Episode 21: Walking on Eggshells

A metamour’s temper has this individual walking on eggshells. Is it because they aren’t doing enough?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. We’re also introducing discussion topics this week.

Discussion Topic - What negative character flaws do you fear other people see in you?

Listen to Episode 21. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers.

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


Recently I’ve been venturing into the world of polyamory. My partner, let’s call him Darren, has been with his partner for a little less than a year. Their relationship seemed very stable and everyone met and we had discussions about communication and boundaries and were working on strengthening our relationship as a couple. Darren and his partner had hopes of having a kitchen table poly[am] relationship and so we were all very open with each other.

Darren and I were out in the community as a couple. We would all go out on very public dates, or I would go on dates with them separately (most dates were with Darren of course). We had also opened our relationship up to the possibility of us all seeing each other romantically but each of his girlfriends preserving our individual relationships with him as well.

My relationship with Darren has been about 4 months long and to say our feelings have been heavily involved is an understatement. I definitely love him, we exchange I love yous fairly regularly, and I care deeply about his partner because he loves her as well. However, jealousy has been an issue that has started to plague our relationship.

Recently Darren’s partner has been struggling with how fast our relationship has progressed, which makes perfect sense, but led us to a standstill with some confusion on how to proceed without hurting her feelings. But, unfortunately it’s been hard on me, I’m not sure if I am overthinking.

Darren and I spend one day a week together and the other 6 days he lives with her. They get to go on fun trips together and take time of from work together to do exciting things. But the idea of him taking time off to do things in our relationship is clearly a stressful thought for him. On social media they are out and I feel like the same level of sensitivity for my feelings isn’t really applied, if he even felt comfortable to post about me (which I feel like he isn’t, and for other reasons than even just her feelings).

I feel words would be chosen selectively to protect her feelings. And I surely don’t feel comfortable posting anything about him for fear of hurting her feelings. But, I really feel he fears rocking the boat with his primary partner and that is understandable, I am very fearful of that as well. I don’t think they have veto power but I also would hate to find out, so I avoid triggering her. But I also feel as though my feelings are rarely taken into consideration.

I’ve been as open with Darren as I could be with my feelings. But I am also not sure if I have any right to feel this hurt. I know he loves me and wants to spend time with me. I just feel like my feelings get hurt a lot trying to protect her feelings, the partner who already has a lot of privilege and opportunities to be out and enjoy a relationship without any rules or boundaries placed upon it. If that makes sense?

I’ve been wondering if I should be pushing a relationship with someone who doesn’t put concern into my feelings as much as his other partner? The hardest part is Darren does try to address my issues but I feel like the bottom line is I feel like the fact that I have emotions and that my feelings can and have been hurt is not something that is thought about as much as it would be for his primary.

Am I overthinking this situation? I feel like I am complaining about something that I should just be appreciative for because he does give me his undivided affection and time and love when he is with me. But that’s not often, which is okay. I deeply appreciate any and every day I spend with him. It’s just most of the time I’m trying to make sure that I am not flying off an emotional roller coaster when something happens that hurts my feelings, and just constantly reminding myself that it’s okay because he loves me and cares about me.

Telling myself that this is what happens when you are involved in a relationship where someone has a partner who is their primary concern? But am I wrong in justifying this behavior, or is it silly that I keep allowing myself to feel like I only matter part of the time.


So, first I'm going to say, I'm really really sorry you’re going through this because it does really seem crappy to have to police all of your behaviours and just feel so watched. It sounds like a really intense situation.

The first big thing that I want to say-- and I think that your story is a big reason why people think that hierarchy is bad. And it's not necessarily inherently bad in and of itself, it's the way that people behave in hierarchy such as this situation with Darren that is the problem. The first thing is that your metamour or Darren’s primary partner is really not your responsibility. And this sounds really really cold and I get that because you are an empathetic person and you obviously don't want to hurt her feelings but it really shouldn't be. And I know that if Darren wants this kitchen table polyam thing… It's just that you need to be able to step back and not take emotional responsibility for something that you shouldn't be responsible for.

