What is an appropriate level of control in a relationship?

Asking someone to change *is* exercising control, more so than not
communicating a desire for zir to change. However, in some cases it is a
better sort of controlling behavior than manipulating indirectly.

If you say “either change behavior X or I’ll leave,” it’s sometimes
manipulation/threat. Sometimes it’s just true. In an ideal situation,
behavior X would be discussed before it got to this make-or-break place. But
that doesn’t always happen.

There are some other ways of saying this that might not seem so
threatening. “I have reaction Y to behavior X. If you don’t like
reaction Y, let’s talk about ways we can change things so that this
doesn’t happen.”

Just leaving without communicating what it is that made one leave is also a
form of control. And sometimes discussions about boundaries and conditions
lead to compromises and “thinking outside the box” solutions, not parting.

I think that emotional comfort levels should balance out in a relationship.
I think if one person is doing all the changing, it can breed resentment.
If both people are trying and changing and both are reasonably content,
then it’s got the potential to be a good relationship.

Saying “I will not stand certain behavior” is always a threat if it is
intended as one or if it makes the other person anxious. However, it can
*also* be a true statement of “action causes consequence.” I don’t think it’s
a good idea to make idle threats, but if you are serious, I think it’s
reasonable to state your position.

It can be hard to get the other person to realize you’re being serious.
One time I made a “make or break” statement in a relationship, and the other
person believed I was making an idle threat and bullied me into “taking it
back.” But it wasn’t an idle threat, it was a true statement, and so even
though I seemed to have taken it back, when the behavior occurred again, I
left. He was taken by surprise.

Accept that control is part of any relationship.

When I go to a potential secondary partner and say "I can
offer this degree of involvement," it can be seen as control. There is
some room for maneuvering but there are pretty firm outside boundaries. I'm
not going to force the person to do anything, but if we do decide to be
secondary partners, then there are certain parameters. If the parameters
can't be met, then I consider the person something other than "secondary
partner" and behave accordingly. It's kind of like quantum
chemistry...there are certain orbits that a person can inhabit but it's a
lot more difficult to inhabit the spots in between those orbits.

I just don't think there is a "line" between control and negotiation...I
think negotiation is one way of exercising control. I guess you're using
"control" as short for "absolute control, demanding that a particular need
be met in a particular way by a particular person" and I'm using it as
shrt for "adequate control, finding ways to get my needs met and to avoid
situations that make me unhappy."



What’s “fair” in a poly relationship? Do you have to have the same number of lovers?

I think scheduling and maintaining relationships can get very complicated
if people have that notion of fairness.


There should be some kind of balance in a relationship among adults, but
different people work out very different ways of balancing. Sometimes
there’s close balance in every area (“you take out the garbage this week
and I’ll take it out next week”; “you have two lovers and I have two
lovers”) and sometimes the balance is more complex (“You have one lover and
I have two cats, so I’ll take out the garbage every third week.”)

Isn’t polyamory too much work given the society’s emphasis on monogamy?

I don’t consider myself a big social revolutionary and I do poly anyway.
It’s just how I conduct my relationships.


Jealousy, keeping score, and insecurity do not prevent having a successful
poly relationship. I’m jealous and competitive, and I’m a tad insecure at
times. But in spite of all that, I have good poly relationships.

The qualities that allow one to have a successful poly relationship are
pretty much the same as those that allow one to have a successful
monogamous relationship, imo. Jealousy, competitiveness, and insecurity
can damage either kind of relationship, or you can work around them with
caring, communication, and stubbornness. 🙂

If you think you have to be 100% “emotionally evolved” in order to have a
poly relationship, then of course you’ll feel generically incompatible
with poly. But superhuman evolution isn’t really necessary.

What do you do when you’re uncomfortable with the way your partner is handling poly?

