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 lived through something exactly like this. My husband brought up the poly conversation and against my wishes was dating within a few months. Or so I thought. I have since found out that he had already been cheating on me for years and had only done this to try to ease some of his guilt. I now have PTSD, a therapist and a divorce lawyer. This is not Poly, this is abuse.

  2. A slightly more neutral rewrite of this; tried to speak the same lessons while making it more universal and more about communication and respect between partners of a poly person/s:

    Do ask your partner if they want to hear about other lover/s or not. Respect that choice. If they do want to know, be sure to not hide it. If they do not want to know, respect that. Check in every 6 months/year (amount of time decided together) that they are still in that same heartspace.

    If you want to be with more than one person, make each person know exactly why you find joy in them. Frequently. Tell them how they are unique, and show it too, because words or deeds alone are not enough. Find out both partner’s love language, and show your love in the way they hear.

    Listen, care, and show it, or don’t be in a relationship. Jealousy comes from distrust. If your poly partner does not trust you, it is your responsibility to find out why and fix it. If words, deeds, time do not help, try therapy. Your partner/s are your responsibility. If they are hurting, you have done everything to fix it and they are still hurt by you, it is time to be honest and let go.

    Make space–equal space–for all of your partners. Make them feel valued, in the ways they need to feel valued. Feeling like an irrelevant peice of meat in an endlessly turning rotisserie sucks. It is better to spend a night alone than make your partner feel lonely in your presence. Watching a movie together is bonding for some, dissonant for others. Ask your person if going out or staying in, doing something active or just relaxing makes them feel loved and bonded. Find something that hits both of your buttons.. Do not buy both the same gifts and make sure the places you go and things you do with each partner are different things, because they are different people.

    Allow /encourage your primary partner to set ground rules with dates with secondary partners: is there someone you don’t want introduced to (such as children), favorite places or some special activities (sexual or platonic) that they do not want to share? Ask. The person you have been with longest should not feel demoted when you meet a new person. If you have a need to demote that person, you shouldn’t be with them, otherwise it is just cruelty, stringing them along. If you meet two partners at the same time, and feel equally strongly about them, find ways that they are different, and ways that each is special to you, and tell them, and make it clear to them that they matter. Conversely, by taking your first partner to spots shown to you by your new person, you are disrespecting both relationships (unless both partners are open to/excited by/have given enthusiastic consent to..)Yes, poly is HARD WORK. Frankly, most of these things should be done in mono relationships too, they just often aren’t .

    My loving you and being devoted to making our partnership/marriage/relationship work isn’t a sure thing. And if you do stop loving me, tell me. Let me go. This is true for the first/primary partner as well as the secondary or tertiary partner. Treat people well, see people as individuals who are treasured or let them go.

        • I love what you’ve written, Didi, and it makes a lot of sense. But, I just want to add that the original post is just as valid because it is her own experience. Yes, it’s negative… that’s what she’s dealing with. It’s just as important to examine/discuss relationships that are NOT working as it is to discuss how to make them work.

          I wonder how many people are struggling with the same issues and trying so hard to be “okay” with the idea of poly, but sacrificing their own happiness and well being. This is an important story to share and I’m grateful Offbeat brought it to the forefront; otherwise we’d just be echoing to ourselves in a “poly is wonderful” bubble.

          • This. So much “this”. It’s important to be open to everyone’s perspective and experience. Positive or negative, it’s just as valid.

            And yes, Didi also did an excellent re-write.

      • I would love it! Would prefer to fix some typos/grammar first. And yes, of COURSE what this poster wrote is valid. I wouldn’t have written anything if she had said “here is what I am going through” rather than implying “here is what all mono folks in a poly relationship feel”. Her story is deeply personal, painful and important; it resonated deeply with many of us. I only tried to make a rewrite that matches the title.

  3. I cringed SO HARD at the “your emotions are not my responsibility” line. That is ABSOLUTELY NOT TRUE, especially when it comes to the primary partner. I’m not poly or open (and I wouldn’t use poly to describe this, myself, but open seems more appropriate), but this goes against everything my friends in healthy open relationships believe and practice. You aren’t poly, and it really seems like you’ve been bullied into this. Poly people are responsible for awareness and management of their emotions, and for communicating problems, changes, injuries, and renegotiating boundaries with their partners. This is true for you (and pretty much any monog people in any relationship), but this doesn’t absolve other partners of their responsibilities to you and your boundaries and feelings.

