Episode 117: Metamour Management

Sometimes knowing way too much about your partner’s relationship with their metamour can seriously impact your relationship.

Sometimes knowing way too much about your partner’s relationship with their metamour can seriously impact your relationship.

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic: How important is it for you for your partner to get along with your family?

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Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

I’m seeking advice on a complicated partner/meta[mour] relationship I’ve been dealing with for almost a year.

I’m married and poly[am] and last year entered into my first secondary relationship with someone I had a great connection with. We’ve been dating for almost a year now and have developed a healthy and very loving relationship, one that took us both a bit by surprise. My boyfriend is also married and has been poly[am] with his primary partner for many years. When we started dating he described their relationship as aligning closely with relationship anarchy/solo poly[am].

They moved into together shortly after he and I started dating, and since then, their relationship has become increasingly toxic. My meta in many small ways has essentially tried to veto me from a relationship with him, demanding he spend less time with me, monitoring how much he texts me, asking him to take a break from me, interrupting our dates with non-stop calls or angry texts about “emergencies”, and so much more.

She also initially refused to meet me and said she was uncomfortable doing so (even going as far as saying maybe she never wanted to meet me) only to later declare, after a near breakup, that meeting me was an ultimatum for her to continue a relationship with my partner, because she needed to “warn” me about my partner. Given all of this, I no longer think it’s a good idea for us to meet.

In short, my partner’s primary relationship has become increasingly stressful and chaotic as his partner’s behaviour has become more chaotic in the last few months. The hardest part for me is seeing how draining and all consuming this has become for my partner. He’s gotten very burnt out from the relationship but is not ready to remove himself from the situation and is still hopeful that they can fix their problems.

I’ve been trying to be supportive and patient but also set boundaries to protect myself in the situation. I refuse to meet a meta who demands to meet me so that I can help her “fix the relationship between her and my partner.” I also know to ask my partner for breaks from hearing about his problems. After some hard conversations, he’s done an amazing job at making sure I too feel prioritised by protecting our date time from being interrupted.

Despite all this, we do still talk a lot about what is going on in his primary relationship, because it’s become such a huge part of his everyday life. We both want to make sure we don’t let his other relationship overtake our own, but we struggle to maintain healthy boundaries around it, because he is so emotionally and physically exhausted by all of this.

So my question is, how do you suggest we allow space and time for us to have a fun and loving relationship while also allowing us space to be each other’s emotional support? My partner and I want to continue to nurture our relationship, and to potentially be able to continue slowly growing our entwinement, but it’s been a struggle to do that without taking on a lot of the drama of his primary relationship.


So I think first he needs a clear plan on getting emotional support outside of your relationship. Does he have a therapist? I just talked about BetterHelp. But honestly like it's probably draining and frustrating mostly for you because you literally can't do anything and I think that this is such a good example of where you can compare the situation to anything else. Like let's say he had an extremely toxic parent who was like doing the same sorts of stuff.

Obviously, we might consider that more odd coming from a parent, but it is something that has happened and in that situation, it's even more difficult for the person to decide to cut their parents out of their life. Maybe consider what you would do if he had a toxic roommate. So you wouldn't want your relationship in either of these situations to become about somebody else and you wouldn't want those situations to bleed into your relationship either.

So what would you do in those situations? I don't think that in the case of having a toxic family member, you would just be like, “Well stop talking to your toxic family member” but at the same time, you wouldn't want your entire dates to be kind of focused on that. So I think the first thing is that he needs to figure out how to get himself some emotional support that isn't you and that shouldn't necessarily be that difficult for him.

If you were monogamous and it was a toxic family member, then I think in a way it would be even more complicated because for a lot of monogamous people, their partner is kind of — shouldn't be in my opinion — but does often become their primary emotional support. And that can be really difficult if you have a toxic family member. So in either situation, I would recommend finding a therapist, finding someone he can talk to that is an objective third party so he doesn't have to offload all of his feelings and stuff onto you.

