s really hard not to take the idea of your partner wanting experiences which don’t involve you personally. It’s hard not to feel like this doesn’t represent a personal failure on your part or worry that something will change about your own relationship, but this is where your partner needs to step in and reassure you.

Give yourself permission to feel anxious about his casual flings. I feel anxious when my domestic partner has casual flings. It worries me because I worry about not being fun enough, I worry about increased STI risk and I worry for reasons I can’t even properly verbalise. I have no idea why I’m scared, I just am. And I embrace it and accept it. And to be honest, over time, my fear has gone down. It still crops up when I’m having a bad mental health time, but overall it has gone down.

Taking things one step at a time

You and your partner are different, but I don’t think your compatibility is such that you need to consider breaking up. I do think that you can think about ways to break down your fears, decontextualise them and get the support you need from your partner that you need to sort through this. You might want to consider finding a polyamory friendly couples therapist who can help you work through these things.

To recap, I think you need to think about what you want out of polyamory. Is what you want a partner who will only do sexual things with you and not alone? If that’s a major requirement for you, then you may be incompatible with your current partner. If you’ve decided you’re not sure or you don’t think that’s as important as other things, you should try to unpack what you’re worried about when it comes to him going off on his own. Ask him to be involved in reassuring your fears. Remember that he can value different experiences differently than you do, but it doesn’t mean that you don’t mean anything to him.

Then, I think you need to maybe have him slowly experiment with going out on his own. Make sure you have company or something to do on the nights when he does. Expect you might be upset and plan for that, but try to accept that you feel fear and work on ways to cope with that. You might find you come out of the other end and it’s not as big of a deal as you thought it was and that you’re just fine. Or, conversely, you might find out that this just isn’t something you want and that you’re more of a swinger than interested in polyamorous relationships.

I definitely think in the long run, it’s worth breaking down and thinking about your fears and giving it a try before calling it quits completely.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Note: I wrote this article in 2017 which means that some of my perspectives may have changed. Feel free to submit a similar question again.

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Bipolar disorder and polyamory

I am a cis man married to a trans man, we are both about 40. He has had non-monogamous relationships before. I have not, though I am not unadventurous. In the winter last year, we fooled around with another couple. I was not turned on at all by this. For me, it was a somewhat abject experience, and i felt like I was just “servicing” someone else for the sake of this “experience.”

He was changed by the experience, and now wants us to explore non-monogamy. I have a hard time with this idea, mostly because I have “sewn my oats” a lot; in my 20s I slept with all kinds of people, though I never really liked sleeping with strangers, and was usually only turned on by people i was romantically interested in or who were good friends. Now I just actually enjoy stability and being sort of focused on our marriage and careers, etc.

Also, the other complication is that I have bipolar disorder. In the spring, when we started talking about non-monogamy, I fell into a depression, felt totally drained of energy and was hopelessly sad. Then, I cycled up and went manic and spent money I shouldn’t have, etc., which sent me way down into an even deeper, more desperate depression. I had been getting by without medications (it’s a longer story, but the basic gist is that I am highly functional and have a great job and own a house, etc. and most people don’t realize I have bipolar) but now I am back on mood stabilizers. This has been good, actually, and helpful to go back on meds in general.

But the difficulty in all of this is that I have built up this stable life for myself, we got married, I got a great job, we bought the house, we have good insurance… Bipolar people need a lot of stability in order to stay balanced. My partner and I didn’t have any of this stability before. But now he feels like he doesn’t have his own sense of identity, and he is looking to find his own job, etc. Part of building up his own identity seems to also be wrapped up in the idea or philosophy of being non-monogamous. I personally find this idea distracting, and generally seems to be a trigger for my mood disorder.

How do I proceed with this? I want to let him live how he wants to live, but I find the idea of sex with other people somewhat superfluous and maybe even a bit obnoxious.

You don’t mention whether or not you were recently diagnosed as bipolar or whether you’ve known for a long time. You’ve also not mentioned what the nature of your bipolar disorder is like and it can vary wildly.

While it is true that stability can be useful for any difficult condition, what’s also important is knowing more about the types of things that trigger mania or depression and how long these cycles last and whether a fall into depression means a follow up with mania in every situation.

Finding stability in instability

You make it pretty clear that you don’t have any interest in exploring other relationships or sexual encounters and you don’t specifically say you have a problem with that being something your partner desires. Rather, you say you want to allow your partner to be able to do these things, you’re just concerned about how the instability may impact you.

If you had more reservation about your partner seeing other people, I’d consider whether you’re incompatible. Sometimes people go through their lives, especially if they are transgender, not really being able to fully experience their life in the way they want to and may come upon something like non-monogamy even in their 40s and feel like they’ve been missing something they would like to try. It might feel like you’ve built up some stability now, but it’s important to remember that the only thing constant in life is change and that any stability we build has the ability to be toppled.

Rather than trying to avoid further instabilities, it might be worth you learning how to cope better with instability and this is something you can work with a therapist on. If you’re not seeing a therapist, I would recommend you find someone who is polyamory friendly and can help you identify the things that trigger your depression or mania and strategies to help you cope with that. Even if you were to break up with your partner and find someone else who had no interest in non-monogamy, that is no guarantee of ultimate stability in your life.

If you learn how to cope with instability better, that will be more useful for you in the end.

Building a foundation of stone

If something fundamental about your relationship changes, you’re going to feel anxious, whether you have bipolar disorder or not. I think that it is helpful for people looking to go into non-monogamy to really think about the physical realities of what that will do to their relationship. It’s possible that most of the anxiety that you’re feeling from your partner’s want to be non-monogamous may come from the uncertainty of what that means in your relationship.

I’m not necessarily keen on parables, but I’ve always appreciated the idea of building your house on a foundation of stone rather than sand — the point being that if you want a structure to last and be resilient, it has to be strong from the roots up. If you strengthen the foundation of your relationship with your partner, you can weather the changes that life brings you.

Working on building that foundation is really important. Any major new change will be a test on the structure and solidity of your relationship. If you both have good communication, understand why you’re together, and have a clear picture of what you both want, even the curve balls life will throw at you will be things you can work with easier if you have a solid foundation.

Seeking stability in your relationship is a great idea for you, especially as a bipolar person, but I wouldn’t assume that your partner being monogamous is always analogous to being more stable. Society endorses monogamy, even for LGBT people, as an ideal and reinforces our belief that a long term relationship is the best option because it is the most secure option — but that just isn’t always true. While I don’t want to encourage people to believe a relationship has to be long-term in order to be ‘successful’, what makes for a partnership that lasts for a long time isn’t just sharing the same wants in lifestyle but communicating and understanding one another.

Monogamy + polyamory

In the end, if you don’t have a problem with your partner sleeping with other people, if you work out what your sexual health agreements are and you work out how physically him being non-monogamous will impact your relationship (does he want another relationship or a friends with benefits situation? How frequently will he be gone?), then I believe you can function just fine. If you can work out that between you two, then I don’t see you not having interest in dating other people as necessarily a problem.

Overall, I think it’s worth thinking about how to cope with instability rather than avoiding it and working out with your partner what non-monogamy might mean so that you can make an informed decision about whether it’s something you can work with or something you don’t want. I want to reiterate as well the idea of getting a polyamory friendly therapist who can help you work through this.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Note: I wrote this column in 2017, so it’s possible my perspective on this may have shifted or expanded. Please feel free to resubmit a similar question.

Do you have a question?

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

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Balancing imbalances in polyamory

I am married and have been in a long term relationship with my nesting partner for a little less than a year (we dated for about 4 years off and on prior to that). We live together and are building a future together with house, kids, and all that. Recently, we got out of a very catastrophic situation with her ex-partner (with whom I lived with for a year and had a platonic, but very connected relationship), who engaged in some really toxic behavior including manipulation, gaslighting, and being really controlling of my nesting partner’s relationships and behavior.

The tone of our family dynamic was very much distrust and suspicion and taking out feelings on other people (rather than talking about them and being frank and honest about it). I witnessed a lot of really possessive and controlling behavior that was really unhealthy and went on for almost the entire past year of living together. It became kind of a culture or vacuum of unhealthy behavior because I would also engage in some of these behaviors that I had not engaged in previous relationships. There was a culture of BIG FEELINGS and allowing those feelings to take up a lot of space, all of the space sometimes.

My nesting partner and I have been slowly recovering from it all and she is doing some new dating with other people, a cishet man and a queer woman who are dating each other. She is dating them together and separately. I have a partner whom I have been dating for the last two-ish years. I came to non-monogamy in my late 20s when I dated someone who set out our relationship to be open. After we broke up I dated someone monogamously, but found the relationship dynamics were way too unhealthy for me and ended the relationship. My current partner is the longest I have dated anyone in my adult life and the first time I have been married.

