Episode 65: No Longer Primary

How do you force yourself out of apathy if you feel the partner you want to settle down with is slipping away?

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

Discussion Topic: How has your ideal lifestyle changed over time?

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

Episode 65 – No Longer Primary

How do you force yourself out of apathy if you feel the partner you want to settle down with is slipping away? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on our website. Discussion Topic – How has your ideal lifestyle changed over time?

 

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

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

Podcast transcript

In the past I was married and dealt with an abusive, homo-normative relationship (married to a power lesbian doctor who wanted a submissive doctor’s wife). When I left that abusive relationship and moved to another country, I started my healing process and learned to be my own primary.

I read The Ethical Slut and this helped me define myself as a relationship anarchist. Because I met more people who were into alternative relationships, I felt more open and free. I was also involved in a queer anarchist punk group that I still see as my family.

I became my own primary and was happy to no longer have any other emotional responsibility. I explored my sexuality more and got into more BDSM activities such as spanking, bondage, and humiliation. This led me to move to another country where I started to teach spank therapy.

I loved my life there but also survived two racist/homophobic attacks. As a Black, gender non-conforming individual, I started to feel exoticised and missed seeing a more culturally diverse community. I also missed my family so after 7 years away healing from the past trauma of the marriage and getting to know myself again, I decided I needed to move back to the US.

When I moved back, I had to readjust to the extreme of capitalist life. I started working full time in the nonprofit world again and had to hide my BDSM kink lifestyle. People I dated were either monogamous, or else not familiar with healthy non-monogamy (it just felt quite trendy and not taken seriously). Finally I met someone called K last year that was on the same page as I was about non-monogamy and wanted to develop a healthy relationship. We even started out reading [polyamory books] and doing the exercises together.

About three months into our relationship they let me know that they wanted to date someone who they were attracted to prior. I accepted that and let them know that I supported this, and appreciated that they told me that they felt this way in the beginning. I am attracted to transparency, and I also still had a few lovers that I saw and was able to share that with them without them feeling our connection was threatened. I knew that the lovers I had would not evolve into more emotionally intense relationships (one connection being primarily sexual and the other spiritual). I felt that my relationship with K had the potential to become more well-rounded: emotional, spiritual, and physical.

The sexual connection started off great and continues to feel that way almost two years later. What I didn’t expect was for their other lovership to grow into a partnership that they found to be equally important. I met the metamour a few times at the beginning of their relationship and they were very respectful, even seemed to want to become friends.

I was resistant to this because I felt I had enough friends in my life and didn’t want a forced connection (although K would have liked this). Also-there were times where K broke boundaries that we agreed on (invited them to the DR to meet their family without telling me until last minute, and also fluid sharing when we formed an agreement around us only fluid sharing together).

Somehow we overcame those incidents and reinstated our boundaries. I still loved them and didn’t want to ‘break up’ because they were still affectionate and apologetic. During the pandemic we became closer and even though we were apart for three months we connected by doing a 21-day meditation challenge together. They were still connecting to their other partner long distance as well, but told me that they wanted to find a place together in the US and plan a future together (start a family and buy a house together eventually).

Fast forward, we did reunite, it felt good, and we now live together in the same flat (with our own bedrooms). With this ideal set-up, I thought it would work well since they would invite their other partner to come and stay with them sometimes and vice versa. But 5 months later, it proves to be more stressful than I thought it would be.

They see their other partner once a month and even though it started off as 4-5 days, it is now at 10 days a month. I am also dating another person that they have met and is also attracted to and we started a triad because I like to include them in my exploits, but with them planning to spend more and more time with their other partner, they have less capacity to develop this relationship with me.

There have been times I really needed them (when my Grandma has been sick, or I am feeling down, or want to plan a doctor’s visit together to freeze my eggs) that they just aren’t available based on timing. We have a shared calendar but they don’t seem to look at it prior to making plans with their other partner and I am starting to feel like a fool for being so accommodating. They sense my anger and proposed that we go to counselling to talk about our different ways of being non-monogamous since the timing has been the most consistent point of contention between us.

I am not sure it is worth it and am also triggered from the time I tried counselling in my last abusive relationship. It didn’t help ‘fix’ anything and I felt that I was being called ‘the problem.’ I am willing to get rid of this past trauma to work towards a stable foundation with K, but I also don’t want to waste my time if we can’t reconcile our different philosophies on being non-monogamous. I don’t want to be apathetic (my go to shut down), but I don’t want to try ‘too hard’ either.

Do you think our non-monogamous differences are worth going to therapy for or that I am hanging on to a configuration that just doesn’t work for me and should let it go?

I do know that any relationship can shift and change, but I am feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the way things are going, and feel like this may mean that I should move on sooner than later as I have the tendency to hang on and try to make things work when they aren’t supposed to. This is my fear.

Response:

The first thing here that I want to say, specifically about therapy — If you go into therapy with someone who is abusive, that doesn’t work. There’s an amazing book I constantly, constantly recommend people read called “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft, and I recommend this book because it was hugely, hugely helpful for me in understanding the pathology of people who are abusive.

And I do want to illustrate that there’s a difference as well between people who do abusive things that maybe they have learned because of where they grew up or just the society that we grew up in, and people who are pathologically abusive, which means — if you read the book then you do understand the difference between the two. And one thing that Lundy Bancroft, and a lot of therapists say who deal with people who are actually you know pathologically abusive is that going to therapy can sometimes make it worse — especially couples therapy can definitely make it worse.

So just because you’ve had a bad relationship with therapy with your other partner who you say is abusive does not mean that it won’t work in this case, I think that this is a situation where you have a really good concept of what your ideal is, but it doesn’t seem like you’ve had that conversation with K.

Or it may be that K’s ideal is shifting and maybe they don’t really know how to communicate that to you. The thing that I worry about is that K violated some pretty serious boundaries that you had. It’d be one thing if it’s like, “Oh, K was supposed to come to see me this time but didn’t”. But violating the fluid bonded boundary is a pretty big deal. And I worry that maybe you kind of forgave a little bit too quickly.

I’m not saying that you should break up or that you should have broke up. But I do think that you have a clear situation where K is prioritising another relationship in a way over you and you’re not really handling it or talking about it or it doesn’t seem like you really talked about — Forgiving someone for doing something wrong is one thing, but working out why it is that they did that is another thing.

I think that you need to both sit down and figure out if you share the same, as you said, philosophies on being non-monogamous but also ideals. Does K really want to do this, have a family, buy a house together? Is that something that K actually wants? And this is something that K really needs to figure out especially when it comes to this other person that K is also supposed to be in a triad with you? With this other person?

Maybe K has new relationship energy with this new person and is sort of being sucked in but still does want you know the whole marriage and family and settling down with you. But you have to have that specific conversation. Is the mishaps you’ve been having with timing intentional? Because you say, we have a shared calendar, but it doesn’t seem like K is checking that calendar before K makes plans, is that intentional?

Is K actually just so caught up in things that they don’t really think about it for they go ahead and make plans, or is it that K isn’t looking? That involves K being really real with themself, and they have to be really real with themself and what they want, because otherwise this is what eventually happens. Like stuff gets missed. The little things start piling up. Resentment and anger starts building, and then eventually it ends up being horrible.

I think that you could have a basic conversation with each other about whether or not you share that same goal. Does K actually want this or is K envisioning…? What is K’s ideal? Does K envision that this partner that they’re going to see for 10 days out of the month will eventually come and move with you guys? What is the ideal here? Do you have a shared intentional vision of what you want your relationship to look like?

If you don’t have a shared intentional, then what you can do — I don’t necessarily even think you have to break up, but it will allow you to decide, “Okay, K doesn’t want this” and you may need a break up period” It really depends on how you feel personally, but maybe you can shift that expectation, and then K spending so much time with this other person won’t be such a big downer for you. Maybe this other person that you’re dating that you have this like triad with, maybe that can be the person that you have this settling down with who is more interested in that.

So, it just comes down to what your shared vision is. I think that if you can get out of K, that you do have some shared visions, that this timing stuff is not intentional, that they have not, you know, they can see that they’re caught up in new relationship energy which does sound like. I don’t know how new this relationship necessarily is but you can be caught up in new— especially if you’re a long distance, and especially with all this pandemic stuff and like the way that people have been touched starved and how difficult it’s been like, I do think you can be caught up in new relationship energy for a long. long time with a long distance connection because every time you see each other, as they say absence makes the heart grow fonder.

I do think that can be especially true for long distance, even if K is spending 10 days of the month with them. It’s like that absence makes things super dramatic, in a way that can kind of intensify the new relationship energy. So if K is able to say like, “Yeah, I am being a little bit focused on this relationship. But I do want to have this settling down thing with you”. Then I would say go to counselling together.

The fact that K recommended counselling is actually really, really great. That does show an effort to fix things. And again, like I said, just because you’ve had a really bad experience with counselling with an abusive partner in the past, that won’t fix anything. A counsellor is not going to be able to stop someone from being abusive towards you, if that’s what they want to do, and going to couples counselling with an abusive partner can actually make it worse.

Like I said, it’s another thing about— one thing that’s quite popular within the community is Nonviolent Communication, and there’s a lot written about nonviolent communication about how if the person wants to be violent towards you, nonviolent communication does not work with them. And similarly with counselling so I think it’s a positive sign that K has adjusted to go to counselling. K has recognised that you’re frustrated and upset and wants to solve that.

And I think that you also might want to consider counselling on your own, because there’s a bit of a contradiction on what you’re saying You talk about how you’re worried about trying too hard, and hanging on but then you also say you’re apathetic and you shut down. And I think that you might want to work out some of the stuff that you went through with your other partner with a counsellor and figure out how to address some of these situations as and when they come up.

Because I do think that if you’ve had an abusive relationship that and you know depending on what kind of background you come from and surviving so many things that you have survived, it is going to be hard for you to feel comfortable and safe confronting someone about some of the things that they’re doing. That is quite understandable. I definitely think that makes sense.

To sum up. Just because counselling didn’t work in your last abusive relationship doesn’t mean it won’t work now because that partner was abusive. So of course, it didn’t work and it’s okay that you didn’t know that. A lot of people go through that. You should definitely like I said, check out that book. Look up what other people go through online with going to counselling and abusive relationships.  I’m sure there’s tons of things written about it, especially if you had a counsellor that didn’t understand your perspective, and where you’re coming from, and didn’t understand, you know, any kind of marginalisation. That can also compound and add issues to it so you can try and find a therapist who is more understanding of that.

And also, definitely check out online how to interview therapists and ask them questions. They are there to work for you. They are there to help you. And so you can absolutely  ask them if they’re used to polyamory, if they’re used to being with helping people who have been in abusive relationships, if they’re used to queer people. You can ask those questions. If you feel like you’re “the problem”, you can find a second opinion.

It’s not something where you always have to go by what one therapist says. Unfortunately, sometimes even when people aren’t abusive and are trying to find a therapist, it can sometimes not work and that isn’t because of you. So definitely, definitely keep that in mind. It’s a good sign that K has addressed these issues but you can have a sit down conversation and figure out if K is still interested in this shared vision of what you want together.

Is K still interested in settling down? And figure that out with each other. And then, last thing is just give yourself a little bit of a break for having a lot of these feelings and maybe, see if you can get some therapy one on one for what you’ve been through with not only just having that really horrible relationship that sounds like but also, moving so much, and then facing like specific horrible attacks and like dealing with horrible people. Yeah, it’s a lot and that’s a lot to go through. And now you’re also kind of back in the closet now a little bit when it comes to kink stuff, and that’s a lot to go through.

