Episode 119: Brutal Honesty

Your partner outright tells you that they plan on prioritising someone over you. It’s harsh but is it what should happen?

Your partner outright tells you that they plan on prioritising someone over you. It’s harsh but is it what should happen?

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

Discussion Topic: How honest are you with your partners about your emotions?

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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 have been seeing my partner for almost a year now and in the spring we decided to call each other partners. I have felt that the relationship has been overall good but sometimes I have been lacking a stronger emotional connection that would show up e.g. by staying in more consistent contact between dates, doing and saying romantic things, etc.

I told him I love him in May and he said that he’s not ready to say it back and that he’s generally not the type to have intense romantic feelings. He identifies as on the spectrum of autism so I figured that maybe that’s a factor [t]here and didn’t mind taking it slow since I felt cared for and that we had a loving connection when we were together.

Then it all changed. A few days ago he told me that he has been seeing a new person for a month and that he now feels a strong emotional bond with her that leads to him wanting to see her more often than he sees me and building a primary relationship with her. Before, he had said he doesn’t seek for hierarchy so I had no idea that he would want a primary. 

He said he’d still want to keep our connection the same if I can accept that he will never love me the same way as he does this girl he’s known for a month. The whole idea of having to follow from aside when he gives someone else the things that I have tried to build between us — more consistent connection, trips together, meeting with friends and family — feels jarring. 

I’m also very confused because when he described the strong bond he feels for me (emotional connection, trust, sexual desire, deep compatibility) all that felt like how I understand “love” to be, but to him, it’s all something secondary.

I read some advice about handling NRE but none of it addressed a situation where your partner tells [you] from the beginning that the new person is more important than you. Do you think there could be any point in trying out a de-escalation and see if our bond carries us to the other side of this situation, or am I fooling myself even considering staying? I know he doesn’t want  to hurt me but I can’t help feeling that this is all a bit callous.


So firstly, there's so many situations, I just want to say, where people are asking for advice or describing situations or asking for the asshole etc and so forth where it's so very obvious to me that the person is on the autistic spectrum and that does affect their processing of the situation. 

And I do understand actually your partner from an autistic perspective, and I do think— Yeah, it sounds a bit callous, but in a way he is actually being very honest with you about his feelings and his emotions in a way that — if he weren't honest with you, and if he was trying to like save face and if he was trying to protect you or  doing what a lot of people who are not on the spectrum do — it may not feel worse. 

Like it's hard to say. I'm not going to tell you what feels worse or better for you. But I do feel like I can understand from his perspective, being an autistic person and being like, “Okay, I'm just going to be honest about my feelings. I know how I feel, and this is how I feel”. And I can understand that that sounds really callous from your perspective, totally.

But I see this as being a lot more genuine and honest and better than somebody basically trying to tiptoe around me like I'm a bomb, trying to wrap me in cotton wool, as they say in the UK, or like trying to make the situation better by pretending. Because it's very hard for autistic people to lie to themselves. It's very hard for autistic people to pretend.

Sometimes we're not the best at identifying our own emotions and like every autistic person is different. So I don't claim to be like the Borg Queen of autistic people who speaks for all autistic people. But I do think that from things that I've seen, this makes sense. This tracks and it is understandable.

There are a couple of problems that I have with this situation. I don't know if you knew about this person that he's been seeing for over a month. Like what your agreements were around disclosure and like telling each other about like, “oh yeah, by the way, I'm dating somebody”. I feel like even as much as he may be approaching this from a situation of being bluntly and straightforwardly honest— and maybe he doesn't know how to not be bluntly and straightforwardly honest.

There is a situation here where if he was dating someone new and there was some sort of disclosure that should have happened that might have helped prepare you a little bit, because if this is the first time you're hearing from that this person exists. And then “Oh, yeah, by the way, I— all of a sudden I have these feelings and I feel way more for her and I know I'm going to feel way more for her and I want a primary bond with her and blah blah blah”. That's a lot to take in all at once.

So I can definitely understand but at the same time, I feel like, you know, there’s a couple things going on here. Firstly, I don't think he anticipated that he was going to have this type of feeling for this person. And it's new for him and he's trying to do the best he can with what he has, I kind of feel like. And it's really difficult when you try to define what love means.

And I've had this with other partners that I've had before. Because I've actually disagreed with partners about who their partners are. Because I have had situations where in my perspective, if I was operating the same way as my partner was, this other person who I considered my metamour would be a full fledged “partner”, but in my partner's eyes, that person isn't a partner. 

So it's very difficult and this is one of the reasons why it's so important to talk about feelings and to talk about what a relationship is and how you define it and what it means. Because, you know, from your perspective, all of these strong bond things, you know, maybe you do feel with him but he still feels in his mind that it's not a primary connection, and that he wants to establish a primary connection with this person. 

