Gaslighting and polyamory

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

My wife and I started a open marriage about 5 years ago. Prior to that we were active in the lifestyle so seeing each other with other people was no longer an issue for either one of us. My wife was the one that suggested the open relationship and I was ok with it, but concerned with who she was interested in. The man was a salesman that visited our place of work, and was a friend for both of us.

It was tough in the beginning, but we found that it made us closer and more open about everything that we did. About a year ago [I] started to notice a change in my wife’s behavior. She wasn’t as sexually active, and I felt a bit neglected. In the beginning we told each other we would always put each other first and that if either one of us wanted the other to stop we would.

I had simply told her that I don’t feel like the priority anymore. She dismissed my concerns and just said i was annoying her. A few months prior to me mentioning all this I had a stroke, and she uses this as an excuse and tells me that I’m different because I had a stroke. I maintain that although that is possible, there’s nothing I can do about how I feel. Deep down I do not believe the stroke had anything to do with it. I think it was just noticing that she was falling in love with this man.

We’ve argued over this man for the last year, and I have tried to let her see him, she insisted that she was in love with the situation, and not “In Love” with him. My mind was telling me she was lying, but my heart wanted to believe her. She insisted that I am the man that she wants to be with but flat out refused to stop seeing him. This caused many arguments in the last few months.

A couple of weeks ago I did something that I shouldn’t have done, and looked at her text messages between my wife and her man while she was gone. I was shocked to find several text talking about how they both loved each other very much. She said how sad she would be not to be able to see him immediately when she returned.

They talked about sexual desires that I had never knew she was interested in. In fact the same sexual fantasies that she told me were disgusting. (we’ve had an amazing sex life). The other very troublesome issues were how she complained to him about me, and would reply to her bashing me. Then I found out that he has been trying to get her to leave me and go to him. He is in the process of a divorce. I feel horrible that I betrayed her trust and looked at the text, but I also feel this hatred and betrayal towards her for lying and being with this man who is obviously not understanding his role in this open relationship.

I don’t know how I could trust her again with an regular marriage let alone a open one, and she is still insistent that she continue the relationship with her man that she deeply loves and I know he tries to take her from me. I’ve made it clear that I can not be the man she wants if she continues with this man after everything I found out.

I’m so confused and don’t know if I should continue to listen to my heart or listen to logic and just end the marriage of 17 years.

First off I want to say that I’m sorry to hear you’re going through this, especially after being married for such a long time. This sounds like a very difficult thing to cope with. There are a few things I want to discuss.

  • Stealing partners
  • Rules about love
  • Respect and dismissal
  • Violations of privacy

Stealing partners

This is commonly known as cowgirling or cowboying — someone who dates someone who is non-monogamous with the full intention of “stealing” them from their partner and, more likely than not, pulling them into a monogamous relationship. I’m sure this does happen. People can do this intentionally or not — or sometimes it’s just difficult when you’re in a relationship that isn’t working out so well to lean into another one.

But what’s important here is to identify the responsibility where it lies. Your wife isn’t being “stolen”. She’s choosing to deprioritise you. She’s choosing to engage with someone who is encouraging her to leave you. Personally, I would have zero tolerance for an individual who tried to convince me to leave any of my partners, regardless. It’s a horrible sign and the fact that she’s choosing to engage in this discussion means she is more than willing to do this. That’s the problem. She’s not being stolen.

She’s leaving of her own accord so be sure, as hard as it might be with someone who seems to be actively willing to take your partner, to put the blame where it actually lies. In a lot of ways though, I spotted problems from the beginning with regards to how you opened your relationship.

Rules about love

You stated how you always promised to put one another first and allow each other to veto your relationships and almost seemed to promise that you wouldn’t fall in love with other people. Had I given you advice from this point, I would have said that you needed to be more realistic about your rules. You cannot control whether or not you fall in love with anyone and you should never make any rules that create the expectation that someone can control these types of emotions.

I’m also concerned by the demand that either of you drop someone if you’re uncomfortable. Opening up your relationship can sometimes cause some discomfort. And if your wife is dating someone who you both know, this might increase the discomfort, but this doesn’t mean that you should be allowed to cancel relationships you’re not involved with. It’s not fair to either of you or the people you’re dating for you to have control over each other’s relationships.

What concerns me about the rule of “putting each other first” is that this isn’t clear and this is the problem you’re running into now. You need specific physical targets of time spent because right now you may not feel like you’re a priority but for all intents and purposes, your wife thinks she’s doing everything just fine and that’s enough for her. This rule doesn’t properly work because it’s defined by perception rather than specifics. And also, at the end of the day, you can’t use a rule to make your partner care for you which brings me to the next issue here.

Respect and dismissal

Regardless of how we may personally feel regarding what we’re doing in a relationship, we always have to be willing to hear our partner out. Even if your wife doesn’t think she’s neglecting you, she should care when you say that you feel neglected. And clearly she doesn’t actually care about whether or not you’re upset or bothered.

I find it really worrying that she’s blaming everything on your stroke, especially when it’s something so far out of your control. Sometimes things happen with partners and they may change over time, but if you’re so different after the stroke that she’s struggling to be attracted to you, then she should have the guts to actually say that to you instead of what feels like gaslighting you into believing that your behaviour was wildly different before your stroke than afterwards.

She shouldn’t dismiss your concerns, she should respond to them and be willing to address them. She obviously can’t help or change if she feels less interested in sex, but she also doesn’t have to dismiss your feelings.

And that brings me to the last point.

Violations of privacy

Snooping is always a double edged sword. Either you find the thing your gut tells you is there and your relationship is forever changed or you violate someone’s privacy and find out you’re wrong and the relationship is forever changed because you broke that trust. It’s good that you identified that you shouldn’t have done what you did, but on the other hand, what you found was especially worrying.