I am having a lot of obsessive thoughts and hard feelings about my partner’s dating and sex stuff. I find myself split between rational thought (you see her more than anyone else does week to week, she restricts her dates to your non-date nights, she dates really infrequently, etc.) and having a lot of irrational thoughts and feelings. These are thoughts and feelings along the suspicion and big feelings spectrum that we have both suffered under in her ex’s toxic behavior.

I am scared that I am turning into another person that will attempt to control and manipulate her. I’m doing all that I can to keep it under control by doing meditation, going for walks, meeting up with friends, doing some of my own dating, etc., but I am so distracted and distraught by her dating/sex stuff that I just feel hostile and resentful. I want to snap at her when she makes sexual innuendos in my direction because it seems like our sex life has undergone some big changes since we started cohabitating.

My irrational brain is fixated on her having sex with her dating partners 100% of the time and with me about once a week. I feel like if I didn’t stay vigilant about it, that it could very easily fade away in importance. I’m caught between wanting to just give in and be flexible and let things be how they are (let the relationship become whatever it needs to be) and fighting for her attention and constantly working on our relationship. Nothing is in danger and she does go out of her way to remind me that I am loved and adored all the time. I just feel so afraid of things changing the way things changed in our previous family dynamic.

I also feel resentful of some of the culture of suspicion and big feelings that made dating on my end very scary and ended in me turning down dating I wanted to do or not pursuing anything because I was afraid of how it might impact my partner. We’ve addressed all of this and she has released her grip entirely, but I just feel resentful and exhausted by the previous family dynamic. I also feel like I am carrying it forward with my obsessing and ruminating on how she is going to trick me or fuck me over (that again, wasn’t there before this family dynamic).

There is an additional layer of myself being trans and she is a cisgender queer woman. I am having a hard time being preoccupied with the sexual dynamics in their relationship and feeling like that is “real” and “more legitimate” sex than what we have. Irrational thoughts and fears for sure and I know I offer something different and something more substantial and long term, but I fear I am going to be taken for granted as the partner who will always be there. There is also a layer of cishet privilege that is hard to swallow and sexual/erotic capital.

As a queer, trans/non-binary person my dating prospects are significantly less and my sexual/erotic capital is harder to parse. I fall prey to wanting to play oppression olympics with her a lot and I know that doesn’t go anywhere, but I am having a hard time coping with partner having sex with a cishet dude and how much more significant that is than what I have to offer. But I also know if it was another queer I would feel jealous/envious/insecure too. I find myself deeply curious about what they do together and what she does with her other dating partners.

How do you recover from toxic family non-monogamy dynamics? How do you cope with your partner dating cishet men while in a queer relationship? How do you navigate social/sexual/erotic capital imbalances in relationships (specifically queer relationships where cisgender queer femmes dating cishet men)?

There’s definitely a lot here to unpack and I’ve gone through some of the things you’re experiencing, so I’ll break it down into these points:

  • Giving yourself permission to be afraid
  • Not opening the box
  • Polyamory and being trans
  • Living with partners

Giving yourself permission to be afraid

One of your first questions is how do your recover from toxic family non-monogamy dynamics. In my experience of recovering from anything, the best answer I can give you are two things: time and talking.

When you’ve come out of a really toxic environment, your brain is going to do what it can to help you survive that environment. I wrote two articles previously on How Toxic Parenting Impacts Your Non-Monogamy and strategies on how to address that. I don’t know if I could say I’m ‘recovered’ from the situations I’ve been in, but I’m trying my best to be more aware of the ways my brain has chosen to deal with situations and to push myself to deal with situations in different ways, even if it’s uncomfortable.

I would definitely advise you find a therapist, if that’s at all a possible solution for you. The good thing about technology is that there are a lot of different therapy solutions out there. Even if you live in a suburban town where it’s not safe to be out, you can find a Skype based therapist who can help you and many therapists, understanding how poverty impacts individuals, have flexible rate options. Working through all of this alone is probably going to be very difficult and it’s really important that you have someone who is impartial, not a partner and has the ability to help you through it.

But throughout this, I think you need to give yourself permission to be scared and paranoid. One of the best things I learned to do to manage my anxiety was to give myself permission to have it in the first place. When I stopped seeing my anxiety as a sign of my weakness as a human being or a sign of failure, it was much easier to cope with. You have a legitimate fear of behaving in a negative way to your partner and you have these paranoid thoughts — and that’s okay. You can have these thoughts. Thoughts aren’t always reflective of our actions and allowing yourself the freedom to have the thoughts and not have it as a sign that you’re a bad person is a big part of this.

It’s also important for your partner to know you’re struggling with this. it sounds like she’s already doing what she can to support you, but it’s important for her to know that you might slip back into the vacuum of the previous situation because you’re still trying to recover from it. Nothing may be ‘in danger’ right now, but your brain is still in survival mode and it’ll take time for it to cool down and figure out that everything is okay.

That said, accepting you have anxieties does not mean embracing them.

Do not open the box

Anxiety and obsessiveness is one of those things which tricks you into believing it has the solution you need. I very much feel like right now your brain is finding it very hard to cope with not being in survival mode. It’s still stuck in the toxicity of what you’ve been in before and it’s basically thinking it’s doing you a favour by trying to sabotage what you have. Sometimes anxious brains do that. It’s so unsure of what to do and how to fix the situation (when sometimes it can’t) that it does everything in its power to try and control it or get you out of it.

One of the ways your brain is doing that is by trying to pull you into the details. That’s essentially what OCD is all about. Obsess about this and do this compulsion and it will solve everything. And when you give in and compulse, it does solve it… but only for a little tiny bit. Whenever I gave into my anxiety, it got better only temporarily. You give anxiety an inch and it will take a mile. Even as I thought I was ‘managing’ my anxiety by avoiding things that made me anxious, I was only just feeding the fire.

Don’t open the box of details and hypotheticals. Down that path only exists more pain and more hurt. It wants you to open that box to give you more distractions, more things to obsess over because then you can continue the cycle of obsession, but it won’t solve anything. The thing I always ask myself when I’m stuck on things is “What will this change?”.

I know that accepting the fact that I have anxiety will change my attitude towards myself. I also know that researching ways allergic reactions can manifest themselves in different people will not change what is happening inside of my body right at that time. It’s then when I can try and remind myself that worrying, as Newt Scamander has said, means I’m just suffering twice. If it doesn’t happen, I suffer. But if does happen, I suffer again. It changes nothing about what actually happens other than my own experience of it. When you are thinking about all of the things that are happening in her other relationships, ask yourself quite honestly what will change by you knowing these things?

If you feel like your sex life isn’t where you want it to be and you have concerns about whether or not it’s going well for her, talk to her about it. As someone who is asexual and in relationships with allosexual (not asexual) people, I get worried sometimes that I’m not exciting enough, that I’m not as good as these other people. But instead of trying to open the box of all of the things they can do (and I purposefully ask for no details because I know where my brain will take them), I try and focus on what’s going on between my partner and I. I may ask my partner if they are happy loads of times, and they may have to accept that I might do that just to make myself feel better — but it helps to re-frame my mind and get it back on track.

Another way that I’ve managed my anxieties and obsessive thoughts is by trying very hard, in the follow up of the question of “What will this change?”, in reminding myself that I, ultimately, do not and, more importantly, cannot control everything. This is really, really hard to embrace, because we’d like to think if we’re good enough, we can change things. And if you’ve come from a toxic family in particular, this was probably one of the only thoughts keeping you alive.

It’s much easier to navigate a horrible situation thinking you have what it takes to change it just through your behaviour — that it’s not hopeless. This is the same line of thinking you might have come across in marginalised people who blame other marginalised people for having a bad attitude and who insist the world is a meritocracy and that people are only in bad situations because they have a bad attitude. It’s a much rosier and more inspiring picture to believe you can completely control your own fate. But the reality is that, while you can control your actions, you can’t control everything.

There is nothing you can do to force anyone to love you who doesn’t want to. I have to remember that, even as I want to try and be *the best* partner, because my perfectionism is a coping mechanism, there is nothing I can do that will ultimately make anyone stay if they do not want to stay. I cannot make someone less abusive if they don’t want to be. I cannot educate those who refuse to listen. I can only do what I can do.

Embracing the idea that you can have the most amazing sex life ever — and your partner could still leave you — might seem anxiety inducing, but for me it has been anxiety relieving. Anxiety and obsessiveness puts the burden on you and accepting what you can’t control lifts it away again. It’s not always perfect and I still get anxious, but embracing what I can’t control has helped me immensely, which leads me to the next point.

Being trans and polyamorous

Growing up in a society that does not validate a core aspect of your identity can often mean that you end up feeling like you are not ‘real’ in the same way other people are real. This is why people have tried to stop saying ‘preferred pronouns’ and just say ‘pronouns’ because the reinforced message is that cisgender people have inherent genders that are ‘normal’ while trans folks’ genders are constructed and ‘preferred’.