And I understand that like you're in a relationship with each other and obviously you want to support each other. Obviously, you don't want to be like “Blah, I don't want to hear about your shitty relationship,” like you're wanting to be supportive and you're not an asshole. So of course you're not going to be like, “Blah blah blah. I don't want to hear it.”

But I do think that he does need to find some other emotional support because if he's leaning on you, it’s because he doesn't have that and if he's like, very typical of what men typically get told to say and told to think and told to do within the society that we have— and I don't think you're in a completely different society. But if you are then I do apologise.

But generally speaking, men don't get encouraged to share their emotional problems with their other male friends if they have other male friends and it's a really big bummer. Because, you know, if you had problems like this, probably I'm guessing — it’s stereotypical and could be wrong. But women sort of get encouraged to share their emotional problems with their friends in ways that men don't, and then men and end up in situations where their partners become their emotional primary caregivers.

And that's not really entirely fair on their partners and it becomes a serious situation for some men who get old and then their partner dies. So I think this is a good opportunity for him to reach out to his friends, talk to his friends. If they're not open to hearing about his emotional problems — and I think sometimes it's just like getting over the awkwardness of that, if it's kind of a cultural thing that's been ingrained into him or seeking a therapist.

He needs a clear plan for how he's going to get emotional support outside of your relationship and he needs to stop relying on you as his primary source of emotional support. And that's not — that has nothing to do with whether or not this is a “toxic” or whatever problems this person is having. If the situation was that he had a family member that was like this, or he had a roommate that was like this and he couldn't just move out, I still would recommend the exact same thing.

Because even if it wasn't about it being your metamour, it's about the fact that he has something going on in his life that is really, really difficult. Even if it was a death. Even if it wasn't dealing with a toxic person. I still wouldn't recommend that you be one grown adult’s primary source of emotional support. Because it's not really fair on you regardless of what the situation is about. Regardless of whether it deals with a metamour.

Regardless of all of these other sort of tricky things that I think you know a little bit too much about what's been going on in between them, but it's hard to say if you know, if she's like calling you guys, calling— calling him, when you're on dates all the time, at a certain extent you're going to know about some things but I would definitely keep those boundaries there. Like just… he needs to find another emotional support source that isn't you.

It's understandable that you would be emotional supports for each other but you cannot be the primary ones. And you shouldn't be even if you were in a monogamous relationship together and this was a roommate or something else. I still would encourage people to diversify their emotional support sources. Diversify it, so get a plan for that. I also think that you need to keep your boundaries clear and definitely keep them there.

And maybe what you guys need to do is focus less on sitting and stewing and listening to these problems — because there are two ways to handle this type of situation that he's going through. He can sit and he can talk to you about how difficult things are and how he's feeling and blah, blah, blah, or he can utilise the time that he has with you to do something that he would prefer to do to take his mind off of things to enjoy himself.

And I think that you know, even if he had like a super stressful job, there would be two options. You sit there and you listen about like all the co workers and, “Hey, that guy at work is really getting on my damn nerves”. Or you can do something else that distracts and is fun and is enjoyable for both of you that isn't sitting there and listening about those problems. And he can sit there and talk about the problems and work them out with the therapist and not with you. So maybe you should shift your focus.

Like you can still provide emotional support while doing things that are fun while enjoying your time together. And as long as he's able to maintain those boundaries with each other — like in terms of like her calling you guys while you're on dates and stuff like that, like put his phone away. Turn it off. The only thing she can do is call the police and I'm pretty sure that that would be you know — I'm not saying that it's great for you to get the police called on you because I don't know your situation. That could be a very bad bad thing.

But she can't do very much other than maybe whatever goes down when he gets home with her. But there needs to be very clear boundaries there and there needs to be very clear, you know, lines drawn, and then if those lines aren't drawn clear enough — One other thing that I can consider it depends on how you want to go about this like meeting up with her. I mean, that's a whole thing. Right? And I think that I would have advised if you were like “Yeah, I guess I'll meet up with her”.