So you need a little bit of support in that regard. And then we all have the pandemic which is a lot of shit for all of us to go through so there’s a lot of stuff you’re going through. And you can be a little bit easy on yourself. You don’t sound like you’re beating yourself up too much, but I always think it’s good to remind people, especially when they’ve gone through a lot of stuff that like, “Hey, you’ve gone through a lot of stuff, and that’s understandable that you would feel anxious and a little bit nervous about the things that are happening around you”.

But overall I would say this doesn’t sound terrible. Again, my final point is that K suggesting that you go to counselling is a really positive sign. And I think that you should definitely consider it and just have a conversation. I feel like if K is already identifying that you’re unhappy and is wanting to fix it then having that conversation about whether or not you have a shared vision won’t be so difficult to have without a counsellor, but equally you can find one together who understands polyamory who’s accepting and understanding of queerness and kink, and also has maybe Black identified themselves, or maybe has worked with Black clients before or has some understanding of that, instead of just being ignorant about it, which unfortunately a lot of therapists are. But yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

Managing a triad

My wife and I have been together for 20 years, being married 14 of those years. The last 12 years my wife and I have been in The Swinging lifestyle and in that time you have grown. We have always talked about polyamorous relationship whether it be another couple or single and a year-and-a-half ago I met a woman. We hit it off and we started chatting everyday. What started off as a occasional swinging partner, turned into feelings for each other.

My wife saw what was happening and I was in denial but I can tell my feelings for her were getting deeper and deeper. So I approached my wife with the prospect of bringing her into our relationship and she agreed. We spent the next six or seven months chatting back and forth, the three of us together, my wife and her alone and her and I alone and the feelings all around became mutuel. It was then that we all decided that we should go one step further and move in together. Up until this time we had been seeing each other, she lived on one side of the country we lived 800 miles away, and we would travel to spend time with each other.

So my wife and I packed up our stuff and moved so that we could be with her. So now here I thought it would be no different than just living with my wife and we would all be happy, no issues, but I am wrong and I think it’s all my fault.

I am finding it very difficult o be honest with the two of them about how I feel about certain things, not wanting to get them mad. Trying not to spend more time with one than the other. Then there’s the sex I thought that it would be mostly the three of us sharing together. But at times they both feel left out because I have a hard time approaching them individually.

I am scared one’s going to think I’m having sex too often with one and not the other. I’m really having a hard time trying to figure out how to approach one of them to get them alone when I want to be with just one. We all were sharing a bed until about 2 weeks ago and I don’t know what to do. My wife and I both want this woman to  become part of us and I think I’m doing everything wrong. I’m hoping do you have some advice for me that I can think about and hopefully put into practice because I don’t want to lose either one of them.

One of the things people take most for granted when they start out in non-monogamy or polyamory is how much time they had as young people to imagine what their future might be like in a monogamous context and how much the culture around them gives them ideas for what their lives might look like and gives them a step by step guide on how to get there.

When we jump into polyamory and non-monogamy, we don’t usually spend relatively the same amount of time thinking about these things because polyamory and/or non-monogamy are kind of in and itself an ideal we think we want to aspire to. We rarely think about the physicalities of how our lives will change. We just imagine that polyamory or non-monogamy will be exactly like our lives are now… but somehow better. We don’t tend to think that things have to change or that polyamory and non-monogamy would take away from our lives.

The fact is, when you agree to polyamory or non-monogamy, on the whole, you’re not agreeing to monogamy plus. You’re not agreeing to an upgrade. You’re agreeing to a different way of doing things. And that requires some upfront discussion on all sides. I do worry slightly that you and your wife are forcing this to be a traid when it’s not particularly clear if that’s exactly something your wife wants — outside of believing it’s “safer” or maybe wanting to agree to the situation to avoid losing you.

There are some really important questions for you all to think about and discuss with each other — not as a couple talking with one person, but as three individuals working out a compromise between all of your ideals. At some point you will have to face your fear of disappointing or angering one of them and perhaps remember that it should be possible in your relationships with people you care about to make mistakes without someone deciding to leave you. And that if someone refuses to give you a chance for making a mistake, they likely aren’t someone you can build a sustainable relationship with anyways.

I posted two useful articles that might be helpful including one on Why Couples Always Want a Triad and a primer for people starting out called Thirteen Mistakes People Make When Trying Polyamory. In reading them over, you may want to speak to a polyamory friendly relationship therapist who can facilitate a discussion between all three of you about how you want to arrange your living together and what each person wants.

I’d worry less about things being exactly equitable as different people have different needs at different times and more focus on the fact that, as long as you are willing to listen to the needs of both of your partners and respond to them in the best way you can, there is ultimately nothing you can do if a triad situation doesn’t work for one of them.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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When your partner marries another

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

I and my partner have a non-monogam[ous] relationship for about 1.5 years. I have a question about non-monogamy.

1. Can non-monogamous [people] marry?
2. Do they marry only one of the partners?
3. Do you think that married breaking the rules of nonmonogam[ous] relationship?

My partner has married with the other partner, I think he prioritizing his wife than me now. And I know that his wife really hates me, I have ever heard my partner babbling about his wife on me. Do you think that it’s already an unhealthy nonmonogamy relationship?

Honestly, I am not comfy with this aspect. I need your advice thank you.

He married the other partner a month a go. It happened suddenly after the govt making new law in my country. But I feel that he just seeing his wife rather than me.

Although you’re asking me if non-monogamous people can marry, I think your question is less about whether or not it’s legal, since it seems like it might be legal in your country, and more about whether or not non-monogamous people should marry.

I find that a lot of people, when they are asking questions about non-monogamy or polyamory, will ask if someone “should” be doing something or not. Or they ask if something is “normal”. While in general I do understand wanting to know if a behaviour or something your partner is doing is “usual” especially if you are just trying out non-monogamy for the first time, what matters here is how you feel.

Many non-monogamous people do marry or have marriages with one partner. As far as I know, there are only a few places where you can marry more than one person at a time. Many non-monogamous people want to be able to marry all of their partners. Some non-monogamous people don’t like the institution of marriage and don’t think it should exist at all. Opinions vary wildly.

But what’s important here is that you feel that your partner has done something without asking you and that upsets you. I think that is what is unhealthy. Even if he didn’t marry this other partner, but decided to prioritise her over you without telling you, that is a problem. Even if she didn’t hate you, it would still be a problem. It sounds like your partner is also talking negatively about this partner to you, which only adds to the problem.

The fact is that you are upset about this and for you, it is not the kind of relationship you want to have. If you are not comfortable, that is what matters first and foremost.

It concerns me that your partner did this without consulting you. It concerns me that your partner talks to you about his other partners in a way that seems to make you feel uncomfortable about them. And it concerns me that you no longer feel like a priority in his life.

I’m not sure if you have actually confronted him about this and what he has to say about it, but you need to do that first and foremost. You need to tell him that, regardless of the legal marriage, you will not accept no longer being a priority. You will not accept the changes that have happened to your relationship and he must make an effort to change that, or you will be gone. Likewise, if it makes you uncomfortable to hear him talk about his other partners, you need to say so. Whether or not that is okay to other people is irrelevant. If you are not comfortable, then he should not do it. Especially when he has no reason to.

If you have confronted him and he has either made excuses or said there is something wrong with you and this is the way non-monogamy is done, then leave. You don’t need this type of mess in your life. You deserve to be prioritised and, regardless of how other non-monogamous people behave, that does not mean you have to be okay with it if you are not.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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

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Episode 11: Long Distance Lament

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

How do you negotiate more time in a long distance relationship against new relationship energy? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

You should also be able to find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 11 – Long Distance Lament

Your relationship has moved to long distance and your partner has a new partner… and is now ignoring your needs. What do you do? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon.

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:

So bit of background, I’m a demisexual, married to a pansexual. We’ve been somewhat talking about trying poly[am] for years, with a few forays into it where we’ve both had other relationships that were short-term — me with a mutual friend I was close to, and my partner finding casual relationships through dating apps and such. Recently it’s felt like it’s moved very quickly. In part because we’re currently long-distance — I’m half a continent away finishing up grad school, while they’re living on their own looking for work.

A big part of the change is that this is the first time my partner has developed genuine feelings for someone else. It’s not something I want to stifle, and I truly want them to be happy, but I feel… Left behind. Abandoned. They’re caught up in that “new relationship energy” and putting all of their focus on the new person. Normally, it’d be okay, it wouldn’t be a huge deal, and I would be happy for them. But normally we also are communicating a lot face-to-face. Normally after the early dates they’d come home to me and we’d be able to talk about it. Normally I may even get some opportunity to casually get to know the person early on. But not while long distance. But they met this person a few months ago after I’d already been gone for a month, and I’m lucky if I get a few texts and a 5 minute phone call from my partner in a regular day.

I definitely feel like I’m not being heard. I know everyone has bias, and everyone has something that they want out of relationships. My partner and I both have biases, as does the third person. But it feels like my side isn’t as prevalent because I don’t get the same say. Because I’m a ways away. Already this month their boyfriend spent 3 nights in a row at our apartment (out of only 4 since I returned to school), and had more than 72 hours straight that the two of them were hanging out almost constantly. During the same period of time we had a handful of texts a day, a couple of short phone calls, and that’s it. And when I was at our apartment in person over the break, they were spending as much time with the other person as with me, even though we had been apart for so much and were about to spend 2 more months apart.

And we make plans sometimes, ranging from a quick 5-minute phone call to spending a whole day together, that are pushed aside by my partner. Like… If I’m told you’re spending the whole day with me to go on adventures and have a date-day & date-night, I’d expect that you’re back from your boyfriends before 4. But instead they sent me a text at about 2 asking basically what the latest was that they could show up and still make the two definite parts of our plan — dinner early enough to make it to one of those painting classes. It made me feel so undervalued.

In terms of boundaries, they’ve been… pushed… more than I’m happy with. We’ve been fairly open with where boundaries are at. As long as what is happening is communicated. Sex for instance: if we think we’ve found someone we’re interested in sleeping with and it may happen, we communicate it’s possible. If it happens more unexpectedly, we communicate as soon as reasonable that it did. My partner never voiced anything about sex until weeks after they’d started hooking up regularly. Because they thought the conversation would be “uncomfortable”. Which it was, because they waited so long to finally say anything. Plus, they also broke our only real solid boundary by not using protection for most of those hook-ups.

I know part of our issues is that we have a very different perspective on sex. That I have a very high, yet demisexual, sex drive — I would like to share that bond as much as possible. On the other hand, they would perhaps rather find new people to sleep with. And so in that sense I feel… replaced… I can’t have as physically intimate a relationship with them from a long distance, and sex has always strengthened our bond, always been such a powerful experience for both of us. And without that.. I feel lonely a lot. Feel more isolated. And act more emotionally needy, which I know pushes them away.

I don’t really know what to do — because of the distance we can’t start couples counseling for a few months. And I feel like when I try to communicate my wants and needs I get push-back. Or I’m not given the time to really communicate. And whenever I do get my wants and needs expressed, such as needing more communication, wanting to know if someone I don’t really know is sleeping in our apartment, etc., I get treated like I’m interfering in their life.