This has impacted me in my relationships because I usually experience a lot of anxieties around my partners dating cisgender women. I have never been forced to be seen as a man by society, so the fact that I am not one doesn’t really bother me. But because I’ve had all of this baggage about proving how much of a girl/woman I am, sometimes I’ll have this idea that I’m fake all along and that there is something more ‘real’ about a cisgender woman that I don’t have. And, obviously, once my partner realises I’m an imposter, they’ll leave me for someone ‘real’.

This is a totally reasonable and understandable fear. And it has a direct impact on the types of relationships you can pursue. I’ve often spoke to my domestic partner about his luck in navigating spaces that are not only completely inaccessible to me due to my autism, but also his ability to not have to argue about grammar when asking people to respect his pronoun. It can be easy to get really, really bitter about this, especially when some spaces he can happily enter are filled with people who have treated me like shit.

What I try to do in this instance is flip the lens on myself because part of this is internalised self hatred. I am assuming that a cisgender woman has more to offer my partner than what I have to offer, but when I put myself in the driver’s seat, it becomes a very different situation. I ask myself if I would rather have someone who was more privileged than my current domestic partner? Would I rather date a heterosexual white man? In many cases, because of my domestic partner’s family, it would be technically ‘easier’ for me to date someone who didn’t share their religious preferences, so would I? And it doesn’t even have to be about privilege in some instances. If I met someone who was also asexual, would I just dump my partner and date them? No.

Try to flip the script on yourself. It’s okay to have these anxieties and fears. Don’t beat yourself up about them. But try and challenge your thinking around them. Ultimately what I realise is that if my partner does not accept me for who I am and does actually think cisgender people are ‘more legitimate’ and would dump me to date one… well, then do I really want to be with someone who thinks that anyway?

Quite often there are dynamics in polyamory where one partner has more ‘capital’ than the other and sometimes this is judged by the amount of attention that this partner gets. But I have to say, when I see men complaining about the amount of messages women get on dating sites, I have to roll my eyes. ‘Social capital’ is a fickle thing and I do quite often feel that queer cisgender women who are femmes (or anyone read as a feminine woman) are put in this situation where people assume that attention and visibility = capital. I think to assume that femmes have more ‘capital’ because they get more attention is a bit of an oversimplification of the way power dynamics work.

Without a doubt, there is proven systemic privilege for people who meet society’s expectations of ‘beauty’ in multiple ways, but what might help you in thinking about your girlfriend is to remember that, even if she might be more palatable for an ignorant majority… it doesn’t necessarily make that ignorant majority more palatable for her. And in the case of bisexual/queer women who are femme… let’s just say the dynamics of even only dating other queer women or lesbian women are fraught with a lot of issues I could write endless articles about.

Living with your partners

Another aspect that might be contributing to your feelings, especially when it comes to sex and social capital, is the fact that you’re living together. It’s ironic to me that people always seem to be under the assumption that when you live with a domestic partner and you are building a life together, that you have all of the power with that partner in that situation — when actually living with someone can mean some very sticky dynamics that just aren’t present when you don’t live together.

I’ve found that living together and being in a situation where you provide primary support for one another can mean that ‘secondaries’ or people outside of your domestic situation, get to be more ‘fun’ than you can be. I’ve struggled with this a lot, especially when my domestic partner and I go through rough patches. Sometimes it’s very hard not to feel angry about the fact that other people get to go out on dates with my partner, have small visits, do fun exciting stuff with them while we get to nag each other about doing the washing up.

Ultimately it feels like the other people are always going to be more ‘fun’ than I am because my partner, for as much as I have to provide emotional support to them, they also provide emotional support to me. They can have fun dates and ‘get away’ from problems with each other and that leaves me feeling like I’m only the problem. And then you feel bad because you don’t want to hog all of your partner’s time, but you *also* want to be the fun one too.

The thing I try to remember is that this kind of a cardinal aspect of living together — and it wouldn’t go away if I were monogamous. The only thing that might change is instead of my partner having other partners, he might have other friends who he goes out with and has fun with, and they’ll have the exact same experience.

And another thing to remember is that just because your partner doesn’t have to deal with some of the trickier aspects of their secondaries’ life… doesn’t mean those things aren’t there. Sometimes when things seem too good to be true, they are. Sure, they have fun with these other people and things seem generally peachy and unproblematic next to your relationship where someone keeps putting the toilet roll the wrong way up — but that’s due to the nature of the relationships.

Imagine for example if you had kids together and you allowed a friend to babysit your kids and your friend just loved it and said it was the best thing ever. But your friend never had to financially support the children, put them to bed every night, deal with every single tantrum or spend money on less fun purchases like highchairs and diapers. A lot of people in those situations might feel internally very frustrated if their child said that the friend was “fun” because… it’s easy to be “fun” in that situation.

But you know that if your friend were to have a child of their own, they wouldn’t find it as exciting and enjoyable as babysitting for a few hours. You might even warn your friend if they were using their experience of watching your kid as a sign that they want children, to really think hard about what it means to have one.

In the same vein, I think that part of you (and part of me as well) has to accept that all of the fun stuff that comes with building a life together inevitably comes with the complications of two adults sharing a space together. It doesn’t mean that there is anything inherently less fun about what you have — but I would say that sometimes living together and spending a lot of time together makes you assume that you are actually spending time with each other.

Being in the same room and doing the same things is not quality time. If that were the case, you’d be close and intimate with all of your work colleagues. Sometimes when you live together, you make the mistake of assuming that all time spent together is quality time (and in some cases, when you’re poor, even that’s not very much time), but it’s not actually.

What makes me feel better when I’m feeling like I’m not “fun” enough in comparison to these other relationships, is having a date with my partner. Even if it means we stay home together and watch something, we have dedicated time that we spend with one another that has value and meaning. It’s put in a calendar so it’s no different than the time spent with other people and it reminds me of the value that our relationship has.

I’d definitely try, in times where you feel like you’re not as ‘fun’ or can’t be than these other relationships, to schedule some time together that’s just the two of you. It’s great that your partner reassures you, but actions speak louder than words in some instances and I think if you spend some dedicated time with each other, it might make you feel less anxious about not being “fun”.

Working towards a solution

In summation, give yourself both time and permission to overcome some of the challenges that the toxic environment has had on you. Seek a therapist if that’s something possible for you to help you work these things out. Give yourself the space to feel scared, but don’t cave into the demands of your fear.

Embrace the things you can’t change and flip the script on the assumptions you might make about your own worth and capital within your relationship. And also question whether the ‘capital’ your girlfriend might have will actually bring her people who understand and respect her identity.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Note: I wrote this article in 2017 and it’s possible my perspective has changed or shifted. Feel free to ask a similar question again if you have it.

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

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Polyamory and borderline personality disorder

I am 37, cis female, straight and polyamorous.

I have two current partners:

B (47, cis male, heteroflexible, polyamorous) — my wonderful boyfriend, best friend and dear lover of 1 year.

A (38, cis male, queer, polyamorous) — about whom I am writing.

A and I met 5 months ago and began a casual, BDSM and sex-based relationship. Our play is extremely emotional, intimate, passionate and creative. I have never played D/s before and he has never played D/s so intensely with anyone else before. Our sexual interests align in a way that feels to me like a kind of kinky kismet. A, B, and I have even played together in a mindblowing threesome and A and B get along well.

It was really no surprise that not-so-casual feelings eventually arose in both A and me. When I realized that my feelings for him were growing I knew that in order to feel comfortable continuing our play I would need to have a relationship in which the expression of any feelings is allowed. We connect in non-sexual ways too, and I would like the opportunity to explore that. When I brought these to him, he acknowledged that he felt the same way and wanted the same things.

The challenge is with his vanilla primary partner of 1.5 years. His primary partner is not monogamous, but does not identify as polyamorous. She has severe abandonment issues and I believe she has Borderline Personality Disorder or a similar condition (A will not disclose specifics in the interest of protecting her privacy, but he has described her moods as unsafe, her emotions as “labile”, mentioned an obsession with his whereabouts and what he is doing with whom at all times, and that there is a medical diagnosis behind all of this). He has always maintained that she is his relationship priority as long as he can keep her happy. He has said that she was not really comfortable with polyamory, but went along with it to ensure a relationship with him.

He has had relationships similar to ours in the past and they have ended disastrously because of the dynamic in his primary relationship. Maintaining those relationships and keeping his primary happy has caused him (and apparently everyone involved) significant stress — enough to have had a negative impact on careers, mental health, and other aspects of life. It is the emotional attachment that has been problematic, and, in my case, she would also find our physical proximity threatening: I live just down the street from him while she lives 60 miles away.

