My partner wants to become polyamorous, what should I do?

February 2 | Guest post by Logan Mitchell
Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.

You may remember Logan from her poignant post about coming out to your family as polyamorous. She was kind enough to answer this reader's question for us and we are so grateful for her insight!

My partner wants to become polyamorous, what do I do?
Me + You + You Card from
OWhatAFeeling
I'm in a long-term, serious, and happy relationship with my partner. When we first met we discussed relationships and limits at length. At the time we both agreed that monogamy was all either of us would want in a relationship.

However, recently my partner disclosed that he has developed serious feelings for another person and thinks he wants to be polyamorous. I'm struggling with this revelation quite a bit but I'm trying to take his wants and needs into consideration. The other person has been poly for quite a while and I feel like neither of them are able to fully understand where my hurt and discomfort is coming from. I've told him I will think about agreeing to a trial but so far my gut instinct is that this would not work for me and I've been told some of the boundaries I would need are unreasonable. He has told me my happiness is his number one priority, that he won't pursue the relationship with the other person any further if I'm not 100% on board, and nothing happens with them until I make a decision. Neither of us want this to end our relationship but I worry the disappointment of me saying no would lead to long-term resentment.

Do you have any practical advice for finding a positive in this situation? Can a couple with one poly partner and one monogamous partner really make it work or is staying monogamous the only option?

First, I appreciate that you took the time to discuss your wants and needs in the beginning of this relationship. When I discuss polyamory with others, my main goal is just an awareness that monogamy, while often the default, isn't the best option for everyone. In fact, most people fail at it and hurt others in the process.

Polyamory, or consensual non-monogamy, offers people a way to have a very honest, potentially complicated, yet rewardingly open and loving relationship. It also requires a whole lot of introspection, lengthy (and sometimes very difficult) conversations, and the willingness to hurt without demonizing your partner. When a coupled pair decides to open up to non-monogamy, it is a decision they make together. (Note: Single people are polyamorous as well, and just like being queer, one doesn't even have to be in a relationship to define themselves as such, but for our purposes today I am referring to a couple opening up.) One of my favorite things to remember when a couple decides to support each other on this journey, is that you have to move at the pace of the slowest person. It surely is a hike, and a tough one. Also, like hiking, the view from the top can be breathtaking, but your work doesn't end there. It's constant.

When a coupled pair decides to open up to non-monogamy, it is a decision they make together.

It worries me that your partner only decided to propose polyamory once they were on the precipice of love with another person. Somehow on the path you didn't realize you were taking, they stepped out of your sight and took an unmarked trail. Ideally, however begrudgingly, you should have been given the chance to agree to the hike before you materialized at the mouth of the trail; you should have the right gear on your body, you should have snacks, and the promise that when you need to stop to take a breath, the faster person would patiently stop with you even though they feel strong enough and may be anxious to get there faster. Given improper preparation and lack of agreements, people can become separated, scared, and the slower party may turn back entirely out of self-preservation if they feel abandoned.

You say that they don't understand why you are hurting. Ultimately, in my experience, a partner won't always relate to your feelings but should give you the space to express them — they should give you the time and respect to hear you and attempt to see things from your perspective. It's unfair to put this decision solely in your hands. It's too heavy a burden. You are between a rock and a hard place. Agreeing leads you toward silent suffering where you will try to fake it 'til you make it, and may feel as if you can't object to anything and have absolutely no control over your life and surroundings. Disagreeing (or disallowing, a term I don't like to use because it implies that we have control over our partner's autonomy and decision-making and that feels quite gross to me) can lead your partner to resenting you, to you feeling in a parental role you never agreed to, a gatekeeper of sorts. It's difficult to feel like you're in the way of something a person wants.

We can and should have the choice to embark on the type of relationship we want to have without feeling pressured to change for a loved one.

We can and should have the choice to embark on the type of relationship we want to have without feeling pressured to change for a loved one. It also sounds like your partner didn't know that they wanted this type of relationship before now, and I'll trust that they were being honest when you discussed it. Embarking on this path together is a big change, and I can imagine that it doesn't feel like a mutual decision but a demand. You are allowed to feel betrayed by this, just as they are allowed to ask for it. Approaching you with a relationship on deck is a VERY big ask. I think it's possibly too large to have a concise answer and a smooth conclusion. I'm sorry for the position you are in, and I'm sorry for the position your partner is in.