So, you know, that is understandable, this kind of unsure feeling and sort of mismatch between the two of you of how you define love and relationships and romantic connections and all of this sort of stuff. And I agree that NRE is not going to help you. If you're listening to this and you don't know what NRE is: it means “new relationship energy”. 

And it's generally described as like the phenomenon of when your partner kind of starts dating someone new and they're like shiny and they kind of have all of these strong big emotions and sometimes it leads to your partner like kind of forgetting about you a little bit. Or you know, they get excited about a new relationship and then sometimes that excitement leads them into making decisions that are not nice or they they're a bit more impulsive, etc, and so forth. This doesn't really sound necessarily like a full on NRE  type of situation.

It kind of sounds like your relationship is being redefined. And I mean, in one way, it's a big shock and it's difficult, but in another way, he's being honest about what he wants. And he's being straightforward and he's letting you know that “Hey, I actually do want a primary connection and I want a primary connection with this person, and you won't be my primary and I will feel strongly for this person more so than I do for you”. 

And as callous as that may seem, the other option would be to like keep you along and maybe slowly like— not ghost you but like basically slowly spend less and less time with you. And then have you go, “Uh, hey, it kind of seems like you're more involved with this other person” and that would be a lot worse. Like, as callous as this may seem, he’s actually doing the right thing which is telling you that his his feelings have changed.

His definition of what he wants in life has changed which can happen. It's totally possible that people can within the process of meeting new people discover that they want something different in their life. That is a very big possibility. That can happen to anyone regardless of what relationship style they choose.

And it sucks and it's hard for you not to take that personally because it almost feels like, “Oh, why didn't he decide to do this with me?”. But there's any number of reasons why that could or couldn't have happened. I would do your best and this is very difficult, and it probably is going to require a little bit of therapy. Because it's hard not to take this kind of thing seriously— er personally.

It's hard not to feel like there is something that you could have done or to dwell on it. I totally would understand if this is really hard to process. When it comes to whether or not there is a point in de-escalation. I mean, there is no de-escalation. Your relationship has been effectively de-escalated already. There is… you know— he's already outright told you, “I’ve met someone new I feel really strongly for this person. I definitely want to have a primary connection with them. I'm going to be doing that. This is your disclosure, like I'm telling you”. 

And as much as that seems like he's kind of deciding your relationship for the both of you, that is kind of how it happens when somebody decides that they want something different in life and that they're going to go in another direction. I feel like from a certain perspective, he could have decided to end your relationship there. I don't know what the conversation was like and whether or not he just sort of said “Hey, guess what? You’re second place now. Big two thumbs up, I'm out of here.”

Or if there was a discussion about like, okay, how does your relationship go from here? And a question to you of— is this actually what you want? Because I've had situations… I had a situation not really like this, but I had a situation where basically, it was a de-escalation more or less. Like I was living with a partner and I decided that it probably wasn't good for us to live together anymore because it was creating a lot of problems within our relationship.

And I wanted to live on my own and I had to have a serious kind of, as we call it in the south a “come to Jesus” moment with myself and saying like, “Am I keeping him in my life because I don't want to break up and I don't want to be alone and I want to have this person who gives me attention and kindness and things like that? And is this actually what he wants?”

Because I'm effectively deciding that we shouldn't live together anymore because I don't want to anymore and I shouldn't be the one to have to decide for the both of us that that means that okay, our relationship will still continue. So we had a kind of talk, where I was like, “Look, I can't promise—“ because our relationship also de-escalated romantically. I stopped feeling as romantically for him as I used to.

And I had to be really honest with myself about that. And I wasn't going to be able to give him the same romantic attention because I didn't feel romantically for him. I was more than happy to accept, you know, being cuddled on and being loved on of course, but I had to have this moment where I was like, “Okay, am I really going to just put him in this kind of situation where I’ve decided that I don't want to live together anymore. I’ve had a situation where I don't feel as romantically towards him as I used to. Am I going to just basically kind of put him in my pocket and go like, Oh, but I'll keep you there because you're useful”. 

You know, that felt wrong. So we had a discussion and I had to be like, “Look, you know, we won't live together anymore. And I don't know if I feel as romantically involved with you. Is this what you want? Is this the type of relationship that you actually want?”

And we kind of broke up from that and it sucks, but sometimes, like I said, polyamory isn't a way to avoid a breakup. It isn't a way to collect a bunch of semi-sustaining, semi-fulfilling relationships until you reach a level of permissible stasis. It's not supposed to be this thing where you use it so that — okay, this relationship doesn't fill me up completely or this, you know, and it's difficult because we do all this sorts of stuff— we’re like, “no one person can meet everyone's needs” and blah, blah, blah, whatever.

