Advice for being the polyamorous partner to a monogamous spouse

Guest post by Angel
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I’m monogamous to my soul. My husband of 21 years recently dropped the Poly bomb. And, I’m sorry poly people, no matter how gently you think you’re approaching it, it still feels like a bomb. My husband tried the, “Oh hey, and you can date too! Isn’t that something?” Um… no. For me, that translates roughly to, “I don’t give a flip who you diddle as long as I get to go out and play.” It was probably number two in the top three most painful discussions we had.

I love my husband, I’m devoted to our marriage, I have no interest whatsoever in going out with another man and really don’t understand why he wants to date/sleep with other women. It’s destroying my marriage and any trust and security I had with the only man I’ve loved, and the father of our girls. Nothing in my life will ever be the same, and I have to live with that every day. And it sucks harder than a Dyson.

But he doesn’t want to lose his family, and God help me, I still love him, so I’m staying. He’ll have his happiness, the girls will have their family and home intact, and I’ll learn to live with it.

I’m making the best of a worse scenario. “For better, for worse” aren’t options you get to cherry-pick when you get married.

That being said, there are some things you can do if your monogamous spouse agrees to open your marriage:

1. Don’t constantly sing the praises of your lover

We know we’re no longer the only one in your heart, no longer your only, best, and beloved. Rubbing our noses in it doesn’t help us accept what feels like a demotion.

2. Don’t treat us as an obligation

I can’t tell you how many poly books and blogs stress “your existing obligations,” and how you need to give equal time and care to existing relationships. We’re already dealing with the revelation of your new love interest, being made to feel like an obligation makes it worse.

3. Don’t “date” us because you feel you have to

Don’t throw us leftover passion from your dates. “Here, I just had amazing sex with the love of my life. I know you need sex too, so I’ll let my passion for X spillover on you.”

4. Don’t tell us to “get over it”

When we try to tell you we’re scared/hurting/lonely, don’t tell us we’re jealous and to get over it. And the whole “I’m not responsible for your feelings” poly mindset sucks. Also don’t tell us to go find someone of our own. I’m monogamous. Period.

5. Don’t treat us as Old Faithful, fallback, Plan B

Don’t come seeking us out to entertain you when plans fall through with your sweetie. I joyfully jumped on this a couple of times, and spent a miserable evening with someone who really didn’t want to be with me as much as they wanted a diversion. Also, don’t use us as a diversion when your sweetie is out with someone else. Watching you check your phone every 10 minutes isn’t great fun.

6. Don’t try to make us over into your new sweetie

Don’t buy us things your new lover likes, make us food they like, or take us places they like. Also, don’t take your sweetie to our favorite haunts. At least leave me one or two things that are special reminders of us.

7. Realize that we’re not a sure thing

My loving you and being devoted to making our marriage work isn’t a sure thing. And if you do stop loving me, tell me. Let me go.

We’re in the middle of his first truly deep “falling in love” thing, and it’s painful and scary and lonely and sucks. I keep hoping it gets better.

Comments on Advice for being the polyamorous partner to a monogamous spouse

  1. I just wanted to send you some love. You sound like you’re really hurting right now. I hope you have a good support system because nothing about this situation looks easy.

  2. It doesn’t sound like this arrangement is bringing you anything but pain. If I were in your shoes I would probably ask myself if saving the marriage is worth it. You deserve to be happy (and your children deserve a happy mom). Yes, divorce sucks, but it gets better in time and then you can find a relationship that works for you. I wish you the very best, whatever you choose.

  3. I have nothing to say about your poli-situation, except maybe thank you for bringing us an honest perspective of someone struggling on the other side of things. I just wanted to send you a really big hug and tell you that you’re not alone (in life, I mean) because you sound hurt. Also, I admire you for trying hard and sincerely.

  4. If he has raised the issue, it means he is already practising the deceit and deception.
    (and spending money and time with the other woman/women.