I don’t fault your wife for feeling like she has to tap dance over whether or not she loves you, feeling sad that she can’t see her other partner immediately when she wants, and I don’t necessarily see it as a problem that she complained about you. If you think about the people you confide in, I’m pretty sure at one point or another you’ve complained about your wife. We all do complain about our relationships from time to time. What worries me specifically is she telling you one thing about fantasies and telling someone else something different.

Likewise, I’m going to assume that she did not respond with any defense when this other guy was insulting you or encouraging her to leave you, which is another concern. It’s one thing to complain about a partner and another to insult them. This guy may not understand his role in an open relationship, but that’s only because your wife is permitting this.

In summary

Ultimately, I don’t think that, even if she left this guy, it would change the deep foundational problems with this relationship. I don’t think it is pure coincidence that she suggested having an open relationship and immediately wanted to date someone she already knew. While I don’t want to speculate, it’s possible she had already been cheating with him at the time, as that does happen. It makes me wonder if she really just wanted to date this guy but didn’t have the courage to break up.

For me, in this situation, I would have a hard time wanting to stay with someone who has shown a pattern of not just lying to me about simple things like sexual fantasies but also tries to blame all of my concerns on medical conditions and doesn’t take me seriously when I say that I am hurt or feeling neglected. I don’t know if those are things that can be solved through therapy. No one can make her want to be with you if she doesn’t want to. Someone can help her find the courage to be more forthright with what she wants so she doesn’t lie so much, but at the end of the day, that’s not something you can change for her.

I would advise having a session with a polyamory friendly therapist and talking this out and seeing what their advice is. It can be rough to throw in the towel after so long, but personally I think that you deserve not to waste your time on someone who is clearly not prioritising you and insults you behind your back — or allows other people to. You deserve a lot better than that and you don’t need to cling to her for that. Again, I want to say how sorry I am that you’re going through this because it sounds incredibly rough but it’s much better to realise a busted situation when you can and get out of it than stay and continue to be let down.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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Changing your mind in polyamory

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

I’m a woman and I had only ever been in monogamous relationships. About a year ago I met a man through Tinder who made it very clear he’s non-monogamous from the start. In fact, on our first date, he asked me how I feel about it and explained his reasons for choosing it and what he’s found through it. I felt we had a connection so I continued seeing him, thinking that I was open to the idea of non-monogamy as I wanted to change my approach to dating, and that it would be something I’d “try”.

Obviously, I ended up falling in love, and we’ve been together and non-monogamous since. Now that it’s been some time later, and our relationship has developed and we’re much closer, I realise that I am no longer “trying” non-monogamy but am actually practicing it, which has led me to be very anxious about our relationship. I feel like I’m not sure if I want to be non-monogamous or not anymore, but also I don’t want to ask for a monogamous relationship.

He’s older than me, has had more experience dating in general and is much more experienced with non-monogamy. He’s been dating other people a lot more since we’ve been together. While I’ve been on some dates here and there, I haven’t built any real connections with anyone, so I’ve only been dating him really. I have a lot of very intimate friendships, which is where I think a lot of my energy goes, and I think we both have different ways of spending our energy on people around us. Part of why I’ve fallen in love with him is because of the way he loves, and I’m afraid that by wanting a monogamous relationship, I’m going to be taking that part of him away and that our relationship will just not have those positives anymore.

We’ve spoken about these feelings before, especially since this is my first experience with non-monogamy, and I’ve expressed the anxieties I have about it. He was very understanding and kind in our conversations and I know he’s open to talking about it more. But still, I’m worried that the conclusion for me will be that it turns out I want a monogamous relationship, which I feel I can’t ask for because it would be asking him to give something up. I don’t know if being monogamous will resolve my anxieties and I don’t know if remaining in a non-monogamous relationship will be me just doing something for my partner’s sake. What do you think?

The anxieties that I see you speaking about don’t have much to do with who your partner dates, feelings about not getting enough time with your partner, or really anything to do with his other relationships. Your anxieties really only seem to be about whether you will or won’t potentially ask for this monogamous relationship.

I’ve been non-monogamous for seven years, and I’ve very rarely been able to find other close connections outside of my domestic partners or people I live with. I’ve tried, believe me. Gone out on lots and lots of dates. But nothing has really ever clicked. But I am the type of person where it takes me awhile to find someone I like. But if I end up being old and my domestic partner is the only person I’ve seriously dated… am I monogamous? No, no not really.

You don’t seem to have a lack of interest in pursuing other people, you just haven’t found anyone that you fancy as much as your current partner and that’s pretty normal. You’re not bothered by him dating other people and in fact appreciate and admire how he loves other people. It doesn’t seem like his dating currently takes away anything from your current relationship. You don’t express any loneliness or problems coping while he’s off on other dates… so the real problem here is a little bit of your own making.

There are some people who are monogamous with their partner while their partner is polyamorous and that is a setup you could consider but I would say that what you have is pretty polyamorous. Intimate friendships are a very valid type of relationship. Our society teaches us to value romantic relationships over others and place different types of relationships on a hierarchy. Perhaps what you like about polyamory is it gives you the freedom to have these intimate friendships without this being a “threat” to your current relationship.

Outside of your worries about whether or not you may want monogamy in the future… what’s the actual problem in your relationship? It seems to be working fine. You’re dating and trying to find another romantic partner but you have lovely friendships and plenty of company along with a partner who seems to be happy with both you and his other relationships so… where’s the problem?

Is there a reason you cannot force yourself being in this situation for the rest of your life? At what point do you imagine asking for this monogamous relationship — and why? Other than forcing him to dump some people and maybe spending more time with you, what would change?

It sounds like most of your anxiety is stemming from the fear that you aren’t -really- non-monogamous because you haven’t yet found another romantic partner and you’re very worried that not finding a connection is some sort of sign that you’re not inherently non-monogamous. But I really don’t think that is the case. I think that you need to be patient, give it time and most of all, try to remember the good things that are happening in your life right now. You’ve got a lot of good connections, and that’s okay. You don’t need to have five different partners to be non-monogamous. All you have to do is decide that you want to practice non-monogamy and… that’s pretty much it!

