Episode 130: Deprioritised

If you know you’re being deprioritised and you just feel you can’t leave, can you actually make it work.

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

Episode 130 - Deprioritised

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Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music.

Podcast transcript

I’m going through a rough patch with To give some context, I've been seeing the same person for almost a year and a half and we both are poly[am]. When we met he was saying he was "relationship anarchist" and I was new to poly[am] and was just trying to find someone I got along with. In this time he has gone into a hierarchical situation with another partner and I find myself conflicted with what's been happening. 

Their relationship has had their ups and downs and I feel like our relationship is always at the whim of what's happening with them. They had broken up over the summer and I was there for him through some pretty serious mental health crisis which created a more intimate connection between the two of us. 

However, now that they've decided to see each other again all the boundaries he told me they were under have been thrown aside and I'm back in a situation where they're main partners. He's told me that they’ve made a deal that they'll always prioritize each other over all other partners.

I find it difficult because I've already fallen for this person and can't just leave. The relationship is important to me and I want it to work. I've expressed my need for basic communication when we're apart and he promised me he would work on it. But now with the holidays I won't see him for 2+ weeks and I find it terribly difficult for myself. 

Our standard level of communication is minimal at best and I want to respect their space and their relationship, but it's just so difficult to find a way to do that without feeling needy. 

I know it's a lot to take in. But any sort of advice would be greatly appreciated as most of my friends have expressed they don't think he's worth my time and I deserve better.


So, unless you can accept that your relationship is going to be dictated by another relationship, there really isn't much you can do in this situation. Because I feel like he's telling you the truth about the situation and you're kind of ignoring it a little bit. I don't think it's great what he's doing, especially since he started off saying he's a relationship anarchist, and now he's in a hierarchical relationship.

But I mean, that sort of thing can happen and we all change our minds about stuff and it's not as if he's not allowed to change his mind about stuff. That's totally fine. And it does seem that he has kind of overtly told you that he and his partner, whoever this is, have agreed together that they will prioritize each other over all other partners.

So it's not as if he hasn't necessarily disclosed things to you. And it's not as if he's pretending to be a relationship anarchist when he's not. So he is putting everything all on the table. You're asking for more than he's necessarily capable of giving himself because now you're locked into a relationship that's being dictated by someone else.

So he can't really say for sure that he can increase your basic communication of what he already gives you now, because it's really going to depend on how his partner feels about it. And he can promise you to try and work on it, but that's really all that he can do. And unless you can find another relationship and be okay with the current state of the way this relationship is, I don't necessarily see anything changing about this situation. And I think whether or not he's worth your time really depends on what you expect out of this relationship.

Because at this point, if you expect any more, then you're not gonna get any more, I don't believe. I think as much as I understand where your friends are coming from, and I do feel like he is maybe trying to soothe the situation by promising things instead of being maybe a little bit more blunt than he should. I mean, I'm not quite sure how he told you about some of these things. But he could be a little bit more blunt. Like when you ask for stuff like, “Oh, I want more communication”.

He could be very blunt and say, “Listen, I'm prioritizing this relationship over others. So if I can communicate any more then I will communicate more, but at this point, this is the level of communication that is okay for what I am doing right now”. And it doesn't really seem like you're kind of putting the responsibility where it lies as well because this isn't about respecting their relationship. Really.

It's about the fact that he has made a decision and he's a grown adult. He’s not a child. He’s not been coerced. This other person may be dictating part of your relationship but so is he because he's making the active choice to prioritise his relationship with this other person over you. He is making that choice and it's very easy in situations like this, to shift the blame.

And in this case, a lot of people when they do this, tend to shift the blame to the metamor. But in this case, you're shifting the blame kind of to yourself. You're kind of making it seem like making requests is you being needy, but it's not really you being needy. At the end of the day, you have your needs and you have the things that you want, and maybe you're not okay with being deprioritised like this.

Maybe you need more communication. There isn't necessarily anything wrong with that, just like there isn't necessarily anything wrong with them trying to prioritise their relationship if that's what they want to do. So long as they're honest about it. I do feel like he could be a little bit more forthright from the way that you've described things. Maybe he has been but I feel like he could be very, very forthright with you and say, “This is going to be how our relationship will be from here on out. I don't foresee there being any change in it.”

And just being straight up with you about that. Because I kind of feel like, if I were in his situation, and I knew for sure that I was going to prioritise another relationship – and this doesn't even have to be a romantic relationship. Like let's say for example, that I had a child and I was getting, you know, dating someone who was requesting more and more of my time, I could understand. That doesn't make the request wrong.

And it doesn't make me wrong for wanting to prioritise my child. Now obviously that's a little bit of a different situation, but the decisions that we make and decide to prioritise are our own decisions to make. In the exact same way that if he decided to prioritize his career, and he was going to stay late at the office for three nights a week, and he wasn't going to be available for dinner. He can bluntly say, “Listen, I'm prioritising my career. And so these times I'm going to be staying late and I won't be available”.