    So it’s time to send him packing. Get a lawyer, fight over pensions, house ownership debts and custody and start a new life. Your girls will adjust, and they can make their decision on how to respect/disrespect their father.

    As a long time counsellor, it’s rare if this issue resolves easily, even with promises not to continue etc. etc. The trust has been broken.

    There is help on how to settle up and let him go his way.

    Larry Hurley Licensed Wedding Officiant

    Sent with Mailtrack

      • THANK you. I hate it when people say that something was brought up only because the other person was already lying. In point of fact, I think YOU are right. Maybe they do have someone else in mind or maybe they’re just looking to start looking, but they don’t want to be dishonest, so they’re talking to you first.

        Trust has not necessarily been broken, and saying that it has implies that any poly relationship has no trust whatsoever. This doesn’t mean she should or should not divorce her husband. She seems unhappy, and she’ll have to decide for herself whether she can live in this arrangement, but implying that her husband is already lying has no evidence or merit whatsoever.

        • Though not necessarily true in other poly relationships, the OP specifically says trust has been broken: “It’s destroying my marriage and any trust and security I had with the only man I’ve loved, and the father of our girls.”

  5. I second all of the people who say that you sound absolutely miserable. This is your call, your marriage, and your life, but I cannot see anything good in your words. I see a lot of anger and bitterness and pain. Is that what you want your kids to see? How do you think your bitterness will affect your husband’s desire to give you the things you want and need? You have all of my sympathy and I hurt for you. Don’t feel like just because you made the choice to stay, you can’t change your mind. Don’t stay just because you feel like you have to because you said “for better, for worse.” Your marriage vows are supposed to tie you to a helpmate, not an anchor. If you still want to stay, get into some counseling. Please.

  6. I hate to say this, but it sounds like he gets all the “perks” and you get nothing in return. It sounds emotionally toxic for you. I don’t have any advice to add to yours, or to pass on, you know your relationship best. But when reading your submission, my heart went out for you.

  7. Thank you for writing about this part of polyamory. Since being poly is still largely taboo in our society it seems like when it is discussed/ written about the story is usually centered on the poly person and how they’ve made a happy life for themselves. This had to be incredibly hard for you to write and I am sorry you are so hurt. I hope you have people in your life that you can talk to about this. This is probably the kind of topic that many partners have to bear in silence due to the stigma and I am sorry for that.

    • I agree. I’d kind of like to hear from other couples in a similar boat. Especially a poly person with a mono partner. How did that work? Did it end happily? If so, do you have any tips or advice for the OP?

      • When my current relationship started my boyfriend was in a poly relationship. That wasn’t something I had ever really been interested in, but I had just gotten out of a long and shitty relationship, wasn’t looking to seriously date anyone, and figured “why not?”. Naturally, we both caught feelings and I decided to give it a try and see where things went.

        I think we did a pretty good job around communicating necessary information without sharing too much and respecting each other’s time and (for lack of a better term) commitments. I also did a lot of reading about being poly and tried to really look at my reservations, but I eventually came to realize that a committed, long-term poly relationship just wasn’t for me.

        I ended up (again, for lack of a better term) lucking out because around the same time my boyfriend realized his feelings for his other partner had changed and that, while he didn’t have a problem being in a poly relationship, it wasn’t something he needed to be happy.

        It sounds like the author’s husband is doing pretty much everything wrong and not respecting their relationship or her, which is not going to work out well unless things change. Generally, though, I was happy to have had the experience I had. It made me really think about what I wanted from my relationship and forced me to talk about it with my partner.

        • I was in the same situation but on the other side – in a poly marriage when I started dating my monogamous boyfriend. The marriage fell apart (turns out I don’t actually like sharing, and my husband wasn’t able to prioritize me in the way I needed) and I ended up in a monog relationship with my boyfriend (who had had the ability to date other people the whole time but just, hadn’t. I think he liked having all that free time, haha. Probably wishes he had it back, some days!)