There are so many things about your life that could change. In 10 years, you may decide to abandon your current career and return to university or maybe you’re sick of living where you’re living and you want to move to another country. You never know where things will take you. But right now, are you sick with worry about whether or not you’re going to like your career in 10 years time? Are you anxious about whether or not you’re going to leave the country ever? No, because you’re focused on the present when it comes to those things because the future is so unpredictable for you, that trying to predict and control it now is wasted energy.

Likewise, who can say if you’ll ever find someone you connect with as much as the partner you have now? But so long as you are currently happy and satisfied with the amount of time that’s spent on you and you have lots of support, then I’d say go with it and see where it takes you — and try not to worry about something you can’t control.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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

Do you have a question?

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

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When a partner becomes violent

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.

CW: Domestic violence

I have been married to a man for over ten years now. He has always been controlling and dominating because that’s how he shows he cares. He has had issues with anger over the years. Despite all this, I liked him and we have been good together. I have been on board with polyamory for a long time ( since high school) as I always knew intuitively, that people fall in and out of love.

Around a few years ago, he started getting very violent and aggressive , owing to stress at work. This was the same time he started to talk about opening up our relationship.He had already started chatting to someone, he said. I found this very tough to accept. Then a particular incident made me truly “see” how abusive he had been in so many situations in the past. I struggled for many months, wanting him to apologise, to see what he had done. Finally he saw his mistakes and started to work on his anger. To give him credit, he has too. All through this, he was in contact with this other person.

Now this other person. He told me he wanted to open up because he wanted to explore BDSM. I was fine with that, however this partner he is seeing now is just out of college, more than ten years his junior in age. Why do i feel so bad about that? I know i am supposed to understand that love just happens and has no logic, but all this is too much for me. I don’t want this other girl to get hurt like i did.

Help!

I want to share with you an anecdote from the book Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft. For the purposes of the impact it will have on you and others, I want to include the whole passage:

“Many years ago, I was interviewing a woman named Sheila by telephone. She was describing the rages that my client Michael would periodically have: ‘He just goes absolutely berserk, and you never know when he’s going to go off like that. He’ll just start grabbing whatever is around and throwing it. He heaves stuff everywhere, against the walls, on the floor — it’s just a mess. And he smashes stuff, important things sometimes. Then it’s like the storm just passes; he calms down; and he leaves for a while. Later he seems kind of ashamed of himself.’

I asked Sheila two questions. The first was, when things got broken, were they Michael’s, or hers, or things that belonged to both of them? She left a considerable silence while she thought. Then said said, ‘You know what? I’m amazed that I’ve never thought of this, but he only breaks my stuff. I can’t think of one thing he’s smashed that belonged to him’. Next, I asked her who cleans up the mess. She answered that she does.

I commented, ‘See Michael’s behaviour isn’t nearly as berserk as it looks. And if he really felt so remorseful, he’d help clean up.’”

The point of this passage is to make you realise something. You need to secure your own mask before you start worrying about others. Your issue here is not polyamory by any stretch of the imagination, although it doesn’t sound like you are actually interested in that. It sounds like he’s demanded it without really caring about how you feel about it. Of course you found it tough to accept… it seems like he was pretty much cheating and then wanted permission for it. However, this isn’t really the issue at its core. Your issue is that you have an abusive partner.

I would encourage you to read “Why Does He Do That” if you can because it is an incredibly amazing book that sheds a lot of light on abusive behaviour and helps you break that cycle. I’m very much a person who does think that people can change but the big point about this that is really making me wonder if your partner has truly changed is that you are feeling so hesitant about him having a new partner. Especially because you say: “I don’t want this other girl to get hurt like I did”.

If you believe he has the capacity to hurt someone new, then he has the capacity to hurt you. I really want you to think over the reasons you have for still being in this relationship. Even if you’ve been in it for ten years, you still have the rest of your life ahead of you and you deserve to be with someone better. Many, many abusive people apologise. An apology is not a sign that someone’s behaviour has changed and my guess is that if you’re afraid of him being with someone as young as you once were… my feeling is that you have doubts that his behaviour has truly changed.

You can choose to try and intervene and talk to this girl but the biggest question she’s going to have is probably, “Well, why are you still with him then if he’s that dangerous?” Do you have an answer for that?

Please consider that question honestly, even as defensiveness comes up. This isn’t a criticism of you. According to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, it takes a woman an average if seven times before she leaves an abusive relationship for good because it can be very difficult and very dangerous to leave. But there are sources out there to help you. Please consider contacting a local domestic violence shelter or charity who can help you safely leave. This is exactly what these resources are for. Here is more information on that seven time statistic and how to break the cycle. There will be a time to help this girl… but you need to help yourself first.

Whatever you do, I hope you know that you are worth love without pain. You deserve a partner who treats you excellently, not someone who uses aggression or violence. I sincerely hope the best for you. Please be safe.

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

Do you have a question?

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

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When is the right time to end it?

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 met a guy on tinder (I’m a guy too) and at the very beginning he made clear to me that he has a boyfriend and that he is not looking for a hook-up and that he would like something more serious. I respected his honesty and I agreed to go out with him. It was my first date ever with a guy, I am still in the closet so I did not have any experience regarding relationships in general. The date was great and he was too.

We went out a couple of times, including one time where I slept at his house at the end of the date and we cuddled and kissed. It felt great (I almost forgot that he was in a relationship). He made it clear from the beginning that him being in a relationship would not affect me and his feeling for me ( just to clarify his boyfriend was doing the exact same thing with another guy so he was okay with us dating)! I am very quiet in general and I don’t always express emotions when he is the exact opposite, he talks quite a lot and is a very emotional guy (and he was always asking me how I felt because he couldn’t tell from my expressions) .