Or he can be like, “Oh, I'll try to make it. I'll try to make it. I'll try to make–” That's not really a helpful way to manage the situation. And in that situation, if you were the partner trying to get him to come and have dinner with you and come home on time and whatever, you could blame the workplace. You could say, this, that, the other thing, that– but at the end of the day, he is taking responsibility for his decisions. 

I don't know if he's taking full enough responsibility to be as blunt with you or straightforward with you as he could. And he could make it very, very clear to you what time you're going to be able to have and what time you're not going to be able to have. But that is sometimes quite difficult for a lot of people to do because they don't want to disappoint other people. They don't want to feel bad. 

So they make promises or they say “Oh, I'll try” and it's not really actually what the other person you know– it keeps the other person kind of hanging on but on the other hand, you are kind of hanging on because you keep blaming yourself. You keep assuming that there's some way to adjust your own personal needs to fit the situation. And if you can rethink this situation, it seems kind of like maybe you want this to be, not necessarily a primary situation, but you want more emotional involvement from him. 

And if you can readjust your expectations then you could stay in this situation. But be real honest with yourself if you can do that, because they're basically like three different things that you can do when it comes to another adult person's behavior. One is you can accept it and realise that this is the price of admission of this relationship of being around this person.

And when you accept it, that doesn't mean you hold grudges about it or you're upset about it. I mean, you accept it. The other thing that you can do is ask for it to change which it sounds like you have asked for it to change. And then the last thing you can do is walk away from the situation.

Those are really the only three things that you can do to manage another grown adult's behaviour. You can't adjust your own personal needs. And I mean, you can accept it. If that's something you can do, but you can't necessarily – like if this is a need, if you're not getting what you need out of this relationship, there is a risk by going “Oh, maybe I can just accept it”, that you're kind of ignoring your needs.

So you can only kind of know. Your needs can change. You can adjust your needs. If and when – like maybe you meet somebody else, maybe you decide, “Okay, this is not going to be a relationship I can get a lot of time out of. Mentally, I'm going to say this is a one date night a week and then I'm going to go pursue another relationship.” Like you can do that. But if you're expecting the situation to change, I think that you are going to be very disappointed and as much as you feel like you can't leave because you’ve fallen for this person. 

The bitterness and the frustration and the resentment that you eat that will grow from you wanting something that you can't have is eventually going to overtake any love that you feel in this situation. So I think that you need to take him at his word and take him at his actions. Understand that your relationship will be deprioritised. Your relationship will not be as much of a concern for him as this other relationship and he's… it sounds like he's been honest with you about that. 

So is that what you really want in this situation? Can you deal with that? Because it's not to say that you know it's about deserving better or whether or not it's worth your time. It really depends on what you're happy with. There are lots of people who only see one partner once every three months. There are some people who are monogamous, who don't even live together and they only see their partner once every five weeks or something like that.

There are people who have partners they speak to every single day. There are people who have partners they only speak to every other week. There's lots of different ways to have relationships. And it's not to say that every single relationship has to have the same time that you spend on it. However, it really depends on your own personal needs and what you expect out of this because the problem here isn't necessarily that you are doing something that is below your worth or something like that, because I don't think that kind of framing really helps the situation.

The problem is that you want more from this relationship than your partner can give and it would be nicer if – it would be harsher – but nicer if he would just be straightforward with you and be like “This is all you're getting. So if you're not happy with this, then maybe we need to split up”. But instead he's sort of going, “I’ll try to work on it. I’ll try to work on it”. Maybe you can have a discussion about time spent and have some etched out time because even though he's prioritising this other relationship, that doesn't mean he can't prioritise you in any way. 

So it's just the same for if we're in a monogamous relationship, and we have friendships like yeah, we might you know– if our partner calls us, we might cancel something with a friend. But equally sometimes we might cancel something with a partner for a friend who is going through something. So do you have dedicated time scheduled together? Is that a time – can they agree on the fact that the time you spend together doesn't get interrupted unless there's an emergency situation? Can he agree to those basic things like is there some type of happy medium? And can you accept that this relationship is going to be deprioritised?

Like can you accept that on a deeper level? And if you can accept that and if you can agree on some time and if he actually puts his money where his mouth is in terms of his actions and follows through, then I think that, you know, it could be a doable situation. You have to agree on some basic time agreements and space agreements and things like that. 

And you also have to be willing to ask for what you need without worrying about feeling “needy” or whatever that means, because at the end of the day, if he can't meet the needs that you have, this relationship is going to end anyway. So either it ends because you're so frustrated and angry and resentful that the love between you dies a slow and painful death or it ends because you asked for what you want.

He tells you he can't give you that and you decide to walk away. So it's kind of up to you which ending you would rather have if that's the case. Always be straightforward with what you need. If what you need– It's not about “needy” or not. What one person needs is very little to another person. It's so individual. 

For some people, they have very deep needs and some people are very happy to meet very deep needs. Some people have very little needs and it depends on the relationship also as well. So it's not a simple case of being needy or not, but you have to ask for what you want, if you want to get it. Otherwise in any relationship: friendship, romantic relationship – doesn't matter. If you don't put forward what you want. If you don't ask for it, then you run the risk of just ending up being unhappy, bitter, resentful, frustrated, and trust me because this was me all over. 