    And you seem like your boundaries have been very much violated, and he DGAF.

    Your husband doesn’t seem to understand that the foundation of a healthy relationship is in boundaries and respecting them. This goes exponentially more in open and poly relationships because it’s so easy to hurt people. The total lack of respect that this dynamic you’re describing involves is extremely unhealthy. It sounds like he came and told you “I’m poly and want to sleep with other people and I don’t care whether you like it or not. Deal with your own shit because I’m not going to.” And whether that was what was intended, that really seems to be how you feel about it!

    At the very least, you and your husband need to sit down and have a very explicit negotiation about boundaries, priorities, respect, and limitations. It’s not sexy, it’s not fun, and it may not be happy, but it’s integral and it’s vital.

    If you can’t have that, or he can’t adhere to your agreements, then he’s cheating and you’ve got some more decisions to make.

  4. Before you torture yourself about having said the four words “for better or worse,” didn’t he say four OTHER words, like “Love, honor, and cherish”?

    When does he honor THOSE vows?

    This ain’t poly. It’s not even an open marriage. Those are agreements – meaning everyone involved is on the same page.

    This is selfishness. This is having an affair, and then calling it poly only because he turned off his deception filters. Thing is, the compassion filters got turned off, too. So you get saddled with all the bad feelings.

    And he refuses to own any of that. That’s starting to sound like gas lighting to me.

    The example you set will be the lesson your girls learn. THAT would be a way better tattoo than ‘But I was honoring my vows…’

    Your daughters need a strong, wise role model more than they need a stoic, suffering martyr. You’re a mighty chick, OP. Use that strength for some righteously positive problem-solving! Get thee to therapy and figure out the best way to solve your problem.

    Y’all need some “agency” in your life! Go get some!

  5. Wow. You both made an agreement to each other when you got married, and your particular agreement did not involve non-monogamy or even the possibility for such a shift, right? I personally think he’s allowed to request that you reassess the terms of your marriage as partners and allies, given that people can and do change over the course of a lifetime, but if you both can’t fully and joyfully agree to the new terms…this is not something you should learn to live with. Relationships of any type only work when both people want the same thing. You do NOT want the same thing anymore.

    There is always more than one side to a story, but the picture painted here is painful to look at: a man who wants to have connections with other women (which is a valid desire, in my opinion) but who is treating his wife so poorly in the process that it borders on abuse. A man that perhaps did not ask to discuss his feelings and see if there is any way to make room for them with both people on board, but instead told his wife what their marriage vows now mean. A man that is seemingly oblivious to the impact his behavior is having on his wife, and dishonoring her truth and experience, making it impossible for her to trust and confide in him. It doesn’t seem possible for both people to be in partnership any longer. You are suffering so much. It’s a tough call about your kids. My parents stayed together even though their relationship fell apart while I was in utero. I had a stable family life and two devoted parents and it really served me well…but now I’m 32 and seeing the toll it’s taken on both of them, especially my mom, is absolutely heartwrenching. There is still damage done to me by their decision. It’s a pretty big part of my life now. It has somewhat traumatized me as an adult child to slowly discover what really happened to them all those years, shaking the foundation of what I thought was real, what I thought love was, and marriage. I didn’t know the full extent of what happened until I was in my late 20s but I picked up on things here or there as a child and a teenager, and I’d be lying if I said my aversion to monogamous marriage wasn’t impacted by their decision to *stay together for me*.

    He is not going to stop. He is crazed off of the infusion of new love and new relationship energy and testosterone in his bloodstream. The only person that can advocate for you is yourself, OP. So sorry to hear all this.

    This is not polyamory.

  6. I have seen poly done well, even with a monogamous person in the mix and this is not it. I am worried about you, Angel, and your kids. Just because one partner falls in love with someone else, does not mean that person has the right to change all the rules on their own terms. You get to make rules too. If your partner can’t respect your rules and listen to your feelings, well that isn’t love or healthy. Maybe your husband is a good man who loves you, but if he doesn’t know that you are miserable then how can he help you? Perhaps you should send him the link to this article and tell him you feel EXACTLY like this and what are the two of you going to do about it? His answer will tell you if your marriage is over or still has a chance. Best of luck and know that we are all rooting for you.

