CN: Question contains explicit sexual content.

My husband and I have been in a monogamous relationship for five years, and married for three. For the last few months we’ve wanted to add a third member to our family. Two weeks ago we reconnected with a girl that we went to high school with and considered her for our family. She was in need of a place to stay and we have lots of space so we asked her to come stay with us for a while.

She and my husband have a deep history together, they’ve been very close friends for eight years. She associates as lesbian, and throughout their friendship they’ve been like “bros.”

When she first voiced her interest in creating a relationship with us she said she was really only sexually interested in me, but loves my husband and would be happy with both of us. I perceived their love as more of a soul friend relationship than romance between them, and I was very excited to begin the journey of falling in love with her.

After one night we all had sex together.

We were all in consent, we talked about it beforehand, and I thought I was ready. What I expected from our sex together (all three of us enjoying each other) was not what happened. What happened was my husband having sex with her and I was left on the side.

The next morning I voiced my feelings to each of them. We all agreed we should take it slower and be more inclusive. My biggest concern was that I didn’t have feelings for her yet.

Throughout the day my husband would touch her, rub her, kiss her, hug her, and sort of ignore me. He would state how delicious her pussy tasted and how amazing her ass is in lingerie. He didn’t offer me any compliments. I voiced my feelings and he reassured me that he and she were just friends. Then he asked me if he could fuck her while I was at work.

I told him that I want for our sex to be all inclusive right now, and I’m not comfortable with him having sex with her alone or even penetrating her anymore. He agreed, and so did she.

That night we all had sex again. I was uncomfortable, drunk, and very sleepy. I fell asleep for a minute and I woke up to my husband pushing me to the edge of the bed and then proceeding to have non-penetrating sex with her. I didn’t know what to do so I just laid there and pretended to be asleep.

I could hear the passion in their voices, the moaning, the shaking, the kisses. I felt completely alone in the world and devastated at what was happening. I felt like he didn’t care about what I wanted with the relationship, for us all to have sex together. I felt like she didn’t care either. I felt like they were in love and in ecstasy and they didn’t need me. I couldn’t make myself make them stop, because I love my husband so much and I want him to happy and satisfied.

After she had an orgasm he put his penis on her clit and tried to get her off again. At this point I laid with my eyes open, staring, and crying, because I felt so betrayed and alone. We had talked specifically about non-penetration and he was going into that situation anyway.

When they noticed me crying they stopped and I left the room.

We’ve talked a lot since then and I feel like we’ve come to a lot of good conclusions. They both say that they are comfortable to be friends who love each other but don’t have sex unless I’m there, for right now. But it’s the “for now” part that gets me. They say things like “until you’re comfortable,” or “until you get to that point.” That makes me feel like I’m forcing them to suppress passions and I can’t stand the thought of that because I want my husband to be happy. And also, forcing someone to not do something that they really want to do is how people get cheated on.

She and I have been on a date since then, we’ve been on a group date, and last night they both made dinner for me when I got home from work. I feel happy with them both as companions. I feel more happy than I have in a long time.

But I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sickening feeling of them fucking while I was laying beside them, presumed to be asleep.

I don’t know if I will ever forgive myself for it. I don’t know if I will ever be okay with them having their own sexual relationship. I don’t know if I can move past the way it feels to not be needed, wanted, or thought of, even though I was laying beside them.

We’ve all decided that for now our sexual relationship will work like a “v” unless we are all three together and I am comfortable for him to do things with her. I feel like a dictator. I feel like a selfish sap. I feel like I’m keeping them both from what they really want. I’ve asked my husband to keep his hands from wandering and this morning he put them between her legs. and then laid his head on her waist and hugged her around the thighs.

Clearly he wants more than I am comfortable with right now, because even after hours and hours of emotional processing, he still does it.

We’ve all agreed to take a step back, that we got sexual too fast, that we want to give our relationship it’s honest best chance of survival.