In order for me to decide whether this is a relationship I can continue, I have asked him to tell me what boundaries and limitations he has for our relationship and what, if any, rules he and his primary partner have. I prefer and am happiest in relationships that are not rule-limited (that is what I have with B and it is outstanding for both of us). I might be willing to agree to some rules (e.g. meeting family is not important to me, so a rule about that is one I can live with) but not others (e.g. primary partner has to be appeased at all costs). A has said that he would prefer relationships that are not rule-limited, but that is not feasible with his primary partner.

He said that this is a conversation that is a long time coming for them, and promised to speak with her to figure it out — that was two months ago. When I check in about the status, he usually apologizes and says something to the effect of “she’s been in a bad mood, It’s not safe, I need to wait for the right time” or says that he is working on making her feel secure and keeping her happy so that when they do talk, it will go better. Recently he finally admitted that he is terrified of any conversation with her going poorly because of how things have gone in the past. I don’t have any doubts about his sincerity in wanting a relationship with me. I believe that he is trying to do the best that he knows how and has the emotional bandwidth to manage.

I have asked not to see him in person until he has more information for me, but we do text and talk on the phone. We have seen each other once in person in those two months and it only reassured me of our sexual compatibility and affection for each other.

My thoughts and feelings are all over the place about the situation. I feel like I am waiting for a package that may never be delivered and that I might not like when I get it. Sometimes I feel like 2 months of no answer is answer enough, I know my boundaries and I can exercise my autonomy and leave. Other times, I feel like I should be more patient and understanding and figure out how to become comfortable with the uncertainty. Sometimes I am frustrated and think he is a cowardly idiot for getting himself in this position, sometimes I am more compassionate and think that he is likely co-dependent and experiencing emotional abuse. Mostly I think about what a great smile he has and how I love to make him laugh.

So, I know that I will need to decide for myself what I should do, but I find the thoughtful input of others to be helpful. Where is the line between being hopefully patient and being foolish? Is there any hope for a successful, stable relationship with healthy boundaries given his primary relationship dynamic? What reasonable steps can I take to make this a positive situation for everyone? At what point do I pull up stakes and say that this isn’t working for me?

There’s definitely a lot going on here.

I was going to start this column by giving you full disclosure that I am a child of a person who has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), specifically untreated BPD, which in my mind makes all of the difference based on my friendships with people who have BPD. This informs a lot of my opinions about BPD and is a big reason why I probably couldn’t handle a romantic relationship with someone who has BPD.

How much should you know about your metamour

The fact of the matter is, the ins and outs of your partners relationship is, essentially, not your problem to deal with. And if it becomes your problem to deal with, that is less of your metamour’s fault and more of your partner’s fault.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. In terms of my relationships, the only rules that really matter are these: What you can do and what you can’t do. What happens with your partner’s other relationships is completely and utterly out of your control. And it’s not realistic or fair for anyone to expect you to manage that.

Let’s say we reframe this example in the context of day to day life. If you make a grocery order for bread and the grocery store agrees they will give you bread and then they show up one week with no bread, you would not be expected to investigate why there is no bread, what the relationship is between the grocery store and the baker, and address and repair any feelings or problems between the baker and the grocery store, would you? Now obviously there’s a difference between an exchange of a good for money and people and relationships, but basically you’re not required to be involved in the ins and outs of something that you have no reasonable expectation to control.

It is primarily your partner’s responsibility to not only be honest with you about his time capabilities and his commitment priorities, but also to not involve you in the emotional labour of his relationship. Now, he’s welcome to confide the difficulties he has with his other partner to you within reason, but it’s not up to you to fix. I feel like women in particular are socialised to take on additional emotional labour from people, often stretching beyond their own capacity while getting no emotional support themselves.

And sometimes that socialisation means women take on emotional labour almost without thinking about it, even when it’s not necessary. He may very well have a very trying relationship with this person. He may very well be stretched beyond his capacity. He may very well be struggling. But you are not his therapist or saviour. And he is ultimately the one who will have to decide whether he wants to continue in his relationship with this person or not. That’s not something you can help him with, nor should you be expected to.

Privacy, metamours and mental health

Nothing about what is happening in his other relationship is also necessarily your business, with all due respect. From a mental health perspective, people suffer challenges reconciling their mental illness with their relationships on a constant basis. I personally struggle with asking my domestic partner for the support I need. In certain situations, I am known to become passive aggressive and rude when I am not getting what I need, despite never have asked for it. I can be difficult. I’m also on the autistic spectrum which means I can have a breakdown.

I have literally had a loud, crying emotional reaction to plans changing all of a sudden on me when I could not cope. I am maybe perhaps not the ‘easiest’ person to have a relationship with. And while I would not fault anyone I date seeking for advice or help in our relationship, I most certainly would never, ever want any metamour approaching me about the ins and outs of my mental health struggles because it’s none of their business or concern. And I would likely feel somewhat of a sense of betrayal by my partner if they knew lots of details about my life and mental health I never disclosed to them.

I’m not saying that’s what you’re doing here. I just want you to be aware that, for as much as you sympathise with your partner, understand that if you know this much about all of the things going on in their relationship, that would give anyone, BPD or no, cause for feeling insecure and hesitant. Does she know as much about your mental health as you know about hers?

It can be really frightening and destabilising not only for your partner, especially if they are your only partner and you rely on them for emotional support, to get a brand new partner who, you admit, is a short distance away and likely doesn’t have the same mental health problems as you do. Put yourself a little bit in her shoes, even if you don’t necessarily understand BPD, try to understand what it might be like to be someone who struggles with mental health in a very intense way to face the reality that your partner might very well find someone who has much better mental health than you do.

Additionally, cursory research on BPD might give you a better idea of what it means to have BPD. I’ve actually found this animation most helpful in explaining it to people. The biggest sort of criteria for someone with BPD is fear of imagined or real abandonment, which polyamory as a practice is going to multiply. Of course, when you have a DSM criteria so wide and within each criteria there exists a spectrum of how this reflects in people, not all people with BPD are identical, but I’ve yet to meet a qualified therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist who believed that people with BPD can self-treat themselves or that BPD doesn’t at any time need some treatment or therapy.

As a child with a person with untreated BPD, there is a delicate balance that I have to consider in how I talk about BPD. As someone who has mental health problems, I’m also very aware of the stigma attached to people with mental health conditions. With BPD in particular, there are a lot of people with BPD, because of the way BPD affects them, who insist they are the victim in any scenario and will literally re-write history in their heads to suit that narrative. But then I have also left communities built for children of BPD parents because I felt there was a constant demonisation of people with BPD and zero attempt to humanise or understand the illness, on top of a lot of ableism about mental health in general. Point blank, no one is born with BPD. And no one asks for it.

I do sincerely believe the nature of BPD can make someone behave in ways that are abusive in a way they wouldn’t behave if they didn’t have BPD. I do believe BPD creates situations which cause challenging reactions to people with BPD and make it difficult for family, friends and significant others without BPD to know how to adequately manage it without making it worse. I do believe that all of us are capable of unhealthy behaviours and communication techniques which are abusive without us having the drive to actually abuse.

I refuse to characterise all people with BPD as abusive. And I would hesitate to automatically consider your partner to be in an abusive relationship, especially if his partner has been formally diagnosed with BPD. There is a difference to me between someone who is choosing to restrict or change their behaviour due to a partner’s reaction vs. someone who has no other choice but to do so and it’s a very difficult thing to suss out and it’s really up to your partner to ultimately decide if he is being abused and if he wants to leave. The best you can do is offer your support.

This isn’t to say of course people with BPD can’t be abusers either, but we need to avoid a demonisation of people with a single condition on an automatic basis, especially when it comes to BPD. I feel like demonisation discourages people with BPD from getting help similarly to how demonising addictive behaviours discourages addicts from seeking treatment. It’s a very rough mental illness to live with. And on top of dealing with all of this, she’s dealing with a partner who might not be actually stepping up to enforce boundaries as well as he should.

Boundaries and other relationships

Your partner holds the responsibility for managing his own relationships and also managing your expectations around that. If this other partner comes first, regardless of anyone’s beliefs about the ethics of it, that is the reality of the situation. She has a mental health condition which may logistically and theoretically require more emotional support than you would need in comparison. If he were dating someone with a physical disability who he needed to support in various situations, I don’t think you would necessarily demand he abandon those duties either.

He needs to be honest with you about how he prioritises his time. And it may be that you’re uncomfortable with being with someone who will not prioritise you in the way you want them to — and that’s absolutely fine. You don’t have to be okay with that. And not being okay with that does not mean you hate his metamour or you don’t respect people with mental health conditions. We all have wants and needs and it’s all about finding a balance.

Again, in many of the letters I get from women in partnerships with men who are struggling with their metamours, I notice a general trend of the men, who should actually be stepping up to the plate to manage the emotional labour of the relationship, not doing so and the women assuming it is their responsibility to ‘repair’ the relationship with their metamour and fix the situation. Luckily, you don’t seem to be taking it upon yourself to try and ‘help’ your boyfriend with his metamour, but you are way more involved than you need to be. It can be really frustrating to feel like you’re at the whim of another relationship, but really you are at the whim of his decision making, not your metamour.