  7. I am speechless no one said this but the last point, come on…

    “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.”

    Then maybe show that you’re not a sure thing, cause form the list it surely looks like you’ll take it all not to lose a resemblance of the family nucleus that worked before the other party decided they wanted “more”. He changed the rules, then feel free to set some of your own, not just making lists of what upset you of this new situation, but making rules and boundaries just as he did by introducing the new “dating and falling outside of the couple”. She mentions taking new dates to “their places” and of course this would be upsetting, then maybe make it a rule that’s not an option? I mean, you endure him have sex with others, he can endure standing some of your rules too.

  8. I am a poly partner with a monogamous spouse and your artice indicates that your relationship was not read to go the poly route. There seems to be alot of confusion and frankly you sound like you are settling. COMPROMISE is not SACRIFICE.
    “It’s destroying my marriage and any trust and security”
    “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…He’ll hhWave his happiness, the girls will have their family and home intact, and I’ll learn to live with it.”
    NO NO NO NO. What about YOUR happiness? What about YOUR security? If this situation is destroying your marriage and YOU it is not worth it. The “tips” here seem like venting about what is off with your situation. Not what went wrong and how you two have figured things out. You sound hurt, sad and lonely. You sound like an unhappy women stuck with unfaithful husband who wants to keep her family together. This is not poly. Your husband may still love you but what he is practicing here does not sound like polyamory by the result it sounds like emotional manipulation and misplaced attention. “Get over it” and “not being responsible for people’s emotions” is not a poly mindset it is HIS mindset. Poly can work but this clearly isn’t for you. You tried it for the sake of your family and it isn’t working. Compersion is not you. You can set boundaries and rules too. You will be happier alone.

  9. Sigh. This has given me some flashbacks to childhood.

    My Mother’s second marriage. He was poly. Mom, I’m uncertain. One of their agreements was his relationships outside the family were cool as long as it didn’t impact the family. But, they did. Obviously, I didn’t know their deal at the time. Something felt off as a child in the household. New close family friends appearing and then disappearing. Family plans where he wouldn’t be there at the last moment. Trips to museums and movies with other families where he and the other parent would leave us bewildered at the event with these unfamiliar children. Asking my Mom what she was taking a prescription for and her careful explanation that sometimes when your spouse was ill, you would need to take medicine too to avoid getting ill. We felt the tension, and unreliability.

    They were in therapy, together and apart. Ultimately, whatever their agreement, the marriage failed. He found a “love of his life”. But long before that time, we daughters had learned not to trust or rely on this father figure. As adults, we continue to struggle with healthy relationships.

    The family will suffer when the foundation of the adults relationship is shaky.

  10. OK Offbeat Home. I understand the reason for posting this (showing the other side of poly, that not any kind of relationship is perfect, that toxic relationships exist in all forms), but I think this is a little bait and switch. The title seems to make the article neutral and is not fair to the author, who clearly is using this as a way to express her pain that her husband is causing her. Labeling it as “advice” is implying that these things happen to all poly/mono couples, and not that this is an abuse of the idea of polyamory. I think it does polyamory a disservice to try to market the article this way.

    • If someone abuses the claim of an offbeat lifestyle to abuse their partner, I think it belongs on Offbeat home and life. Yes, her hurt and anger are obvious, but there is true advice in there as well. To reject it, because it isn’t a happy story, or because it does polyamory a disservice, would be unjust. He husband is the one doing polyamory a disservice. She is not doing polyamory a disservice, and her writing is not doing polyamory a disservice. It’s the asshole husband who is doing that. She deserves to be heard, and her message should be considered. Don’t blame the victim, or the platform giving a voice to the victim.

      • I’m not doing either of those things. I’m saying that the title of the article paired with the content is not doing it justice. The title is implying that these things she is hurting over should be expected in a mono/poly relationship, and that is not the case.