I keep reading and re-reading that, and I’m not sure how much sense it makes. It feels broken and I feel like I’m all over the place. But thank you so much.

Response:

There are a few things here. There are a lot of red flags in terms of your partner’s behaviour and big, big problems that I want to talk about. But the first thing that I want to address, are some things in general that I think would help you regardless of this relationship or other relationships. I think in general they would help you and anyone in your situation with or without these red flags.

The first thing is there a lot of situations where, as much as we would like everything to be equal in partnerships, there are what I call “imbalances”. So it’s not inequity is so much as it is an imbalance. This happens all the time. Like people get sick or in your situation you’re temporarily… basically your relationship is temporarily long-distance. There lots of situations where, for whatever reason, people are imbalanced in terms of their relationship. And I do think there are some aspects of this, even if there weren’t red flags or issues with the way your partner’s behaving, I still very much think that you would feel this imbalance and especially if you’re the kind of person where the face to face really means very much to you. And that’s the kind of exactly why some people don’t do long distance relationships, because they can’t really handle that imbalance. And it creates such an imbalance with them that it’s just… you know, it puts too much strain on the relationship.

So I think that the first thing that you kind of are gonna have to realise in all of this is that until you return to wherever your partner is,  you’re going to have that inherent imbalance and I think that’s something that you and any partner you have, whether it’s this partner or another partner, have to accept and be willing to address because that like… especially when there’s a new person on the scene. Like… it totally makes sense for you to feel unhappy about it even if you logically want the best for your partner and don’t have any hostility or anything towards this person. The fact that they can be physically there and you can’t is always going to create a kind of strain on you and that’s ok and as long as it’s addressed I think it can be worked around. There’s lots of different things that you can do to address this.

Like, you know, if you had written me before and said, “I’m about to go away and this relationship is gonna be long distance. I’m really scared. I don’t know what to do”, I would have suggested highly that you have specific scheduled times that you can count on especially when someone is dealing with new relationship energy because there are a lot of things that people do when they caught up in that that I think can be forgiven. That I think can be worked around. And I think sometimes people when they get in that new relationship energy situation they don’t really realise how much of a, for lack of a better word, jerk they’re being. And I think scheduled times like… hardline scheduled times can really help with that.

You don’t really say… like you say you get 5 minute phone calls and you talk a little bit about some of the situations where you’ve been pushed aside but I think like… if you said like every Thursday night for example we definitely talk to each other. We have a scheduled date, a scheduled phone date. I don’t know if this is something you are already doing. It doesn’t seem like these are necessarily repetitive. And maybe that’s because you haven’t had a chance to arrange that. But I think something like that like, that way you know for sure regardless of how nuts everything else can be, you know for sure that you have this time that’s scheduled.

It also helps demonstrate to you, by that person meeting that time, and… it helps you you feel valued. And it could be… and there are  other issues with the way that your partner is behaving that I want to address… but it could be that this kind of thing creates an anchor and makes it easier as well for your partner to honour you. It might be that they are swept up in this new relationship energy, swept up in missing you and needing as well that face-to-face and they’re getting it from this person in that’s really great for them. And having that really solid commitment and clear boundary of like, ok this is the day that we have a call, can really, really help with that.

Before I get into some of the problematic aspects of your partner’s behaviour, another thing that I really want you to think about… so you said you have this boundary… I would really call it a rule rather than a boundary that if you find someone you’re interested in sleeping with, you communicate it as soon as it happens and you communicated as soon as you did. Now, I’m not saying that your partner is right in terms of the way they handled this, but I do think that you need to explore why you have that rule. There are sexual health reasons to have rules like that. Like the rule that I have like… I would like to know if my partner sleeps with someone new not because that would make it easier for me and it’s not for emotional reasons. That’s not say that emotions are bad.

It’s for sexual health reasons because I just want to know as a person when technically my sexual health risk, because they slept with someone new, is a bit heightened. That actually helps my anxiety rather than… because if I don’t know then and then I know all of a sudden that there is four more people like… that will make me way more panicky than just knowing when it happens. And I kind of work is well with my partners in that… if I’m having a bad day like… I remember my partner wanted to tell me that they slept with someone new but that was like…  the day of the Orlando shooting and I was very upset and so they decided to wait until the next day to tell me. I think things like that are fine.

It’s not really clear to me why you have this rule. If it’s for a sexual health reason or if it’s for another reason. And the fact that your partner was avoiding bringing it up because they thought it would make you uncomfortable makes me wonder if there were slightly more emotional reasons behind it then just solid sexual health reasons. And I do think that when you put rules in place you definitely have to make sure they aren’t rules that will prevent you from experiencing negative emotions. I think the biggest reason people say “Rules don’t work. I don’t do any rules, blah blah blah”.  I think it’s because they’re used to the kind of rules that are put in place… they’re used to those rules being for preventing people from feeling jealousy, from feeling anxious, from feeling sad. You can’t prevent those things and I think sometimes the more you prevent them, the worst things become. Which is one of the reasons why your partner probably avoided it, because it was uncomfortable.

And this is another thing that a lot of people who try and polyamory for the first time do. It’s really weird because you would think that if you sat together and you said “Ok we’re doing polyamory. That’s fine. Just let me know when you’ve slept with someone new… blah blah blah… ok”. When you actually have to let someone know that you’ve slept with someone new, it’s very very awkward. There’s no real blueprints to how this is done and so you know… people are so used to that conversation being an end to a relationship. Because if you’re monogamous and you sleep with someone new and you tell your partner that’s usually the end of your relationship. So they have this kind of fear that if they talk about it, even though they’re fine to do this and even though they know it’s OK, they have this real fear that is going to end the relationship and so they avoid it and then it sort of snowballs.

I can kind of understand that discretion because that does happen to a lot of people when they start polyamory. They’re scared to have an uncomfortable conversation and honestly a lot of people do this even when it’s not disclosing that they had sex with someone. A lot of people, including myself… I find it really really hard to confront people or to tell people that they’ve hurt my feelings and it’s so hard for me because I’m so used to living in an environment where if I told someone that I hurt my feelings not only would they not care at all but they might actually use the fact that I’ve said my feelings are hurt to hurt me further.

So I have a really really hard time being able to tell someone honestly they’ve hurt my feelings and sometimes I just wait and wait until something so uncomfortable happens that it all just comes out and I say “This is my problem and this and this and this and this” or I will sometimes try to manipulate the situation so that things happen the way that I want them to without me having to ask for what I want.

So you know that kind of thing I can totally understand them doing and I think it makes a lot of sense especially if this rule or this kind of thing that they’re supposed to do is put in place to address an emotional problem. If you’re thinking that this will somehow help with jealousy, I don’t necessarily know if that’s true. I’m not saying that you should go the opposite way and have a don’t ask don’t tell relationship. That’s not what I’m suggesting. But I do think that you need to kind of think about the flexibility around it and make it really clear between the two of you why it is put in place and that might mean that there is less uncomfortable feeling around why they don’t want to talk to you about it. That will really help. If you make it just like about pure sexual health risk and I think if you both expect and accept that it will be an uncomfortable conversation… you just have to accept that. If it’s not uncomfortable, it’s a bit awkward.

Like I don’t get upset or jealous necessarily. There might be certain situations where I do get upset or jealous if my partner’s that I live with has been with someone new. But if they tell me it… I don’t want to be also forced into a situation where I’m not allowed to have any feelings about it. But I think if you kind of decide what the reasons for it are and it’s not like “oh you know you need to tell me as soon as we can discuss it and handle any jealousy”, they might be worried that every single time you’re going to be upset. And you can’t really predict how you’re going to feel necessarily. You could have a bad day. So if the reasons are more around “ok it’s just good for me to know” and you accept that it might be an awkward conversation then yeah… you know maybe there’s some flexibility around like… you know if I’m having a bad day I don’t necessarily want to know right away. Maybe if they’re having a bad day, maybe put it off for another day. There are ways you can work around it and ways that you can do it in a way where you’re both in an ok state enough to potentially have a difficult conversation. But you can’t completely avoid it and they have to be willing to not completely avoid uncomfortable conversations because that’s really really not a good sign in general.

So those things are in general good for you to think about and to know. But I think that all of this… even if you were to work it perfectly becomes moot if your partner is unwilling to A: admit that when they’ve messed up and B: be willing to fix it. And a couple of things that your partner has done has made me a little bit worried for you in that regard.

The first thing is you sort of casually mention… and maybe it’s just because of how you feel… you mention that they didn’t use protection with this person even though that’s a very clear sexual health rule that you have. For me, personally, if this was broken, it would be a huge deal for me. I’d be really really upset about that. I might be a little bit more paranoid about sexual health than some people are but the fact that they knew this was a rule and knew this was important to me and just completely disregarded it and potentially put my health at risk, I would be really really upset about it. I’m not saying you have to be as upset about it as I would, but I do think that that’s a big thing.

It’s one thing to avoid telling you something because they’re not really experienced in this so they’re just trying to get a handle on it and they just didn’t want upset you. That I can understand. But it’s another thing to purposefully, knowingly violate a boundary like that. Violate or broke a rule about that… that is that is worrying. Because that to me shows that they don’t really care what the rules are if it means that they get what they want. Which is a huge problem and you don’t really talk about that and whether or not they acknowledged it or apologised for it. But they have to be willing to acknowledge or apologise for it.

The other thing… some of the things that they’ve done in terms of like ditching you and sort of not really valuing your time… I don’t really necessarily blame them for spending an equal amount of time with you and the other person when you were there even though you know you felt there was a bit more reason why they should spend more time with you. But I guess what really worries me about the situation is less that they’re kind of ditching you which I do think they could fix and sometimes people kinda get in a bit over their head and I can understand that. But the issue is… the biggest issue is for me that they’re pushing back on your requests for… to talk about how upset you are or when you ask for something, they’re sort of suggesting that the problem is with you, that you’re interfering.

You might feel that you… maybe get more needy than you would in this situation but that’s still valid just because it might be more or less needy, you’re still you know… like I said, there is an inherent imbalance here and it has to be accepted on both sides. If there is an inherent balance, your partner is going to have to be willing to address it. If they’re not going to address it that speaks a bigger problems that are much more of a worry down the line.

I think the fact that they’re kind of… not only just blowing you off in terms of dates, which they could do if they kinda get over their head, but also not really willing to talk about this with you is a really.. is not a great sign. You could go back and you could have the best couples therapist in the world, it will not matter if this person is unwilling to address or fix anything. No therapist can force them to do that. So I really think that this is kind of the biggest crucial issue here.

I think in terms of what you should do is I think you really need to put your foot down and have your boundaries addressed and realised and not stand for it being ignored. What I mean by that is, I would say “On this date, or whenever time that is soon works for you, we need to have a discussion because I am unhappy and there are problems and there are things that are making me upset and we need to have this discussion and we need to have it soon”. You can flexible in terms of if they can’t have it right away but you need to say that this has to happen. No excuses. No exceptions. No ditching it. It has to happen because this has to be addressed before you return and you want it to be addressed.

And you know if at that point they’re not willing to do that, that really really speaks for some serious problems that you are not going to be able to fix. It has to come from both sides. You have to work together. If they’re not willing to work with you at all then you know… It doesn’t sound happy to break up but at least you know about this now rather than later. So that’s the first thing you need to do. Be very very clear and say, “We need to have a discussion about our relationship. I need to talk to you about this. We have to have it”. Be a little flexible about a times because I can understand if they can do it right away but it has to happen and has to happen soon. You know, it can’t happen 3 weeks from now. It can’t happen when you get back. It has to happen soon and it has to be uninterrupted and it has to be serious.