You can't be the one to manage Darren’s relationship. Darren needs to step up and manage whatever is going on with his primary partner and not blame them. Which is what he’s doing. He’s kind of telling you about her feelings— unless you can see her reacting— you really should know because it's not your concern. And if he only has you to talk to about it, then he needs to find a therapist. He really shouldn't be involving you in this because it's not something that you can control and it's also not really fair on his primary partner for you to know so much about this situation.

A lot of people have flare ups with jealousy. A lot of people have problems dealing with anxiety that non-monogamy can cause and sometimes it's made worse by everybody knowing that. I think, in situations where I've reacted really poorly and have not really done the best I could do and didn't manage my anxiety very well, the last thing I would want is for the person— my partner to go and tell someone else that I'm not feeling well. That wouldn't help the situation. How does that help me? I get that you care and I'm not saying that that’s a bad thing.

You don't have to be involved in it. You can care, but you being involved in… you can control any of that you know. Involving you in that is not really fair so it's not really your responsibility. It really isn't your responsibility how… and this person should dictate your relationship.

I have a hierarchical structure and that is because… that is less about the deciding who dictates my relationships because nobody dictates my relationships. I dictate my relationships. I make decisions and I step up and I say that I've made those decisions and I have a hierarchy purely to communicate to people the time and energies that I have, because I don't have infinite time and energy. I can love as many people as you know whatever but I don't have infinite time and infinite energy and that's really what the hierarchy is about for me and that works and that's fine. And I actually find that is easier for me because it communicates to me clearly what's going on in this situation.

What's happening here is not a fault of the hierarchy. What's happening here is that Darren is, for whatever reason, there's some stuff going on in his relationship with his primary. She's struggling and that's fine. I'm not saying that she's a terrible person for struggling. She may very well have a lot of feelings and that isn't really something that you can fix. It's not necessarily even something that Darren can completely fix. But he should not be involving you in that because you double-y can’t fix it. You're not in a relationship with her and maybe one day you could be in a relationship with her but even if you were, it's not really fair.

I mean imagine if you had two friends and they didn't get along or, you know, you had a best friend and your best friend came to you and said, “Oh you know I’d really love to hang out with you but my other friend just really doesn't like you”. Why would your friend tell you something like that? What can you do? That just puts you in a very awkward position because it's like you can’t manage this other person and whether or not they like you. And putting that responsibility on your shoulders isn’t really fair and that's what's causing you all this hurt.

It’s like you feel like you have to police your behaviours to make her feel better and nobody's caring about you. And that's not her fault. That’s Darren’s fault. Darren is not managing the situation. Now if he needs to cancel a date or he can't go somewhere because she's having a bad time and he wants to focus on her for a certain period of time, he can do that, but he needs to be able to communicate that in a way where he is owning that, not blaming it on the hierarchy or blaming it on his partner.

He needs to be able to clearly say to you, “I can't do this right now because I have to manage this situation”. He doesn't have to give you the details. But he can make it clear that that's the decision that he's making and own it. And he isn't doing that precisely because of what you are getting at eventually in your letter when you say that “I have been wondering if I should be pursuing a relationship with someone who doesn't put concern into my feelings as much as other partner”. He knows damn well that he's doing this. I mean maybe he doesn't consciously know but he knows that he's choosing one person over the other and instead of being upfront about that and allowing you to say, “Ok well I don't know if I want to be part of this,” he's spreading the emotional responsibility on to you which makes you feel like you have to do something to fix the situation and you can’t.

You cannot fix the situation. You’re not her therapist. You're not her partner at present and even if you were her partner, it wouldn't be fair for you to feel responsibility for fixing the relationship between the two of them. That's just not something that you are responsible for and it's really really unfair for Darren to put you in that position, whether he intends to do that or whether he doesn't intend to do that. So someone failing to meet your needs isn't a problem of hierarchy but I do think— And I will say here that you are really selling yourself short in this situation. Like you have the right to have feelings and you have a very, very low bar as to what you expect from this person.

Like you say “I should just be appreciative because he does give me his undivided attention and time in love when he is with me”. That's what he damn well should do. That’s what a partner should do. You don't want a partner who doesn't give you their undivided attention and time and love. You only see him one day a week and you admit that's not often enough for you but you came off— “That’s OK because I just I appreciate every day I spend with him”. What is… like… Is he Jesus? Why is… He doesn't have… He is just… And I know you love him I'm not trying to diss him or anything but like you get one day a week with this guy and you're just grateful for that?