  11. OP…..I have been here. I cannot tell you how much I feel your pain (a scenario like this ruined my life). The fact of the matter is that humans as a species have an unusual mating pattern. Most species have evolved to fit squarely into a particular niche with respect to mating: either monogamous, or not. One pattern becomes dominant. Most species are non-monogamous, though some are. With humans, there are actually two distributions of mating behavior: some individuals fit into a poly pattern, some into a monogamous pattern. In Western culture, the monogamous pattern has historically been enforced, leading to a lot of unhappiness for the poly camp. The positive thing about the fact that the poly pattern is becoming more openly accepted and widely recognized as a thing is that people can confront this upfront, before entering into a relationship. It should absolutely be the first thing discussed, on the first date, before people fall in love or become entangled with marriage or family. Poly and mono people DO NOT MIX. This should be discussed in sixth grade sex ed along with where do babies come from. The difficulty here is that I suspect there are more men than women who would be on the poly side, leaving a dearth of options for the mono women. Though this may not be the case.
    Humans are complicated. When a man truly falls in love with a woman, he will not be interested in other women. As much as this hurts, you need to understand that keeping your family together is not the only option. My parents divorced, found other people, and were happy. It was absolutely the best scenario for our family. You do not need to be poly, but you should take this opportunity to seek out a new partner. If I were you, I would not allow my husband to touch me. You deserve the love you desire, in whatever form that takes.

    • to E, to OP- how did you resolve your situations if at all? My husband just told me he is poly and I can’t see any way out that doesn’t leave me alone, whether we stay married or not. Thank you! And I’m so sorry to hear of your pain.

      • Someone who informs their monogamous partner that they are poly and then sees other people without the freely given consent of their partner is cheating.

        I’m poly, and in my last relationship my partner told me that he couldn’t do poly… so we were monogamous. For seven years. I loved him, and monogamy was important to him, so I made the decision to be monogamous.

        Our relationship did end in divorce, but because he became abusive – and that has nothing to do with being monogamous or polyamorous. He was just a jerk.

        I never cheated. I didn’t even think about other relationships until months after we split. I made a decision to be monogamous with him and that’s what I did.

        I honestly didn’t see it as any different than how I’m bi and chose to marry a man. Just because my brain gives me more options for who I am attracted to and how I can structure my relationships doesn’t mean I can *only* be happy with having all options at all times. It just means I have more people and dynamics could work for me.

        I have to wonder how he said he’s poly- did he say it because he cheated? If so, you have every right to call his bluff because that’s not poly, that’s a post hoc justification of bad behavior. It’s diagusting and you don’t need to put up with that.

        If he brought it up as an exploration of the concept, then it’s a discussion worth having. You have every right to your opinion and needs too! You are allowed to express your needs and thoughts just as much as him.

        If you don’t feel empowered to speak your truth in your relationship, that isn’t healthy. If you feel your voice doesn’t deserve to be heard, that’s not okay. Please know that no matter what you end up doing and no matter what relationship structure you end up in, your health and happiness are important.

  12. If he’s doing all these things to you, what a dick. He shouldn’t have his cake and eat it too while you suffer. If he’s not willing to treat you with respect, and has one foot out the door, he doesn’t deserve to pretend it’s all okay.

  13. Thank you thank you thank you for writing and posting this. I had the “bomb” dropped on me last week and I have no one to talk to about it. I’ve been provided with a bibliography of resources to help me come to terms with how normal this is and to help me understand how wrong I am to have feelings that oppose the inevitable, but this is the first piece of writing that speaks to the helplessness and loss I feel today. I’m not here to start any fights or cast aspersions on the choices anyone has made. If there was a group for discussion by people in our situation I’d like to know about it.

    • This article was written from the heart. I, too, had the “bomb” dropped on me in April, and I’m using every fiber of my being to hold it together. We have had two instances in the past 4 months where we almost divorced since he presented me with how he truly is, and what he desires — to “be an adventurer” — just like other people desire hang-gliding or bungee jumping, he wants “sexual adventures”. We just ‘celebrated’ our 28th wedding anniversary, and I can’t say it was a particularly joyful weekend. I, like you Boris, feel absolutely helpless and the depression is winning. Having been raised in an emotionally abusive household from my mother, my husband became my best friend, my true confidante who helped me out of that horrible situation. But, ever since he dropped this on me, I feel as if I have no one else to turn to, no support system, no friend. (However, I must say that I have set up an appointment with a therapist next week, so I hope that will help.) I’m monogamous to the core, but I’ve been reading and trying to understand how not only some people are wired differently, but “marriage” was created — it’s ‘not in our nature’. Logically I can understand that, but emotionally, it is so difficult — it feels practically impossible to overcome the heartache and pain.
      I don’t want to hear from people responding that he’s a horrible person. He’s not — he’s one of the most generous, kindest people I know, which makes it even more difficult because I don’t hate him.