One day he told me he might be falling in love with me..and that is when I started to feel weird! That’s when it all became real for me and at the next dates I felt that something was holding me back and I felt kind of sad and confused so I was extra quiet (It was a mixture of anxiety from my closeted situation, I felt like everyone was watching us and awkwardness because I had to meet his boyfriend at some point)! I told him that I was not okay with sharing him with someone else and if I was in a serious relationship I would like to know that my partner didn’t share the same strong feelings with someone else and that if he wanted something deeper he would have to be alone..so I kind of ended things with him because I understand that he cant break up ( he’s in a relationship with this guy for 8 years and they have a lot of history together ).

At the beginning I thought that I would be okay with this whole triade situation but I am not (it wouldn’t be exactly a triad relationship because I would not have relations (except friends) with his boyfriend!)) So, what I’m asking is did I make a mistake? Am I being overdramatic and selfish for wanting his all to myself?

You’re going through a lot of really complicated things here. Being in the closet will add an extra bit of pressure on you and not to mention, this is your first ever relationship with a guy. Both of these situations are going to add an extra level of complexity onto this.

Most people when they enter into their first relationships don’t really know what they want. And sometimes even well into our lives we don’t know what we want or it will change as our lives change. It seems like you gave this a fair shot, to be honest with you. I don’t think you were being overdramatic or selfish. Some people really just don’t like non-monogamy and it doesn’t work for them.

I would challenge the general idea that love can only be ‘deep’ or meaningful if it’s only with one other person because I don’t think that’s always true for everyone — but it may be true for you, and that’s okay. Non-monogamy doesn’t mean committing to a situation where someone loves you less, but it absolutely does mean committing to a situation where any of your partners can’t spend all of their time with you, just by virtue of the fact that time is finite, even if our love is not.

But this might not be something you actually want. And that’s okay. What I would make sure your ex knows is that you’re not sure that non-monogamy is really for you. I’m sure that they understand that you’re new to relationships and just starting out and you might not know for sure what you want. I’m pretty sure that if you ended up changing your mind, your ex might consider having a relationship with you again, once you’ve had a chance to date around and know what you want.

I don’t think you made a mistake at all. In fact, it sounds like you gave it consideration but when things got a bit serious, it didn’t feel right to you. That’s all right. It definitely sucks to have to end a relationship, but I think you did the right thing. Date around and enjoy yourself. See how you feel. You might end up rethinking your position on non-monogamy or you might not. But whatever happens, I hope things work out for you.

Good luck!

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

Do you have a question?

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

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When you regret opening your relationship

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 very much in love with my partner. We’ve tried to go from a monogamous relationship to poly[am], to just open to no title at all, just free flowing love. I know I’m interested in a poly[am] relationship because I love to fall in love. Honestly, the past 3 of my relationships have ended due to me falling in love with someone else.

The relationship I’m in now can be perfect though we are very challenging for one another. I’m a bisexual woman, my partner a straight man, and I’m interested in being as open as possible. My partner is also interested in poly[am], or non-monogamy because he doesn’t really believe in society’s ethics of how love and relationships should be.

For the most part we agree on the idea, but every time we decide on non-monogamy and I find myself interested in someone, I panic and back out. I feel guilty no matter if my partner tells me it’s okay or not. I also find myself being more nosey and insecure about who he is talking to or having interest in. I’m confused because truthfully I don’t want to feel obligated to suppress my feelings for someone else because of a monogamous relationship but the issue is, I’m the one making myself feel that way.

My partner is free as a bird, I’m the one insecure. I’m afraid of being replaced. Or that I may end up competing for his love one day. No matter how many times he has to reassure me my place is my place I can’t help but feel someone is going to swoop his right out of my arms.

Also, I’m interested in both men and woman and we have discussed being in a poly[am] relationship with a woman we both find ourselves interested in, if it’s mutual, and even then I find myself in fear. I don’t understand because I know this is what I want..

Any insight?

Without being too harsh here, I honestly feel like your biggest problem is some of your chickens coming home to roost when it comes to your previous relationships.

Is polyamory freedom?

While you say you haven’t been “free” in your previous relationships, if you basically ended each relationship because you fell for someone else, then you kind of were free in a way. That’s the thing about monogamy and what I always tell people who think it’s ‘safer’. Monogamy or any rules cannot stop you from falling in love with someone else. You can be monogamous and fall in love with someone else. The only thing that changes is what you do about it.

In the back of your mind, you must realise the difficulty that you caused in people’s lives when you decided to end your relationship with them to be with someone else. You must realise that you ended up with a brand shiny new partner, but they ended up heartbroken. It’s one thing if you’re going to continue on in monogamy where people are going to expect you to stay with them and only be in love with them, but now you’re in a situation where that is not guaranteed or expected and, now, the tables have turned.

You are worried about being replaced because you have ‘replaced’ many people in your life. Even if now you’re free to love new people without feeling obligated to end your current relationship, at some point you must’ve made some decisions about who you wanted to keep and why, weighed some pros and cons, and now you are understandably worried that you will not be up to scratch. I don’t know if there is anything you can do to really get over this fear because it’s very logical.

I think you’re going to have this fear for awhile and instead of trying to get rid of it, you have to embrace and accept that you have this fear and control your actions in response to this fear instead.

Breaking down your fear

The theories you both have about polyamory are probably a decent source of the problems you’re facing as well. You have this misconception of polyamory as ‘freer’ than monogamy and your partner as well believes that monogamy always has to come with society’s ethics about love and relationships, when it really doesn’t. Polyamory being ‘freer’ really depends on your wants and needs in your life. It isn’t inherently freer.

The reason I’m challenging this is because when you set yourself up for the idea that the relationship style you’re choosing now is ‘better’ than monogamy, you’re also subconsciously setting yourself up for believing you should be happier being polyamorous, when that’s not always going to be true. How happy you are has to do with a range of factors. Changing your style of relationships may solve some problems, but it may also cause others.