She can try whatever she wants, but understand that you can be as neutral as possible and it's the same as if you know this were “toxic” family member — we were talking about or a really horrible like — say your mother in law like hated your fucking guts and was like always, you know, imagine how you would do in that type of situation.

You might still need the person, but you're going to be neutral, you're going to be like, “Okay, this is — thank you for giving me your perspective on the issue”. Don't rise to it. Don't fight. Don't argue. Don’t… you know, you could do that. Or if you really want — this is something that I would highly suggest you discuss with your partner and with a couples therapist together. But if I were in that situation, part of me would be like, “You know what? When we're together, you're gonna turn your phone off and blame me for it”.

I would totally be like, “You know what, whatever situation you're in with this person—“ I mean, it would be a lot easier if it was a family member, but like, I would just like, “Just blame me. Just say I asked you to just say”. I think that's kind of crappy and I'm not you know, like I said discuss this with a therapist but like, have those clear boundaries and when it comes to her, just try to be as neutral as possible because whatever is going down with her like — There's a lot we don't know about this situation.

And I'm not trying to say that your partner is hiding anything but we don't know what their situation was. We don't know what kind of discussions they've had. We don't know like, you may know this. I don't know from from just your letter, what kind of situation they had with each other, how it was set up, how they talk to each other what you know, we don't know what goes down. So I would I just try to be as neutral as possible.

No more details, please. If he can manage to not give you any more details, because I don’t— I think that that makes it so much worse. Especially if you have a hard time understanding why he's still staying in a relationship like that. And for me, even when I have friends — like even when I have friends who are in really bad situations, I sometimes have to be like, “You know what, I don't know as that I can help you with this”. Because once you start to understand like all of the bad things about the situation, it becomes really hard sometimes for you as the listening party to be like, “Why are you still in this situation?”

And you're not trying— It's so hard for you especially because this is a metamour. You're not trying to like force them to break up and obviously like you're in a position of power — in a weird position of power when it comes to this. And if you did— if you were like, “Dude, why are you with this woman? She's awful,” then that could equally be turned against you, like used against you by like, not that it really matters, but do you know what I mean?

Like this is such a difficult position for you to personally be in because you have a stake in this argument and you arguably have a dog in this fight more or less so you can't necessarily— you're not an objective third party. It's one thing if one of his friends was like, “Dude, why are you even with this person? Like, stop”. But you're not an objective third party so it's even harder for you to even give him— and maybe you don't want to give him advice. Like it's such a difficult situation. So you just like, maintain as much as you can, like almost try to forget some of this stuff because it's not helpful for you to know.

The more details you know, the more difficult it's going to be to understand why it is your partner staying in the situation. And it might affect your relationship. Like it would affect me. I would have a hard time. I'd have a hard time staying with somebody who was staying in a relationship like this. I would be like, “Why?”. Like I for as much as I'm advising you to be neutral. I would struggle like hell to be neutral in this situation. Dude, I would be like, “Why are you with this person? Nah, I don't even want any part of this. I'm out”.

Like I think I would really struggle. But if you want to stay in this situation, then I do think that like — no more details. No more details about what's going on in between them. You know, he can say “Oh, I'm having a difficult time with my partner”. And that's all the details that he needs. If he needs to offload and tell somebody all the details so that he doesn't feel crazy, he needs to find a therapist or some other emotional support for that.

You cannot provide that type of emotional support. You are not an objective third party and you have a dog in this fight. And it's too damn awkward for you to feel like you know this stuff and knowing these details does not help. So no more details. Keep those boundaries clear. The sort of, “you can't be calling us while we're on dates” — like it's exactly— It's not even about it being a metamour. It's exactly the same as if it was a family member or anybody else. Would it be acceptable for his mom to be like blowing up your phone or blowing up his phone while you're on a date together?

And be like, “what do you do—“. No, it wouldn’t. It would be a weirder culturally but you know, that's a reasonable thing to expect and he — if it's helpful for him, he could also use that to speak with his partner. I don't know if it's going to be helpful. I don't know what's going on in between them and don't involve yourself. Keep those boundaries. Focus your time less on sitting and listening to all of these details and focus on making his life better by doing fun stuff that you both want to do by enjoying your time together.