Listen to the situation that you're in. You get one day a week with him. You can’t post about it on social media. You have to tip toe egg shell across everything because it’s somehow your responsibility to manage this other person's emotions and you know… you're grateful for scraps. This is scraps that you're getting. Some people are fine with one day a week. There are some people who are like, “You know what? I hate people. I don't want you in my house. I don't wanna be around you that much. If I'm around anyone for that much I'm done. One day a week is good”. That's good for some people. It doesn't sound like it's good enough for you.

It sounds like you are being influenced by love and influenced by how strongly you feel that you're just taking what little you're given. I don't know what your background is. I know in the past for me personally because I've been a really horrible life situations and because I've dealt with so many shitty relationships in my life that one of my first relationships I thought it was great because he didn't hit me or call me names. And that's just sad. Sometimes when you're given very little, you learn how to deal with it and you try and convince yourself that that is some gift.

You know there's a previous episode if you go back into the one about gold medals, I talk about giving someone a gold medal for something they should be doing. You know you're giving him a lot of credit for what he should damn well be doing anyway. So stop selling yourself short. You don't deserve to be in a relationship with someone were you have to tip toe across everything and that's not a consequence of a being with someone who has a primary partner. That's not what a primary partner is. I mean, that's what the way some people behave and I can see why some people don't like hierarchy if this is how the majority of people with the hierarchy act like.

This isn't about… You know a hierarchy doesn't have to be about “this person gets to overrule everything”. If someone's going to behave that way, they can at least cop to it and he's not copping to it. So not only does he have a hierarchy were clearly his primary’s emotions and needs are valued more by him than yours but he's not even going to be upfront about that. And he's not even willing to clearly communicate that to you so you're a left in this weird limbo where you feel you're responsible for managing this other person's emotions.

Where you have to tip toe on eggshells around everything and make sure you don't offend anybody because even though she doesn't supposedly have veto power, she may as well have. But if he’s always going to make you a part of that and if he's always clearly going choose her over… And I'm not saying he's like evil because you know he may very well be unsure of what to do if his partners like, “I really don't want you to go out.” But that is a situation that needs to be worked on by them.

I've been in that situation. I've been in… I did not want my partner to go out sometimes and I felt really really jealous and really really upset but I'll tell you one thing. It doesn't go away by you ca— if you give it an inch, it’ll take a mile. But that's a separate thing. I could totally give you your metamour advice on this podcast about how to manage jealousy, but it's not about her. And it’s not fair that everything that's about you gets to be about her too. And he needs to manage that and the fact that he’s not managed that is bad regardless of how much love… That’s great that he loves and cares for you but he has to behave like that.

You can't just… Someone caring about you and loving you is not enough in and of itself to sustain a relationship. People can love each other very very much and feel intensely for someone and still be very bad at relationships. I had people who treated me like shit who told me they loved me all the damn time. It doesn't matter. He needs to behave in a way that shows his love rather than just saying it and just giving you undivided attention is what he should damn well be doing. Okay? So…

What you need to do from now on is… number one. You need to stop concerning yourself with your metamour’s feelings and I know that sounds cold and it sounds a bit cruel but the thing of it is, is that you can not fix it. Okay? There is no point in you being so concerned about her feelings when you can't fix it and it's not your responsibility to fix. It's not fair. And it’s not fair of him and you also need to stop allowing him to make it your concern. If you need to say to him like, “Listen, I get that you're having issues but I really don't want to know the details of what's going on in this relationship because I then feel responsible for policing my words and I don't want to feel that. I want to be free, just as she does, to say whatever I'd like socially, publicly and to behave the way that I like. And if she has hurt feelings based on that then I really feel like that something that you need to manage.”

You need to put up some boundaries and make it very clear. Do not allow him to make it your concern. If he needs to find someone to talk to about this relationship, he needs to get a therapist. You're not his therapist. You're not their couples therapist and you need to not allow yourself to be made into that.

Now you said yourself he's clearly prioritising his partner's feelings over your feelings and you need to decide what you're going to do if that continues. So you can identify that with him now. You can say like, “Look you know, we have one— I have one day a week”. Figure out what it is that you want. Do you want to go out on these outings that they go out on? Identify things that he does with her that you also want to do with him. Now obviously there's twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week. You know, he has to divide his time and he has to manage his time and he may not have the time or the energy to give to other people.