I think before that meeting if and when it’s agreed upon, you need to work out some things yourself. Think about, like I said, the rules around disclosing about sex, why you have that rule. You need to bring up the parts were they have really kind of completely violated your boundary and I don’t mean like bring them a laundry list of all of the terrible shit they’ve done in the past few months but like… that violating your sexual health rule is a big big deal.

It doesn’t sound like, because you mentioned it, it doesn’t sound like to me they’ve apologised for it and promised not to do it again. If you feel like they’ve apologised enough that you don’t feel insecure about it or if they’ve addressed it and they have apologised and they’ve taken some steps then you don’t have to mention it. But if they haven’t then they really need to be able to address it and I think in that discussion you need to say like, “Look. You have broken this boundary and that’s really not acceptable for me”.

You need to bring up the not disclosing it to you cause, like I said, I’m not saying that you should move to don’t and don’t ask don’t tell situation, but I do think that you can be a bit more flexible about when they tell you. But it can’t be that they avoided telling you. And that, like I said, it’s understandable to do that. So you know it doesn’t have to be that they were terrible mean person and they were trying to hurt you, but you need to like… I think you need to address the fact that they avoid conversations and that’s something that, when you do return, you can work with a therapist on. If all else goes well and there are they are willing to address it. You can say like, “Look, you avoided having this conversation because it was uncomfortable for you. We have to be able to have uncomfortable conversations. It’s part of life. You can’t avoid it and if we can work around you know finding a good time or you know you can check in with me if I’m feeling ok and have that discussion but you can’t just avoid it”. And they kinda have to recognise and realise and be willing to accept that they have a tendency to avoid things rather than discuss them and you need their word that they will work on it.

I think that you also need to, in this discussion, maybe suggest that you have a standing date night. Like bring up that you feel pushed aside. That you’ve had… like it’s unacceptable for them to try and basically either blow you off or not take your meeting times or when you commit to a time seriously. They need to commit to that time. That you know… this is an imbalance and it can be addressed by you both but they also have to be willing to realise that you know they may be cuckoo about this new partner and that’s great but they have someone they can kind of have that face-to-face thing with. You don’t. And they need to be kind of willing to acknowledge that and acknowledge that you don’t have that and be willing to be more serious about the times that you do have to spend together and really commit to those times.

I think it’s great for you both to talk about the inherent imbalance and how it’s impacting you because they very well might miss you too and they very well might be struggling and that might be why they’ve gone a little bit kind of new relationship energy intense with this new person is because they’ve lacked that. And all of those are understandable reasons for why they’ve behaved that way and I think that you can be forgiving about that, but they have to be like I said… part of dealing with problems is acknowledging that they exist. If you don’t acknowledge they exist and you have no willingness to commit to change them then there isn’t anything you can do.

Overall, I think first thing you have to figure out as whether or not your partner is willing to acknowledge and commit to changing things otherwise it… I really would suggest that you consider finding someone else because, monogamous or polyamorous, it doesn’t matter like… if you’re with someone who just refuses to address problems and work with you to solve them that just won’t be well for any kind of relationship.

Do you have a question?

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Polyfidelity by choice

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

Almost everything I read is about a couple opening up their primary relationship. There is nothing written about why a third party would enter a relationship.

I have fallen heavily for a man who is married and non monogamous. He has fallen heavily for me too. It’s the most uncomfortable love, disturbing my soul.

He lives and runs a business with his wife and is happy with her.

I feel this steps all over my personal integrity. I can’t quite get over the feeling that I will be like a mistress and always come second. Holidays on my own, Christmas etc

And I have grief. By being with him I’ll not have a primary partner and all that goes with it.

He doesn’t want me to have any other partners and he lives in another town.

When I started reading your letter, I began to think of different things to talk to you about. I was going to talk about how you should think about what you want from non-monogamy, about how you can negotiate boundaries when it comes to holidays, about how you’d have to accept that, if you date someone who already has partners, they’re always going to have more history with those partners than you inevitably, etc. but then I got to this line: “He doesn’t want me to have any other partners”.

Holy red flags, Batman!

I find it extremely odd that someone who is supposedly non-monogamous is making this demand of you. You don’t really explain why, but this is ultimately not up to him. Some people do practice what’s called “polyfidelity” where they are technically “non-monogamous” because they have multiple partners, but they only sleep with or have romantic relationships with those partners and no one else. That’s a perfectly valid choice — but the emphasis is on the word “choice”.

If he wants a polyfidelitous relationship, that’s fine, but he absolutely cannot force this. And it doesn’t really seem like he’s presenting you with that option. Not to mention, a polyfidelitous relationship in this context for you is pretty much not compatible with the life that you want.

Whether non-monogamy is really something you see for yourself in the future or not, it’s very clear that you desire a “anchor” or “primary” style relationship or, at the very least, want the ability to have a partner who lives in your town for whom you can rely on for regular support or spend important holidays with — he, presumably, cannot provide that for you on a regular basis.

And not only is he not able to provide this, he wants to restrict you from being able to find this with other people? Absolutely not. That’s really unacceptable. He should not, and no one you date for that matter, dictate how many relationships you can or can’t have.

I would do yourself a favour and fall out of love with this person. Unfortunately, his actions at present do not bode well. At the very best, you’re not compatible because he cannot provide you with what you actually need and at the very worst, you’re going to end up in a controlling, unhappy relationship.

You should cut your losses and find someone who actually does fit you better.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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

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

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Episode 8: Polyamorous and Pregnant

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

When a baby’s on the way should you close the relationship if you feel you can’t trust your partner? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

You should also be able to find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 8 – Polyamorous and Pregnant

When a baby’s on the way should you close the relationship if you feel you can’t trust your partner? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon.

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

My current partner and I have been together for about a year and will be having a child with the beginning of next year. When we first made the decision to be in a relationship, we both said that we wanted to be a non monogamous relationship. Both of us have been in long term relationships previously and felt that we would want to be able to pursue other relationships as well.

Both of us agreed that it was important to us to talk about possible other relationships openly. At the time, we were both living in separate apartments and I wasn’t pregnant. To me, our situation has drastically changed now that I am pregnant which in our case means that we are legally tied to one another and we are planning to move in together the beginning of next year.

Not only am I not the same person hormonally, physically and emotionally I was before we made the decision to have a child, every decision we make from now on will have an effect on all three of us. After having a few talks I have suggested that we close our relationship for now and figure out our current ever evolving situation all the while keeping a non-monogamous relationship as a long-term goal. Both of us aren’t dating anyone at the moment.

I have made the suggestion in part because I feel that this is such a fragile situation in many ways but also because I find it hard to trust him. He, for example, wanted to go on a date and wanted to reassure me by saying that was just going to be a friendly lunch. I knew it wasn’t but I didn’t feel it was my job to point that out, but his. Afterward he told me all about it but couldn’t bring himself to say that he actually been on a date and made out. When he wants to reassure me he does so in a way that is all too familiar with regard to monogamous relationships, meaning he minimises possible relationships and says stuff like he “doesn’t want to develop feelings”  for someone else which isn’t necessary at all.

I don’t find any of this helpful on the contrary I find it quite unrealistic because who can possibly predict the future? I feel like we have much work to do to actually be able to be non-monogamous. At the moment I feel that, because of the way he behaves, there’s so much emotional labour that I have to do that actually is his which I just can’t deal with on top of all the pregnancy stuff. I’d really appreciate your prospective.

Response:

There’s a few things that are a bit off here. I think that… the big thing I always typically say to people… the big sort of inclination people have when it comes to opening their relationship is the idea that closing the relationship is safer.

Sorry for the background noise. And they do this because… they do it in times of stress and they think… Oh crap there is all this stuff going on. Let’s close the relationship and deal with the issues and then will open it up later on again. I feel like… on the one hand this can be helpful but on the other hand I really don’t think it actually fixes the problem. In fact I think it delays the inevitable because I think people tend to assume that monogamy is safer and it’s not really safer.

If you really look at it being monogamous doesn’t guarantee that your partner won’t fall in love with someone else. It doesn’t guarantee that your partner won’t flirt with someone else. It doesn’t really guarantee anything. It’s just that we have grown up in a society that has endorsed monogamy as the only option and so we have a lot of cultural scripts that reinforce the idea that monogamy is safer. That if you… especially if you have ever been introduced to the concept of the relationship escalator— the idea that, like, you know these are the steps you go through. You date, you marry have kids, duh dah duh and those are the steps. And you feel comforted when you do those steps because society is sort of reinforcing to you the idea that this is making a relationship more stable and psychologically it works that way too.

And so it can be really hard for people in open relationships because they don’t have that script. And so they feel like they’re trying to establish some sense of stability and they don’t have the same cultural scripts to establish that stability. So they are kind of at a loss and and have to figure out alternative ways of establishing that stability. And I think what you have here is a problem that will be a problem whether you’re monogamous or not. Now monogamy may feel safer because you don’t have any active threats to focus on but you’ve kind of zeroed in on the issue — it’s that you can’t trust him.

Now… different people define cheating in different ways and I’m a very much of the opinion that it’s not up to me to define cheating for someone else. In some people’s arrangements in a relationship looking at porn is cheating. If that’s how they want to define it then it’s totally up to them. I personally define cheating as a partner hiding or trying to hide something basically. And that doesn’t even have to be another relationship. If someone chooses to lie or is lying by omission and is hiding something from me, whether that be… it doesn’t even matter. It can just be just making out. If they’re hiding it from me than that to me is cheating. I don’t like that. That’s a big no for me.

In the way I define cheating, what your partner would have done by not telling me or hiding from me that they were making out with someone would be cheating to me. Now it’s not up to me to define that for you. However I do find that in a lot of cases where people are new to non-monogamy, oddly enough because of the way they’ve learnt relationships in monogamy, cheating feels easier to them then telling their partner the truth. And that when they first have a date or they first sleep with someone else or they first… they feel so inherent that they need to hide it, they have actually have a really hard time telling their partner the truth. Because they’re just so intrinsically trained to accept the fact that their partner is going to be upset.

Or you know yet they just trying out non-monogamy and it’s easy to say “I’m fine with this. I’m fine with that”. But when it actually happens, who knows what your feelings are going to be? So they delay it or they do exactly what you describe your partner doing, is trying to minimise it or trying to find some easy way of doing it but not doing it. And it may not be that your partner is like trying to hide things from you actively because I do think you can cheat without like intentionally trying to. I think this sometimes quite a lot happens when people start opening up their relationship. They don’t really mean to hide things but they just don’t have the tools to say it and they don’t know what else to do. So they just try to say so without saying so.

It’s also another big thing because you mention being “totally open” and I think another thing that I find that people do is they share every detail because… I mean I’ve even read some letters from people who only will have sex with another person if their partner is physically present because they’re so afraid of being accused of cheating that they want their partner to witness it so that they can’t be accused of cheating.

This is really difficult to navigate. It is really confusing to know are… and this is something that I find awkward as hell as well like… when do you tell your partner and how do you tell your partner? And as the other partner, you don’t want to feel like your partner has to like report to you about the people that they slept with. It just feels weird but at the same time that you don’t want them to hide it from you. So I just… I think you might just have to accept that this is weird and you guys might need to talk to each other about this.