I would honestly encourage your partner to set his boundaries and not waver them just because his partner may be feeling unhappy about something. While I’m not a therapist or an expert on treating BPD, I do know that when it comes to my own mental health, I encourage my partner to make plans and keep them, even if I feel unhappy or scared about them.

Barring an extreme emergency, I do not want him to cancel or move plans just because I am having a poor mental health day. There are compromises we make, like if I am really struggling he will take 5 minutes out of anything he’s doing and call me if I’m having a rough time, but it is completely unreasonable for him to be at my beckon call just because I have a mental health condition. Even my therapist would not be expected to be at my beckon call.

I feel like he doesn’t really have a reason, other than his own reluctance, to establish at least one evening he sees and dedicates to you, especially as the vast majority of his time is spent allocated to supporting her. I think he needs to be more insistent upon it, not cave in to her and not be afraid of some of her reactions. From your perspective, this might seem fairly obvious, but I can tell you as a child of someone with BPD, the complete guttural fear you have when you begin to set in boundaries… well, it’s hard to get rid of that fear.

Because if his metamour is affected by BPD, it’s very possible that being firm on his boundaries will cause a huge reaction, potentially even suicide threats. He needs to be prepared with the reality, which he probably already knows, that enforcing his boundaries will mean the end of the relationship. Enforcing my boundaries and demanding that my mother see a therapist to treat her BPD pretty much caused the end of our relationship. Splitting is something the video I linked talks about and it’s very possible that once he begins to assert his own independence, she will see him as a threat rather than a support, and that could collapse what they have. And it’s very possible that this is precisely why he has not done so.

Enforcing these boundaries with her though is something he needs to be managing with a relationship counsellor who specialises in BPD, not with you and preferably not alone. I can’t stress enough how BPD must be treated and that the dangers of not treating it are obvious in the high suicide rates of people with BPD. Living with BPD is without a doubt difficult, but that does not mean that he or you need shoulder the entire responsibility of managing someone else’s condition.

What you can’t do

As I said, the only rules that matter are what you can do and what you can’t do. You can ask your boyfriend to set boundaries and to give you specific amounts of time because this is what you honestly need from him in order to have a relationship which makes you happy. You are not out of line to ask for that. If he cannot meet that, then that is not your fault. I think it’s one thing to be understanding of the situation he is in, but that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your own needs and feelings for him or anyone else.

So I would ask yourself if you honestly can accept uncertainty. Can you accept the current situation as it stands? What needs to change? What does he need to do? Can you tell him this and mentally decide and agree with yourself a set amount of time he has to do it (avoiding saying this to him up front because it sounds a bit too much like an ultamatim)? And will you enforce your own boundaries with yourself, follow through, and ultimately make the hard decision later on to go if this relationship isn’t what you want?

What you definitely have to do is avoid at all costs taking the responsibility of his relationships onto your shoulders because they are his relationships and up to him to manage. And most of all try to remember that you cannot help people who categorically refuse to help themselves.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Advice from a therapist

My only caveat is that the OP specifically uses the phrase “not safe.” Based on my work professionally, that is a red flag word that makes me think his relationship probably is emotionally abusive. In healthy relationships, it might be difficult, uncomfortable or scary to have a hard conversation — “not safe” implies a real sense of fear. However, I do think the emphasis on not taking on emotional labor for his relationship is quite on point.

Note: I wrote this column in 2017 so it’s possible my perspective has changed or shifted. Please feel free to re-ask a similar question.

Do you have a question?

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

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How to get over your partner seeing other people

I’ve been in a relationship with my high school sweetheart for about 10 years now. A couple of years ago we started to go abroad, on exchange and live in other countries. The distance opened the relationship. She had sex with another person for the first time ever (I was her first), and that hit me like a train. But I recovered. She fell in love with someone else, that hit me like a truck, but I recovered from that as well. I’ve also had my dalliances with other women (and men), but none as serious as her.

I tend to be more of a serial one-night stander/flinger. I’ve only fallen in love with one other woman, but that fizzled out pretty quickly. After everything, me and my girlfriend always gravitate towards each other again, with new lessons about the world, other people, and ourselves. And through that we’ve grown closer.

And yet, I still can’t shake my crippling anxiety. She’s been abroad since August now, and though she now draws the line between love and lust, I still can’t internalize our open relationship to the point where I can feel comfortable. Everyone tells me (her as well), I have the best deal in the world, I can date and have sex with other women, it’s a dream. Or at least it should be.

But it’s mostly a nightmare, every time I hear about her being with other people. As we literally talk about everything and she wants to tell me everything (and I masochistically want her to), I can see a new lover coming from a mile away. And I’m never off. And she always ends up telling me after I badger her about it. I’m paranoid, images and thoughts torment me at night.

But then, on the flip side, I do explore with other women. Frequently. I have since the beginning of our relationship (only back then it was called ‘cheating’), and continue so now. But I always have a nagging feeling before/afterward/in between. That I miss my gf, that I want to just be with her and it just be the two of us. And yet, I think that if we were physically together, I’d still be open to explore other people. But letting her do that without me is the scariest thing ever.

I think my question is: why can I be with other people and still love her and trust in that, but when she does the same, my world ends? And: how do I get rid of the nagging feeling? Breaking up with my girlfriend is not an option. It’s really annoying and I want to be ok with it, because every time she’s with other people my world stops. I have a JOB, after all, can’t have too many days where I’m depressed. 🙂

There’s a lot going on here that’s understandably causing you some anxiety so I’m going to hopefully address the main things and that will help ease things up a bit. But before I do, I just want to say that I do think you love and trust your partner. There’s an assumption here that feeling anxious or paranoid means you don’t trust your partner and it’s just not that simple.

A lack of a foundation

The thing that strikes me about your relationship with your high school sweetheart is that you don’t really have a clear foundation or an idea of what the relationship means to either of you, or at least it seems that way. You mention her sleeping and falling in love with new people and that hitting you really hard. You may have ‘recovered’ from that, but you’re treating the symptoms here, rather than the disease.

You have no real understanding of where your relationship is going. It sounds like you’re kind of just going with the flow and while that can be beneficial for some people, it also has the result of a massive load of worry and fear. Even if we’re not monogamous, many of us have grown up within a culture that produces what’s called The Relationship Escalator. When we’re in monogamous relationships, we take for granted what society has built up for us in terms of structure.

We know that, in the monogamy society encourages, there are steps towards committing which symbolise that commitment. But with non-monogamy, that’s not the same. There are things here like becoming sexually intimate or falling in love, which tend to represent ‘commitment’. My instinct is that when you realised that these individual things didn’t necessarily represent a commitment to someone else and thus a change in the relationship you have with your sweetheart, you ‘recovered’ from the shock of these things.

But unless you really work with your sweetheart to come to an understanding of what your relationship means to them and to you and what that will eventually evolve into, you’re going to continue to fear what’s on the horizon — and that’s perfectly logical. For all you know, she could meet someone new tomorrow who convinces her to go with monogamy and you could be dumped. It makes perfect sense to have this nagging feeling, even as you explore other relationships, because you don’t have that clarity with this relationship.

Sometimes this is hard to define. Maybe you both don’t know where you want this relationship to end up. Maybe you and her both need to give yourself a little bit of leeway to have this fear, deal with it as and when it comes and have her reassure you that you do mean something to her. Which brings me to the next point which may be causing you anxiety.

Clearer understandings of disclosure

Disclosure is such an awkward thing for a lot of people just starting out in non-monogamy. I think that’s why so many in monogamous relationships that shift into non-monogamy they decide to make the rule of, “I won’t pursue any relationships without your okay”. Because when do you disclose a budding relationship? Well, it comes down to when someone becomes ‘more than a friend’ and that boundary is different for so many people.

Fundamentally, what it comes down to and what people want to know is when something is going to change. Maybe you are masochistically agreeing to hear all of the details because you think somehow it will steel your resolves for when she comes to you and tells you that she doesn’t want to see you anymore. I don’t think this is going to help you. You’re always going to feel sad if and when a relationship ends. Hearing all of the nitty gritty details is not going to give you a baptism of fire against jealousy. It’s not as if you’re giving yourself cognitive behavioural therapy by exposing yourself to these details — especially because cognitive behavioural therapy is all about exposing someone to what they’re afraid of slowly and in a controlled environment.

You are lacking that controlled environment. You’re asking for all of the details but what you really want to know is if and when your partner feels your relationship might change. You tend to operate on a basis of maybe having sexual relationships with multiple people, but having an emotional bond with fewer people. What this is about is emotional responsibility and a mutual understanding of commitment. You’re too busy talking about who’s she’s doing what with to get to the detail that matters — what it means for you.

