Episode 16: Just Deal With It

Your partner has told you that they want to sleep with other people and expects you to just deal with it.

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Listen below. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.


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 not sure who to talk to about this, but my anxiety levels have been skyrocketing recently and I'm trying to understand how I should be feeling. I've been dating a girl for about 3 months, and it has been a very intense 3 months. We both completely fell in love with each other. She just moved to Japan for 5 months, and made it clear that she will be sleeping with other people. I've never done anything like this before, and I'm having an extremely difficult time with it.

Her ex boyfriend has stayed at her house, she's seeing other guys constantly, and we talk about it and I don't know how to deal with it. I'm trying to not let jealousy ruin our relationship, but I'm not sure if it's just jealousy. I can't tell if I should be completely ok with this situation or not. I just need some advice on how to navigate this. I feel incredibly alone and disconnected from her, and I feel like she expects me to just be completely ok with it. Anyways, I appreciate any feedback or advice you can give me.


So the first thing that I have to say is this doesn't sound like a mutual decision. Like you say that you've been together for 3 months. She's moved to Japan for 5 months and she made it clear that she will be sleeping with other people. I think fear is totally normal for most people. Even people who are like “Yes I want to be non monogamous. I want to do this.” Even people who have actually had a history of cheating will find that their partners or anyone they’re with, dating other people sends them into a huge amount of anxiety and I think that's quite normal. And I don't think… I think people often mistake that for jealousy and I don't think it always is jealousy.

I think it's just a fear you know that your partner is dating someone else and you might lose them which is really really understandable. But the thing that I kind of advise people to focus on is what they get out of non monogamy and why either they feel it's inherent who they are or they feel they chose it. And the thing that I'm kind of missing here is it doesn't really seem like you've chosen it. It just sort of seems like she said “I’m going to Japan and I'm going to sleep with other people” which she's allowed to do but I don't know why it is that you've accepted that.

It just seems like you haven't really talked this decision through. I mean I can see a situation where I like… you know you have an intense 3 months together and she's going away for 5 months and that’s, you know it's not necessarily… especially if you've had a really, really good relationship, it's not necessarily a reason to break up. I mean 5 months is a long time but it isn’t a long time. And you know you can always come to an agreement where you say, “Ok, for the 5 months that we’re part you can do whatever and then what happens after that”.  I'm not really sure if this non-monogamy that she's decided she's going to do is because she's in Japan or because this is the way she wants to do relationships. I mean there's a lot of unanswered questions here and that's probably the source of a lot of your anxiety.

I think even if you even if you were totally up for non monogamy, you know her expecting that you are ok with it also it is not helping. It's only adding to the situation. And so I think that would be first thing that you really need to figure out is… and this might be quite difficult because you've only been together for 3 months. That's not really necessarily a long time to start making big life decisions or when to say “Are we going to be together for the next year?” But it would be good to have a discussion and and talk more about if this non-monogamy is a temporary situation or permanent situation. If it's only a temporary situation then you could kind of have what's called the “don't ask don't tell agreement” which a lot of people don't really consider ethical for understandable reasons. But I think in your situation, if you’re struggling to hear about all the people that she may be with and you don't need to hear that information because you don't see her, you necessarily need to hear that information.

But even then, I think the struggle that you're going to have is one that I think all long-distance people have. When you’re long-distance with someone, even if you’re monogamous, it puts a strain on the relationship. Because a lot of people need that daily reconnection and I do think that long distance relationships, regardless of whether you’re non-monogamous or not, in order to feel connected with your partner I think you really need to set time aside and you really need to say, “Alright, Tuesday's is the day we call each other in and we have a lot of phone date”. That seems really arbitrary and sometimes a little bit forced but I do think that especially with long distance situation where you don't have the presence of that person, it really shows that you have that kind of commitment towards one another.