  8. It does sound like you’re having second thoughts about this marital arrangement, but only you can decide whether this is a marriage worth saving. I will, however, emphasize that you get tested for STIs regardless of your ultimate decision, especially if you’re unsure about the number of women your hubby’s been sleeping with.

      • Monogamy in no way ensures sexual health/wellbeing – there are plenty of monogamous people who get STIs, and there are plenty of nonmonogamous people who don’t. While I agree 100% that the OP should consider whether she needs to take additional steps to protect her sexual health, saying that monogamy serves the “greater purpose” of avoiding STIs is frankly inaccurate and insulting.

        • Yep. I got an STI from my faithful husband in our monogamous relationship after we had been together for years. (Oral herpes can be spread to other places. The more you know!) The stigma here is not helpful for either poly people or monogamous people who end up in a situation like mine. Open communication is important, but decisions shouldn’t be made purely based on fear.

          • True, but isn’t the risk higher if you know for certain your partner is sleeping with others? Also, oral herpes could be transmitted from a long-term faithful partner. The herpes virus can be dormant for years before it presents with symptoms.

  9. oh, hun. Nothing about this sounds nice or considerate or sensitive on your husband’s part. It sounds like he is taking advantage of your love and monogamy and using you to do whatever he wants. If you’re not okay with polyamory, in your own relationship, that’s more than okay to say. It’s not for everyone. And if he can’t give you what you want and deserve, you can put your foot down. As hard as that would be, you deserve more from a partner–poly or not. Every poly relationship I’ve known has been equally respectful of every relationship; spreading more love instead of doling it out in a limited supply. It certainly does not sound like he’s respecting you or treating you with the love and affection he should. Sorry, but he’s doing it wrong. You don’t have to put up with it.

    • This does not even sound like poly to me–this sounds like he wants justification for cheating, and is trying to clear his conscience for being a total jerk. He wants to have his cake and eat it, too. I don’t personally know of couples in a poly relationship, but from everything I’ve read it’s based upon mutual respect and if one person doesn’t want to do it, they either don’t do it or start to work through feelings in counseling. Respect is always #1! When I read this, my heart broke for you because you are doing everything you can to be a loving mother and wife, while your husband is running around like a 22 year old playboy. Please, consider therapy to help you through this and know this is much worse than “for better or for worse.” If you are looking for justification for leaving, you by all means have it. Sending so much love your way from an internet stranger.

  10. HiAlmost 40 years ago I was in a relationship that I thought was going to end in wedding bells and the whole family thing. I was 23 at the time and I guess still naiavely and believed him when he told me I was his ‘one and only’.The bombshell came just before Christmas of 1979 when he told me that his ‘ex’ had walked out of her marriage taking her 6 year old with her. His ex and child had nowhere to go, (?), so he was letting her stay until the new year.(She was genuinely his ex, I knew her second husband, a work collaegue).January of 1980 she was still in his house, separate bedrooms, (who was he trying to kid?), and this went on until March.By that time I discovered I was pregnant and in a last face to face with him he tried to get me to accept a polygamous relationship with him and his ‘not so ex’!I refused and we parted company and I didn’t see him again until the November of 1980. He saw me, with his daughter, on the train station when his train pulled into the station.He chose not to get off the train and talk to me or meet his daughter. I never saw him again, and he never met his daughter. I learnt, through joint friends, that he had moved up to Birmingham then gone abroad.I brought our daughter up alone and it was the best decision I ever made. (I heard that his ‘ex’ had left him just before the move to Birmingham!).
    Being polygamous is not for me, if that suits some people, fine, but I knew in my situation, ťhat it was just feeding his ego and I wasn’t going to do that.Yes I deprived my daughter of a father but she has turned out to be a very balanced, loving,  caring adult, happily married with 4 lovely children.

