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!
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.