Instead of asking her for details, you both need to sit down and think about what you want out of non-monogamy. What do other relationships look like? How do you want to practice this? It doesn’t mean you both have to practice non-monogamy in the same way. Maybe you do more casual things and her ideal is to find one other emotional and sexual based romantic partner. But it might be good for you to figure out how time is going to be split between you and future partners. Once you have a better understanding of where you fit in each other’s lives and futures, you might not need or want to know details. Which brings me to my next point.

How long distance impacts polyamory

You’ve shifted from an in-person relationship to a long distance relationship and this will have a large impact on you both. Some people are capable of doing long distance but many are not. You need to understand that not having each other there physically is going to radically alter any foundation that you’ve spent the rest of the time building.

And whenever something major happens in your relationships that shifts foundations, you need to make sure you’re addressing it. The distance has opened your relationship, which is also fundamentally shifting everything. You’ve gone from, what sounds like, a monogamous relationship to not only being long distance, which adds a stressor, but changing the very nature of the relationship, which adds stress on top of stress — of course you’re anxious as a result.

You need to make sure you make time for each other. Whether it’s having a scheduled date night over Skype or definite future plans to meet physically, it’s going to take some extra effort on both of your parts to continue to keep the relationship alive. You may have a lot of feelings and while absence does make the heart grow fonder, it’s important, especially if another real relationship does happen for you or your partner, to ensure you’ve got the basics of upkeep in your relationship solid.

If you don’t, what I foresee happening is New Relationship Energy (NRE) sweeping one or both of you up. NRE can cause people to neglect their partners they live with or see every day and it can add a layer of complexity onto a relationship that is long distance. You will naturally be sad that any new person your partner dates has the benefit of being physically near them, and visa versa. It would be wise to discuss this, to make some plans for addressing these feelings.

But mostly, just make sure you’re both stepping up and keeping your relationship alive so that neither of you feel neglected, especially if you’ve opened the relationship.

Addressing anxiety within a relationship

You might find that once you have some clarity from your partner about what your relationship means, once you’ve got reassurance of that on a consistent basis and a better understanding of non-monogamy and what it means to the both of you as well as a little bit more effort to bridge the gap that the distance is causing you, you may feel a lot less anxious.

But the most important thing for the both of you is to give yourself permission to feel anxious and scared. You’re going long distance and that’s a big step. You’re making a big change to the very foundation of how your relationship operates. You’ve made a lot of big changes all at once and you’ve shifted things, so you’re naturally going to feel insecure. Don’t automatically interpret your negative feelings as you distrusting your partner or as bad faith when you both are doing your best to maintain that.

You might consider one of your bonding activities to be meeting on Skype with a relationship counsellor or therapist, if that’s an option for both of you. It might give you a space to talk about your feelings and work through them together.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Therapist comments

It sounds like this guy is pretty intuitive and good at anticipating her future connections. It’s entirely possible he’s picking up on that possibility much, much earlier than she is. Which means it looks like she’s withholding information, when it may well be that she’s just unaware.

I see potential love connections for my partners way faster than they do, and I’ve had to adjust my expectations accordingly. Now when they come to me and they’re all like, I’m Into This Person… inside I’m thinking, yea, I’ve known that for a month, welcome to the party. I used to think they were aware of it and afraid to tell me, now I know that they really are telling me as soon as they’re aware.

Note: I wrote this column in 2017, so it’s possible my perspective has shifted or changed. Please feel free to re-ask a similar question.

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When you should be happy, but you’re not

My husband and I have been married 22 years and he has cheated on me all throughout, be good and then he’d cheat and I’d find out then we’d work it out. etc….. 2 years ago he started talking to a girl on line was dom/sub. We had played around with it ourselves but then I stopped cause he had cheated on me again and it be a strain on our marriage. So when I found out about the girl he said he wanted to do dom/sub 24/7 I agreed to it. It’s been great! But now he says he wants to be poly[am], he is again talking to another woman, she lives pretty close to us and he went to school with her. And he said eventually he will meet up with her.

But I am not allowed to be poly[am], which I don’t want to be anyways but when we were talking about it I asked him if maybe I could get a gf I have always liked girls but never pursued it. And he said no, he said he knows he is being unfair but he doesn’t want me too. we have been going through this for about a month now. He talks to her on messenger I can see he is talking to her doesn’t hide it, I get upset and he thinks I shouldn’t be upset. Well this weekend. Was his bday weekend we had a great time on Friday and then Saturday morning he asked if I was okay I said yes.

I was fine wasn’t even thinking about the woman he talks to and then he was like well let me put it this way what if I went and saw so and so? well I made a face and uggged at him and he said see your not okay with it. I have told him that he needs to just do it go see her he said he can’t cause he doesn’t want me to be feeling bad when he leaves. I told him I will not get over it that he needs to do what he has to do and then I will have to see if I’m okay or not. I even told him to leave or I can leave and he said no that he needs and wants me. Doesn’t understand why I can’t be happy for him. I told him I want him to be happy and so he needs to do what he needs to do then. He said that he can’t be happy if Im not with him.

I’m his wife, babygirl his everything. Without me he won’t be happy. How can I be happy, doesn’t he want me happy too???? I love him so much, but I don’t know if I can be okay with it and I feel like I’m in limbo right now. I want him happy, so why can’t he just go see this person he likes and then when he comes back home. I can figure out if I’m okay with it or not. Is that wrong of me? I shouldn’t have to feel all crazy and waiting and wondering when he is going to finally go see her.

My first question to you is… why are you with this person?

You not being happy about this new person isn’t about whether or not you want to do polyamory and in fact, I think that your approach to decide to see what happens when he sees this new person is incredibly sensible — but it will ultimately not solve the problem at hand which is that your partner seems to have little to no regard for you, your boundaries, and your feelings.

Throughout your 22 year marriage, he has cheated on you… how many times? Cheating once is one thing. And sometimes, depending on how these situations happened and what the context is, cheating doesn’t inherently make you a horrible human being that doesn’t care for your partner. But the fact that he has continued to do so repeatedly proves that he wants what he wants and will do it whether or not it is part of your agreement.

All his postulation right now about how you’re his baby girl and how he can’t be happy without you… If that were the case, then why on earth would he have cheated on you in the first place? His actions right now are speaking much, much louder than words.

Relationship foundations

Every relationship, whether it be romantic, non-monogamous, or whatever, has to begin on a foundation of trust and respect. And in order for you or anyone else to feel confident and comfortable in that relationship, there has to both consistency and honour. That’s why new relationships are so hard. Because you haven’t had the time to build a history together to build a consistency and build an honour in each other’s word that you will do what you say. Trust is initially given on good faith in a new relationship and the cemented and strengthened by time and people demonstrating that not only will they be consistent in their commitment but also that they will honour it.

Your partner has taken a bulldozer to the foundation of your relationship. He has not only cheated, but he’s changed the nature of your relationship as and when he sees fit, without really acknowledging how it affects you. In summarising 22 years of relationship history, it’s possible you’ve missed out on his apologies and efforts he’s made to make up for his mistakes, but ultimately actions speak louder than words. And you have to realise that the standard you put up with is the standard you will accept.

And not only on top of not providing you with consistent behaviour and a respect for your personal boundaries, he is expecting you to sign off on all of his relationships and adjust your emotions to allow himself to feel at peace about what he’s doing?

This is borderline emotional neglect and abuse. It is not acceptable for anyone to make you feel like you have no other choice but to be happy about a decision they make. In any other circumstance, would this be acceptable? If someone on the street walked up to you, slapped you in the face, apologised and then demanded you be happy that they apologised, would you consider this decent behaviour? I doubt it.

If he’s acting specifically like you are “crazy” to not be happy, that is emotional abuse and straight up gaslighting. He has done nothing but err you in this relationship and now he is demanding you be okay with what he does before it happens. That’s specifically so that if you do get upset, he can absolve himself of all emotional responsibility for anything he does on the grounds that you said it was okay.

I urge you reconsider your future with this person. He has not been good to you over the years. Whether or not you decide to be polyamorous or not is up to you in the future, but you can’t have any kind of decent relationship with a person who lacks a core level of respect for you and your emotional wellbeing.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Note: I wrote this column in 2017, so it is possible my perspective has changed or expanded. Please feel free to write a similar question.

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See-sawing feelings in polyamory

About three months ago, I started seeing a girl (let’s call her Jenny) who I knew through a mutual friend (I’m a cis straight man, she’s a cis bi girl, neither of us have any prior experience with non-monogamous dating) with the understanding that we would stay non-exclusive and not “in a relationship” so to speak so that she could focus on her mental health and developing emotional independence after having been in continuous monogamous relationships for a good few years.