    Sent from Samsung Mobile on O2

  11. Hi, so, maybe I’m missing something, but it sounds like he gave you a polyamory or divorce ultimatum. That’s not how polyamory works, or at least not healthy polyamory. That’s just cheating and telling you about it (in detail, it sounds like.)

    I don’t know if divorce would make your life better, but I think it would have been more ethical for him to divorce you than put you in this terrible position.

    This really sucks, I’m sorry this is happening to you.

    • I feel like I am in a similar situation. I think my wife is honest about feeling like she needs to be able to have romantic relationships with other people to be true to herself. And after she recognized that an online friendship had turned romantic, she told me. But I never consented to it, I am not comfortable with the version of polyamory that is just, “I want to have deep romantic relationships and sex with other people while you keep the home, make the money, raise our child, are there for more emotionally etc.” So we are in a no win situation. She loves me and wants to be with me forever, but trying to cut off a part of herself is making her a miserable partner, who yells and hurts all the time. I don’t want that, but I also don’t want the alternative where she basically takes the things that I consider special about my relationship with her and shares them with whoever she wants whenever the mood strikes her. I don’t even feel like it’s “polyamory or divorce” – because that kind of polyamory is not something I can accept. It’s divorce because she is cheating and that hurts too much or divorce because she hurts so much that she can’t be the person I love. 🙁

  12. Is it me or does he sound like he doesn’t care about your feelings? You sound so broken and miserable and he’s rubbing his happiness in your face/trying to turn you into someone else/treating you like sloppy seconds. He may be the father of your girls but he doesn’t deserve to treat you like that. I’m sorry you’re going through this.

  13. Granted I’m not poly and I haven’t been in an experience where this has come up, I feel like your husband is just using polyamourous as an excuse to have his cake and eat it too. He gets to not deal with breaking up a relationship with his wife / mother of his children and he gets to have his girlfriend on the side. I feel like some of the people who have expressed their experiences with the poly lifestyle on this site sound completely different than what you presented your husband as. I am sorry that he treats you as a secondary relationship and that you are hurting.

  14. Your bitterness over this situation is palpable. This doesn’t read as an article of good advice but rather the venting over how unhappy you are in this situation. I’m truly sorry that this is hurting you so much. No one should have to feel unhappy or unsafe or unfulfilled in their partnership. You deserve to have your needs met just as much as he does, and you need to consider what that means for you, now and into the future.

    I echo other readers in saying that this situation is not serving you, is emotionally unhealthy, and that you would likely be best served by considering whether this is sustainable for the duration of your life with your spouse. Because if you are unhappy and bitter about your partnership with him, that is going to spill over into your home life and even if you don’t directly say anything, your children will pick up on that slow poison creeping through your marriage and it will affect their lives as well.

    And I would ask Offbeat Home to find a poly/monog pairing that is happy and healthy and ask them to write an article with sound advice. Those pairings *DO* exist and I would much rather read advice from them than from someone who is so obviously hurting and unhappy with the situation. An article filled with “do’s” from people making it work well is a lot more useful to readers than an article filled with “don’t’s” from people who aren’t happy.

  15. This line stood out to me:
    He’ll have his happiness, the girls will have their family and home intact, and I’ll learn to live with it

    You shouldn’t have to “learn to live with” your marriage. This isn’t like him leaving socks on the floor. This is a blatant desire to change the terms of what he promised you when he married you. You have a right to say no, he can’t change the terms.

    Sending love your way. I hope you can find a way to make peace.

  16. Oh sweetie, I have a heart like a stone, and even *I’m* heartsick over your situation. I’m so sorry.

    As tempted as I am to offer advice, it’s your life, only you can decide what’s best for you and your girls. I’ll only offer these tidbits:

    1 – Marriage is compromise.

    2 – Compromising doesn’t mean “I get what I want, you get to pound sand.”

    And Angel, I can practically hear the sand grinding between the lines of your post. What your hubby calls “polyamory” sounds like something much more cruel. Naming a wolf “Fido” doesn’t make it a dog.