You’ve decided to be open but you haven’t really decided to you know… and it’s honestly a discussion I’ve sat down and had with my domestic partner. It’s like… ok when do we tell each other? How do we tell each other? I think I’ve just kind of accepted that it’s awkward as fuck, but it’s just…. it is what it is, you know. In my personal relationships, I have a rule of like…  if I’m really upset, if I’m having a bad day… There was one time when one of my partners slept with someone new and it was actually just after the Orlando massacre and I was not in a good position to be told that.

Not necessarily because I’d feel jealous it’s just because… if I was going to have anxiety about a new partner, which I did and do, telling me when I’m already hugely fricking anxious just isn’t that great of an idea. So they ended up telling me later which was fine with me. Like it wasn’t hiding something from m, it was going, ok maybe now is not the best time, you know? And so we kind of have an agreement that… telling me… basically because of sexual health is really the only reason I want to know. I’m not like… I don’t need a tally. But for sexual health reasons, you know… like my partner doesn’t have to tell me when they kissed someone else but if there’s a sexual health risk, I just want to know.

So you need to negotiate that with your partner and decide when do you need to know? What do you need to know? You don’t need to know every detail and this is something that I really, really want to emphasise. Because I think sometimes people think that being open and honest means “oh and then we kissed and then we took things to the couch…” like you don’t need to know that. Some people really like that detail. Some people are into that. Some people are not and it’s ok to not be into that. Just because you aren’t into that doesn’t mean you’re not non-monogamous.

I think some people think that they… they picture like this aspect of polyamory that’s some sort like emotional bootcamp and they have to sit there and listen to their partner going into detail about all the shit they’ve done with someone else as if it’s testing their ability to be… like you don’t. For what? For what for what reason? You don’t need to know all the gritty details. You really don’t. Just decide what you need to know and when you need to know it and just create some rules around that.

And that makes it a lot easier and it might not be…  I can totally understand why you wouldn’t trust him. And I feel like this is a key problem like… closing or opening your relationship won’t fix that. I think you know that. And I can totally understand why in this situation, especially with pregnancy, especially dealing with a bunch of hormones, that you just felt like it was easier.  I totally get that but you definitely have to solve the inner problem because that’s going to be a problem regardless.

I think you just need to sit down and think about… find a polyamory friendly therapist and figure out why it is that he’s hiding things. Is it because of this? Because it might not honestly be malicious. It might just be that he just honestly doesn’t know how to tell you. And maybe is worried… I think it’s some people and it drives me freaking nuts cos I’ve been in this situation before. I really hate it when people— and I feel exactly the way that you do— I really hate it when people try to protect me from my feelings or try to protect themselves. They don’t want me to get upset so they try to mitigate my feelings by, I don’t know like, asking me for permission for stuff or saying “Are you going to be ok?”.

Like I really hate that shit. I really hate feeling like I have to… you know, that I can’t have an emotional reaction to something or that I have to guarantee that I won’t have an emotional reaction to something. And you can’t. So really be wary of anything that’s like, “oh are you sure you’re ok with it?” Sometimes we don’t know that we’re not ok with something until it happens and then we’re like “ah actually I’m not ok”. And that’s alright. It’s not that you are manipulating anyone. It’s not that you’re holding anything back. It’s just sometimes you think you’ll be ok and you’re not, you know? And that’s just life.

So I think like… sit down, figure out why he’s doing this and… to me it doesn’t sound malicious. It doesn’t sound like he’s trying to keep things from you, especially when you said that he tries to sort of minimise relationships and says he doesn’t want to develop feelings. I mean he needs to accept… and you both need to accept you cannot control your feelings. The other big intro to polyamory mistake is people going, “I’ll only love you and I won’t fall in love with anyone else and you’ll be the only person I love”.  And that’s just not realistic. It’s not realistic for monogamy. It’s not realistic for polyamory. It’s not realistic for life. You cannot control who you have feelings for.

You can control your actions. And there are times when I think people develop feelings, and they know that they’re developing feelings and they know… like you can see them slowly being drawn into things and they behave in ways like.. “I’m just going to go over to this person’s house and we’re just gonna have a chat. Nothing’s gonna…” You know, they… they know that they’re developing feelings and they’re not seeing their actions. Like people can be not that self-aware to the point where they actually are walking straight into a situation that they could have prevented. But you know, you can’t control your feelings. You can control your actions. And maybe that’s a discussion you all need to have, especially with the child coming in. Cause that’s another big thing.

Now again, I’m not here to tell people how to be a parent. I’m not here to tell people how to raise children but I can say from personal experience as a former child that I don’t think… I’m very against the idea that children need a specific number of parents of specific genders. One parent who is dedicated to being a parent, who is dedicated to making sure that child is their top priority in life is good enough. I think that’s what children need. They need stability and they need the people who are part of their lives, regardless of who they are, who say to them that they are an important part of their lives— they need those people to stick around. That’s what they need. It only hurts a child like…  I don’t think that… I think it’s difficult like if you, for example, don’t have a father and you grow up in a society that says you should have a father. That is difficult. I’m not denying that that’s difficult.

But I think that it’s hurtful regardless for someone to come into a child’s life and be like “I’m going to be here for you. I’m there for you. I am one of your parents.” or be something like a parent and then just piss off. So you guys need to have some real discussions about priorities because in my opinion when you have a child they are your primary focus. You know, there is a hierarchy in my opinion. There should be a hierarchy when there’s a child involved. That child should be the most important person in your life and you should care about their welfare first and foremost and that needs to be for every person that considers themselves a parent.

And you also need to think about, when are you going to introduce other people into your child’s life? When is it appropriate? How do you communicate that to a child? I’m not sure if you’ve discussed where you see non monogamy working out in your life together. How much time do you spend with other partners? How much time do you spend with the family? You know, do you want a live in partner? Is that something that either of you want? These are really important discussions to have especially if a child is on the way and especially if you’re going to be living together.

And that’s another big thing that I think you also need to be I prepared for. You both have lived apart your whole relationship. Living together is another kettle of fish. Living together introduces a lot of issues that may not have been there before. I had really great, really solid relationships with people and then when we moved in together that changed because living with them was very different to just dating them and having them visit me occasionally. Because living with them meant you know, the daily squabbles. There’s cleaning. There’s logistics. There’s a lot of things. You can love a person and love dating and love being around them and living with them is a nightmare.

So that’s a reality that you all need to discuss and think about. What if you don’t like living together? What if that doesn’t work out? How is that going to work out with your kid? Cause that might happen you know. You need to think about especially like… you’re worried about all this emotional labour you’re doing now. What about physical labor? What about, you know, there are plenty of studies that suggest that even as women are working— and I actually don’t know if you identify as a woman. I apologise — But generally people were are read as women who are working… I’m pretty sure there is enough statistical evidence to prove that they still do the vast majority of the fricking house work. So is that going to be a thing? And that’s something to think about. Especially if you can’t trust him.

You need to figure out how to rebuild that trust because you’re gonna need to trust him. You’re going to need to— not just from a relationship aspect of is he telling you the truth about this friendly date or not— but from an aspect of, is he going to pick up the child on time? You know, that’s a big thing. So you know I think you need to work out some of those logistical issues and really think about what happens if you don’t like living together. Where does that lead you? Think about where you want non-monogamy to play into this and just make sure… in my opinion like again… I’m not necessarily here to tell anyone how to raise their child, but I do honestly and sincerely think that, regardless of your relationship style, if you have children and you want to be a parent and that’s what you want then they need to be the most important thing in your entire life. They need to be the focus of everything at least until they don’t require you to take care of them, because they’re brought into this world have of no choice of their own and they need you and it’s, you know, you have to provide for them and if you can’t then you need to give them to someone who can. I feel quite strongly about that as you can probably tell.

But yeah, to sum up what I’ve said. From what you said, I don’t think that… It doesn’t sound like he’s being dishonest because he’s trying to be malicious. It just honestly sounds like… he doesn’t know how to communicate it and he might also have a problem with self-awareness. Like you said he went on this date and it was just a friendship date. He might’ve genuinely felt that but isn’t just self aware to realise that it’s going to turn into something else. And he needs to work on that. So I think you guys need to find a polyamory friendly therapist. You need to figure out why he’s lying. If he’s doing it to protect your feelings he needs to stop doing that because it’s not helping. Or he’s doing it because he genuinely doesn’t know how to tell you and when to tell you and you need to work those things out. Expect that it’s gonna be fricking awkward cause it just is. It’s just awkward. One of my partner’s was like, “Oh I slept with someone”. Okay. Mhm. Awkward. It’s awkward. But I wanna know so there it is.

So just figure out what you want to know and when you want to know it. I really generally advise, you do not need the details. If you like that sort of thing, that’s fine. Do it.  If you like it. If you’re not sure you’re going to like it. If you think it’s just going to cause you loads of anxiety and make you compare and contrast and… don’t do it. There’s no reason. You don’t… this isn’t emotional gladiator. You don’t… You just don’t.

The other thing is, you need to figure out the logistical situation with the kids… or with the child sorry. With singular child. What’s it going to be like if you don’t enjoy living together? I think you also need to work on how you rebuild trust. Because it’s okay that you feel like you don’t trust him even if he hasn’t been dishonest for any malicious reason than… you still don’t feel like you can trust him because he hasn’t been honest. So you guys have to… expect that that will take time but figure out… I think it’s really useful in these situations to figure out concrete ways that trust can be built back. Like if you can trust him to do this one task, especially if it’s really hard for you to trust someone to do. Like I can be a person where I just feel like I don’t think this will get done right if I don’t do it myself and it can actually be hard for me to just trust somebody else to take care of something. So sometimes that helps me rebuild trust with people. If I can go, “This is your task. I’m giving it to you. You do it.” And I just do the best I can to step the hell away and I don’t check up on it and I just leave it in the hands of the other person. If they do it, it super helps me to rebuild trust with them.

And a therapist can help you figure that out. Figure out what can help you rebuild trust. And lastly I just think… everything that you’ve done sounds like it make sense. You’re having a lot of changes. Things are definitely going to change when you have a child… I think I’m probably preaching to the choir. It seems like you’re pretty well informed and understanding that you feel differently and things have changed. You might feel different about keeping your relationship closed. I do think it’s a bit delaying the inevitable and… because… closing your relationship to solve an issue almost seems like when you open it back up again there aren’t any problems anymore and sometimes… not only is that not the case but sometimes the problems only really manifest themselves when that person is dating more people and so you can’t actually adequately address those problems while the relationship is closed because the things that are causing those problems aren’t happening. So you may think that you’re addressing them because you’re talking about them but it’s easy to talk about stuff when it’s theoretical; but when it’s actually happening, it’s not so easy because, you know, it’s happening.

I do think, definitely find a polyamory friendly therapist who can help you guys work through this stuff. It makes sense what you’ve done. It makes sense how you feel. You just need to figure out… why is he lying? What you’re going to do about your priorities with the kids… or kid. Sorry, I keep saying kids. I’m not wishing you give birth to twins or anything. And just figure out how to rebuild trust with one another.

I really hope that helps and good luck!

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Traditional marriage and polyamory

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

I am in a strange position in my personal life and don’t feel like anybody around me really understands what I’m going through precisely because that would require a deep understanding of non-monogamy, which most people don’t possess. Here’s hoping I’ll find some answers from you.