Considering this status change is a kind and loving gesture on your part, and in good faith I think your partner should meet you halfway. I think for the time being they need to consider filing away this new relationship prospect, knowing that it can be revisited in the future when you feel more sure-footed and prepared. The simple act of doing this and working together to help prepare you may alleviate some fears. You might want to sit with your feelings, with these newly proposed paths, and imagine yourself in each scenario. Remember that while your partner has the freedom as an autonomous human to make whatever decisions they want to, you have the freedom to react accordingly. Try to define your reactions and feelings to possible scenarios. Rather than telling your partner, "This hurts me, I don't know if I can handle it," try to tell them things like, "if you do this, I might pull away from you/become angry/get scared as a coping mechanism," so they know what they are risking.

Polyamory benefits from boundaries and defined expectations. As we open ourselves up to more than one relationship, we must then redefine what "relationship" means to us and our partners. Some people define their needs in a relationship as seeing each other once a week with a few text messages exchanged every other day. Some people like to see their partners every day but may never want to live together. Others have financial or parental needs built in. If this potential metamour (your partner's partner) is in other relationships, it might be a good idea to find out what their expectations are. Maybe what they want from your partner is a once-a-week date, and maybe it sounds nice to you to give yourself some alone time with friends or family, maybe you would like to try dating once a week. This is a good opportunity for disentanglement, the practice of celebrating your own autonomy and individuality within a relationship. This might be a good practice while your partner waits patiently for you to take a breath: spending time apart without dating to feel strong and capable. Maybe once you feel comfortable with that they can start slow, having coffee dates with someone other than you, checking in along the way.

Another thing I find valuable is to get to know my metamours. Feeling like I am respected and cared for by people who love my partner helps to ease my mind that they may be conspiring against me or trying to replace me. These feelings, among others, are normal and even though they are often irrational, they should not be ignored. They are an opportunity for growth and self-reflection, while left unattended can grow lush and deep and turn you into an unrecognizable monster.

My last piece of advice is to really be honest with yourself about whether you actually want this. If you feel this is the only way to keep your partner and they have to drag you everywhere, it will be a huge strain on your connection. However, if you can honestly say that it is your goal to be comfortable with this, maybe even having another partner of your own someday (or not), then you can pump the brakes a little to keep yourself a safe distance from your comfort zone, testing those emotional limits at a pace that you define. It won't be easy, but if your partner can give you the space to grow both together and as an individual, you will gain valuable communication skills and get to know yourself in a way that is deep and intimate and very comforting.

Check out The Jealousy Workbook. Get familiar with Brene Brown, not for relationship advice, but for self-strengthening, empathic soul work. She paraphrased another author, Charles Feldman and said, "Trust is choosing to make something important to you vulnerable to the actions of someone else." You have it in you to tackle this, especially if your partner is willing to meet your pace, so long as you are walking of your own volition.

  1. "I've been told some of the boundaries I would need are unreasonable."

    There are no boundaries a partner can have that would be unreasonable in a poly relationship. Every poly relationship is different and some have incredibly strict boundaries (only agreeing to emotional relationships outside of the main couple, or only agreeing to purely sexual relationships) and some are very, very open about what's accepted. They are all valid.

    I'd really like to know the boundaries you've given for more context. The fact that you've given any at all should indicate your willingness to consider this to your partner and they should be grateful for that since this idea is a complete departure to previously agreed-upon relationship boundaries. They should not call your boundaries unreasonable in any way.

    20 agree
    • I agree with this sentiment as it relates to behavior, but many people new to poly try to place boundaries on emotions, which actually IS unreasonable. For instance, a rule that you can have sex with other people but cannot fall in love with them. If it weren't already nearly impossible, it's also completely unsustainable. Since you can't control when you fall in love, the rule is actually: "As soon as you fall in love with your new sex partner, you must end the relationship." And that sets up a constant cycle of new partners and then the subsequent pain of ending loving relationships. It's a horrible thing to put your long term/primary partner through, and can be poison to a poly relationship.

      2 agree
      • I agree that putting rules around emotions can be tough, but there are certainly ways to mitigate emotional fallout that work for some couples. I've heard of poly couples where they may have sex outside a relationship but only one-night stands/casual hookups w/no real dating. It's hard to form an emotional bond when you only see a person once or twice.

        It's definitely not the norm in poly communities where people are out and involved in the community at large, but it's common enough when people aren't part of the poly "scene", but simply practice non-monogamy with no or little interaction with established poly groups (like attending munches).

        Establishing boundaries around emotional attachments can be done without causing pain if it's done thoughtfully and with intention.

        2 agree
        • It's also unclear from that statement whether the advice-seeker's partner was the one who said the boundaries were unreasonable, or whether that came from elsewhere- for example, a colleague who is poly (but with different needs and judgements than the advice-seeker).

          2 agree
  2. This all sounds so incredibly exhausting. Props to poly folks who can do this.

    14 agree
  3. This is beautifully written! I really enjoyed reading it. A lot of it could apply to other changes and discussions too (I liked “move at the pace of the slowest person” in particular). Thanks!