    You don’t have to stay together because of honor…or obligation. Stay together only if it’s a healthy thing to do. That’s not “cherry-picking” your vows — that’s self-preservation. All life forms have that right.

    Please find a wise counselor you can confide in who can provide you the psychological support you need and can help you sort out whether you would be better off in or out of this relationship. Your pain deserves attending to.

  17. This sounds like the season of Sister Wives when the husband marries a fourth, younger and hotter wife, and insists the whole time that he loves his other wives exactly the same, while absolutely not acting like it (one wife is post-partum and seeing how he treated her and blamed her for her insecurities makes me gag).
    Whether you call it polygamy, or polyamory, or an open relationship, if it’s not a mutually beneficial situation, then it’s emotional abuse. Hard talk: staying married to you doesn’t necessarily mean he still loves you – it might mean he’s afraid of change and stigma. Saying he loves you doesn’t necessarily mean he still loves you – demonstrating concern for your feelings and well-being is what love is.

  18. He doesn’t want to lose his family or he doesn’t want to lose you, specifically? Polyamory requires genuinely loving multiple people, not genuinely loving one person while also staying in a relationship with another person for the peripheral things they bring you.

    When my now-husband (then boyfriend) fell in love with another woman, it was painful and scary and lonely and, yes, sometimes it sucked. And it did get better, when I was able to tell him what I needed in our relationship, and believe deep down in my gut that he was trying his damnedest to make sure I got that. For me, at least, being honest with myself was harder than being honest with him–once I knew what I wanted we could talk about it and figure out how to make it work, but there were a couple false starts when I told him I was okay with things that I was not okay with. (It turned out that I’m okay with pretty much anything as long as I know I’m his priority. If I deep down believe that if and when I need him, he’ll be there 100%, every time, then he can love whoever else he wants. Your mileage may vary.)

    But… if you’re lying to yourself, if you’re lying to him, if you’re saying you’re okay with things you’re not okay with… no, it’s not going to get better. I genuinely believe that lying kills relationships, and lying to yourself kills fastest. Go on a weekend retreat, get a therapist, spend some solid time thinking about you and what you want and what you need and what makes you feel loved. And tell him that, the same way he told you what he wants and needs.

    Being honest with myself and with my husband is the scariest thing I’ve ever done. And the most worthwhile.

  19. I’m sorry. This situation sounds like it’s really hard on you and it’s not fair that your needs in the relationship aren’t being met. As a poly person married to a monogamous person, I can’t ever imagine saying to my spouse that he has to deal with my poly-ness, when that wasn’t the agreement we made. Even subsequent negotiations he’s been steadfast in his belief that extramarital dalliances are cheating and grounds for divorce (though he’s softened a little on what defines an extramarital dalliance).
    It sounds like your husband is getting everything he wants, while you’re not getting much of what you want. And while I realize part of what you want is a full time father to your children and a permanent live-in husband (something divorce will most certainly disrupt), it still sounds like, especially emotionally, you’re getting the short end of the stick. Is it possible to negotiate better terms? It’s not clear how much time you’ve been given to come to terms with this new situation, but it sounds like a rather abrupt about face from monogamy to an obviously one sided “open” relationship.

    Still, I’m sorry. It’s not easy being the one who is flexible in a relationship, sometimes it feels like we will bend and bend and come so close to the breaking point and yet we still bend until we’re in such agony from the flexing that we make look so easy because we love the person we bend for. Sometimes breaking brings release, but maybe we will never know because we just keep bending. And for that I’m sorry.

    • Maybe he could agree to delay his poly-adventures until the kids are out of the house, at least? That would give you some time to process things and at the very least, if it ends in divorce, the kids will less affected.

  20. A poly + monog relationship CAN work if both parties are happy with the arrangement, but you are not happy at all. This is more an “allowing an affair” relationship. If he *knows* you’re this unhappy with it, he’s being a selfish ass. If he doesn’t- if you’ve been pretending it’s all fine – then you need to actually talk about it. Making a marriage work requires sacrifice and not just from one side- he doesn’t get to be poly and have you sit there and take it, just because he decided he feels like it.