When I was trying to become more comfortable
with my partner’s way of doing poly, I learned that the key to my becoming
more comfortable was to have a certain amount of control over how things
were done. No surprises and some control over the amount of pressure that
was put on me. Gradually as I felt that I truly did have this control, I
needed to exercise it less, and he also learned more about what I wanted.
We gained trust in each other. We’re not perfect, but we’re in a good
place compared to where we were a couple of years ago.

We had a “looming third party” situation at a couple of crucial
points in our poly negotiations. What worked for us was to see a
poly-friendly relationship counselor and to decide to be 100% monogamous
(no sex, no kissing, no snuggling) indefinitely, until we could come up
with an agreement that we both felt we could live with. We ended up being
monogamous for three months.

It took trust to agree to this: we had to trust each other to keep the
monogamy agreement, and he had to trust me not to attempt to maintain
monogamy forever as a way of avoiding the issue.

Is polyamory incompatible with hierarchy?

Some people have poly situations without hierarchy. There is still
some “excluding” of people, though, because such people must exclude
relationships with people who do want hierarchy, or risk those
relationships’ being uncomfortable for someone.

As for where hierarchy and exclusivity lie on the good/evil spectrum: that
depends on the person. I happen to like them and find that they help me
make the most of the relationships that I do have time for, and help me to
avoid emotional confusion in those relationships. However, some people hate
preplanned structure. The key is to know where you lie, so you can
accurately represent your preferences to others.

Is polyamory an orientation or a behavior or a kind of relationship?

Some people believe polyamory is an orientation and you are polyamorous if
you want to be involved with more than one person at a time. Some people
believe that people are not polyamorous, only relationships are -- you're
in a polyamorous relationship if you have more than one lover.

It seems your partner is combining these and claiming that if you want to
be involved with more than one person at a time, that means your
*relationship* is polyamorous.

I would disagree. I think you *may* be polyamorous as an orientation, but
you are in a monogamous relationship right now.

By the way, being poly as an orientation doesn't mean you're compelled to
be in a poly relationship.

What do you do if your partner says zie is OK with poly and then turns out not to be OK with it?

A lot of people say they are OK with something like poly and truly believe
it, then turn out not to be OK with it when it comes down to brass tacks.
I think that’s because it’s easier to convince oneself of something
intellectually than emotionally, especially if one hasn’t been in the
situation before. I could convince myself that I could jump out of a plane
with a parachute on my back, but when it came to actually doing it, I might
be more frightened than I expected.


It’s possible that your girlfriend said nasty things because she was hurting
a lot. I went through a similar situation — thinking I was OK with poly and
then turning out to feel very Not OK with a certain incident — and I said
and felt a lot of nasty things when I was very upset about it. Partly because
I felt my partner “should have known” that I wouldn’t like what happened (but
actually it was a difference in the way we thought of poly, not something
that he should automatically have known). Partly because I was angry with
myself at not keeping my word (saying I was OK with it and then not being OK
with it).

Something like this happens in many relationships that try to transition to
poly. Many relationships do survive it.


Slow down on enacting the poly stuff, but don’t hide or stuff your desire
for it. Keep talking. Allow a lot of time for the transition — months or
even years. If you really think your partner is someone you want to stay
with for a long time, it’s worth spending the time to do the transition
slowly and maintain the relationship.

Consider different ways of doing poly. Sleeping with someone your gf
doesn’t know, on a trip, can be stressful in ways that other forms of poly
(such as sharing someone, or starting a relationship with someone your gf
knows and likes) might not be.

Something that works for some people is to give the less comfortable person
a time-limited right of control over polyamorous activities: say something
like “I can’t promise to be monogamous for ever, but for now I will give
you control: you can tell me what you’re comfortable with.”

Many people respond to this by giving the control back (perhaps slowly over
a period of time). It is easier to say “yes” to someone, when you know
that you have the right to say yes and no, than it is to say “don’t” to
someone all the time, if zie is constantly pushing you to allow something
you don’t feel comfortable with.

Please continue talking to her and consider the possibility that she may
have genuinely believed that she was OK with poly, she may not have
expected her negative reaction, and when she said she kept the truth from
you, it might have been because she was upset.