You mention backing out when you feel afraid, and I believe this is largely because you believe you shouldn’t be afraid because you’re thinking that because you are freer than you were before to fall in love with new people, everything should be perfect, right? But that’s not right at all. I’m assuming in the past when you fell in love with new people while in monogamous relationships, you weren’t intending on doing so. And that is a lot different than purposefully dating. You’re doing something new which society has told you isn’t the ‘right’ way to do relationships, so you are going to feel insecure and unsure of yourself. What you need to do is stop expecting to not feel worried, allow yourself to feel worry and fear, and embrace it by breaking it down.

I find it useful to break down my fear of being replaced by reminding myself that there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop this. Ask yourself, was there anything your previous monogamous partners could do to stop you from falling in love with someone else? If they had specific skills or were better at X, Y, Z… would that have changed anything? You’re afraid now of being replaced because the shoe is on the other foot and there is more of a risk in your mind now of what you’ve done to others happening to you — but the truth is that in every relationship you’ve been in, being replaced has always been something that could happen. You’re only more worried now because it feels like a more likely possibility.

When you really examine your fears and think about it in the context of the fact that you’re in a world with very little you can control, it becomes a lot easier for you to accept that you’re afraid and cope with it because you can’t even control that. Your partner can reassure you and that can help, but you need to rid yourself of the expectation that you shouldn’t have fears or that they should go away immediately. They may very well go away, but putting yourself under pressure to not be afraid isn’t what’s going to make them go away.

Is monogamy ethical?

Aside from challenging your fear, I think it’s worth you and your partner really thinking about your misconceptions about polyamory and monogamy, because I can see this likely being a problem down the road. Your partner may be fine now, but I tend to find that my insecurities flare up when there are other big scary life changes going on and it can leave me feeling confused as to why I can’t just be okay with things.

Society’s ethics around love and relationships have more to do with misogyny and sexism than just monogamy. There are a lot of really negative things that are taught, but I wouldn’t say monogamy is inherent unethical or that by choosing monogamy, someone is also buying into all of the societal expectations and thoughts around them. And I wouldn’t assume that choosing polyamory instantly means you count yourself out of range of some of those destructive attitudes.

Even just thinking about what ‘falling in love’ means, for example, that is in and of itself just emotions and feeling. It is society’s expectation that feeling love and romance for someone must end in a partnership together that has pushed you into leaving other relationships and into polyamory, but this hasn’t disappeared. Some of your fear and trepidation around new relationships may very well be about your expectations of what dating and falling in love with another person must mean. In the past, falling in love with a new person has always meant that you had to end the other relationship, but why? What do you need when you fall in love with someone?

It might be worth you really examining that and instead of being stuck in this thinking that you’ve moved from one inherently unethical lifestyle to one that is ‘just free flowing love’, you need to accept that nothing as inherently changed about the feelings you’re experiencing, just your expectation of what they should mean.

For some people, monogamy works for them. They may only be in love with one person at a time. While monogamy may cause you to repress feelings, that isn’t true of all people. And I often find that even when people are in polyamory, they still take with them many of the misconceptions and ideals that monogamy drills in, including an assumption of what need happen as soon as they develop feelings for someone.

‘Freedom’ sometimes has a sour taste for me because what a lot of people mean by ‘freedom’ is that they expect that polyamory will allow them to date as many people as they want while being free of the expectation to support those people emotionally. But that’s not what polyamory is about. If anything, I’d say polyamory involves more commitment and time spent, more requirements to support and help others than monogamy does. In many ways, it is less ‘free’ than monogamy because you are going to be in multiple relationships where more than one person may need you.

It sounds like you haven’t given much thought to what multiple relationships mean, other than the assumption that you will be ‘freer’. You may want to think about what exactly you want from relationships, how you want your life to be, and what that might look like. That might help you feel a bit less unsteady.

In summation

So, to sum up things, I think that you need to accept your fear as a consequence of not only trying something new, but also being in a position that people who have dated you in the past have been in. Re-contextualise your fear so it doesn’t feel quite so strong. And then, lastly, think realistically about what this new lifestyle means for you in the vein of how you want to be in relationships and what you want to do.

It might be that when you get a more solid grip on this, you will find yourself feeling less secure and more sure of yourself.

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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How to break up in polyamory

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

Do you have any advice about breakups in poly relationships? I realized I’m not sexually into a new partner but am emotionally into them. I realized in most breakups the stories I hear are about “I just want to be alone”, “not sure what I want right now”, “it’s not you, it’s me” which avoid the real reasons for a breakup. I can’t really use the excuse “I realize I’m not into your gender” because I don’t want to make them seem like it was an experiment and I used them (and that’s not necessarily a true statement).

I feel like excuses make breakups easier in some ways because I don’t want to criticize someone personally and tell the real reason I’m not into them, because those reasons aren’t nice to hear & imo not necessary to say. But I don’t wanna mess someone up by not having closure. It seems in poly,[a] I can’t get away with excuses as easily because I’ve been so honest about who I am like never before. How do you tell someone who maybe loves you (it happened so quick) that you don’t feel the same way?

Individually we all have our preferences, or at least an idea, of how we’d prefer to be broken up with. Some people prefer it being done in person, some don’t. Some people want excuses and some want honesty. And sometimes we think we want to be broken up with in a certain way but there just isn’t a good way to break up with someone.

But there are a few things I want to address here.

Communicating expectations in relationships

Now that the toothpaste is out of the tube, so to speak, you can’t put it back in. But given some of the comments you’ve made here, I think that in the future, it would be good to define your expectations as much as you possibly can with someone when you enter into a relationship. If you go into it not sure of it’s longevity, feeling like you want to try something and not sure how it’s going to work out… that’s okay. But you should, if and when that happens, communicate that to someone. That way, in the future, you can understand that you might break up.