Years ago. Me all over. Too scared to have any – I was not scared to have conflict because conflict I could like, angry yelling conflict I was super prepared for however, I was not prepared for the idea of conflict that could be repaired. Conflict that was productive and actually important. I just thought all conflict– anytime me and my partner had an argument we were going to break up. That's what I thought. So a lot of times I would not ask for what I want because – and I would try to manipulate situations not and – not try to manipulate people, not in an evil way.

But I would try to fix it so that I got what I wanted without having to ask for it and that made me so fucking miserable. Like I can't even begin to convey how much of a bad idea that was and but it was because I had no other confidence within myself. I was afraid of scaring people away. I was afraid, you know, and I had lots of good reasons for being afraid. So I'm not saying you don't have good reasons for being afraid, you know, that it's not scary to put your needs out there. It's extremely scary. 

You're being extremely vulnerable when you ask for what you need. Because someone could say no. And then when they say no, then you definitely have your answer and then you have to deal with the consequences of that. So it's scary. But you have to do it because the only other option like – unless you can magically like alter your needs to magically fit somebody else's perfect situation, which I very, very much doubt. Unless you can change that which most people can't, it just ends up being so much more painful and so much more difficult and all this time that you end up spending on someone trying to get what you need is wasted because you could be spending it with someone who doesn't think you're needy in the slightest. 

So please ask for what you need. See if you can set out some cut out times. Accept that this is going to be a deprioritised relationship. So even if you have time scheduled together, he may cancel it if his partner needs him because he has told you – explicitly it seems like – that this other relationship will be prioritised and are you okay with that on a deeper level? Ask yourself if you're okay with that. If you can be okay with that. If you're okay with like one night a week is your date night and that's all you get. And the level of communication right now is all you get. If you can adapt to that then maybe this can work while you go out and find another relationship. 

But again, like I've always said, polyamory is not about avoiding breakups. Polyamory is not about finding, you know, all like minimal satisfying relationships until you reach a level of permissible stasis. That's not what it's about. It's not about like, “Oh, this person, you know”. We do that sort of like, “One person can't meet all your needs”. So you have to do this weird like Pokémon thing with polyamory and really the relationships that you have with people… it's no different than friendships at the end of the day.

You don't have – you know, you may have one friend where you really like to go see horror films together and then you have another friend who doesn't like horror films at all, but you guys like going to get your nails done or whatever. Like I'm just making up but you don't necessarily like – if you have a friendship where this person who only ever wants to party and you hate partying you don't keep that friendship, force yourself to go partying and then try to find other friendships where you actually enjoy what you're doing with them. 

That's not what you do. But yeah, sometimes that's what people end up doing in polyamory. They don't want to break up so they just have this relationship that is not only not meeting their needs, but it's dissatisfying and makes them unhappy. And then they tried to sort of like top up with other people and it just doesn't – just don't do that. Is this a satisfying relationship for you all things staying the same? Maybe you have scheduled time but that scheduled time will always be deprioritised.

If it has to be, are you happy with that? Are you okay with that? Can you deal with that? Or is that something which is not okay for you? And I think that if you can answer that question, then you know what the deal is? And the other thing that I want to say that I think you should explore with a therapist is that it – really I understand. I take things very literally and maybe you don't mean this very literally. But it really concerns me when people feel like they can't just leave.

I totally understand and I have honestly been the king, queen, president, prime minister, whatever you want to call it, of staying in a situation and trying to make it work way past when I should have. I totally understand. I don't give up easily. And I absolutely do understand not wanting to give up easily and I'm certainly not a fan of the way that people kind of blasé like “oh dump him dump himblah blah blah” you know. 

I'm not on the Always Dump the MF camp. However, I do think that if you are in a situation where you are telling yourself that you can't leave, not that I think that you're in any physical danger. But I do think that's worth exploring. Because I do think that on some level, even if we want to stay and make it work with somebody, we should always feel like we have the power to leave situations that do not serve us, even if we don't want to leave the situation. It kind of worries me a little bit that you've said “I can't just leave”. 

Maybe I'm reading into it too much. Maybe it's you know, I'm literally taking it way too literally. Whatever. But if you feel like you're either afraid to be alone, and it's understandable. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but I would explore that a little bit with a therapist because I've been in situations – not necessarily situations where I've been afraid to be alone. Because that's not really been my issue. It's more like I don't want to give up. I want to make things work.

But I do think that it's not always a great feeling to be stuck somewhere. It feels much worse to put so much energy – like a sunk cost fallacy. To put so much energy into a situation because you're just trying to make it work. And you could be putting the energy into yourself. You could be putting the energy into another relationship with someone who actually wants to prioritise you.

So really, really think about and explore that with a therapist because it's not that I think you should be like, “Well, I can leave this anytime” or that it's bad to work on a situation or it's bad to not want to leave. But I hope that you feel that you have the power to leave situations that don't serve you and that you feel like you can, as difficult as it may be, leave situations – even with someone that you feel strongly for – that are really not serving you.

It may take you a while but please really think about that. So yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

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