We communicated openly and thus I was aware that from the start she was also seeing another guy (let’s call him Dave). Initially the perception that I got was that she was more into me than him (reinforced by our mutual friend showing me a message from her saying “I fancy [my name] way more than Dave”), but as things have gone on and as we’ve talked about the dynamic between us, Jenny has said that it’s become more 50/50 between me and Dave.

She has tried to reassure and validate me in this regard and I appreciate that, but I still feel sad and probably a bit jealous whenever I think of them being together. These difficulties are worsened by, among other things, the fact that my emotions on the subject fluctuate quite a lot. Most of the time that I’m with her and some of the time we’re apart I feel like things are going fine and that I should stop worrying so much, but other times I feel a serious lack of self-worth, especially when I know she’s with him or when she talks about him when we’re not together, and tend to feel like the best thing for me to do is to just escape the whole situation.

I find it hard to communicate these issues because I’m quite bad at making any decisions that I feel I’ll regret, and when my feelings fluctuate so much it’s hard to know that I’m doing the right thing by saying how I feel because I know it will lead to having to have difficult conversations. I feel like while she’s in a mindset of being single but with regular partners (this is just a guess — due to my reluctance to bring these things up I don’t know this for certain), I’m in a mindset where I see myself as being in the “dating” phase leading up to an inevitable monogamous relationship, which is not only most likely incorrect, it’s also problematic from the point of view of potentially invalidating the fact that she has meaningful nonplatonic interactions with other people.

I worry that I’m waiting for something that can/will never happen, and in the process I feel quite sad about things on a not infrequent basis. On the other hand, I definitely don’t miss being on my own, and this has brought a lot of nice positive things into my life as well.

There are few key things here that I want to address: the see-sawing that I find can happen in non-monogamy, building relationships on a strong foundation, and when to say when.

See-sawing emotions

There’s not a lot written about it that I can tell, but I think it’s actually quite common to experience a sort of back and forth with emotions.

Personally, I’ve had experiences where I’ve felt like I was going crazy mostly because I would feel absolutely fine and happy when I was with a partner but then sad and scared when they were gone. It’s like when they’re right in front of me and hugging me and being close to me, it’s hard for me to listen to those nasty voices in my head telling me that they couldn’t possibly love me. But when they’re not with me, and especially if they’re with someone else, it’s like a welcome mat laid out for the worst mental health.

And when I was having particularly bad mental health days or sometimes weeks, this sort of swing from hot to cold was incredibly intense. You don’t speak very much about your past or what kind of home you grew up in, but I know that my brain tries to protect me by telling me to sabotage things. It’ll say, ‘See, look how bad things are going. Wouldn’t it be better if you were all alone? No one to hurt you?’

It’s rough. And maybe your back and forth swings aren’t as bad as mine, but I would say that it’s quite normal.

What helped for me during my low swings when my partner was out was to write my partner love notes and cards. The first card I wrote to my partner became a second card — and now I write them even if I don’t feel bad when we’re apart. Things are definitely more stable now and I feel less worried. But it’s good to find a way to cope with these feelings. It’s likely they will subside. They may pop back up again in times of crisis. That’s okay.

You can also let your partner know that you have these fluctuating feelings and you get scared. That’s okay as well. You should be able to comfort each other and tell each other whenever you’re scared or worried. Having that reassurance may also help.

But what you need to do is avoid reassurance that leads to competition. You’ve been reassured in the past by being told that she likes you more (and I would honestly ask that mutual ‘friend’ of yours to not divulge information and show you messages from your partner as that’s a violation of her privacy, and I’d definitely tell her if you can), but that’s not really good reassurance.

We choose partners for a variety of reasons, whether we choose non-monogamy or monogamy. We don’t always choose partners because they’re ‘the best’ at everything. When you make things into a competition, it’s going to make you insecure because you’ll be comparing yourself to everyone else. And it’s not your fault. We live in a society that encourages competition because it makes you buy more. Even if non-monogamy isn’t for you, I would encourage you to re-frame how you look at this. Just as we have different friends for different reasons and comparing them like for like doesn’t really work. We like people for different reason. It’s not always as simple as who we like ‘more’. And emotions aren’t always quantifiable.

Strong foundations

The second thing I want to address here is that you’ve only been together for three months. Feeling insecure and scared is understandable and expected. You’re both not experienced with non-monogamy, so you’re trying something brand new on top of being in a new relationship.

I believe I wrote about this in an earlier column, but just to reiterate, there is a Biblical parable that I like (even though I don’t live by the Bible) about building a house on rock and building a house on sand. The gist of the story is that building a house on rock means the house lasts, but building it on sand means it will fall over.

Regardless of where it comes from, I think it makes for a solid point. Right now, you’re just starting to build a foundation together and you’re adding a stress on top of it by trying something new like non-monogamy. It doesn’t mean your relationship is due to fail. It just means that it’s understandable for you to feel insecure, especially when there is so much in the air.

One of the things I advise people just starting in non-monogamy is to really think about what they get out of non-monogamy and what the relationship means within the context of non-monogamy. You’re feeling scared because that isn’t answered for you. You’re not sure where it’s going and you feel like you may want it to lean toward monogamy and you’re not sure if it’s going to go that way.

A lot of mainstream polyamorous advice will talk about insecurity as if it’s the same as self-hate. But actually, insecurity is just not feeling secure. And when you’re in a new relationship. you’re likely to feel insecure. That doesn’t mean you hate yourself or that there’s anything wrong with you. It’s expected that you’re going to feel insecure until you have a more solid foundation.

Even though you’ve only been together for a couple of months, I don’t think there’s anything to lose in figuring out what your girlfriend thinks and what she wants out of non-monogamy. Is she planning on having a ‘primary’? What does that look like? And it would also be good for you to really figure out what you definitely want and ask yourself some really hard questions, which leads me to the next point.

When to say when

You’re trying out non-monogamy and who knows? You might find that when you’re reassured, you worry less. You might find that your partner wants a style of relationship that would work better for you. You may have thought this would lead into monogamy because you’re so used to seeing a style of relationships lead up into one thing.

I can definitely relate to not wanting to let something go but just because you have a discussion like this doesn’t mean it has to end. You can make it clear to your girlfriend that you’re not sure if you’re going to be okay with non-monogamy. Sometimes you don’t know you have boundaries until they’re crossed. Right now, so many of your feelings could be coming from insecurity, from not knowing where your relationship is going to go and not feeling secure in it just yet.

I will say as well, it’s worth breaking down what your feelings are when you think of Jenny with Dave. I find quite often that people are generally feeling worried when they think of their partner with someone else because they’re worried about being replaced. They’ve been living their entire lives with a narrative that tells them that love is only love if it’s shared monogamously. Sometimes you can break through these feelings by remembering how you’re valued. But sometimes you just don’t want to do non-monogamy, and that’s okay.

Maybe when you do feel more secure in your relationship, you may consider things differently. I think it’s definitely worth trying to see if you can feel more secure before you decide to end things. And be honest with your partner the entire way and let her know that you’re honestly not sure if this is for you. Now she might decide not to take the risk if you’re unsure, but it’s much better to be honest than to hide your feelings. At least if you’re honest, if it doesn’t work out, you can end things on a more positive means than hiding your feelings.

In general, I think you should keep trying but try with more stability. If you still feel unhappy, if you feel like you know where you want your relationships in life to go and it’s not this way, then you have the option to leave without a lot of drama if you’re just honest from the start.

I hope this helps and good luck.

Comments from the therapist

“I like how Lola addressed the see-sawing feelings. I think it’s incredibly common as well. I have actually come to value the uncertainty in young relationships because the uncertainty is part of what fuels NRE (new relationship energy).

I used to want to lock down “What are we?” as soon as possible, but now I try to chill as long as I can. I do think expecting yourself to feel secure in a relationship that’s only 3 months old is expecting too much. I like that Lola made that point as well.

I’m in a mindset where I see myself as being in the “dating” phase leading up to an inevitable monogamous relationship…

This really stood out to me. I think you may be too pre-occupied with the validation that comes from the relationship escalator and struggling with simply enjoying the relationship for what it is, today. This mindset seems quite contradictory to your arrangement with Jenny and if you can’t set it aside, it will likely cause the arrangement to break.

One resource that I LOVE for starting to get a handle on insecurity and jealousy is this jealousy exercise. Many polyamory 101 sources can be a bit too much anti-feelings, but this jealousy exercise is useful for teasing apart what’s actually going on underneath the jealousy.

Note: I published this article in 2017 so it’s possible I may have a different perspective to add. Feel free to ask a similar question.

Do you have a question?

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

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Non-monogamy without the turmoil

I am in an eight year relationship that has been mostly monogamous. The past few years we started dabbling in opening up but initially with the idea that we would never “go all the way”. We started reading the books and meeting lots of people in various non-monogamous relationships and a lot has changed in those few years. Even though we have been doing everything together, we have found through these explorations that one of us is much more about being sexual (always together) while the other (me) is more into the relational side of things. It’s hard to talk about this difference with my partner because he’s afraid my interest in others means a disinterest in wanting to stay with him. I know we are supposed to move slowly, but it’s hard when it seems like we aren’t moving at all. How should we go about making this work for us without turmoil?