People might be weirded out by that, but I think that it’s honestly the best way forward. It does suck sometimes. In one of my relationships back when I desperately wanted kids, I made it clear to someone who could be a domestic partner that I wanted to have kids. It was a hard discussion because they weren’t sure. But we decided that we’d re-evaluate our lives at a specific age and see where we are. Now, it’s no longer an issue. But I think it’s better we had that conversation than it being surprised down the road.

You can’t do anything about that now but, in the future, clearly communicating what the expectations are of the relationship can really help people make sense of things and make it easier to decide if and when to break up.

How to break up a polyamorous relationship

You don’t have to have a valid or good reason to break up any kind of relationship. It’s a cooperative agreement between people and if it’s not an agreement you want to be in anymore… that’s valid in and of itself. Wanting to be alone, wanting more space, feeling like your sexuality or romantic orientation has changed, or just plain your feelings changing — all of those are valid reasons for wanting to break up.

I’m not sure what the actual reason is because you don’t say and I couldn’t judge for myself whether that reason was “harsh” or not, but if it’s a reason you don’t want to be in a relationship… it’s valid. I don’t feel like you need to provide a dissertation outlined with extensive reasoning for your choice. Your choice is your choice.

When deciding whether or not to disclose your full reasons to someone, I think the best question to ask is this: Can this person solve this problem and would mentioning it help? Ultimately, everyone has flaws. And when you’re breaking up with someone because of a flaw, I think generally it’s for a flaw that’s so incompatible with your own flaws that it’s just incompatible or it’s for something that’s very big. Small flaws and disagreements, unless the build up into one big thing, don’t tend to be things that people decide to break a partnership up over (although obviously they’re free to do so).

I think that some flaws are things we can fix, some we can’t, and some are things that would take a lot of work and involve a willingness on behalf of the person to work on them. In terms of my own flaws, I know that I struggle to interpret non-verbal communication. While using ‘flaw’ for this is a strong word, this just isn’t something I can fix. My anxiety? It’s something I sort of can fix, but it takes awhile.

If I was refusing to work on it and if it was affecting my relationships… it might be something people wouldn’t want to deal with. And my anxiety may be something that some people don’t want to deal with at all. But would someone telling me they’re breaking up with me because they couldn’t cope with my anxiety specifically help my anxiety? Probably not.

Whatever reason you have for breaking up with this person, if you want to give the full reasons why, ask yourself if telling them would help them. Sometimes it would. Sometimes people need to reach rock bottom before they will address some of the glaring problems they have. But sometimes it doesn’t help at all. You’re probably wanting to mention it for the reason you mentioned regarding closure, which brings me to my next point.

I think you need to say that you don’t want to have a relationship with this person because you just don’t have the same feelings for them. If you want to delve into these other reasons, you could tell them you’re happy to discuss it after a cooling off period.

Providing closure for others

The vast majority of people on this planet will go through a breakup. For most people, this won’t be a good experience at all. Losing someone from our lives that we’ve grown to love is going to hurt generally speaking. I don’t think there’s a way to get out of that. And we all have to provide closure for how we cope with it individually.

Closure is an individual experience that people have to do themselves. Closure is not something you have to provide for someone else. I feel like we live in a society that often excludes the actions of those labelled as men when they re-act to relationships, leading those labelled as women to believe they must provide closure or turn down a man in a specific way that avoids inciting rage. Specifically women who kill their abusive partners serve much longer prison time than male abusers serve for murdering their victims.

While I have no idea how you identify or the partner you’re referencing, I do want to avoid this idea that it’s your responsibility to provide ‘closure’ for someone else. A breakup is always going to be rough for people and while I do think you’re right to want to do it in the least harmful way possible… try to avoid taking responsibility for other people’s emotional well-being in situations where it’s very much out of your control.

What makes a relationship

Initially in your question you say you’re not sexually into a partner but you’re emotionally into them. I’m going to assume this is a problem because you’re framing it as a problem, but I would also encourage you to reconsider whether or not this is an issue.

Many people like polyamory because it offers them the ability to value and have all sorts of different relationships. Maybe you’re not interested in having a sexual relationship with them, but that doesn’t mean you have to end all aspects of your relationship just because sex is off the table.

I wrote recently about the unspoken hierarchy that’s often inherent within how people do polyamory which is to say that many polyamorous people who deride hierarchies still uphold a hierarchy of valuing a relationship that includes sex over others that don’t. And why should we do that? I don’t think you have to be asexual to have a non-sexual relationship.

Maybe also have a think about how you can continue the emotional interest you have and maybe talk about changing your relationship so that you not being interested in them sexually isn’t an issue. It’s definitely worth thinking about.

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

Do you have a question?

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

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Switching back to monogamy

This content is 5 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 new to polyamory, as I’m sure many of the people who contact you are, and i feel like im in a bit of a hard place right now.

I’ve been seeing my amazing partner for just under a year now and while shes had partners during our relationship, I’ve just not been as sure as she is about finding new partners. I’ve recently decided to give dating a try and while it’s only really been a week, I feel somewhat unsure that I’ll be able to find someone likeminded to have a partnership with. I mean, polyamory is a pretty niche group in the first place, and while I’m not a hard person to please, a lot of the people I’ve come across so far don’t interest me at all. I feel as if the odds are a little stacked against me in terms of finding a compatible partner in this form of dating.

Also, it may just be some real insecurities, but sometimes i find myself longing for my partner to be monogamous with me. Don’t get me wrong, im interested in exploring polyamory, and not just because she is, but because i have a genuine interest in it. But sometimes, on off or down days, i really start to want for us to be together without polyamory. This won’t happen, and like i said, i want to explore polyamory in the same way she does. But I’m crazy about her, fully crazy about her, and I’m wondering how i can get past my feelings of being unsure and embrace someone else the i do her.

