Episode 23: Abusive Metamours

What happens when you feel pressured to associate with an abusive metamour?

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

Discussion Topic: What slightly unhealthy things feel attractive in a partner? How might this relate to your relationships with your parents?

Listen to Episode 23 here. 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


I’m in a poly[am] relationship, my current girlfriend started to have feelings for someone else and we decided it was allowed for us to have a polyamorous relationship for a short term of time. I’ve met this girl and her personality is my complete opposite so I didn’t like her. Rough exterior and her actions of making fun of the relationship in Im by telling me I’m not enough. And every time she doesn’t get her way she goes suicidal.

So my girlfriend has been pressuring me more and more so she could spend more time with her and extend the period of which we’re doing this. She still chooses to have me in the picture, it seems like psychological abuse and I feel stuck in between a relationship with my girlfriend and babysitting an unstable woman. My girlfriend hasn’t told anyone about her, but everyone in the girls life knows about the situation. And as much as everything feels like my girlfriend is pushing me away I have to put on a smile for family events or friendly gatherings.

How do I end this relationship?

I love my girlfriend and I know she loves me to, I just don’t want to keep dealing with the insecurities and harm this other girl brings and the guilt trip she gives my girlfriend.


So, there a few things in here at that are very big red flags that I want to point out, which I kind of feel like you already know are red flags. It's fine if you don't like the person that your partner wants to date. That’s fine. For some people, that’s not ideal but this kind of goes beyond that. Like it's not just that you don't get along, it's that she makes fun of you or she makes fun of the relationship you have with your girlfriend and tells you you're not enough and then you say if she doesn't get her way, which I don't necessarily know what that means, but she becomes suicidal at certain points.

You know, if you had said that she becomes suicidal at certain points, it would be one thing. Because quite a lot of people do deal with suicidal ideations and it is a difficult thing for some people to be able to know how to respond to. But the fact that you… Not only does she make fun of your relationship, makes fun of you, tells you that you're not enough really really bothers me in this situation. Like you say it seems like psychological abuse and it is very much looking like psychological abuse in this situation. Unfortunately, when it comes to someone in an abusive relationship, forcing your girlfriend to leave this other person or trying to force her will not work because essentially you become just like the person who is abusing her. You're trying to force her to do things. You're trying to guilt trip her into doing things and that will never work. And it's really difficult for a lot of people who are either in relationships with or who are friends and family of someone who is in an abusive situation.

You also should not be expected to sit back and take this or deal with this. Like… you by sitting back and not doing anything about also won’t necessarily help the situation. Because it just allows this person to continue to manipulate your partner. I would suggest, and I do recommend this book quite often to a lot of different people, there's a book called “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft. Although the title is gendered, Lundy Bancroft does realise that anyone can be abusive but just that the title is kind of more about his experience working specifically with abusive men. But I do think that that book could be incredibly valuable to you. Both in recognising abusive patterns and also in helping you cope with the situation and understand what is helpful when you're in the situation and what isn’t. If you can get your girlfriend to read it, even better but I don't necessarily think that her other partner will react to that book very well.

What you can do in this situation other than saying, “You know what? I can't deal with this. I'm gone.” is you can set very very firm boundaries, and this is something that anyone can do even when they just don't get along or don't like their metamour. This is actually something that monogamous people can do if you know their partners best friend, they can't stand them. I mean, it is very worrying to me— I will kind of highlight before I go into this — that your girlfriend, you know… It's one thing to have partners who don't get along. It's another for one partner to say that the other partner isn't enough. That's a personal attack and your girlfriend really shouldn't put up with that. Like compartmentalisation is one thing and I get that. You know different people, different relationships. But when one person… even I don't know…

To me as a person, I've always been mystified by people who can compartmentalize things as such where they can be best friends with someone who has been nasty and disgusting to other people that they claim to be friends with. I don't get that. That's not how I am. That's not how I operate. Generally speaking, if I consider someone a friend, anyone who attacks them or hurts them is not going to be my friend and I don't understand— friend, let alone partner— so I don't really understand people who can do that. I'll give a little bit of credit to your girlfriend because if she is in a psychologically abusive relationship, even if she does feel like that the girl shouldn't attack you, she may just not have any… she may be too scared to say anything because as you said is if you know… if she is prone to using suicidal threats as a means of control then that may be what will happen and she might not want that to happen.