    10 agree
    • I agree! Neither my partner nor I are poly, but I found the hiking analogy very useful as something to hang on to for future challenges of other forms 🙂

      6 agree
  4. Wow, this brings up a lot for me. My husband and I had been together a decade, during which we both expressed our happiness with being monotonous, until the day he came home, announced he was in love with his co-worker and was polyamorous now. He wanted to move her into the garage to be his second wife, have kids with her – he pretty much went zero to sixty. Here's what I learned from that experience: I am completely emotionally monogamous. I need someone to be in love with only me. And, while that is certainly not the only way to be, and I in no way think monogamy is superior to polyamory, that is a valid place to be in. I hope this situation works out for you. But I also want to give you space if you need to say that this doesn't work for you b

    13 agree
    • This is one of my pet peeves. He was cheating, not polyamorous. Polyamory isn't a one-sided decision, and it give poly a bad name.

      3 agree
  5. I find it very suspicious that he suddenly wants to be poly because he has found a new lover. If poly was really something he wanted before, you guys should have had many long conversations before a new partner was even considered. Polygamy is a couple decision first, made by two consenting partners.

    Springig it on you like this sounds like he wants his cake, and to eat it to.

    (In the course of my almost twenty year relationship, there having been two people that will always remain « maybe potentially could have been » lovers. And one with whom sexual tension was so intense we could hardly stand to be within three feet of each other. We were not ready for poly then, and we had been talking about it on and off for a decade.

    I had a frank conversation with these potential partners each time (a couple years apart) and we agreed to tone things down, or in one case not be alone together.This inevitably led to distance and a slow fizzle of the intense feelings. It was not fun, and messy emotionally. Do I regret (re) comitting myself to my boyfriend? No. It was an affirmation of our love, even if it sacrificed potentially more love. It was my/ my partner’s decision. These people knew I was in a monogamous couple. So even if they were disappointed, they were hardly surprised. I sure hope your husbands lover knows he is taken and you are his priority! Or should be, anyway. Funnily enough, now that we have finally decided we really do want to try poly, there are no people who really attract us although we aren’t actively dating, just kinda keeping a look out for potential. Guess the time isn’t right!)

    7 agree
  6. Just to play devil's advocate here, we don't know if the partner is using polyamory as an excuse for wanting a different relationship (as a few people on this thread have implied), or if they didn't think polyamory was a viable 'thing'. Unless you have direct experience with being in romantic love with two people at the same time, it's difficult to wrap your head around polyamory. It's entirely possible the partner didn't know they were polyamorous until they had this experience.

    3 agree
    • I think not knowing is okay, but then end the relationship — if you're with someone who is solidly monogamous, then it won't work.

      2 agree
      • Yes, we obviously don't have all the information here, but it sounds suspiciously like many horror stories I've heard about of one partner pulling for "Let's be poly now" and the other only agrees to not lose them. If that's what's happening, NO. No no no. NEVER agree for reasons like that. It'll hurt to break up, but break up with that person. I'm okay with people being polyamorous, but this advice does NOT seem to be taking the feelings of the monogamous partner into account nearly enough. This partner DOES sound like he wants to "have his cake and eat it too." He needs to be told that it doesn't work that way, and a breakup is inevitable if he thinks he can ignore his partner's feelings in this way.

        My husband has brought up interest in trying a threesome at some point, only because he and I have become extremely comfortable about talking about sexuality. He won't pursue it because I've told him how extremely uncomfortable I am with the idea. I haven't tried to make him feel guilty for having the fantasy, but he respects the boundaries of what I'm comfortable with. That's what needs to happen in the situation being asked about here. "If you really think polyamory is something you'd like to try, I don't want to make you feel guilty for being interested, but it's not something I can provide for you." Nobody ever gets everything they want in a relationship. There's always sacrifice. This guy needs to decide if the chance to try polyamory OR his current relationship is more important, and he needs to choose ONE. And the person asking for this advice sounds like she needs to step up and realize this is 100% within her rights! Why the hell say something like "I'm trying to account for HIS needs" when he's proposing something that would emotionally very much hurt you? Tell him to choose and if he chooses to disrespect you, get out, get out NOW.

        4 agree
        • So I only now noticed this sentence more: "I've told him I will think about agreeing to a trial but so far my gut instinct is that this would not work for me and I've been told some of the boundaries I would need are unreasonable. "

          Sounds like he's IGNORING your feelings. If he's already doing that, if he's already disagreeing with boundaries…It's only going to get worse if you go with this and you don't even want to. LEAVE HIM. Get out NOW. If he wants to explore polyamory he can do it without you. He does not seem to be taking how YOU feel into account at all. GET OUT. Give him some consequences for his disrespect.

