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.

What do you do when you love someone who’s in a monogamous relationship?

The best way to accept her husband is to get to know him, get to have your
own friendship with him.

Of course, if you are involved with this woman secretly without her
husband’s knowledge, then developing a friendship with her husband would
require that the secrecy end (you can’t have a friendship based on

Polyamory is mostly based on the premise that multiple relationships can
work well if they are done openly and honestly. Getting there can be a
struggle, but it can be worth it.

How do you achieve symmetry in a polyamorous relationship?

My partner and I work toward relative symmetry in emotional comfort.
Sometimes that looks asymmetrical in terms of action. For example, when we
wrote a poly agreement, there were more ‘rules’ about his behavior than
about mine, for various historical and emotional reasons. But we both
*felt* the agreement was fair. We also wrote a ‘renegotiation’ clause into
the agreement, and over time we have adjusted the agreement somewhat as
our feelings have changed.


The question is not whether something is asymmetrical, but whether it feels
unfair? And if so, to whom? If two members of a relationship own a house and
the other two rent, is it unfair on the owners to have to go through all the
hassles of house ownership? Or is it unfair on the renters because they don’t
have equity?

Whether it’s wrong for a relationship to interfere with another relationship
depends on the value of ‘interfere’. A relationship will no doubt
change somewhat as a result of moving in with one’s sweeties. But change
can be managed so that everyone is reasonably satisfied with it.

It doesn’t sound delusional to me to be more or less content with your
current arrangement. I would be thinking something like: “my relationship
is relatively new and I don’t want to rely on my partner financially
because I need to be able to support myself and because it’s dangerous to
entangle money issues in a relationship until the relationship is proven
stable. I also don’t want to make waves in the other relationships.
Maybe after living together for several years and seeing that the
family is becoming more close-knit, we can move toward an arrangement
that might allow me to take some time off work.”

I’m biased because I think it’s very important for a person to be able to
support zirself. If I were unhappy with work, I would look into
arrangements that might help me get into a line of work I wanted to do.
It is possible to do that without financial support from family members.

Is manipulation and abuse a warning sign in a relationship?

I agree that the behavior described can be seen as manipulation/blame and 
probably felt abusive, but before I call something abuse, it has to repeat 
itself after an attempt to deal with the problem that brought the behavior 
out. I do not consider one outburst in a very trying situation to be abuse of
the kind that becomes habitual.  

I behaved much as the woman in question did when I had a poly crisis with my 
partner. I can say that tantrums do *not* necessarily get worse and more 
frequent over time, that an angry hurt person *does* sometimes stop when zie 
feels zir needs are being addressed.  I behaved in ways that might be 
considered "abusive" because my feelings were unexpected and scaring me half 
to death. I didn't want to behave that way, and when the problems (some mine, 
some his, some ours) were addressed, I stopped.

I don't think such behavior should be coddled or excused. But do consider
the source and frequency of the behavior before assuming it's abuse.