But what you can do in the situation, is you can set some very very firm boundaries. You don't really say what the living situation here is. Like if your girlfriend lives with you, how close is other girlfriend lives. But you can say, “You know what…”— if you share a place together, you can say, “You know, I don't really want this person in my house.” You can ask your… you know because you don't need to know about— you don't need to babysit this person, as you said and you can say “I don't want to hear anything about her. I don't want to… you know, you can come to me if you are scared or if you are feeling upset but I don't want to be the person who can give you advice because I can’t”. And it's ok to set that boundary.

Like… one time a person I was dating was really good friends with someone who was a total jerk to me and that was fine but you know, when my partner would bring them up in conversation I would be like, “I don't really want to hear about this person”. And maybe that seems extreme to some people but if the opposite of that is you end up holding in all this resentment and it sours a relationship anyway because you haven't set that boundary and you haven't said, “I don't want to hear about this person. Please don't talk to me about them because I don't like them and it's only going to create resentment if you sort of force me to have to deal with this person.” You know it seems quite cold and it seems quite harsh but sometimes I do think that people have to reach a kind of point where they they can reckon what the abusive relationship is doing and sometimes that can lead to that.

Now it's really important that you do this in a loving way and that's why I recommend that book because it really shows you like how to enforce these kind of boundaries and how important this for you not to be like “Don't talk about her! I don't want to hear anything about her! I hate her!” So you don’t become just another abusive person that’s sort of pushing and pulling her in this tug of war. But you are setting very clear boundaries and you can say how you feel about this. “I don't feel like this relationship is healthy. I don't feel like this is ok. I don’t feel like she’s good for you. It’s unacceptable that she uses suicidal threats to manipulate you and I don't want to hear anything about her”.

And those are things that are ok for you to say. You can set those firm boundaries. But you also need to make it very clear that you are there to support her if she is really scared or if she needs it. The good thing is… I mean hopefully she doesn't live with his girlfriend. If she does live with this girlfriend and it doesn't seem like that would be the case in this situation. Like it seems like it's more likely that you would live with your partner and then this girlfriend would be not living with you. If she's living with you that creates more complicated situations about leases and then you may have to kind of think about a lawyer or finding a way to figure out what your legal recourse is here.

Maybe if not a lawyer than something like a renter’s alliance. But you don't have to keep just putting on a smile. You can clearly set your boundaries. And it might be like, in setting your boundaries, that your girlfriend reacts badly to that. She might be really really upset by that but you need to really remember what the alternative is here. The alternative is you as you said, putting a smile on your face, the resentment growing and growing within you, you feeling angry and angrier and then you just leaving. You don't want to have to deal with these… the harm that this person has bringing in both of your lives and you don't have to deal with it. She can… It's not necessarily that you're asking for a don't ask don't tell situation where you don't know that she’s with someone else. You know that she is with someone else but you don't need to hear about it.

You don’t. You don't need to like… I have partners who date people— I have no idea what goes on. I don't know what goes on. I don't know about their partners. I don't need to know about any of that and that's not necessarily because I've sent those boundaries but just because you can totally have a polyamorous relationship where you don't really know very much about your metamours. Like that is a thing and it's not don't ask don't tell. It's more like I didn't ask so no one's telling. So you can not ask and also set that boundary of “I don't want to know” if you know… if you don't want to be responsible for it then that's kind of the best way you can go about it. I recommend as well like encouraging your girlfriend, if it's an option, to get therapy. Because I do think a therapist is going to be someone who can really make her look at the situation and also advise her— you could even kind of suggest, based on the fact that this person is making suicidal threats, that your girlfriend go to a therapist for advice on how to deal with that, on how to best support the girlfriend.

And it might be that through talking with the therapist, the therapist has the… not has the ability because they are separate from the situation, but also the training and the understanding and the knowledge to be able to say “Maybe you shouldn't be in this relationship. Maybe it is psychological abuse and maybe it's not good for you”. That’s kind of what therapy should do for people in general is help them come to terms with things like that. But you cannot do that. You cannot be that therapist for her unfortunately. And I don't think you should just cut your losses at this point because it's also really really important— the one thing that abusers do, and you’ll figure this out as well through the book I recommended, is try to isolate their victims. So there's a reason why and this is why it’s a red flag. The reason why she's kind of picking at you and saying you're not enough is that she wants you to get sick of it and leave so that she can have this person to herself.