Random thoughts but i would really appreciate some insight.

Thanks

There a few things going on here, a few things I can definitely relate to:

  • Massive differences between partners
  • Monogamy as a cure for insecurity
  • Figuring out your structure

I’ll address them all below.

Massive disparities with your partner

In almost every situation in polyamory, I see folks who have massive disparities between their primary partner and themselves and there’s all sorts of reasons behind it. On the whole in society, it’s sometimes much easier for people read as women to get “dates” than it is for people read as men because of a lot of societal reasons including men being encouraged to make the “first move” to talk to women to women leaving dating sites or barely using them do to harassment.

Quite often, people assume this means folks read as and identifying as women have a ‘privilege’ but… I can tell you as someone read as a woman, I may get a lot of messages but very few of them are actually viable. I don’t know if you speak to your partner about the things she has to deal with, but I’m betting there are a lot of not so fun things she’s had to wade through to get to any partners she’s been able to have. And you don’t really specify if these are one off dates, if they’re relationships, or even if they’ve been good experiences for your partner. I wouldn’t always assume so.

The other thing is that a lot of disparities occur naturally. So take me and my primary partner for example. He is very extroverted, enjoys parties, enjoys speaking to people, isn’t on the asexual spectrum, enjoys more casual relationships, and doesn’t have any experiences of sexual abuse or trauma. Although he’s bisexual and isn’t always gender conforming, he is a cis white man and therefore operates differently within communities than I do.

Contrast that to me. I’m very introverted and at times have severe social anxiety. Although both my partner and I are on the autistic spectrum, I have more sensory processing problems than he does and for that reason I hate parties, bars, and 90% of the events that people use to meet other people. I hate small talk.

I don’t like the process of getting to know people and I hate dating. I’m non-binary and grew up working class which alienates me from the polyamory community that’s local which is very white and middle class. I have experiences of sexual abuse and trauma which have likely impacted my feelings of safety in many situations and on top of that, I’m generally asexual, very rarely attracted to anybody, and just overall not very interested in most people.

It is an absolute likelihood that any partner I have will have far more partners than I ever will and that has always been true. I have tried to date. I have tried to initiate relationships with people, but I am never that enthusiastic about it because of just how frankly daunting it is. And most of the time, either I tend to be attracted to extroverted social butterflies or it just happens that extroverted social butterflies are the only ones who talk to me. But the truth is, I admire my partner’s ability to mingle with people. I don’t know how he does it. Sometimes I envy it, but for the most part, I respect that we have that difference.

Still, I struggle very much with accepting myself. I look on the outside in the polyamory community and in the LGBTQ community where people have “hookups” and all of these stories to share and I can count the number of sexual partners I’ve had on one hand. A big part of the insecurity I have in our relationship is that, as someone who is asexual, I am not “exciting” enough for my partner. I always worry that, because I have such problems with sexual trauma and very little attraction to people, not being able to just join in the Shortbus orgy and ‘relax’ makes me a wet blanket. I have HUGE insecurities around this. And they don’t just go away even as my partner tells me he doesn’t think I am boring.

But I do feel like underneath it all, my insecurity is going to be there regardless. And that’s the thing. People might not understand why I, as an asexual person, am interested in having an open relationship. They might think it’s pointless and ridiculous for me given that I hate dating. For me, it’s about the fact that *creepy old woman voice* in 18 years precisely when the planets align ever so nicely *end voice* and I find someone I like, I want the ability to pursue that. I know very clearly what I get out of non-monogamy and even if I do occasionally experience a fear or a worry about my partner having more partners than me, I know that it’s not a competition and that there is something I get out of it.

It’s understandable for you to have feelings about your partner having more partners than you. It’s understandable to feel frustrated because you’re not attracted to anyone. You haven’t given me any identifiers of whether you’re also white and middle class, but those can easily be why you can’t relate to your immediate community. And ‘polyamory’ is a niche in many areas. The odds very well may be stacked against you, but that’s not something you or your partner can control.

I’d encourage you to expand beyond your inner polyamory circle. I met my current primary partner by slogging myself to an event I barely wanted to go to. 99% of the reason I force myself to go to social events I know I’m not going to mostly enjoy is for the chance to maybe meet someone who doesn’t happen to have an OKC profile or people you may mesh really well with but who you might not have been open to. Join online communities and have chats with people and see if anything comes with it. But most of all, just try and not put so much pressure on yourself.

Monogamy as a cure for insecurity

There have been periods of singlehood in my life where I have literally told my friends, “I’m going to die alone” because of how I’ve felt. And obviously a relationship is never guaranteed to last forever, but I thus far have been proven wrong.

Disparities in the experience of you and your partner also means that it makes total sense for you to sometimes feel like you want to Etch-A-Sketch your relationship into something that seems less complicated. I totally understand that. There are some days when I have felt that too, just to simplify things. It sucks when your partner has plans and you don’t. You don’t mention what your insecurities are, but I would encourage you to not assume that monogamy is simple, even if it seemed simpler to you than polyamory does.

Sometimes when we’re all caught in the sort of clusterfuck that can be non-monogamy, we think going back to monogamy will solve it. And in some cases, yeah it might solve some things but… monogamous people can still be insecure. I think that for some people, including myself, aspects of non-monogamy have a way to be great targets for our insecurity and anxiety. My anxiety loves to find things and go, “Oh look, this is how you suck. Get better.” And my relationship style is perfect. So it’ll go, “Oh look, your partner is dating this person because you’re boring and you suck.” And that might lead me to thinking, the solution is easily to have a partner that doesn’t date anyone but me.

But that’s not actually the solution, it’s a mirage. And this is what at least my obsessive compulsive tendencies are all about. It’s your mind going, “Right this is going to fix everything so do this” and you get so compelled by relieving the anxiety that you compulse to a solution — but it doesn’t fix it. Insecurity will not change just because you’re monogamous. If I were monogamous, I would instead just worry my partner is bored with me and then will dump me for someone else. Like, if anything I feel like monogamy would make me *more* stressed because I would feel pressured to meet ALL of one person’s needs and I might not actually be able to do that.