If he doesn't have the time and energy to give to other people, he needs to be clear about that with any other partner he has so that they can make the decision without having to learn it the hard way. But he needs to manage his time. So you need to just be really clear about what it is that you want and you need to stop accepting scraps. Are you fine with once a week? You said it's not often but it's okay. Is it okay? Is it really okay? Figure out what's your ideal in this situation would be. Be willing to compromise. Like you can't go, “Well I want to spend 6 nights a week with you”. Obviously that's not really going to work but just figure out what it is that you want. Come up with some compromise. Agree to something better.

Put up those boundaries of you know… it's great that he wants kitchen table polyam but he cannot have it if he's going to make one relationship other people's business like… even in… I mean, maybe there’s other ways of doing it. Kitchen table polyam is not personally for me. It's not something I'm interested in. It's just… I think an unrealistic expectation to be quite honest to put on anybody. The idea-- I mean it's great. It's a great situation if you and all your metamours get along. That is an awesome situation. If you can all live together and be one big happy family, that's fantastic. But the likelihood of it being a real possibility is just… I feel personally, is very very very unlikely so clearly in this case because of… if he is going to have this person be his primary partner, and she’s struggling this badly right now and he's managing you this way, it's not going to be possible for him anyway.

So he needs… You need to come to him and go, “This is what I want”. Compromise. Figure out something. That's your agreement. You also need to think about what's going to happen when that all falls apart? If he ditches a date with you, what's going… what are the consequences? How much are you going to be willing to put up with? And what are you going to do it if he doesn't honour his agreement with you. And you need to really think about that because you know you're already putting a lot into the situation. So, do you want to continue investing, as you said yourself, should you be pursuing a relationship with someone who doesn't put concern into your feelings as much as other partner?

It's a little less than a year or he's been with his partner for a little less than a year. Relationships go through different periods of stability but like, you've been with Darren for 4 months and this is how it's been so far. I mean everyone has some establishing of trust to do when they first start into a relationship and it might be that the relationship between him and his primary partner is being tested because this is changing and opening a relationship— if they didn’t begin from open. I don’t know it doesn’t sound like they did? It's always going to be difficult for people and that's fine but that's not your responsibility to manage and you really can't manage it.

It's not fair for you to be put that situation, but you need to decide, how long is too long? How long are you going to invest in seeing if he changes his behaviour? Because you really don't need to sit around and be grateful for scraps and be grateful for someone paying attention to you when that's what they should damn well do and who clearly isn't stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility for his decisions. If he's going to choose to bow to the whims of his primary partner and allow his premier partner to dictate his other relationships, then he should at least cop to that.

And if he's not willing to cop to that and if he takes that responsibility and says, “Oh well you how she’s having a hard time and I just…” No no no no no. She's having a hard time. Okay. But he is making a choice and he needs to own that. If he's not willing to own that then honestly you need to really think about if that's something that you want to stick around and deal with because… I have to say that if someone isn't willing to own their choices and be really clear about… And to be fair, it might be that he doesn't know this. Sometimes you don't know these things. You don't know how little you can manage a situation until it’s unmanageable but he at least needs to own it.

And until he's willing to own it, I really really think that there are going to be bigger problems than this down the line. Like if you now, without any children involved or you living together, if you now are walking on eggshells and you're only spending one day with him a week, yeesh. That’s… that doesn't give me a lotta hope personally.

So yeah, to sum up. Don't allow this to become your responsibility. Set some clear boundaries. Try your best. I know it’s like… you’re an empathetic person and I feel for you in the situation. Try your best to not make this your responsibility anymore. Make it really clear to him. Figure out what you want. Do you want to go on the fun trips? Do you want to… What more do you want? And try and make that really clear. Negotiate that with him.

Come to a decision together and then figure out what the consequence will be. And you can communicate that to him or you can not communicate that to him. But figure out what the consequences will be for if you… if he goes back on your agreement. Yeah, that's basically my advice in this situation. Again I'm really really sorry that you’re going through this because it sounds really really crappy. Walking on eggshells in any situation, in any relationship is no way to live. It’s a horrible way to live and I wouldn't wish on anybody. So I hope this helps and good luck.

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