And then she isolates, isolates, isolates and that kind of is how she’s going to win. I bet.. It wouldn't surprise me a single bit if she went to meet your girlfriend's family and started picking at that relationship too. And that might be another thing that you can reach out to. You know, family events or friendly gatherings, your mutual friends and your family banning together and just kind of making sure she doesn't basically feel like she has no one because that's the worst situation. Like it's so difficult for people in abusive relationships to leave their abuser quite often because they are isolated. They have no other options and if you give her options and her family gives her options on then that will help her.

And I do also think as well like if you make sure her family… give the book to her family. Make sure her family understand the situation that she's in. Then if at some point you feel like, “You know what? I really can't continue. I’ve tried to put these boundaries”. Because you need to also decide what you're going to do when those boundaries are crossed. You know, you can't say “I have this boundary” and then someone keeps pushing and pushing. If there’s no consequences to someone violating your boundary that you've set, they you know they're going to keep doing it.

So you might have to really think about, “Ok if I say I don't want to hear anything about this person and then I keep getting pulled in, pulled in, pulled in to the drama, then at some point, I’m going to have to go.” And that's ok. It's ok. I’m not saying like stay in this forever but what I am saying is that if you have to enforce that boundary and leave, you can still say you know “I’m doing this because I don't want to be a part of this. I think it's unhealthy but I'm always here for you if you need me. If you need to get away, I'm always here for you”. If your girlfriend's living with you and the only other option is for her to move in with the girlfriend. Then you're gonna… I would get help from her family.

Like hopefully her family isn't abusive or terrible but her family need to know that she's in this situation, that she is you know teetering on the precipice of being in a very abusive situation and you can't be expected to stay around and pull her out of it especially if you're also getting the flack from this person. So her family can be that person to step in if you decided “You know what, I can’t deal with this anymore I need to tap out. I need to go away for a while. I need to think”. Her family may be the people who can come in or your mutual friends, people who really care about her. Do not let this person chip away at her relationships because you know if other people are around to ground your girlfriend and say “Hey this isn’t ok,” eventually she's going to realise it's not her responsibility to save someone from suicide.

I know that's a really harsh thing to say and I know that’s s difficult thing for a lot of people to deal with but unfortunately there are people who are suicidal and need help and that's totally valid. And I think even when someone is threatening suicide as a cry for help that's not necessarily good reason to ignore their cry for help. They do need help. However there are people who are abusive and who use suicidal threats as a way to manipulate people and that is not acceptable and not ok and I do think that if you… if that is happening to you or happening to anyone who's listening to this then you setting your boundary of not responding to that threat— I think people feel really bad about it because they think, “Oh what if I am responsible for that person committing suicide?” And you're not responsible for that. Your girlfriend isn’t responsible for that and eventually she's going to be able to learn this. But it's going to take a little bit of time.

So to sum up everything, I think your girlfriend in a very very difficult situation. I think your gut instinct is right. Whether or not you like her is kind of the irrelevant and I wouldn't really bring that into any discussions. It's the fact that knew she is making fun of your relationship and telling you you're not enough. Those are unacceptable things and you shouldn't have to deal with those. But I do think it's really important for you to realise how difficult of a situation that your girlfriend is in because if this partner is already using suicidal threats to manipulate her behaviour, than it is psychological abuse.

And you know it's kind of hard for me to say at this point whether that's the case or whether this is a person who does genuinely need help and maybe isn't aware of their actions— either way it’s.. her behaviour isn’t acceptable and so you kind of have to recognise a complicated situation that you're in and a complicated situation that your girlfriend is in and be there to support your girlfriend. However you are allowed to establish very firm boundaries about this. You don't have to be held personally responsible for this person. For managing their mental health. You don't have to be personally responsible. You don’t have to put up with insults. You can put those boundaries up. You can say, “I don't want to have this person in my house. I don't want to be around them. I don't want to hear about them.”

You can put those firm boundaries up. It's going to be hard. It’s going to sound harsh. Your girlfriend may not like it very much but you are allowed to put those boundaries up. And lastly you need to really think about what you're going to do if and when those boundaries are crossed. You know it might be that as soon as you put these boundaries up and you outright, blunt to her face say “I don't think this relationship is healthy, you know. She's making fun of me and our relationship saying I'm not enough and she's using suicidal threats to manipulate you and I think it's an abusive situation” and maybe if and when you say that your girlfriend goes, “Oh crap I don't even realise that.” Who knows?