So I guess in all this, I want to know what to do. Do I surrender and give permission for them to do what they want because I want them to be happy? Do I keep telling them how I feel and making them hate me for it? Do I move out of the way completely, which I would if that would make them happy. Do I let them pretend like everything is okay and they want me to be happy and then constantly wonder what they’re doing when I’m not there?

Do I tell them I think she is the wrong girl for us, which I don’t I just think a mistake was made, and ask her to leave? How do I handle my feelings? When I see them holding hands or touching and I feel so alone and like I have no place with them? How do I handle the way I feel? I’ve been open and told them, but in kinder words. I said my feelings are hurt, but really my heart is broken. I said I was uncomfortable, but actually I’m terrified and sickened. I said I was okay, but I feel so utterly alone and on the outside.

We have all talked and we think it may be best for her to go back to her old place and maybe we just date and see what happens, but I’m afraid they will cheat on me. I also don’t feel confident that I will ever be comfortable with her again, because I feel so broken.

I’m sorry I wrote you a novel, and I’m really praying that this is the kind of thing you guys do, answer a crazy loaded email from a first time poly who is terrified that she’s now the third wheel in her own marriage. Thank you so much, in advance.

There’s a lot going on here and I have to say, this situation sounded a bit doomed from the start, I’m afraid.

Triads as the ‘safer’ option

A lot of people new to polyamory and non-monogamy want a triad, especially people in couples, and this is where unicorn hunting usually comes in. From their perspective, a triad is the ideal because it means that they both get an extra partner, they get to minimise their chance of STI risk, and in some (unfair and wrong) cases, the couple believes that if worse comes to worse, they can chuck the third and go back to being monogamous. I’m not saying this was your thought process going into this, just clarifying the motivations couples often have for dating together rather than independently.

But if you stop to think about a triad from the perspective of a (usually) single individual entering what is a couple hierarchy, there are pretty much no pros and all cons. Not only are you entering into a relationship where two people have a long standing history with each other that you realistically won’t have with either two people, but you’re expected, even when dating a couple, to somehow feel the same for both people when that’s sometimes not how feelings work. In this case, the fact that your husband and this woman had a prior history almost put you in the secondary situation in some cases.

The crucial and first problem here though is setting up a triad without a reason to. Just because someone knows your partner doesn’t mean they should join your family. You didn’t have any history with this person or any idea if you’d fall in love and you set the wheels in motion with the assurance it would happen when that is hardly something you or anyone can guarantee. That was the first problem.

Cheating — it can happen in polyamory!

When you all discussed the terms of this relationship, it was agreed that this woman would not have a sexual relationship with your husband. Or at least, that’s what you wrote. It sounds like she said she was only sexually interested in you.

I’m very, very, very confused as to why you all had sex together if that was the case. It almost seems like she was lying about her sexual interest in your husband and he was lying about it. I don’t know who brought up the idea that you’d have a threesome and why you all agreed to it, but you don’t say, “Oh I’m not sexually interested in you” and then… unless there are extenuating circumstances, have sex with them.

And it was clear when you did have that experience, that they would absolutely be having sex which doesn’t make sense. You negotiated consent… then surely them not having sex would have been something that came up in that? I’m just very confused as to how this could begin like this and then end up so differently.

At some point, it feels like deceit had to be involved on the part of both your husband or this woman. Either deceit to themselves, to you or both. They clearly are sexually attracted to one another and want to be sexual with one another, and if they thought they were doing you a favour by pretending like they’re not or trying to start this relationship as non-sexual and then trying to ‘go with the flow’ based on your reactions… they were not doing you a favour. They were not honest. And it depends on how you define cheating in your relationship but… I think people going back on their promises and lying about the nature of their relationships is fundamentally cheating.

And the lack of honesty explains perfectly why you’re feeling the way that you are.