          4 agree
  7. Love this! As the partner who proposed poly, I tried (try!) my hardest to be checking in with my partner about where he's at, and then responding honestly and trying to make all of my decisions as transparently and compassionately as I possibly can.

    Something that was really helpful for us to realize early on was that, as cautiously as we both try to move, we still just don't know what we don't know. Maybe one of us assumes that if we're going out on a date, the other person feels prepared for there to be a goodnight kiss on this date. And the other person doesn't even think to think about it and feels totally unprepared when it happens. Misunderstanding are going to happen and it's been important for us that the person who felt unprepared and hurt does their best to assume the good intentions of the other. On the flip side, the other person takes the time to listen and show understanding for how the misunderstanding led to hurt feelings.

    We've had A LOT of really hard conversations, but I think that anyone in a monogamous relationship would say that having honest and compassionate conversation is critical in mono relationships too. So yes, it's really hard, but I think whatever you decide for yourself (mono or poly), as long as you are working hard to be honest and kind with yourself, you will find that it is incredibly rewarding.

    5 agree
  8. I would suggest checking out Esther Perel's podcast "where should we begin?". She's an amazing couples therapist who does one time sessions with anonymized couples that are recorded for the podcast. They come from a variety of situations, ranging from solid relationships to those in the verge of collapse. There is one episode that talks a lot about potentially becoming a poly couple, 'I can't give you a child'. While the couple in the episode isn't going through the same thing as the Poster, the questions Esther raises seem salient to most people in this situation. It would be worth listening so the Poster could think through these questions individually and with their partner.

    4 agree
  9. Real talk here. From personal experience, the success of this kind of polyamory (a committed partner seeing someone on the side while the other remains monogamous) depends mostly on the poly partner's attitude. To the poster: if you open the relationship and he's not treating you BETTER than before, making sure you feel cherished, loved, heard, cared for, complimented and valued on a daily basis, it won't work. The sex should get better, not worse or less frequent. You should feel connected and hot and adored. The second relationship should take nothing away from what you have.
    However if you open the relationship and the opposite starts happening, your partner growing more distant, not looking at you like he used to and seeming disinterested in the things that once brought you together, it will not get better.
    You can control your feelings of jealousy, work on communicating and have all the hard talks with your partner, but in the end it boils down to his feelings. Does he still love you like he used to? Or is his new love going to fade the old? No one has that answer but him.

    11 agree
  10. To me, this smacks of someone who is out of love with their partner but hates conflict and doesn't want to hurt their feelings so is proposing "polyamory."

    What will really happen is that their partner will end up on the back burner.

    I have BEEN poly. It was situational though. I married a man with a terminal illness, and soon after, my childhood sweetheart came back into my life after I lost track of him for ten years. We kept in touch, and three years in, my husband got worse. My childhood sweetheart proposed to be my next husband, my late husband agreed, and I was poly for the next three years until my late husband died.

    From then on, I have been monogamous. For me, it was having someone else to help me with the emotional burden my late husband's illness created, and a way to bring the first person I ever wanted to marry back into my life.

    We are married now, and monogamous. I don't think that this will change.

    4 agree
  11. I don't really have any relevant experience (just one brief relationship with a poly guy), but the one thing that opened my mind on the *concept* of non-monogamy was reading the book Sex at Dawn, by Cacilda Jethá and Christopher Ryan. It might be worth a read while you contemplate this complicated and difficult situation. Best of luck!

    2 agree
  12. Examining your assumptions and feelings is always worthwhile, but make sure you're being honest with yourself. Don't try to talk yourself into something you don't want for the sake of not losing your partner; it will more than likely not work out in the long-run. You're entitled to the type of relationship you want just as much as they are.

    And, for what it's worth, it doesn't sound like your partner is committed to the type of openness and honesty that would be needed to make polyamory work. They didn't wake up one morning suddenly in love with someone else. This built for a while and it sounds like they talked to the other person about it at some point. They could have raised this with you much earlier rather than springing it on you when the stakes seem more immediate.

    7 agree
  13. I'm gonna be kind to you and tell you where there's smoke there is definitely fire. I mean if you have no interest in being poly of your volition its not ever going to work. And dipping your toes in just to keep your partner is the beginning of a very slow death of your personal esteem and your esteem for them. So you'll really have to answer that query of "am I a poly-amorous person" regardless of this relationship. Do I want to to engage in this and seek out multiple partners and have no exclusivity in that vein? That far more than what your current partner wants is key. In a sense that he's already formed this attachment to this other woman says a lot and you'll have to mourn accordingly. There's no way around it.

    1 agrees

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

No-drama comment policy

Part of what makes the Offbeat Empire different is our commitment to civil, constructive commenting. Make sure you're familiar with our no-drama comment policy.