  21. I have three kids, two of whom are girls. I’ve recently discovered the most powerful, defining personal tool I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve been using it a lot lately.
    It’s just the question, “What would I advise my daughter in this situation?”
    So, looking at your girls- because they WILL internalize your model- what would you say to them, if they were where you are?
    Sending you so much love and good luck.

  22. I don’t get this. If the terms of your marriage included monogamy, and he doesn’t want that anymore, and you do, it sounds like your marriage is over. I’m so sorry.

  23. I have a LOT of poly friends. Poly can and does work, but this relationship sounds unhealthy. Your partner should not be treating you less because they have another love. This relationship may not fail, but it seems like there’s a lot of work that need to be put in to make it healthy and happy for everyone involved

  24. Many polyamorous couples give the primary partner “veto” power, especially when opening up for the first time. Take your power back. Has he done these things? Taken her to your places? Given you sloppy seconds? Used you as a diversion when she cancels? Made you her favorite foods? Treated your decades-plus, mother of his children relationship as an “obligation”? Because FUCK NO, NOT OK. You can exercise veto power, regroup, find a polyamorous-supportive couples therapist and shut this shit down for a while. If he wants to keep his family and his new partner truly experiences “compersion” (or pleasure that her partner is feeling loved, respected and cared for by another) then this new partner should respect your veto, your boundaries, and status as primary and INSIST he do this emotional labor to make things right.

    • Just wanted to note that veto power, in many poly circles, is called
      “couple’s privilege”. Some couples do it, but more in open marriages than in poly ones. There is a difference between stating healthy boundaries for yourself (such as: taking her to the restaurant where we have regular friday dates is painful to me, please go somewhere else) and stating that “I can nix you anytime I want”.

  25. Oh wow. This is cutting close to home. Last January my partner of ten years, my husband and father to my children, informed me he was in love with his coworker, but also still me, so he was polyamorus now. He wanted to move her into the garage to be his second wife. He wanted to have kids with her. It was shocking and devastating in ways I can barely articulate. I understand the need to cling to your marriage and your family now matter what. I understand not choosing divorce, even when so many urge you to. I do urge you to see a therapist. It took months of therapy to really find my strength and my priorities. If you are both open to it, couple’s therapy might also be a good idea. I recognize your misery, and we both deserve better. We are enough.

    • This also hit close to home for me, but I seem to have a very different outcome from most here. I should start by saying I suffer from depression and had “ignored” my husbands needs for quite some time. Not an excuse for what happened, but I was to the point where I would not have blamed him if he had stepped outside our marriage to satisfy his needs. (And I will just say for clarification that my depression is well managed at this point.) So February of 2017 my husband admitted to me that he had fallen in love with a co-worker. We had become friends with said coworker and had even been out to dinner with her and her ex boyfriend. He assured me that nothing regretable had happened yet, but he wanted to tell me before something did as he still loved me and was afraid of losing me. I did a lot of soul searching and research on non-monogamous relationships. One thing he said to me stuck out which was “Who says we can only love one person? and why?”. At this point we had been married for 22 years and our youngest child was 18 and in college. I decided that this maybe wasn’t the worst thing that could happen, at least he was honest with me. So after much thought and consideration I welcomed his lover (and her daughter) into our relationship with the understanding that we were not going to be splitting up and she would be treated equal. We even discussed the possibility of the two of them having children together. This turned out to be the best decision we made for our relationship. While things did not work out between the two of them and we both ended up heartbroken, we did learn a lot about each other. The most important being open communication. My husband and I have not been fortunate enough to find another commited partner at this point, but we have maintained a much more open relationship and are very much happier than we used to be. That being said, our decision was not very well accepted by our friends and family, but that is a topic for another time.

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