Lack of consistency will breed insecurity

Your relationship was initially built upon the agreement, in your mind anyway, that your husband and this woman would not be having sex or indeed have a sexual relationship at all. When you agree to that and then someone then doesn’t do that… well, you’re going to be insecure and scared. That makes perfect sense. You are not a monster or a dictator for wanting them to go back to the agreement you had from the start. If they didn’t want to non-sexual relationship, they should have been more honest with you about that.

You did not have the informed consent from the start of this relationship to agree to anything. What this has proven to you is that things will and can happen with or without regard to your feelings or consent. So it makes perfect sense that you’re afraid of what this means widely for your relationship with both of them. And how are you meant to begin to fall in love with someone who does not respect your boundaries or their first agreements with you?

It is absolutely, perfectly normal for you to feel unhappy about this. You’re not wrong to feel this way. You are not the bad guy. You are not the dictator. This is not an episode of the Young and the Restless. These people are two grown adults who are perfectly capable of keeping it in their respective trousers. They agreed to be in a relationship and to respect your feelings. If that means they can’t be shagging constantly, then that is something you are going to have to give yourself permission to be okay about. Which leads me to the next problem in this.

You deserve to be happy too

Your letter is full of worry about them and their feelings with little regard to your own. This situation has broken your heart because you have been lied to and told one thing and something else has happened. And on top of this, your husband, the established relationship you have, is not helping matters by ignoring you and not meeting even the basic needs of the relationship you’d have with him. And being “a guy” is no excuse for any of this.

Sometimes our happiness and what it means doesn’t match with others and that makes us incompatible. What is clear to me is that both this woman and your husband have shown a basic disregard for you. Maybe at some point you can build a relationship with this woman, but not in these circumstances. You cannot heal in the same environment which has made you sick. She has to leave the house if anything is going to be solved, in my opinion.

Then, your husband needs to do the work to rebuild your trust. You’ve said you switched to polyamory with no explanation as to whose idea this was or why. You may need to do some soul searching and ask yourself if this is what you really want. Are you happy with him continuing to ‘date’ this woman so long as his contact with her doesn’t inhibit his ability to meet your needs? Or do you feel like you need to return to monogamy for a bit in order to rebuild that trust with him?

I wrote previously about switching back to monogamy and I don’t recommend it as a solution because it isn’t a solution. It’s a band-aid for a gaping wound. It’s clear your husband has violated your trust and boundaries. He’s going to need to build that up again before you look at another third, if that’s even what you want.

If you do look at another third, or in any case in the future, your husband and this other person must be honest with you about the nature of their relationship. And do not build a third, especially in such a concrete way where you do not have a solace way from it (i.e. someone moving in) expecting that your feelings will follow because you cannot guarantee that at all.

This is scary because it’s going to test the foundation of your relationship. Does your husband want to be with this woman so badly he will sacrifice you? He might. You need to prepare yourself physically for that potentiality. Think about where you’ll go in your life if you need to move out of this house and go your own way. It’s not a fun thing to think about, but it might very well be the possibility.

Forgiving yourself for your boundaries

Lastly, please forgive yourself for having the feelings you are having and be honest yourself about them. I know it’s hard. Especially when you don’t regard your feelings as valid because they are inconvenient. But if your husband truly cares for you, he will not want you to lie about how you are feeling. And if I’m reading this wrong, it may be possible that they were able to pretend to themselves that their relationship would be non-sexual because you were willing to pretend to yourself that you were okay with things you were not okay with.

Not being okay with things doesn’t make you a bad person. I’d suggest you reading Thirteen things I wish I’d learnt before choosing non-monogamy . Not to toot my own horn, but some of these feelings of disregarding your own emotions and considering yourself to be a dictator for having boundaries is really addressed there and is pretty common for people in polyamory starting out to feel.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Note: This column was written in 2017 and it’s possible my perspectives may have shifted or expanded since them. Feel free to ask a similar question if you need to.

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