I think you may be losing out because you’re not successfully communicating how important some things are to you and standing up for what you want/need. You can do those things in a rational and non-dramatic way. But it works best if you do it firmly and show you mean it.
There are several approaches to solving a problem like this.
(1) Strengthen your relationship with her. If you get her on your side, she may be more willing to make room for your relationship with the man,
and you may come to understand and empathize with her better, and you may be able to talk about problems together.
If she keeps getting upset, then there may be a mismatch between what she really wants and what she feels she *should* do/want. Addressing this
issue may help improve the relationship(s).
(2) Avoid blaming her for his behavior. His behavior is his responsibility. You don’t have to get dramatic about it, but you do have to make it clear to him that you expect him to follow through, and that there will be consequences if he doesn’t (such as losing your trust).
You may need to be willing to give up the relationship if he doesn’t change his behavior. That might seem hard, and it’s up to you to decide if
it’s worth it. For me, it’s worth it to have lovers I can rely on.
The way I see it, you have several choices:
(1) Talk to her about how you feel about her husband. If she indicates a
desire to leave him, you might say exactly what you said here: you care
for her and would be willing to help her out temporarily if she wants to
leave him, but you could not offer a permanent “replacement” relationship.
(2) Decide that it’s none of your business and you don’t want to disrupt
their relationship further, and break off the relationship with both of
them now. I agree that if you proceed further you’ll continue to affect
their relationship. That would likely be messy for all of you, and you need
to decide if your relationship and your life is equipped to handle the
(3) Decide to break off the sexual aspect of your relationship with them,
because her husband disapproves, but offer her friendship and support if
she wants it. (This might also affect their relationship, because of the
feelings between you and her husband, but without the sexual aspect, it
might be less messy.)
One of the angst-ridden thoughts I had when I was struggling to accept poly was: “Damn! I already spent twenty years of my life fretting over not being able to find a partner.
Now that I’ve found someone I want to stay with and vice versa, I want to *quit* worrying that for a change, and if we’re poly, I won’t be able to!”
I decided that I would not give in to that if I could help it. Most of my life I felt that one partner would be sufficient, and why should it be different now? If I have more than one partner, great; if not, I have plenty of other interests to pursue.
I have to periodically “re-decide” this when my life gets disrupted. And I doubt it would suffice if I really did lose all my secondary partners. But I think it’s saved me from a lot of self-competitive unhappiness. I also haven’t had any problems finding partners. I don’t know if that’s related to my attitude or whether it’s because of other factors.
Falling in love with someone and agreeing to share your life with zir is
about change and growing together. Yes, you cannot predict whether he will
really want the kind of family you want. You also can't predict whether
*you* will want it after developing the relationship with him further.
Realizing that you're making a commitment that you can't back out of
unchanged, whether it turns out good or bad, is very scary. In a way it is
kind of a death or an end to a part of your life. It's important to
acknowledge that and to make the choice actively -- I choose to go into
this relationship and see where it leads us -- and to acknowledge that you
may lose some things that are important to you.
In choosing the kind of person to do that with, I think more important than
whether zie shares your exact model of a family right now is whether you
and zie can work together to solve problems and whether you can trust zir
to be resourceful and respectful of you when big changes occur. Sharing
specifics does make things easier, but there are always going to be some
specifics, including some big ones, you don't share.
Two couples might well create a stable arrangement based on caring for each other and sharing financial and work arrangements, even if not everyone had an equally intense romantic relationship with everyone else. In a threesome, however, some sort of perceived equality in the romantic relationships is, I imagine, a lot more necessary for stability.
I get around this by challenging the assumptions about how much time you
have to spend with a partner. Except for my primary partner, rather than
time-per-day or time-per-week, I think of total-time. So I see each of my
secondary partners once every week or two, and keep in touch via email and
phone in the meantime.
When I'm starting a relationship this sometimes doesn't feel like
enough. But as the relationship continues over time, I begin to feel
comfortable in that relationship, as I would in a relationship where I was
spending more time-per-week, because of the long shared history.
This probably only works for people who feel OK about having secondary
partners, of course, and doesn't exactly fit the subject line.
I think that most people grow up with the models of monogamy and of official-relationship + clandestine-relationships, and I think one of the biggest difficulties in polyamory is shifting to a model of several known relationships with knowledge and communication among all partners.
I also think, as someone who had a lot of difficulty with it, that the shift is well worthwhile.
I feel much safer being able to talk to my partner’s other partners.
But being forced into it isn’t the greatest idea. Proceed slowly, say that you and your wife would prefer more open communication (if that’s true of your wife), but that you aren’t going to rush things and you’ll proceed that way only if and when she says she’s ready.
I would put one exception in there: Insist that if your relationship with her were to deepen or change in a way you didn’t anticipate, you reserve the right to tell your wife. A great many severe poly problems have developed because someone fell in love and began wanting changes in the kind of relationship zie had with the new love, and didn’t tell zir other partner(s) until it was already quite far along. That can feel like a