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I’ve been in a non monogamous relationship with my girlfriend (A) for almost a year now and I have been having some major issues with her other partner (T). It’s a long story but I really need some advice on this before I make a decision on this.

A and I have known each other for almost a decade but we finally became an official couple about a year ago. Within the months we’ve been together, her other partner, T, whom she’s been with for almost 4 years now has made my relationship a mental and emotional roller coaster. At the beginning A explained to me their guidelines and how poly[am] relationships work. Being open minded and wanting to be with A, I accepted the guidelines and we became a couple.

A wanted both of her partners to get along as she hoped that we could all live together if I lasted for about a year into the relationship. I tried to be friendly with T but I always got this negative and awkward vibe from him. I honestly had no interest in him but I respected him from a distance. After a while I finally told A that I feel like she’s forcing us to bond and its causing me emotional distress. She was upset that she couldn’t get what she wanted but she accepted that it would be best to keep us separated.

Neither T or I want anything to do with each other and I was content with this. Everything was okay until we all went on a camping trip together along with some of their friends. Things took a turn for the worst and A and I were on the point of breaking up. After we took some time apart, we talked about what happened that night and how we felt and came to a deeper understanding of one another. We decided not to break up but to use that night as a lesson that would make our relationship stronger. But for T that wasn’t good enough. He refused to let A continue being with me and said that we can only be friends. T was on the brink of leaving A if she continued to be with me.

Despite us being on good terms, A was afraid to tell T because she feared not only would he leave her but kick her out of the apartment. I still live with my family (whom they don’t know of my relationship with A nor my homosexuality) so her living with me was sadly out of the question. I told A to choose him so that she can have a place to stay. So for a long emotionally damaged month we were just friends… I begged her to talk some sense into him that he can’t control a relationship that isn’t even his. But after she did, he gave her rules that both her and I HAD to follow or else our relationship was over.

One major rule being that I was not allowed to set foot in their apartment. So A and I went from seeing each other 1 to 3 times a week to once a month or two months. And on top of that we have to come out of pocket in order to spend time with each other for more than a day. Its breaking me emotionally because my needs are not being met with the distance. Mentally because I stress out over how I can possibly progress in my relationship with this many obstacles. And financially because I can’t keep spending money just to see my own girlfriend when I need to be saving to get where I wanna be in life.

But talking to T myself is pointless because he told me himself that I should be grateful that he allowed us to still be together. But also that he never liked me (even before we officially met) and that nothing I can say or do will change his mind. And A recently brought to my attention that T has been talking badly about me to all of her friends to the point where they don’t like me despite them never meeting me/knowing me at all. Her friends mean a lot to her and she wants to bring me around them but because of what T has done she feels she can’t.

She is aware that our relationship is strained and that its not going to progress because T refuses to let go of what happened while we were camping (even though what happened wasn’t technically my fault but that’s an even longer story all together) but is also conflicted because she doesn’t want to lose him. She said she’ll talk to him on a “good day” but who knows when that will be. T suffers from really bad anxiety because of how he was raised, which I understood seeing as I lived a very similar life myself (I also have anxiety and depression) But we deal with our demons very differently.

He relies on marijuana to keep his emotions under control, bottles up emotions, repeatedly vents without seeking a solution to the problem. While I prefer to analyze my emotions, find the reason behind it, recognize the triggers and find a solution to the problem as well as accept my issues. I understand where he comes from but we butt heads too much to find a solution to this problem.

And A fears talking to him again about me because she thinks he might leave her this time. In all honesty, I may end up walking away from all of this… I love this woman with every fiber of my being but in the corner is this bad omen she calls a boyfriend. I don’t know how much more I can take. And it being that A and I are almost a year together, things will become more serious between us. I don’t want to get this far into our relationship just to give up on it all. I don’t want to give up on her.

I do apologize for the length of this, but I needed to explain as much as possible so that I can get the most accurate advice. What should I do? How should I go about handling this?

First, I want to say how sorry I am that you’re in such a difficult situation without a lot of options. There a few issues here that I want to address:

  • Isolation and abuse
  • Rules, boundaries and vetoes
  • Dealing with mental health struggles in polyamory

Isolation and abuse

There is a lot to unpack here and some of it I think could be potentially excused by people who are new to polyamory especially if, as you say, they’ve grown up with a difficult background and struggle with anxiety and expressing their emotions.

However, there is a huge problem here that no amount of mental health struggles or lifetime of difficult experiences can really excuse and that’s what is, to me, a clear attempt by T to isolate his partner. I wish you had gone into detail about what had happened at this camping trip which might make the boundary of him not wanting you in the house more understandable, but it’s when you said that T is attempting to spread rumours about you to your partner’s friends so they don’t want to meet you and that T says that you should be ‘grateful’ that he ‘allowed’ you to be with his partner… all of this is very worrying.

I’m not an expert on abusers. I know that one of the first things abusers do is attempt to isolate their victims by driving wedges between the person their abusing and the people they could reach out to for help. And this quite often happens so slowly and subtly that the person being abused may not realise it. His manipulation of the situation and the language of ownership he uses over your shared partner is especially worrying. It makes me think that he is doing this purposefully and, as soon as you’re out of the picture, he will focus on another friend A has. And another. And another. And perhaps their family. Until no one is left but him.