I started seeing my now boyfriend sometime around October 2017. We were good friends before that and when I confessed to my feelings for him, he was already seeing someone else monogamously, although he had gradually begun to realise that he was in fact, polyamorous. It was confirmed to him when I came along and along with his then girlfriend, he fell in love with me and wanted to date me as well. He and his gf broke up (for entirely different reasons) and he and I started dating.

We agreed that it would be monogamous. It was my first ever romantic relationship. However, about 4 months down the line, monogamy did not seem to be working out for him and we had a painful break up. We decided to remain friends, however. But we could not do a conventional break up. It just felt like we had taken a label off our relationship but continued to be with each other in the same way as before (we also continued to be physically intimate after trying to restrain ourselves for some time, which was clearly in vain). This label-free thing continued and both of us became active on dating apps and started talking to other people while being with each other. We eventually decided to give polyamory a shot because it seemed that we were naturally falling in that space.

Fast forward to a few months and I went on a date (nice guy, but I wasn’t keen on taking it ahead). He also started talking a lot to one particular girl and went on several dates with her and then they got physically intimate even though this girl clearly expressed her reservations about polyamory. I lost my mind over it. I was jealous and I was scared of losing him. He is not the kind of person who opens up to anyone and everyone, although he is emotionally available for every person, be it a friend, a partner or even a work colleague. I know that I am one of those he considers closest to him. We weren’t always there.

It took us a whole journey (even a break up) to be as close and as brutally honest and vulnerable with each other as we are now. Coming back to this girl, he continued seeing her, staying over weekends at her place. Both of us don’t get so much time with each other because I live with my parents. Things work a bit differently in our culture. So, naturally I was jealous of the amount of time they got to spend with each other. Every time he would be at her place, I would feel a pang in my chest. I had jealous outbursts which he always handled with utmost care, understanding where I was coming from. Then another girl came along and it started as a physical relationship between them. Surprisingly I wasn’t bothered this time around. This new person did not have a problem with him being poly[am].

Meanwhile I also started seeing some guys, reconnected with an old friend and things were going fine, but due to structural problems I could never get enough time with any of them. And whatever little time I had, I spent with my bf. I wasn’t really in love with any of the other guys, while my bf was forging deep bonds with the other two girls. While his status with girl number 1 remains in the grey zone, he is decidedly dating girl number 2. This girl, while she does not have a problem with him being poly[am] and can be poly[am] herself, is choosing to not see anyone else as of now. She knows of me and has a sense of my position in his life.

I have had pangs of insecurity about her. My primary source of anxiety and insecurity being that he will become as close to her as he is to me, if not more. That maybe he does the same things with her, behaves similarly with her, sends her cute texts like he does to me etc. I have discussed my insecurities at length with my bf and while I have the option of leaving this relationship, I want to work things out because it is never as if he isn’t being mindful of my needs or not giving me enough love. In fact, he gives me more than I ask for. We know that come what may, we are always going to be there for each other, in whatever capacity it may be. As of now, we have a rule-free non-hierarchical polyamorous relationship.

The other problem is that our culture places an overwhelming importance on marriage. We even have arranged marriages where our parents look for suitable partners for us. He is certain that he doesn’t want to get married. Although his parents are beginning to pressurise him, he is certain in himself that it is not something he wants and he is willing to fight it out at home. For me, I had the conventional relationship escalator idea, that love and a relationship will necessarily lead to marriage. Although, I have two more years for this conversation to seriously begin at home, I am feeling nervous about it.

For me marriage was just the logical step after having a romantic relationship. I have no particular attachment to the institution in itself. And the individual, for me, will always be above the institution. I do not know whether I identify as mono or poly[am], but I know that at this point I do not want to break up with my bf only because he doesn’t want to get married. To me, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t want to commit, as most people I’ve spoken to seem to think. I know how much he loves me and cares for me, and he is wholeheartedly committed to me, but the thought of fighting my family, my parents worrying themselves sick over my future as a single woman (because to them if you are in a steady relationship, why wouldn’t you want to marry? Also, poly[am] is beyond them) is driving me crazy. I find myself constantly worrying about these things and it is exacerbated by my anxiety and depression that I have been suffering from for some time now. Any advice would be very helpful.

You’ve got a few things going on here that I’m going to address:

  • Inequity of time and resources
  • Relationship meanings and expectations
  • The symbolism of marriage

Inequity of time and resources

Unfortunately, you’re in one of those classic situations where there is going to be an inevitable inequity between you and your partner. I get that you want to practice a ‘non-hierarchical’ style of polyamory, but this is one of those situations where life will create a situation where equity between you and all of the partners your partner has impossible. Because you live with your parents and because of your schedule, you’re going to struggle to have the same amount of time and resources towards new and current relationships as your other partner.

This isn’t really anyone’s fault and there isn’t much you can do about it outside of trying to move yourself to a new situation where this won’t be an issue, but it looks like for now it’s something that you’re going to have to accept as a shortcoming of the situation that you’re in. It’s also something that your partner can be cognisant of and respect. If your partner is aware of your limited time and capabilities in forging new relationships, he can make sure to do what he can to maximise the time you have together — or make sure your time with him is prioritised so it doesn’t get rescheduled or changed at the last minute.

You might also want to ensure that when you meet new people, they’re aware of the limited resources you have in terms of them coming to your house. You might find that if you point that out early in dating people, they might be able to offer some suggestions in how to counteract that. It might be that you’re falling out with people not necessarily due to a lack of interest but, if they aren’t aware of the structural problems you have, they just might assume you’re less interested in them and disconnect. So it’s worth making that clear from the start, especially if you can’t get out of this situation any time soon.

Relationship meanings and expectations

While that might solve your logistical problems, there’s definitely more going on under the surface here that you need to explore. I’m not sure from your letter whether you decided on polyamory or went with it because this is something that someone you like wanted to do. I don’t think people always have to choose polyamory as a relationship style independently in order to have it work for them, but I do think that people need to examine the reasons they want to be polyamorous personally that go beyond just wanting to stay in one relationship.

You have a lot of expectations about relationships that make me wonder if polyamory is actually something you’re interested in. The main core of your jealousy is the idea that your partner loves or devotes the same amount of romantic energy onto others as he does onto you and… This is pretty much an inevitability in polyamory. Part and parcel of it is that your partner will have other romantic relationships and it’s very possible that those people will be intimate and close to your partner in the exact same way that you are.

That doesn’t mean however that, if you examine this thought process, you might come to some different conclusions. It doesn’t seem like your partner has taken an expected route to solve this problem by assuring you that he will love you more than other people he dates, which is good. But I do think you need to examine your own personal needs in this. Love isn’t a finite resource. It’s very possible to love and be intimate with multiple people without that impacting the amount of love one feels for anyone else. Think about it in terms of friends or relationships with family or children. Choosing to have another child doesn’t mean that one isn’t satisfied with the current children one has and introducing a new child into a family doesn’t mean that one loves all of the children a little less now to make ‘room’ for the new child.

But what new relationships *do* mean is that there will be less time devoted towards you than if you were monogamous. Love is infinite, but time is not. Accepting polyamory as the relationship style of your choice doesn’t mean you accept that your partner loves you less than a monogamous partner would — but it does mean that your partner will spend less time with you than a monogamous partner would. Is that something that you’re prepared to accept?

Some people cannot do polyamory because they do not like the idea of their partner being romantic or intimate with anyone but them and that isn’t necessarily a problem of jealousy — it’s just how some people prefer to do their relationships and it’s totally valid. Because you’ve been raised within a monogamous centric culture, you’ve likely received the message that your partner’s love has to be exclusive in order to be meaningful. I can’t speak for other countries, but I can say if you grew up in an English speaking or European country, it’s likely that you received the messages, especially from media, that love is measured by how much your partner wants to capitalise on your time and energy and that even being attracted to other people means you don’t love your partner as much as others. That’s not really true.

It might be that when you sit down and think about this and understand that your partner loving other people doesn’t mean that he loves you less, you’ll be less upset by other people. It will take time. It’s not an overnight thing. If you’ve been raised with these messages, it’s difficult to just get rid of them. I know it took me awhile to come to terms with the idea that my partner being with someone else didn’t mean they didn’t love me or want to be with me. But I definitely wanted polyamory for reasons outside of continuing in a relationship with one person, so I think that’s something that you’re going to need to work out with yourself.

The symbolism of marriage

When it comes to marriage, I think you need to work out what the symbolism of it actually means for you. You seem to not necessarily be attached to the institution itself or need to have it officially recognised by the government, but the idea of it still holds some type of symbolism for you and it’s possible that, even if your partner has no interest in marriage, you can work out between you some type of alternative.

I’m not very positive about ‘marriage’ myself because of what it’s meant throughout my life. I’ve got no real interest in it as an institution or even having a ‘marriage’ outside of institutions because I’m not fond of the idea. But, I would consider, after being with a partner for a certain number of years, having something like a commitment ceremony where we might recognise our mutual commitment to one another and celebrate that. It wouldn’t be state recognised or ordained or even as big as a ‘marriage’ would be, but it would be something nice that I would consider doing. And I might have more than one of them. I don’t like the idea of promising to be with someone until you die because I feel like that’s unrealistic, but recognising an ongoing commitment would be good for me personally.

Figure out what it is that marriage represents to you and what you want it to mean. It’s possible that your partner also shares this and would consider an alternative like a commitment ceremony.

Outside of how you feel about marriage, there is the very pressing concern of what your family feels and the pressure they’re putting on both of you. I think when it comes to your partner’s family, you need to let your partner manage that aspect of his own life himself because it’s out of your control. But when it comes to your own family, that’s harder for me to advise.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to your survival. There are some people who think that it’s important to be honest and up front about being polyamorous in all cases, but I think that’s a very easy thing to say if one doesn’t rely on one’s family for survival and the understanding of your own family is something you know far better than anyone who could give you advice. I don’t know what your family is like but I know that with my own family, following other people’s advice or examples in some situations would have created more harm for me than good.

Do what you need to do with your family to survive. If it means not being honest with them or being honest with them, if it means lying temporarily or lying forever, if it means waiting for a time when you don’t rely on them so heavily to tell them the truth or be honest with them about your feelings on marriage — do whatever it takes to ensure you’re in the best position possible to be happy and healthy. Knowing the stress of what it means to not have a family safety net, I’m not about to advise someone to sacrifice what they have for the sake of making a moral or social point.

In summary

The first thing for you to tackle an honest look into your own wants and needs to figure out if polyamory is something you genuinely want and can you accept both the limitations of your current position as well as the very real reality that your partner can and will have other intimate relationships and spend less time with you than if you chose monogamy. It might be that in taking this self-reflection you realise that you’d much rather have a partner who only had close, intimate relationships with you and that has some meaning and that makes all of your own problems superfluous.

If you decide polyamory is definitely something you want, work out some solutions to your current physical limitations and don’t blame yourself or feel bad for having jealous feelings or anxiety about new partners. See if this improves over time because, the more you establish your relationship with your current partner and understand he’s sticking around, even if he dates other people, the anxiety should decrease over time.

Then decide how you want to tackle the marriage issue both with your current partner and with your parents. I think you have to accept that ‘marriage’ in that name is not in the cards with your current partner, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a celebration or recognition of your current and continued commitment.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

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

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Episode 4: Getting Married as a Triad

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

Can you get married to the two loves of your life at the same time? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Episode 4: Getting Married As a Triad

Is it possible to get married to both of the loves of your life? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon.