But there's so many unanswered questions for you here. Like you know, what are you to her? What are her… You know, she is going to Japan for 5 months but what happens after that? It's very very understandable for you to be afraid and I think that it will help you to be a little bit easier on yourself and for her to be a little bit easier on you like… I'm not sure what you mean by “she expects me to just be completely ok with it”. Because if you agree to a situation and that's why it like… asking based on permission can be really really tricky. If she said “I’m going to be sleeping with other people. Are you ok with that?” and you said “Yes,” than it can then be quite difficult when you do struggle with it because it can feel like you've kind of already given permission. That expectation that that person has when you say “Yes I am ok with it” maybe isn't you know… It can be quite tricky. Because, yes you were ok with it in the moment when it was just a concept but when it became reality it became a lot more difficult for you to cope with, which is understandable. But it's still creates a kind of difficulty in managing that.

I don't think that it’s just jealousy. I don't think that anyone, even if they are totally au fiat with non-monogamy and I'm not really sure you are… Like you don't really say, “Yeah I'm interested in non-monogamy. This is where I want my life to go. This is what I'm interested in”. You don't really say if it's a temporary situation or if this is how she permanently wants to do things. Even if you were in either situation, whether you're ok with it being temporary or you're totally on board for non-monogamy for the rest of the conceivable time that you are together, it will still be quite normal for you to be scared and especially with that long distance and that lack of communication and that inherent feeling.. There's always gonna be that inherent imbalance in between you two because you can't see each other and you're always going to feel… I definitely think it situations where you have a long-distance partner and they have someone that they can see, you’re gonna feel… like you are going to feel a bit of jealousy in that situation because that person can see your partner and you can’t.

I think quite often jealousy gets used in this way in polyamory advice where it seems like it's never an acceptable reaction to something when, you know, in my opinion, and I get quite pedantic about it sometimes, jealousy is wanting something that someone else has. And if these people have, you know, access to your partner, whether they can stay the night, whether they can see your partner all the time, you know that… You want that. You want what they have and that's a completely 100% understandable thing to want and then to feel jealous over.

And the way you deal with that is by having a partner that’s understanding and empathetic to that. And you have a partner that is willing to show you that you matter to them by setting aside time, if that's what makes you… it depends on what makes you feel worthy to someone. Does it help to set aside time? Does it help for them to tell you how much… you know a little email saying “Oh I just thought of you today” or something like that. It really depends on you and what makes you feel valued by someone and I think that's worth exploring.

But I think before any of all this, to kind of sum up like… I think you need to figure out what the agreement is. Is this temporary? Is this permanent? I'm a little bit concerned. I don't know if things happened exactly the way you say it where she literally just said “I’m going to be sleeping with other people”. The end. And I mean I guess that's direct communication but at the same time it just seems a little, you know… It's not to say that you necessarily should control what she does and I'm not trying to say that, but I kind of feel like saying… you know… I mean when you put your cards on the table like that and say “This is what I'm going to do”, you know at that point you can say “I’m not comfortable with that. The end of the relationship is here”.

Having a discussion with someone about a choice that you want to make can sometimes feel like it's about permission and I think that can be really tricky. Because I don't like giving permission and I really I do think that whenever people are put in a position by someone that they really care for or they’re interested in to give permission they’re going to want to yes. They’re not going to want to say no.

So generally speaking you are going to be compelled to say yes, especially if it means that the relationship might end. But I just feel like there's a way that it can be handled that is a better balance, rather than just saying “I’m going to be sleeping with other people” and then specially afterward, the fact that you say that she kind of expects you to be ok with it. It's one thing to sort of set things out and tell your partner “This is a decision I'm going to make. It's my life and making this decision” and then to just expect that they should be fine with it, especially such a big change, and not be willing to invest kind of the emotional reassurance and the time it takes to help you cope with the difference that this has for you… I'm a little bit worried about that.

I think that you should really ask yourself if this is the kind of approach you want to these types of situations. Whether or not you end up non-monogamous or not, like maybe it is just a temporary thing while she's in Japan and maybe you can deal with it for 5 months and then she comes back. Regardless of whether or not you're into or not into non-monogamy, her behaviour in this instance has really demonstrated the way that she's gonna handle things and if this is the way that she handles this, how is she going to handle other big decisions in the life that you may envision yourself having with her? And I think that's something that's really worth thinking about.