I can’t say for sure if this is what will happen, but I do have to say that this is a red flag that is worth paying attention to. And it is for this reason that I’m advising you on how to approach your partner about this, which leads me to the next section.

Rules, boundaries and vetoes

Had there been no signs of isolating A and T was just a reactionary jerk, I would have advised you to put more effort in making sure A actually puts their foot down and sets their boundaries with T and less effort into worrying what T does. But the problem is that, if A is slowly being sucked into what will eventually become a seriously abusive relationship, you demanding that A get rid of T for what he’s done will just make you like T in a way, another person putting demands on her.

It is fundamentally ridiculous that T has any say in A’s relationships. I don’t even personally feel that such a setup can be described as ‘non-monogamy’. Non-monogamy requires the consent of all parties to work. When one person decides for someone else who they can date and see in such a way where they claim they are ‘letting’ their partner date other people, that’s not non-monogamy. That’s just abuse and control.

You both don’t get along, and that is fine. It would also be fine for T, as unfair as it may seem, to not want you in their shared house — that is T’s house just as much as it is A’s and, depending on what happened at this camping trip, I can see it being reasonable for them to want that. However, the language T uses around this makes at seem as if they own their partner, which isn’t really acceptable. And if T wanted to say to A that he disliked you so much that he would dump A if they continued to be with you, that’s not necessarily controlling or a problem — T does not have to smile and nod about everything a partner he has does and he is allowed to not want to date A if he dislikes you that much.

But he isn’t allowed to treat A as his property. I would normally say that you need to expect A to stand her ground more. Unfortunately situations like this do arise and sometimes, if someone forces someone to essentially pick between two people, they have to pick. I would have also advised you to consider that, when A decided you are ‘just friends’, to accept that she had made this choice and consider moving on. But the fact that T is speaking in this way and being manipulative makes me think that it’s not that easy for A to leave T, and it won’t be. On average, it can take someone up to seven times to leave an abusive partner. And she may also be dealing with her own mental health struggles as well, which brings me to the next point.

Mental health struggles and polyamory

I write a lot about how struggling with mental illness impacts non-monogamy because growing up in certain environments can make it difficult to do some of the things that polyamory 101 advice suggests you can do easily. People can take it for granted when they grew up in a loving, supportive environment how much that impacts their ability to communicate and negotiate their wants and needs.

But I want to make it clear that acknowledging that mental health plays a role in how we communicate or the struggles we face in no way means that individuals are not responsible for their actions. T may very well struggle with a lot — a great many people who hurt other people do have their own challenges. As the saying goes, hurt people hurt people. But that doesn’t excuse his behaviour here.

The bottom line is that he is a controlling partner and that’s not acceptable, regardless of his mental health problems. If he’s going to take responsibility for that, then he has to be willing to take some steps to change his behaviours, but something tells me that he is not going to do that. All of the things he’s done in terms of the demands he’s made on A, the controlling of her relationship, the manipulation of others against you, as well as the comment about you being grateful he’s ‘allowed’ you to be with her are really, really telling and no amount of mental health struggles someone has excuses that.

So what do you do with an abusive metamour?

Right now, you’re in a very difficult situation, but I think that it would be wise for you from an emotional standpoint to separate yourself from it, as painful as it can be, while still holding some space for A to reach out to you if she needs help. Sometimes an abuser will make other people’s lives so difficult around the person they want to abuse that they leave, and that’s the goal. And from that you may want to stay around and make sure that A is okay, but fundamentally you also have your own mental health and well being to think about.

The action of leaving this relationship, whether it is or will become abusive or not, has to rely with A. You cannot force her to leave him. You cannot force her to recognise that T is not a good person for her to be with.

And the more you try to force her to see or do either of those things, the more you will become like T in terms of trying to force her to do something she doesn’t want to do. She has to take that first step. You cannot take it for her.

What you can do, is make absolutely clear she knows that she can call on you if she wants to escape from that situation and that you will do whatever it takes to keep her safe. Even if she may feel angry at you for leaving this situation or feel sad, if you make that clear, you will give her what she needs if and when she decides to take that first step.

If you’ve never read “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft, I definitely recommend you read it ASAP. It will give you some insight into the mind of people who behave like T and it will also give you some good insight into how to help people in A’s situation. Everything I’ve learned from what I’ve read on abusive relationships, regardless of how ‘serious’ they are, is that you cannot force someone into leaving a partner who is trying to control them like this.

You may be very tempted to stay and I can understand that, but I really do think that it will only do you more damage in the long run. The best thing you can do is separate yourself from T and this situation, provide an escape route for A when she wants to escape this situation, and go your separate way. It will be much easier for you to provide support and help when A does decide to leave T if you are in a good place. Choosing to be witness to more of T’s manipulations and behaviours will not do anything but bring you down and won’t make it any more likely that A will leave. In fact, I think staying around would likely make A not understand how serious T’s behaviour is and might just create an environment of complacency.

I know this isn’t the most desirable outcome for you and I know this might be very difficult to hear, but I think that this is the best way forward for yourself and, eventually, for A. There isn’t anything you can do to repair their relationship, force T to get help for his issues, or help A realise what’s going on and really, some of that stuff isn’t and shouldn’t be your responsibility. It’s going to be difficult for you to do, but I do earnestly think it will be better in the long run.

I hope this helps and good luck.

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