My sense is that all triangulation is somewhat dysfunctional, but I’m not sure. For example, if I ask my partner out on a certain night, he can say “Let me check my calendar and get back to you”, or he can say “I want to but my other partner thinks you’re asking for too much time”. Is the first response “healthy” (non-triangulating) and the second response triangulating (or otherwise wrong)?
Another question I have is about boundaries. When I’m with my non-monogamous partner (i.e. it’s our date night), is it reasonable for me to ask him to not receive or send texts from my metamour? My BF has one other partner. We’re in a “V” relationship for now.
There are two very common things I find people ask me that I feel can be traced back to who gets the message from society that their needs are ‘too much’. All sorts of people can get this message regardless of how society reads them in terms of gender identity.
Certain circumstances in our lives as well as the effects of living in a society which, in my opinion anyway, fetishises ‘individualism’ over community means that we’re often expected in relationships to somehow be able to get on without ‘bothering’ our partners with our needs.
A lot of polyamory advice compounds this pressure because it ads this element to where if you ask for your needs to be met, you become ‘controlling’ or ‘manipulative’. Many people receive the tacit message through popular advice that they should just not have any needs and, if they do have them, they should take care of them themselves.
While I can easily say to you, “It doesn’t matter if your needs are *too much*. They are your needs,” sometimes that doesn’t seem tenable or realistic. Especially if you struggle with mental health issues like I have and do in the past. Some of my needs are literally about the fact that, for example, if my partner doesn’t tell me they’re okay when they’re out after a certain hour, I start imagining them dead in a ditch. Is that too much? Well, yeah. It is. But I also can’t help having those thoughts to a certain extent.
Personally, I don’t think it’s ‘unreasonable’ to request someone’s full attention when they are with you. Some people may not mind that, but for me, someone’s attention means a lot to me. A good yardstick to apply when thinking about your needs is to think about how this might apply in a friendship. I would also be bothered if I were out with a friend and they spent the entire time texting on their phone or seemed distracted or busy. I think when thinking about whether needs are ‘reasonable’, it’s more about understanding the reasons behind it. For me, time is one of those things I value the most with partners — more than anything else. So that’s why it means a lot to me.
But equally, the thing that concerns me about this situation is whether or not your need is ‘reasonable’ but also the way your partner chooses to respond to meeting it — which is the second common thing I’ve referenced in the beginning of this response: a lack of emotional responsibility in relationships.
Polyamory and responsibility
People go on and on about how bad hierarchy is and it’s situations like this that they point to as reasons for why hierarchy doesn’t work. But this isn’t a situation of a problem with hierarchy in and of itself. It’s a failure of your partner to take responsibility for their choices. Imagine you had a friend who you enjoyed hanging out with (that yardstick!) and every time you made plans, they cancelled on you. After awhile, you get frustrated and say “What gives?” and your friend goes, “Well my partner says I spend too much time with you.”
The problem with that response isn’t only that someone else is dictating to someone who they can spend time with — but they are listening to that dictation. Abusive situations aside, people are responsible for who they choose to spend time with. It’s only acceptable to say that someone thinks that they’re spending too much time with you if you’re both under the age of 18 and it’s a parent deciding who their child can hang out with — and even then, it’s probably not the best way to get that message through to a child.
Your partner has a choice in taking responsibility for their choices and owning up to their choice to decide to text during your dates or make time for you. Their partner may very well have feelings about the time your partner is spending with you, but that’s neither your concern nor your business. What the problem is is that your partner avoiding the heat of their decisions by blaming their partner for what is essentially their choice.
Now, as I’ve said, this is abusive situations aside. Abusive partners can and do try to control who their partners see, even as friends. What I find is that sometimes people struggle with knowing how to hear that their partner is struggling without taking an immediate action to solve it. Many times I see situations in polyamory where people do not want to sit with or explore discomfort and instead, knee jerk react to stop it for fear it might end their relationship. And the more wobbly the foundations of the relationship are and the more uneasy the people in it are to manage discomfort, the more likely that anything which causes a ‘threat’, no matter how minor, will be disposed of without thought.
To your partner’s credit, they may not feel like they can do very much about their partner’s emotions but cancel your dates. They may be stuck in a very difficult situation where their partner is telling them about the sadness and difficulties they’re going through, and they are unsure of what to do but may feel they need to do something in response. Unfortunately, they have their own journey to go down with regards to figuring out how to manage difficult feelings without resorting to allowing one person’s emotions to, intentionally or not, control their actions. Sometimes the only way out is through, as I’ve said, and it may be that your metamour has to sit with their anxiety to learn they’ll survive it.
Being your metamour’s therapist
But ultimately none of this is within your control. You cannot and should not be your metamour’s therapist. And you should not have to accept being jerked back and forth because your partner cannot manage the feelings within their other relationships without allowing it to impact you. At the very least, your partner could fully admit that cancelling your dates or doing whatever they’ve done is their choice. You don’t need to know that your metamour is unhappy about things. And adding that to the situation wreaks of trying to prevent you from being angry with them because it isn’t their ‘fault’.
Ultimately, whether your needs are ‘reasonable’ or not, you have a partner who is not willing to take responsibility for not meeting them. And that spells difficulty for future things regardless of whether they’re ‘reasonable’ or not. Your metamour is not your partner’s mother and it’s high time they grew up and took responsibility for their choices instead of breeding resentment between you and your metamour.
Think about what your needs are, maybe a bit as to why you need them, and also demand that, if your partner doesn’t want to meet them, they stop blaming their metamour. And then think about the consequences of what happens when your partner continues to not meet your needs and whether or not they have the capacity for a relationship with you.
I hope that helps and good luck!
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