Don't let your dates and your time together be gripe sessions. He needs to find somewhere else to get emotional support. He needs to diversify his sources of emotional support. And wherever you are worried that you might be jealous or that you might — like it's an awkward situation because like I said you have a dog in the fight so it's not like you can be fully objective in the situation and nobody's really fully objective.

But you know, you even more so than like a friend of his will struggle to be objective in the situation. So I think like when thinking about any kind of boundaries or things you want to put in place, compare the situation to what would I do if this was his mother and she was intense and like this— what would I do if this was a roommate he had and he couldn't just move out for whatever reason, leases and all that sorts of stuff?

And ask yourself, would you have the same boundaries? Because in the case of when you guys are out on dates with each other and you don't want someone to be calling his phone every five seconds, you would have that same exact boundary. So, you know, think about it that way if it helps you kind of worry about whether or not you're trying to do your best in this situation. How do you be his emotional support? Just yeah.

To summarise — I think I've already kind of summarised but just to get a little bit better of a summary. He needs a clear plan for diversifying his emotional support sources and you can't be a full emotional support source about this relationship. No more details. Where you feel like you're worried you might be jealous or any other kind of situation just compare it to like a family member and reapply the boundary and see if it makes sense.

Keep your boundaries clear. And when you're together, you can provide emotional support. Emotional support isn't just sitting around and listening to somebody talk about a situation. There's tons of ways to emotionally support each other without having to do that. So keep your dates and your time spent together about doing the stuff that you both want to do with each other. Make a list of all of the things that you want to do together, all the dates. Plan dates. Don't allow the time you spend together become gripe sessions.

No more details. And if you do meet up with her because maybe that is you know — I'm not saying don't meet up with her. I don't know. I trust you and I think you should trust yourself to be an adult about the situation regardless of how she behaves. So in the exact like, again, compare it to a toxic family member or a toxic roommate or somebody who's being terrible in that other way that he can't just get away from.

You can meet up with that person and still maintain your cool if you feel you can. To me maybe your letter gives off a lot more calmness and you actually feel but if you do meet up with her be as neutral as possible. You know, let her say whatever she wants to say like don't defend or argue if she wants to be like, “I think he's bad, blah, blah, blah.”

You can be like, “Look, whatever's going on in between you guys is your relationship. I think you should get a therapist and work on what's going on in between you. I’m happy to have a conversation about what I do for a living and talk to you about what you didn't get to know each other. But I'm not here to talk about what's going on in our relationship that's that's private to us. Nor am I here to talk about what's going on in between your relationship because that's private to you”.

And she might you know argue and whatnot but like, you know, be neutral. Stay cool. If you do meet up with her. I think you can. I don't think it'll be fun. Doesn't sound like it'll be fun. But I think it's possible. Like if it's a situation where your partner asks you to do it, you know, if it's something that you feel isn't a deal breaker because it doesn't sound like that would be a complete deal breaker.

Doesn't sound like it would be fun and I can certainly understand your position of like, “I’m not just going to meet someone because they're like holding my partner hostage”. But I don't know. I think — and maybe I'm just like genuinely too curious about the situation that I would want to just like see what's going on there. But if you do meet up, I think that you can do it in a neutral way that won't have any lasting impacts.

And again, like I said, compare it to the family member situation or the roommate situation you could meet those people without that being a huge deal. And you know, maintain your composure but only if you think you can maintain your composure and not fall for like whatever sorts of things, you know— because I think given what you've said about her, and what she's sort of indicated it you know, she may try to convince you to break or whatever. There's stuff going on with her.

I feel bad about— I do feel bad for her because there's clearly stuff going on on with her but you can't help with that. They need to fix that. It's not your problem to fix. And make sure that you just have those boundaries. Have fun together. Don't make it about gripe sessions and he needs to find someone else to emotionally support him. I hope that helps and good luck.

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