Breakup boundaries

My partner and I started sleeping with a guy 5 months ago, in a threesome arrangement. We did on occasion sleep with him individually as well, but ithe relationship had its start as a open sexual relationship. We eventually discussed poly and eveyone was into the idea and exploring it without putting any labels on it.

As time has gone on we have travelled through limmerance and myself and my partner developed strong feelings for him as he did for us. This week after falling out over jealousy and envy the guy has said that he has developed stronger feelings for my partner and not me and he and I have effectively ‘broken up’.

My partner has feelings for this guy as well but is devastated at the hurt I am currently going through. I keep reading about how to get through a break up but how can I get through when my ‘ex’ is in effect dating my partner? They have both been very respectful and have said the focus is on how I deal with this and if that means they don’t explore the feelings they have for each other because of the pain it causes me then they won’t.

As someone who believes in poly I don’t want to ever restrict someone’s feelings with rules or ultimatums, but it’s still hard to understand how to move forward. Am I entitled to make any requests of the 2 of them while I grieve? The sadness and loss I have for this guy is intense, and my brain does not seem to compute that I actually have a long-term healthy caring relationship with my partner to help support me through this, I don’t want to end up resenting him.

Any advice will be much appreciated.

First off, I’m sorry to hear you’re going through this. It really sounds painful.

It might help to re-imagine this situation with the idea that you and your best friend lived together, were dating the same person — or even say you were monogamous and you broke up with someone your roommate just started to date. You would in that situation probably request in your shared spaces a little bit of space from seeing them both together and this would be almost expected and not be seen as controlling in a lot of ways. That wouldn’t be unreasonable.

A lot of people feel understandably worried about “controlling” their partner in non-monogamy to the point where they almost forget they are allowed to have some boundaries. Having boundaries or making requests is not “controlling” somebody. I have no doubt that people who struggle with people pleasing and who cannot put forth their own boundaries may feel “controlled” by a request a partner makes, especially if they don’t know how to negotiate with them — but that doesn’t mean they are actually being controlled.

It might be helpful if all of you give each other the benefit of the doubt from the start, assume you’re all grown adults — which you are — who are fully capable of asserting their wants and needs and also walking away from situations that don’t serve you. No one is being “controlled” here. When you negotiate in good faith and trust each other to say what you mean and mean what you say, it’s a lot easier to reach a mutually beneficial conclusion. You can’t get there walking on eggshells around each other.

With that said, your partner and your ex both need to stop refusing to advance their relationship to help you cope, especially because, unless you were a triad (and it doesn’t sound like you were), and even if you were, the relationship your partner has with your ex is essentially none of your business. And outside of the time you negotiate spending with your current partner, you don’t really need updates about their love for one another. While you might normally have some interest in your partner’s feelings with others just out of curiosity or wanting to be happy with your partner, you actually don’t need that information to have a loving relationship with your partner.

Many people need distance when they have been dumped. This is a very understandable thing to help you cope and to avoid resentment and emotional upset. If you were roommates and best friends, it would be reasonable and understandable for you to ask that your best friend not have dates in your shared space and to not share things about that relationship with you. At least for a few months until you’re able to have some space and heal and move on. So I don’t see it as an unreasonable request or even controlling for you to request that they not have dates in your shared space with your partner, maybe not hang out together there for awhile, and for your partner to give you a little bit of space when it comes to this.

A lot of people get freaked out by this because it seems too close to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But… it’s not. DADT is about pretending your partner is monogamous with you — and to be perfectly honest, if two consenting adults agree to this arrangement, it may be ethical and work for them. But this isn’t a bad thing. And it might be necessary space you need for awhile. There is a lot of shame within the polyamory community dolled out on people who can’t just snap and get over their feelings — but this is ridiculous and unreasonable to expect someone to be able to do. If your partner and your ex want to help you, giving you space may be the best thing they both can do.

Lastly, it might be beneficial to reconnect with your partner you live with. There is an assumption in polyamory that living together as a couple automatically means that the couple is “prioritised” and I call absolute bullshit on this. I actually think that partners who live together often forget to schedule intentional time together. Check out my 101 and 102 articles, or even my book to start re-exploring what your relationship is with your partner and the role polyamory plays in your life. Right now, you need an anchor and if you’ve never had one, then it makes sense that you are feeling scattered.

Schedule set time for dates with one another and, after you’ve read either my intro articles or the book, you will also be able to negotiate the physical aspects of polyamory with each other and you might be able to lean into your relationship with each other more to overcome some of these understandable and inevitable break up pangs. It may be that you might find that polyamory is not for you and that will require some more thinking about this relationship, but avoid making such big decisions while in the middle of emotional turmoil.

And just to add, please don’t be too hard on yourself for feeling overwhelmed, upset and not knowing what to do when it comes to this. Most of us grow up in a mono-centric society and we have no models or cultural scripts to fall back on when it comes to polyamory. It makes sense to be afraid and scared. Allow yourself permission to have feelings, to be a bit messy, and to be imperfect. Relationships, monogamous or polyamorous, are not about perfection. Conflict is inevitable regardless of what relationship style you choose and it’s less about never having conflicts and more about how you repair after conflict.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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