Yeah, that's true. One person is not going to be able to meet every single damn need you have, of course, but a relationship should still actually be a sustaining relationship. And you shouldn't be using polyamory as a means to avoid breaking up or avoid having the conversations that you need to have or to keep someone in your back pocket and use them to gain attention and the things that you want from them without having to invest emotionally in a relationship.

And I think that some people do that and you know what, if it works for other people, and all parties are agreed it's not my business necessarily to try and police that situation and I have absolutely no interest in being the polyamory police. But in this situation, I think it's worth you thinking about is this what you want. He's made it very clear that you will be second place and some people are fine with that. Is that what you want?

Is that something that you are okay with? It doesn't really sound like it's something that you want. It sounds like you've already kind of felt second place because he hasn't actually given you the emotional attention that you would like in a relationship and it kind of sounds like you've been getting by on that, like you've been going okay, “Well, maybe it's because he's autistic. And I just have to accept it.”

Which by the way, you don’t. It’s totally valid, that he's autistic and maybe doesn't necessarily express his emotions in the same way other people do, and that's fine, but it's also okay for you to be like, “Actually, but I want someone who does express emotions in this particular way”. That doesn't make you a bad person. It just means that you both are kind of incompatible in what you want.

It's the same way as if you wanted to live in the country and he wanted to live in the city and neither one is necessarily the sign of a good or bad partner. Neither one of you are a good or bad person, but sometimes you just don't mesh and it does sound like you guys haven't really actually meshed in your relationship. You've actually wanted more emotional involvement, and he's not been able to give it.

And I totally get this because I've had almost exactly the same situation as well, where I had a partner and I just kind of assumed that they just weren't very expressive and so I kind of tolerated it. And then I saw them being expressive with somebody else. And that kind of just was a total kick in the stomach.

It really sucks to experience that and if you have experienced that in any way, I deeply deeply sympathise with you because there's nothing quite like the gut punch of your partner giving somebody else is something that you've been trying to get for a long time. People talk about jealousy. Nah. Jealousy is no big deal. Jealousy is a walk in the park compared to that feeling. So I very much hope you haven't had to experience that.

But it does sound like you guys haven't really been super compatible in the way that you wish that you were. And he's being quite bluntly honest with you. And granted, he's not deciding to end the entire relationship and I hope that he's asking you how you feel about things.

And I hope that there's a discussion here. Like obviously, there can't really be a compromise because he wants something. He's gonna go after what he wants, and that's fine. It doesn't mean he's evil or bad or that he's trying to hurt you. And I think you know that but it would be nice if there was a little bit you know… I understand autistic people. We don't always have the full like social graces of understanding.

But you do have to and you can learn even as an autistic person to be considerate and understanding of other people. So something he can take on for the future is that yeah, he may express himself in a very sort of straightforward way, and he may not be as emotionally expressive as other people.

But he could have said like, “Okay, this is what I want. This is how I'm gonna go about this. How do you feel? Do you want to continue in this relationship knowing that this is actually what I want going forward?” Because I kind of feel like the answer is probably “no” in this situation. And maybe he's kind of avoiding that. Because he knows the answer too.

Sometimes we do — autistic or not — avoid conversations where we know that it could eventually in the relationship if we actually have them. It sucks, but it is a human thing. So yeah, to sum up, I think I totally understand where he's coming from, from an autistic perspective. I totally also understand why you feel it's callous. 

I would invite you to, as difficult as it may be in your particular position right now, to understand that there are lots of situations where somebody is in the position of your partner, and they have decided to — instead of being honest with their partner about what they want — have hidden it and just tried to like, suppress it and ignore it until it all blows up in everyone's faces. 

And whether or not that would or wouldn't be more painful for you is not for me to decide. But in his credit, he is trying his best to try and be honest about his feelings and not hide them. Which is, at least in my opinion, somewhat of a good thing. I don't think this is about NRE, I think this is just a sudden shift in your relationship and that is really, really difficult.

And yeah, I don't think that there's a de-escalation process your relationship has been effectively de-escalated. It just comes down to whether or not you want this type of relationship. If you want to be in the second place in a hierarchy, some people don't mind and it's not up for me to judge if people don't mind, but some people do mind and if you do mind, then you know then you're incompatible.

It's not a case of one of you being bad or one of you not being enough for somebody not — you know, it's not that and it's going to feel that way and I definitely encourage you to seek a polyamory friendly therapist, to walk through some of this because it's totally understandable that this would be a shock and can be very difficult to process.

But I think that yeah, if this isn't what you want, and it sounds like it's not but it's up to you to decide, then you're not compatible anymore, unfortunately. And you kind of maybe should find someone who you're a little bit more compatible with in the future. I hope that helps and good luck.

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