Right now, your brain sounds really anxious about the disparity in partners and it’s convincing you that going back to monogamy might solve that and… maybe yeah you wouldn’t have to handle the hassle and pain that is dating, but it doesn’t mean you won’t be worried about anything else. So try and remember that.

Figuring out your structure

When people do monogamy, they have a cultural script that tells them how this goes. You meet someone, you date, you get engaged, you get married, you maybe have kids, you life happily forever after until someone in the couple drops dead then voila! Successful partnership. I’m being slightly sarcastic here.

But the point is that people know roughly what they can do to secure a partnership that seems secure. So many problems in monogamous relationships arise from people assuming one cultural script while their partner assumes another. In a way, I think the cultural script is a problem because it leads people to not really talking or sometimes even thinking about what they want out of a romantic partnership and, more importantly, *why* they even want one.

So many people enter into long term, domestic, childbearing partnerships even though it’s not something that works for them. What this means for you is that you don’t have this cultural script. And for a lot of non-monogamous people this means that they start non-monogamous relationships without knowing how they’re going to end up and that causes a lot of insecurity and fear. And in my opinion, the beginner advice they get about it doesn’t help. They assume this anxiety is due to “baggage” and insecurity they have, but actually, it’s a perfectly logical reaction.

I wrote in a previous article about the conflation of insecurity and self hatred. People use them as if they’re one in the same and they’re not. Just because you are insecure doesn’t mean you have poor self esteem. Even someone with amazing self esteem can find themselves feeling insecure if the situation they are in isn’t secure. Everyone gets anxious and scared when there are immediate unknowns in their future. A lot of people don’t really know what structure they want from non-monogamy and don’t necessarily have available tools to understand what structures are even possible. It’s like jumping in the deep end. And some non-monogamy advice gives you 50 different strokes you can do but no idea how to just tread water.

What would help you feel less insecure in your relationship is finding out what you and your partner want out of it eventually. If you don’t know, you may have to accept and embrace that this unsure-ness may cause you anxiety. But regardless of what we plan in life and what we hope our relationships will be, life happens. Our plans are usually just ideas that give us a belief that we have control. It isn’t actual control. If you and your partner don’t really know what kind of structure you want, that’s okay. Just know you might be feeling scared about it. And that doesn’t mean you’re insecure. It may just mean you’re worried about the future. And you don’t have to be happy all of the time for a relationship to work for you.

Maybe it’s worth sitting down with your partner and thinking about what both of you might prefer in relationship structures and how you want to live your life. Do you want to be primary/anchor partners? Or are you looking for something different and what does that mean? I’m not sure how old you are so that might be a big question mark right now, but it’s worth thinking about what you may want and coming to an understanding with each other over that.

I have always wanted a primary/anchor partner to share a domesticated situation with and then other partners I see occasionally and maybe chat to daily. My ideal scenario actually was a potential triad, but in discussing this with my current primary, this isn’t really something that he wants. So I have to accept that my “ideal” might not really happen. He’s open to the idea of it, but it’s not really his ideal situation.

Things like that are okay and workable, but it’s worth thinking about what your plans might be. I think people avoid having this discussion in both monogamy and non-monogamy because they’re worried it might ruin the relationship — and to be fair, it could. If you never spoke with your partner about, for example, something major like having children and you find out that you don’t want them and your partner does, then it might be something that makes the relationship awkward because you realise you’re ultimate incompatible for the long term. I don’t feel like this *has* to end a relationship because I feel relationships not only shouldn’t be defined in terms of ‘success’ or not, but also that a ‘good’ relationship shouldn’t only be ‘good’ because it lasts until one person in it dies.

You may find in this discussion that you might be long term incompatible. And that can be scary. But keep in mind, people change. My primary and I don’t want children but he could decide in 5 years that he really does. People change all of the time. I think, it’s much better to have this discussion now, know that the relationship may not last forever and then embrace the time that you have.

When I started my relationship with my primary, we had a hard discussion about kids because at the time I wanted kids and he wasn’t so sure. We thought about checking in in 5 years to see where we were on it, pursuing the relationship knowing full well it might have to end in 5 years. And it was scary, but I think I’d much rather know that going in than wait 5 years and be devastated when I finally managed to bring the subject up.

So think about what you want inevitably, see how it works with your partner, think about some short term goals and don’t worry if your long term goals may not be inevitably compatible. What I try to remember throughout all of the planning and control I do to my life is that inevitably, I don’t have control over anything but myself and how I look at the world. Worrying about what’s going to happen when I can’t possibly predict the future and know for sure, like Newt Scamander says, there’s no point in suffering twice.

Summarising the points, I think it would help you to accept that there may be a massive disparity between your partners and that this is quite an average experience in non-monogamy, try to remember that monogamy will not make fear go away, and have a discussion with your partner about what your relationship means and what you’re looking for down the line.

I hope this helps!

Psychologist comments

“Another thing that stood out to me is the writer may be super emotionally invested in the relationship and feeling anxiety about how reciprocal that investment may be. I was reminded recently that exclusivity does not guarantee commitment and commitment doesn’t require exclusivity. So in addition to the comments you already have in the structure section, it might make sense to explore what “commitment” means to them in this relationship.

For example, my nesting partner and I were monogamously, legally married before we opened our relationship. One thing we did that really helps my anxiety is we consciously redefined what “fidelity” meant to us. We define “fidelity” as “we always come back to each other; we return to each other.” This means, no matter what dates or relationships we have outside of the marriage, as long as we always come back, I can feel more secure in our commitment.”

Note: This column was written in 2017 so it is possible I have gained a new perspective. Feel free to write in with a similar question if need be.

Do you have a question?

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

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

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