Figure out with the agreement is. Like I said, I know it's only 3 months in. It's hard to be like, “Oh I plan on marrying you”. You’re probably not at that stage but having an idea of what it is that she's thinking. Why has she chosen this? Is a temporary? Is it not? Getting more clarity on that I think would help your anxiety a little bit.

I think you need to give yourself permission and she needs to give you permission to be afraid especially so early in this relationship. You're only 3 months in. You like each other, yeah, and you’ve got a lot of new relationship energy going on but you haven't yet established your full familiarity with each other. You're building trust and yeah we give people the benefit of the doubt when we get to know them and we trust them but that doesn't mean that it's not scary. And it's a very scary position for you to be put in or for her to be put in as well when you're just starting off in a relationship.

You’re just getting to know each other. You’re just starting to build trust. You’re just starting to get used to it and then to have this major thing happen. You need to be a little bit more forgiving. Cause this would be a very difficult thing for even people who have spent 25 years together and are just trying this and have loads and loads of trust as well a mortgage and children together like… this is a huge thing to try. It's not easy and it's a big change and it requires a little bit of patience on both your part. You with yourself and her with you.

The thing that I always kind of cling to whenever I am having a lot of panic and fear that my partner is going to leave me… first thing that I try to remind myself is there's absolutely nothing I can do the control that. And that's a really terrifying thing to think about. There's nothing I can do to keep… Because I think my brain, especially with anxiety, always tries to convince me that if I do this you know… It's kind of like the remnants of OCD. It’s kinda like “If you do this, you can stop this from happening. If you compulse, you can stop this terrible thing from happening” in your brain and I think it carries over. If I am the perfect partner and if I make sure that I do this or that than you know I can prevent someone from leaving me and it's just not true. And it's scary to think that but I think it also can be quite liberating. So I do think that that's really helpful to cling to whenever you're having all this anxiety.

But the other thing that's really helpful to cling to is what you get out of non-monogamy. There are some people who feel like non-monogamy for them is an orientation. I don't necessarily feel like it's an orientation for me, but I do feel like it's a choice and it's a purposeful choice that I've made for a good reason. And I cling to that whenever I feel anxious. I remember “Ok I chose this because I know that I don't want monogamy for these reasons” and that's just something that I go back to.

And the thing I worry about here is that if you haven’t chosen this and it's just been something that's been pushed up on you, it's going to be really hard for you to figure out what the purpose is. But I don't think that exploring that is necessarily bad because it might be that you look at the situation and you go “Right, I’ve known this person with three months. We do have a really good connection”. You can have that connection with other people. And it might be genuinely worth exploring the idea of is it worth it? Is it worth this anxiety if it's a temporary situation for 5 months? Is it worth all of this?

That's not a question I can answer for you. That’s a question you have to answer for yourself. But I do think if… you know, exploring what you get out of non-monogamy or what you don't get out of it is really going to help you figure out… Either help you have something to tether to when you are having a lot of anxiety to remind yourself of or help you figure out the maybe this situation isn't for you. Maybe non-monogamy isn’t for you and that's ok.

It can be not something that you want to deal with. And I remind people like… breaking up and having a relationship not work out isn't it failure. It isn't necessarily reflective of a failure on anyone's part and even though it really sucks, you can have two people who absolutely love each other and who are perfect for each other in multiple ways but there's a very fundamental incompatibility that they just can't get past. That there is no compromise on. And I do think that some people can compromise with non-monogamy. But some people just can’t.  It’s just not something they’re into. It’s not something they want to do. When they try it devastates them and that’s legitimate. And that's fine. But like I said that's a question that you unfortunately have to answer it for yourself. It’s not a question that I can answer for you.

That's that's kind of like… the best thing that I can say in response to this is just… you know, like I said, figure out with the direction is and figure out if that's the direction that you want to go in. I hope that helps and good luck.

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