 

You should also be able to find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed. A full transcript of the podcast can be found on Patreon.

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

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I’ve recently started a triad relationship with the two men that make me the happiest I have ever been. As of recently I started thinking about the future and was wondering how marriage would work. I’ve tried my best to find the facts online because figuring out how things would work out is key to our future together. If you can help me find answers to what would work then please get ahold of me as soon as you can. Thank you.

Response:

I’m not sure if you’re in the US or the UK or Europe or where you are because obviously that’s gonna completely depend on that. Now just for the sake of this episode, I’m going to assume you’re in the US and the thing I’d say is that, from what I know of marriage in the US, and when I was between the ages of 15-18, I was involved in a lot of marriage equality activist work for same-sex marriage rights. I learnt there that there are 2500+ federal rights associated with federal marriage. Now the biggest reason in the US why was important that the federal government have a marriage available for people not just heterosexual couples was because the options you can get in other states like civil unions in Vermont and domestic partnerships in California and reciprocal beneficiaries in I think Hawai’i — they were not federal marriage.

So you would be married on your state taxes but you wouldn’t be married on your federal taxes and it created a lot of problems for same-sex couples who had those benefits in those states but didn’t have full federal marriage. Even though, I mean marriage as an institution I mean… I could do an entire hours long podcast about this. Marriage as an institution has really changed from how it first began which was about property rights and about exchanging people for property or seeing people as property. We use the word husband and it comes from animal husbandry, the idea that the wife in this situation is in some way similar to livestock.

It has not the best history but it’s changed and, well, in this culture that’s the history of it but it changes and it develops and it moves and it exists in different forms in different cultures and our culture it now is more about love and a partnership then it is about property exchange. But it still comes with all of these attached benefits and rights. You know the things you normally hear about when we talked about the importance of marriage equality was talking about visitations in hospital when someone’s sick. We talking about wills and other important legal documents wherein someone you were married to would automatically be assumed the more or less the next of kin. And especially for LGBT people where are they may not get along with their families the idea that a family can supersede the person that they love. There are horror stories out there. You can find tons of them.

So marriage is set up as… first of all, it’s not just a religious institution. You can get married non-religiously in a courthouse. There are religious ceremonies involved and it does have within different religions some type of symbolism. I’m not denying that, I’m just making that clear. So when you say you want to get married,  there is technically nothing stopping. Like just because there is no federal recognition of it, it did not stop same-sex couples from getting married. There are plenty of same-sex couples before marriage was legalized in the whole of the US who considered themselves married.

Marriage as a meaningful act of love can happen whenever and to whomever and however many times you choose. So you’re free to do that. Now. Whenever you want. Whether or not the government is going to recognise it in the US as far as I know there isn’t such a thing and there is a history around this… I mean there’s a whole history of Utah becoming a state and the issue with mormons and polygamy and the reasons behind that I think might be central to the language of the way the law is now. But at present to the best of my knowledge, I could be wrong, there really is no way to federally marry more than one person. In fact, I think that’s a crime. I think it’s bigamy. I’m not a lawyer but I think you’re not legally allowed to be married to more than one person at the same time so it’s not possible.

However one thing within— you know when we’re talking about marriage equality, the reason it was so important is not necessarily because some people felt like their relationship had to be recognised by the government to be valid. It wasn’t necessarily about that was about those 2500+ federal rights that were really important. Because without those you had have a really good lawyer to be able to form these contracts and things that you would need. And even then the right of the next of kin could in some states depending on some jurisdictions supersede the rights that any lawyer could create through contracts.

But a lot of same-sex couples, before marriage was legalized in the US, did try to get a little bit closer to what marriage would offer them by having the privilege of being able to afford a lawyer who could write up the right contracts for them so that they wouldn’t be in in certain situations. Now, it depends on what you want out of this. If you need those legal rights, I suggest you talk to a lawyer. Talk to a lawyer about… think about what does it mean? What does it mean in terms of hospital visitation? Was does it mean in terms of property rights? Think about what it is that you want and a lawyer could advise you about what your legal options are and what kind of contracts they could set up that might give you the legal facsimile that might be closest to marriage that you might be seeking.

If you just want to have nice ceremony where you have a triad marriage, no one’s stopping you from doing that. You can do that yourself. You might not be able to do it in a courthouse. You might not be able to have a marriage certificate officiated by any state recognition but that doesn’t mean that you’re not married in the sense of your heart if marriage to you means devoting and loving someone and pledging commitment to someone then you don’t need any state’s recognition for that. That can be done however you want.

So yeah. I’m not quite sure what your what you’re searching for and what’s important to you with this question but from what I know I have yet to hear of any country really where triad marriage in the way you are asking about it is legal. There might be countries and places I don’t honestly have any knowledge of that may have polygamy as an option. Like polygamy is possible in some place legally but I don’t know if that is the same as it in terms of like the equitable distribution of property between three or more people, if that is actually what that is. I’m not making myself clear about it but I don’t think— if you’re talking about 3 people who are all married to each other there are allowed to see each other the hospital when you’re sick. There’s some sort of agreement about wills… See, that’s the only of those 2500 federal rights in the US that I can think of off the top of my head. There’s just so many. If that’s what you’re looking for I don’t think that exists in the US, the UK or anywhere in Europe that I know of.

And maybe that’s something you want to push for. I think I have a lot of personal feelings about state recognition. Growing up and fighting for marriage equality and seeing you know the reality that— I grew up with my— a bit of a personal story— I grew up with my dad’s name not on my birth certificate basically because in the laws of the state that I grew up in you can’t get custody of the kids from your previous relationship if you were divorcing and you were an adulterer and I was proof of adultery. So his name wasn’t on my birth certificate and in where I was in America, a name change was about $300 or was very expensive and a marriage was about $30 so in order to get my name updated so it was my dad’s last name and get him added to my birth certificate, my parents got married instead of having my name change. My parents didn’t really have a relationship. They weren’t together but they got married because it was $30.

So I’ve always kind of grown up and seeing this fight for marriage equality, seeing so many people who have this emotional tie to what is a government recognition and then also seeing people say, “It’s not about the emotions. We’re married. Screw the government. We don’t care. It’s just about those rights. It’s a legal equal rights issue.” And also to kind of feel like there a lot of situations as well but I’ve seen people in especially when it comes to immigration that was a very other big aspect of marriage equality that’s really important in a lot of countries which I fail to mention… but you know seeing how important that is and how that sometimes requires you to get married in order for the government to think that your relationship is worth keeping you in a country or allowing you to stay. I have a lot of feelings about… I don’t personally… I mean I’m not personally that interested in in marriage because I’ve seen it be used as such a big tool for oppression and I just feel like you know if I wanted a commitment ceremony or something like that which I am interested in that… I can do that myself. I don’t need the government to recognise that and I feel very meh about governmental recognition of my identity.

I feel hesitant to say that the government recognising my identity or aspects of my identity, or aspects of my experience and that makes it more valid or legitimate. And I don’t want you to feel that way. You know you have your own feelings. Do what you like. But you know if you love these people and they love you and you want to get married and you don’t need the federal bits… fucking do it. You don’t need a government to do it. You don’t need a freaking court. Write up your own marriage certificate. Go to fucking Kinkos— sorry Kinkos is like a copy print place where you can go to get stuff printed and made like Snappy Snaps is in the UK. Go there and be like, “Build me a certificate”. Why the hell not? You don’t need you don’t need any kind of official recognition however in acknowledgement that maybe those rights in and visitations and immigration another aspects of marriage— that might be why you’re actually seeking this, I don’t think unfortunately it’s a possibility for 3 people to be married in the US or even in any European country that I’ve heard of. Could be wrong. Happy to… if I get emails, if I’m wrong, if somebody out there knows of a capability or a place where this is possible please do email me and I will gladly release of follow-up episode.

But yeah there’s no place that I know where that’s currently possible. So if you’re looking for federal rights and federal protections or government protections or wills or anything like that, I would just suggest you speak to a lawyer if you have the privilege to be able to hire a lawyer. Speak to one and see what kind of contracts you can draw up and see how that goes. Sorry to ramble but basically I just want you to know that it doesn’t matter if if someone doesn’t federally recognise something that— Your love’s legit and if you want to have a ceremony, have a freaking ceremony. I hope that helps and good luck.

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Pregnancy and polyamory

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

We’ve been married for 5, together for 8. Open marriage for about 1.5 years. I’m pregnant (10wks), we also have an almost 3 year old and we have sex frequently but not as much in the last two weeks. Recently my husband has found a connection that is both emotional and sexual (although nothing has happened physically yet). I feel sick to my stomach and want my husband to be happy and free but before this woman I felt our open marriage made us closer..now I feel disconnected. So after days of feeling icky I told him and he said he still wanted to have her as a friend but would cut out the sexual aspect. “Done.” He said. I don’t want you to feel like that.

My heart instantly felt lighter and I fell more in love with him in that moment. He was willing to meet me all the way. I just wasn’t feeling special or important and he made me feel secure in our marriage in an instant. (Also we both note that my pregnancy hormones are insane right now;)

So later that evening after thinking about it all day I came to the conclusion that my spouse should get to sleep with this woman he’s invested some time in who he wants to sleep with and she him.

I don’t have to feel elated all the time but I also don’t want to be selfish.

The catch is I don’t now or ever want there to be more than 3–5ish dates between him and whomever he chooses to see or sleep with. Same goes for me. I like that we are primary partners, lovers and parents first. What I like is that this is something that draws us closer to together and we communicate more now than we ever did. But I never want there to be other long term people. I keep thinking that’s being emotional manipulative or boxing him in but the other part of me doesn’t feel like there’s anything wrong with me for wanting that.

I would really love your advice. I guess I feel a little bit crazy and alone in this even though I know I’m not.

There seems to be a lot that’s not necessarily in this question and it makes me wonder if you’ve really explored what it is you’re afraid of. Understandably right now you’re going to have a lot of anxiety about losing your partner, especially while you’ve mentioned that you feel like your hormones are having an effect on your feelings.

It might not be the best time right now to make any large decisions. It might feel very difficult for your partner to know what to really do if you change your mind either way and if you do end up changing your mind, you might feel worse.

Keeping in mind that I’m not a parent, I do feel like when people decide to have a child, they have to put the children first above everything else, including lovers and pursuing other interests. Perhaps taking a bit of a break and helping out with the childcare until you feel like your hormones are not going out of whack might be a better approach than making any huge choices right now.

It might also be good for you both to consider seeing a polyamory friendly therapist who can help walk you through some of these fears together.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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When should you express love?

This content is 4 years old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

I’m a twenty something who has only ever been in polyam/non-monog relationships. I’m currently living with a partner who I have been with for a year, who I’ll call Poppy in this email. I have another partner, who I’ll call Lilly, who lives with one of their other partners and who I see once a week or so. And I have a dear friend who I’m in love with, who has romantic feelings for me, and who I’ve been somewhat intimate with who I’m not dating but am talking to on a daily basis. I will call that friend Daisy.

I’m having separate but sometimes overlapping issues with each of these relationships, which I will try to go through methodologically.

The issues with Lilly might be the easiest to explain. I dated her for 6 months a while ago and we broke up due to a combination of apathy on both of our parts and me being upset about some things she had said. Around 6 months after the break up, we repaired our friendship and a couple months after that we started dating again. It’s much healthier this time because we’re both in more stable places in terms of our mental health. She is in love with me and tells me that regularly, I tell her that I love her back, and I do. I’m just not in love with her.