But you need to kind of think about the worse situation and decide what you're going to do if you do have those boundaries crossed and she doesn't respect that you don't want to hear about this person and you keep getting pulled and pulled and pulled back into this drama.

And also like… Again reach out to her family and mutual friends that you have and do your best to kind of… I'm not saying have an Intervention because, you know, unless you get advice from a psychologist that that's a good idea I wouldn't necessarily say that's a good idea. But it's always good for those people because people really don't understand it. And they get… you know they have someone in their life who's in an abusive situation and what they do is that the demand that they leave that abusive person. The person doesn't do it and then they go, “Fine. If you won’t leave, I’ll leave,”. And that’s what the abuser is hoping for, that everyone gets sick of it and leaves and abandons this this person so that they have them all to themselves.

So it’s really really important that, even if you decide that you can’t deal with being in a relationship anymore with her and you want to take a step back and you want to say, “I’m done with this however if you ever need help in an emergency call me.” Or if there is a situation where are you have to get separate houses or you have to move out or something like that… that’s a situation that potentially makes this way more complicated because then the girlfriend can move in and she's kind of sinking the claws in even more if she is abusive and it's not helpful. But that's why you need the family and mutual friends because they should be able to step in and say “hey, come home and stay with me and we'll talk about this” and they should be able to provide that support rather than her just leaning even more heavily on this person who is… doesn't sound very good for her.

So yeah. That is what I think that is the best for you to do in the situation. I'm really really sorry that you're having a deal with this. One last thing that I want to mention is that, you mention that your girlfriend started to have feelings for someone else and you decided that it was ok for you guys have a polyamorous relationship for a short period of time. In the future, I think some people choose polyamory as an option so they don't have to break up and I think that sometimes that works but it really only works of both people understand what they get out of it and I am not really sure if you get anything out of this relationship being polyamorous.

It just seems like your girlfriend had feelings for someone else and you agreed to it because the only other option was losing your girlfriend and that's really really unfortunate but I do think that after this storm has blown over you really need to think about if polyamory is actually even for you. Aside from this person that your partner is dating been a terrible human being or sounds like at latest, is polyamory something you actually want to do or is it just something you're doing for her? Because you say “for a short period of time” but that's just not the way feelings work. And especially if what you’re pursuing is polyamory which is about multiple romantic relationships which isn’t something that would maybe be a short period of time like sexual exploration or things like that, so you can’t really like… you can’t put a stopper on the human heart, to be a bit sappy. But you really can’t.

You can’t sort of say “Ok I'll let you have this relationship for a bit but after 5 months that's it.” You might think that and she may have agreed to that but it's just really… that's not a realistic thing for any relationship. You can’t kind of stop people from having feelings for people and it's also kind of really harsh for… I mean if you can imagine… I think you can put yourself in into the shoes of someone who has feelings for someone and then someone comes along and says “Well that's it.” It's not only… I mean, the terrible actions of the person aside, it’s not really fair on either of them to just be like “Well that's it. You're done now. The time is up”.

She may have agreed to that but it's not very realistic and I wouldn't have agreed to that in the beginning. I would have probably suggested that if she really wanted to date this other person that she go about it and I mean it's kind of lucky in a way that she didn’t because you’re at least there and it doesn't sound like this relationship is good. And it might be that after this has blown over as well, she might want to figure out what it is about this person like… that's why I'm hoping her family isn’t abusive. I’m hoping this isn’t a pattern of her identifying behaviours that maybe she grew up around and seeing them in other people and gravitating toward them because it's something she finds familiar. Hopefully that's not the case.

But yeah I think you know… the deeper question about whether or not polyamory is for you or is serving you or something you're actually interested in is something that you probably need to explore. But first you know set some boundaries around this and read the book “Why Does He Do That”. It’s a really really good book. I feel like I should have an affiliate link at this point but it's a really really great book and it opened my eyes to so many things and also made me feel less helpless in a lot of these situations and I think that's what you might need. And if you as well have the facilities to get a therapist to support you, please do so because that will also help. So yeah definitely put some boundaries up around this and there are ways you can support her through this but ultimately she has to make the decision to stop seeing this other person unfortunately you cannot do that for her as crappy as that is. I hope this helps and good luck!

Subscribe to Non-Monogamy Help

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.