There are a couple of things going on here that I want to address.

First caveat: Controlling emotions with rules

One of the first things I would say to you and any other non-monogamy newbie is this: rules aren’t inherently bad, but trying to control your own emotions or feelings with rules will never work. You may be able to control your actions in not going ‘all the way’ (and I’m not sure if this is referencing sex or a relationship in this context), but you won’t be able to stop yourselves from developing feelings for anyone. And you certainly aren’t capable of slowing down your ability to develop feelings for people.

So don’t try to set any rules about how your feelings develop. You both should accept that, regardless of your intentions with non-monogamy, feelings happen. And there isn’t anything you can do about that.

Second caveat: Fun in pairs

There isn’t anything inherently wrong with the fact that you have different motivations for pursuing non-monogamy, but I am assuming by ‘always together’ you’re saying your partner only has interest in pursuing non-monogamy if you both are doing everything together.

On the surface, pursuing things together definitely seems like fun and almost a ‘safer’ option than pursuing things alone, but I generally would advise against this. Polyamory or ethical non-monogamy is circled around individuals developing multiple romantic relationships, whereas swinging is more about couples trying different sexual things as a couple. It sounds like swinging is not something you want but might be the non-monogamy your partner is thinking of, but maybe he’s only thinking of that because, as I said, it seems ‘safer’.

The swinging crowd is a very particular type of crowd, generally speaking, and you are going to struggle to find individuals who want to focus more on building a relationship than just sex. I feel as though you compromising would end up with you getting the short stick. However, when it comes to polyamory, there are plenty of situations where polyamory on the surface can be just like swinging — but with the capacity to extend into a romantic relationship or something that’s more established and frequent.

So I feel like, if your partner were to compromise and you both entered the polyamory crowd, it would probably be more successful in terms of getting what you want: although you would probably have the most luck acting independently rather than sticking together and dating as a couple.

If your partner’s desire to do things together comes from a place of feeling ‘safer’ that way, especially given his fear that your desire for other romantic relationships is somehow a reflection on your satisfaction with him, that is something that you’ll need to address head on. Choosing a relationship style based upon fear isn’t going to get rid of that fear. He might feel more ‘safe’ in the situation he wants but… it’s not going to eliminate the fear. And in general, when you try to avoid confronting fear, I find it only tends to grow bigger.

If you are going to do non-monogamy, you’ll both eventually have to face the head on fear of losing each other to someone else. Instead of trying to handle this through rules and only doing things together, try reinforcing to each other what you mean to each other and establishing a firm understanding between you both of what your relationship means and how it operates within the non-monogamy you practice.

And also, accept the fact that you will feel nervous and scared! This doesn’t mean anything bad about either of you, but rather an accurate and understandable feeling whenever you try something new.

Third caveat: Different strokes rule the world

Inherently, you both could be interested in non-monogamy for two different reasons — and it can still work for both of you, so long as you understand what you mean to each other.

In my relationships, I know that I want a primary domestic partner I live with and share a large amount of my time with along with other partners I can see occasionally but not necessarily rely on. I may only have one other partner. I’m still dating around, so I can’t say for sure. But my ‘polysaturation point’ as they say, may be 2 people.

My primary partner wants very similar things to me with regard to having a primary domestic partner to live with and share a large amount of time with. However, he’s much more interested in casual things than I am and some of the more sexual aspects of exploring other partners, rather than developing only one other long lasting relationship. His needs are much different to mine. He has several other ‘partners’ which mean different things to him. Myself in his same situation wouldn’t be happy and would be overwhelmed— but we’re different people.

It sounds like your partner is interested in non-monogamy primarily for the advantages it can bring in sexual experiences, which is valid and fine. He can share some of those experiences with you (if and when you want to) but it’s also valid and fine to be more interested in the advantages it can bring in developing new and other romantic interests. I would suggest you both talk to each other about what each of these brings to your life and why you’re interested in it — though you might not get it!

I still don’t ‘understand’ why my primary partner enjoys some of the things he enjoys, but I don’t have to really fully understand it, because he’s also explained to me the important role that I play in his life and what I mean to him. And when I get worried at times, I seek reassurance in that I do have that important role with him and that works for us.

Don’t assume you both have to be interested or pursuing the same things in non-monogamy. You really don’t! You may get the occasional worry, but as long as you speak with each other and reaffirm things — and sometimes just weather the storm that worry brings with it, you will find that you will come out the other end just fine.

Other general caveats

Whenever people open a relationship up, they often make the mistake of ‘asking permission’ before doing things from the other. It makes a lot of sense, but I feel like ‘asking permission’ is a stressful and difficult thing that only works if everything is fine and can feel really horrible if everything is not fine.

When you mention that you’re not ‘moving’ at all in your non-monogamy, I feel like the problem is that you’re trying to move together and you may not be able to. Moving together when you both have very different motivations for pursuing non-monogamy will get you stuck in a gridlock. If my partner was to wait until I found a date before ever having one well… considering how much I hate dating as a form of finding new partners, he’d have to wait forever.

There isn’t any reason for you to move within non-monogamy together. Instead of assuming you’re both on the same ship, moving through the same ocean, you should see it as one of you is going by boat and one of you is going by train. Check in with each other and make sure you’re okay, but don’t wait either by asking permission or trying to ‘slow’ things down for the other person.

Unhappy feelings aren’t always a sign that anyone is doing anything wrong. Sometimes we get scared. That requires reassurance. Right now, rather than putting your relationship pursuing on hold because your partner is scared, you both should be reaffirming what your relationship means to each other, talking through fears, and trying to reassure one another.

But also be aware that reassurance doesn’t cure fear. And sometimes you have to weather the bad feelings, come out of the other side and see that the other person has still stuck around in order to really experience a decrease in the fear.

Batten down the hatches

It’s always good, in addition to reaffirming your relationship, to be prepared for some of the likely scenarios that may happen and discuss what you’re going to do when those situations happen.

Many likely scenarios include:

  • One of you is getting loads of dates while the other is getting nothing.
  • Important appointments between your dates and other partners’ dates clash and become an issue.
  • Who you confide in about what and when it is and isn’t appropriate to tell someone something.
  • Meeting other partners and when and where this should happen.
  • Being in the same room or in the same event with your primary and another partner and how to conduct yourself.
  • Special places or activities between the two of you being shared (or not) with others.
  • When to talk about difficult feelings and safe words around being overwhelmed and needing time alone to process.

Now, one of you may find throughout this process that non-monogamy just isn’t for you, and that may well be the case. You also need to think about how you’re going to bring this up and what may happen to your relationship if that is the case.

As part of this, you really should, in explicit terms and detail, come up with a sexual health agreement between the two about the types of protection you use and at what points you use them with others. I’ve found that definitions of what entails ‘risky sex’ can vary wildly between individuals, so do be explicit.

Remember your ‘secondaries’

The other thing you need to remember is that, sexual or no, you’re going to be involving other people here who have their own emotions and feelings. They are moving at their own pace too and it’s not fair for them to have to always be subject to the whims of your relationship.

While you may be ‘primaries’ in this sense, you still need to be up front and honest with the people you are engaging so that they don’t get stuck emotionally in a situation where they feel deeply for you and then get the rug pulled out from underneath them because one of you are afraid.

Make sure you don’t lead secondaries into a false pretence of thinking and be clear about what your priorities are with non-monogamy throughout so they can be emotionally aware of what’s going on.

Don’t interpret negative feelings as failure

And last but not least, you’re asking how to navigate this ‘without turmoil’ and my immediate answer is that you cannot navigate any situation in life without turmoil.

Understand that monogamy is culturally defined as something which can be difficult and miserable. People make jokes about it. Whereas non-monogamy has this constant happy PR problem. Because so many see non-monogamy as impossible or inherently doomed, non-monogamous people are under constant pressure to be happy about everything. And I think that spells disaster sometimes for relationships.

It’s OKAY to be scared, afraid and upset now and then. It’s OKAY to have rocky periods and times where you’re afraid you might break up. It’s OKAY to cry, to feel your stomach drop to your feet and a gut punch when you see something you’re not used to or don’t expect.

If you start from a position of accepting that you both may feel these things, you can focus your energy on planning on how you’re going to address and cope with it, rather than denying it until it blows up in your face. Accept that there may be turmoil. That’s the nature of the beast of any relationship, non-monogamous or no. Try to trust in one another and trust in the bond you’ve created and that will help you come out of the turmoil to the sunshine on the other side.

I hope this helps and good luck.

Note: This article was written in 2017 which means I may have changed my opinions about it recently. Feel free to ask again if you have a similar question.

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

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