I love her as a person and I value the time we spend together, I like kissing her because kissing is great, but I’ve never gotten fluttery about her the way that I have anyone I’ve been in love with. Saying I love you to her feels weird because I know that I’m not returning it in the way that she thinks that I am. The internal conflict I’m having is: should I tell her that saying I love you to her feels weird/should I tell her that I love her but am not in love with her/should I break up with her again?

The issues that I’m having with Daisy are more complicated. They have been my friend for multiple months and I developed a crush on them 2 months ago and told them shortly after that. After a while they expressed feelings for me and we made out a couple of times. Then there was an issue where I didn’t pick up on them being uncomfortable about me touching them on a night where we were both intoxicated, I’m autistic and they are autistic. They had previously stated that they didn’t need a lot of check ins about non-sexual touching so I didn’t check in and it was a miscommunication on both of our parts. I should have checked in and they should have clearly stated that they were uncomfortable.

They decided that we need to stop doing romantic activities until their mental health is in a better place/until they feel more comfortable with saying no. I support this decision because I want any relationship we have to be as healthy as possible. I’m dealing with some internal conflicts here because even though we’re communicating a lot, our relationship still feels uncertain and I don’t feel like I know how to act. Specifically, when we’re hanging out, sometimes I look at them and I feel this overwhelming sense of love. In my relationships with the people I’m actually dating, I would state that feeling out loud and it’s really hard to stop myself with Daisy.

I’ve been substituting it with vague words like “I’m gay for you” or “I’m feeling big feelings for you”. And in conversations where I would otherwise refer to loving them I replace it with things like “Hurting people I feel THIS way about is really upsetting”. I don’t know if I’m handling this right and it’s causing me a lot of anxiety. How do I stop feeling so many feelings? How do I stop feeling insecure about feeling more for them then they do for me? How do I not ruin everything that this could become?

The issues that I’m having with Poppy are the most complicated. This is the most emotionally and commitment heavy relationship I’ve ever had. They’re the first partner I’ve ever lived with and the first that I’ve wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Recently we talked through a lot of issues we’ve been having, I wrote down all of the feelings I was having and we talked through them and talked through negative feelings they’ve been having and then we wrote down concrete things that we are going to do to make our relationship more stable/make the other.

A lot of the issues they have been having with me stem from trauma responses due to a multiyear abusive relationship with a person who I also dated, who I’ll call X. X and I broke up shortly after Poppy and I started dating and X and Poppy broke up shortly after that. X ignored explicit boundaries that I had set and I know that they did the same with Poppy. Because of the longer duration and depth of their relationship, X had spent a lot of time manipulating Poppy and making them feel bad. X and I don’t talk but X and Poppy still talk a couple times a month, I know from that that X is seeking treatment for their mental health conditions and seems to be making progress.

The day after Poppy and I talked about our relationship problems, they told me that they were going to a concert in a different city next month with X. I got upset and told them that that was a bad idea and that I wasn’t happy about it, they told me that they felt like they couldn’t tell me anything because I got upset. I told them that I would rather be momentarily upset from them telling me the truth than feel betrayed by finding out later. During our longer talk, they also said that me expressing that I’m upset felt manipulative. I don’t want to manipulate them and I don’t want them to feel like they shouldn’t tell me things. But I also feel like I should be able to express when I’m upset about things. Do you think that there is a balance that can be found? Do you have any advice about this situation?

There are quite a few things going on here but I can see some commonalities between some of these situations that I’ll address here:

  • Love and expectations
  • Manipulation and feelings

Love and expectations

With two of your partners, Lilly and Daisy, you seem to have not only an expectation of the way feelings should feel but also how those feelings should be acted upon which is causing you a lot of strife in both of these relationships.

Your relationship with Lilly is still being built, even though you’ve had these periods of connecting and disconnection. It’s hard for me to say, not knowing what she’s said that specifically caused your breakup, but I think that for you to not feel in a place where you feel comfortable saying you love her is totally valid. But the thing that strikes me here is that you’ve actually never had these feelings in your relationship at all, but it’s hard to say whether that’s because, despite you knowing each other for awhile, that it’s still actually so new and you’re still building up your friendship again or whether it’s because you just don’t have any feelings for her and you won’t ever.

The question to really ask yourself is what are your expectations when you say ‘I love you’ to someone. There might be a bit of yourself that’s lying to yourself when you’re saying ‘I love you’ if you don’t actually feel love in the same sense with Lilly as you do with other people. But equally, I do think that that discomfort and conflict you feel is likely from a worry that you’re leading Lilly on in some way. And that’s totally legitimate. But the thing you need to ask yourself is what exactly are you meant to be leading Lilly toward even if you did have these feelings?

Do you have any expectation as to what this relationship will eventually go into? What do you expect to happen when someone does love you. Which leads me to your problems with Daisy. You have all of these feelings and a need to communicate them, but you’re very fixated on expressing them in a specific way and you should have a think about why it is that you need to use the word “love” in this case. You cannot stop feeling your feelings and I don’t think you should ever attempt to do that. But I do think your uncertainty in both of these cases is lying within your own expectations of what a relationship means and what saying “I love you” means.

And this makes total sense, by the way. Both of your relationships with Daisy and Lilly exist outside of the relationship escalator. You’re not forming domestic connections with either of these people (presumably) and so you might be still in this mindset that a big step like saying you love someone is supposed to come with x, y, or z, when really that is completely up to you to decide. I’d have a think about what role Lilly and Daisy are going to play in your life. I don’t see any reason why you can’t be honest with them both.

You may want to tell Lilly that you don’t feel an overwhelming amount of emotion for her and saying, “I love you” actually makes you feel uncomfortable. You might have a discussion with her about what she is expecting out of your relationship and what role you play in her life, once you have a better understanding of the role you’d like other people outside of your domestic situation to exist in your life. In terms of Daisy, I understand you had this miscommunication, but I don’t see why discussing your feelings is necessarily a ‘romantic activity’. It might be worth it to have this discussion with Daisy. It might very well be that you have more feelings for Daisy than they have for you in the same way that Lilly may have more feelings for you than you have for her.

But when you have an idea of where all of these feelings are meant to lead or what role these relationships will play in your life, it becomes a lot easier for you to feel relaxed by having feelings or not having feelings. Think about it this way. When it comes to monogamous-centric culture, we’re told that when you start to have these feelings for someone, you date, you live together, you marry, you have kids and there’s the whole structure of how these feelings eventually get acted upon — but you’re acting now without a script because this is, even if you were to live with all of your partners, going to be fundamentally different. But just because you’re not working from a script doesn’t mean you’re totally lost. You just need to think about why you’re doing what you’re doing and what you want out of it.

Manipulation and feelings

Your situation with Poppy is complicated in one way but I do think it involves you having to face up to some things that you can’t control. The first thing that has to stop happening is that people need to not accuse people of being manipulative just because they have feelings. I see this happen all of the time in polyamory. One person does one thing, another person has feelings about it and does what polyamory advice constantly says and communicates that they have feelings and then the first person accuses that person of attempting to manipulate them.

I don’t think Poppy is trying to be antagonistic about this, but I do think what’s happening with Poppy is that you are expressing these legitimate feelings about them being with X and they don’t know how to reconcile this with their actions. They are being faced with the very real result of their actions which is that the more that they hang out with X, the more uncomfortable you will feel and the result of that may be that they sacrifice their relationship with you for a relationship with X. No one wants to explicitly say this of course, but it’s implied in a way that Poppy feels ‘manipulated’ by.

Having feelings about things your partner does is not manipulation. Expressing those feelings can be manipulative, but it really comes down to your boundaries and the way you are expressing these feelings. The way you describe expressing your feelings does not feel manipulative to me because you were being honest about how you feel and not in an attempt to punish Poppy from making their own choices.

For as much that polyamory advice may want to make every single person into their own island who is responsible for their own emotions and all of that rubbish, the things that other people do do have an impact on us and it is ridiculous to suggest otherwise. If any of my partners were to date someone who was abusive towards me, I would have feelings about that. And in some cases, it might make me want to break up with my partner. Not because I want to control what they do, but because I can’t justifiably stay with them if they care so little about my experience that they value getting laid or having a relationship over that. It’s less about controlling them and more about having my own boundaries.

But, if I were to stay with them, I can definitely tell them how I feel about this person and make my feelings known. I can make it clear to them that when they decide to hang out with this person, it hurts my feelings and we can make an agreement about that. I think it becomes manipulative when I bring up their friendship or hanging out with this person as a way to make them feel bad, if I constantly complain about it to the point where I am using it as a punishment — that is manipulative.

You expressing your discomfort about X is not manipulative. But you both have to come to an understanding when it comes to your boundaries around this person. My partner and I have similar boundaries because he will have friends who I explicitly don’t like and who it irritates me to hear about. He knows that I don’t want to hear about this person, so if he wants to talk about this person, he will find someone else to talk to them about. But I am not trying to control who he decides to have friends with. He can make that decision, but he certainly can’t expect me to not be irritated when I hear about this person.

Equally, Poppy cannot expect you to be happy about their friendship with X. It’s ridiculous for them to expect that of you. And likewise, you have to accept that Poppy wants to continue to maintain a friendship with X and you don’t have a right to tell Poppy who to be friends with and who not to be friends with. The next steps depend on each of your boundaries. Poppy may not feel comfortable lying to you about meeting up with X or trying to hide it, but Poppy also has to accept that bringing up X will make you unhappy and may cause some friction in your relationship. You can definitely ask not to hear about X as much as possible without being directly lied to, but you can’t expect Poppy to just stop being friends with X and you have to decide, depending on how things go, whether or not Poppy’s friendship with X bothers you so much that it is impacting on how you feel about Polly as a whole.

The balance doesn’t necessarily come down to each of you compromising but what you’re going to feel comfortable with. You should be allowed to express when you feel upset, but I think the thing you have to do is ask yourself what the goal of expressing your upset is meant to achieve. I think that Polly now knows you find the subject of X discomforting. If you need to vent to someone about it, that’s understandable, but doing it to Polly isn’t likely to be productive or helpful. Because equally Polly may begin to feel distant from you, not necessarily because of X, but because they might begin to feel like any time they do something you don’t particularly like, you’re going to be so vocal about your upset feelings that you’re more focused on your feelings than theirs.

Sit down and have a think about what you’re willing to accept with regards to this friendship. It’s fine for you to not want to be around X, but you have to accept that Polly makes their own decisions about friendships. And you can have feelings about that and Polly can’t expect you to feel happy about it but you need to decide what is more valuable — expressing those feelings in that moment or holding back for the sake of Polly’s feelings when you know expressing those feelings won’t do anything to change Polly.

And you might decide that Polly’s willingness to be friends with X is something that you don’t want to be around — and that’s valid too. But you need to try and think about this and your boundaries before you have another conversation. And Polly needs to stop assuming that any expression of feeling by you means that they have to take an action. Polly can accept that spending time with X is going to make you unhappy and that’s how it is and make their own decision about what they are going to do with that information because expecting you to show happiness so that Polly doesn’t have to confront this difficulty isn’t fair either.

Overall, I think that you need to think more about what your relationships outside of your domestic and lifelong partnership looks like and what it means to you outside of a monogamous-centric framework. You need to think about where your boundaries lie with regards to the friends that your partner has and how you’re going to navigate it.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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

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

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