      • I had no idea my comment had garnered response… I’d like to follow up with you and see how you’re doing… compare notes. I have many more observations and have a much more nuanced understanding of things than I did in August. Not to say that I am happy about it, but I have a better understanding of a way to go forward and keep our family intact. Still lots of heavy and depressing nights but I feel more hopeful that before. I know I can’t make real contact through this page but if you’d like to chat please look me up on Fetlife, my name there is DaddyBoki… I’m thinking of carving out a “Victims of Poly” group there if there is some interest – it’s pretty pro-poly community.

  14. I’ve had somewhat of a similar situation transpire during the current week. I am a mono partner in the current polyamorous relationship, which includes my girlfriend and her boyfriend. I had fallen in love with my girlfriend long before I found out about her being poly and I had known about her boyfriend before I agreed to enter into the relationship. About eight months ago we had made the decision for me to enter into the relationship with me and her together and her boyfriend as sort of mine, but more of a friend and was there for emotional support if I needed it. Everything had been going great for the first couple of months before deteriorating.

    Back around June/July we had come across a problem in communication. We are long distance while her other SO lives with her. She had gotten a job that took up a lot of her time and left little time for us to “spend time together” and to talk about anything since every time I went to speak with her she was either at work or spending time with her friends. It felt like I was being left behind. It had caused me a lot of heartbreak, going as far as breaking down at work and ended up crying in front of everyone, before we eventually talked it out and she made sure that if I wanted to leave the relationship for my happiness I could. I decided to stay.

    However, a couple of days ago she had brought up the prospect of adding another person into the relationship. I don’t know this person and their presence in her life was rather sudden and I felt very shocked. They had only been brought up a few weeks ago by name as a friend and she had suddenly moved in with them about a week or two later. They also live with a mutual friend of ours so I didn’t really think much of it at the time. Currently, I’ve felt extreme emotional pain over my girlfriend finding someone else she liked even though I have been previously okay with her boyfriend. I had broken down at work again, though, I was thankfully able to keep it together this time until I was able to get home. I’m unhappy, scared, and jealous. And while I know that jealousy is the scarlet “J” in poly relationships I can’t help what I feel. I don’t really know why I feel this way besides maybe that I don’t know her? Though, I can’t really say by meeting her and getting to know her that I would grow comfortable with her entering the relationship.

    I really don’t know what to do…

    There’s no way to compromise and to figure things out since on one hand she’s happy and I’m not or on the other I’m happy and she’s not. I know that the “courting” or however else she puts it won’t really stop due to my expressed unease and that her and the other girl’s feelings for each other won’t go away–not that I expected them to–but I’m not sure that I could live with the knowledge of that going on or my guilt over not letting them be together to preserve my own feelings and mental health. I want her to be happy and I still love her and want to be together, but every time I think about it I just feel like I should let go and focus on me than to worry about the relationship and how it might progress. Should we break up or take a break? Should I try to give them a chance even though I would be unhappy? Or is polygamy just not for me?

    • Hi Cyx,
      Shortly after I wrote my entry, above, I had time alone to think it all through (hubby had gone away for a week). I decided to quit doubting and questioning my feelings and followed my gut. I wrote a long email to him with all the questions that I wanted to ask him (the “why??”). I also decided that if he wanted to go that route, I would have none of it, and we would be over. I felt at peace then, and new this was the right choice for ME and quit putting his feelings first.
      A strange thing happened, though, and he said he realized he was losing me and decided not to pursue his desire. To be honest, I’m still suffering from the effects of that poly-bomb, and am definitely having some trust issues. Time will tell.
      In addition, what really did it for me were the weekly emails I received at work (I’m in healthcare) regarding the STD/STI epidemic — “super gonorrhea” and the like. No fucking way was I going down that road, not to mention the emotional/psychological toll that “lifestyle” would take.

      Your question, “Should I try to give them a chance even though I would be unhappy? Or is polygamy just not for me?” What I want to suggest to you is to go with your gut and what’s best for YOU. I remember reading that “if you’re willing but not wanting, then it’s false consent”. Make sure it’s something you WANT, not just are willing to do for someone else. Protect yourself — your heart, mind, and soul.

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