If you’ve replaced your partner’s primary, how do you stop caring that you’ll be replaced too?
That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.
Discussion Topic: What was the first thing you bought with your own money?
My husband and I have been married for almost 20 years, when we met I was his secondary and through a series of events I eventually became the only. I expressed once we were a couple that I would prefer being monogamous, but he said we’d start with me only dating to give me confidence in the relationship because it made him happy to know I was with others and he was born poly[am] and afraid he’d be unable to be satisfied in a monogamous relationship.
I hesitantly agreed with this, though it wasn’t really an issue since we decided to just focus on our relationship and to have children.
After a couple years we dipped our toes back into things with my being the only one to date as I was afraid of him being with others due to the fact in every relationship but this one I have always been told I wasn’t good enough and they always choose someone else.
We had gotten close to my being comfortable with him dating, then he broke all of our existing agreements. At this point he stopped everything while I continued to date.
After a series of not good experiences, he begrudgingly said we’d just be mono, even though it made him seriously unhappy; so I sucked it up and kept on exploring with others, to his delight.
Years have passed and I thought I would be good with him trying to see someone else, however he has now started to communicate with a woman and while I’m doing everything I know to do, my internal dialogue won’t shut up and I feel physically ill when he mentions conversations they’ve had and potentially getting together. (We talk about this frequently, so he knows how I feel).
Based on this, he has told her right now he can only offer friendship but she has made it clearly known she wants more. Would a triad work to make things ok for me? And while she is not flat out insulting, has made little comments about how what I’m doing is unfair and it’s hypocritical to date if he’s not allowed to, etc.
He has been awesome with explaining that fair isn’t a factor and I am the most important thing, and my comfort comes first, but she continues to bring similar things up as they continue talking.
How can I get beyond this? He has said that he’s no angel and can’t promise if things aligned, he wouldn’t do more than is allowed, but he’ll try not to, which to be honest isn’t helping to reassure me. Especially with her making it clearly known she wants to be intimate with him.
I just want to not care, but I’m so very afraid he’ll like her better and leave me because she’s new and exciting. Everyone else always has, so him telling me he’d never do that is too easy to ignore and chalk it up to the fact he’s only saying it because it’ll make me more inclined to let him go.
This is truly eating me up inside, can you help me move beyond it??
There are a few things going on here that I want to point out. The first thing is… you say in the beginning of your letter that it hasn't always happened— this is clearly a case where someone picked to you.
The good thing about that is that it's an exception to this series of really difficult situations that you've had. But the bad thing about this is that it gives you a really clear example where the sort of main position of primary in this case— you can be replaced. You know that— it will make you more scared because it's just proof that this primary position can be you know, someone else can take it. You've taken the place of someone else. So it's fair enough in your mind for you to assume that your place can equally be taken.
So all of this kind of reassuring that you're the most important thing yada, yada, yada— Your brain is not going to be able to help but go “Yeah, but wasn't this other primary, when I was a secondary, the most important thing?” I mean, you don't explain the events that led to that decision being made. Maybe there were a lot of extraneous circumstances, but it does paint a picture in your mind that this can happen. So that is naturally going to make you more afraid.
I think she's right in saying it's kind of unfair, because it technically is. But, you know, this is an agreement that you all have decided to do. And I appreciate the fact that he is communicating to her that this is his priority. And she can kind of take that or leave it. Whether or not she considers it fair is kind of irrelevant. It's both of your decisions, the decisions that you're making, and also kind of decision she has to make whether or not she wants to engage with your husband, knowing that there is this hierarchy present.
I would completely understand if she didn't want to. Because, you know, basically everything is going to be decided based on your moods and your husband's moods, rather than some type of fair, you know, equal resolution. However, this is kind of the biggest problem that you're having in your relationship throughout this entire practice of what you've been doing.
You've done what a lot of polyamorous people do when they try to be polyamorous for the first time. They're not really prepared for all the negative emotions and negative feelings that they feel. And a lot of polyamorous people or people trying to open their relationships, assume that feeling all these negative things means something is wrong, and they need to stop everything. And unfortunately, there isn't a lot— and from what I gather, maybe things have changed now— but there isn't a lot of introductory polyamory resources that really prepare people for the reality that they will have very negative feelings regardless.
And so what you've been trying to do is avoid those feelings. Now, you know, I don't know if you have anxiety, but I have anxiety and one thing that I've learned from having anxiety is that the more I give in to anxiety, the more it will take. The more I try to compromise with it, the more anxious I'm going to feel. Even though it seems logical in the moment to go “Ah, okay, when I eat this one type of food, I start to have a panic attack. I'm just not going to eat this food anymore”. And that seems to solve the problem temporarily. But eventually, I can't eat this food, I can't eat that food, I can't eat that. And the anxiety just grows and grows and grows until I can't eat anything else or something similar.
Likewise, you've kind of started out with a base incompatibility you would prefer to be monogamous. Your husband doesn't want to be. So you have to compromise. And you've tried to compromise in a way that is unfair to try and avoid you feeling bad. But unfortunately, especially because you more or less want monogamy, there is no way to avoid you feeling bad. So what you've done throughout this entire thing is, you know, he's also not really helped by violating existing agreements, although I don't really know what those agreements were. And whether or not they were realistic in terms of, you know, a lot of people when they open their relationship up they go, “I’m never going to fall in love with anybody but you. It'll just be sex with other people, but it will be just love with you”, And you can't really control any of that kind of thing.
So either way by violating or breaking those agreements that just further slips you into that anxiety. You're trying to avoid having those feelings. And unfortunately, by avoiding avoiding avoiding, you're getting to the point where you can no longer avoid it because he is interested in someone else. He does want polyamory. This is the choice he wants to make. And there isn't going to be a way that you can get around having those feelings. You're going to have those feelings.
I think what's important is learning how to cope with those feelings, and learning how to address them. But what's really, really not helping you overall in learning how to cope with these feelings is— why do you know so much about what this woman thinks? Like she's welcome to her own opinion. She can think whatever the hell it is that she wants. Ultimately, it's down to what your husband does with that information and how your husband chooses to behave. And I'm going to go into a little bit why, you know, this fear of being replaced is you know, something you can address but ultimately you have to trust him.
And I really don't understand why you know so much about what she thinks and what she's saying to him. Because, you know, unless she's saying this to you, it's kind of A.) no offense, not really any of your business and B.) your husband can't think that telling you this is helping. It's not helping. And there's no reason for you to know any of this information. She can have all the feelings she wants. Maybe she's a secret, what they call a cowgirl or somebody who's who's literally trying to replace anyone, but it takes two to tango, you know. She can't force your husband to replace you with her. He has to make that decision. So you have to trust him.
And it doesn't really help to hear all of this extraneous information about she thinks this is unfair. Who cares what she thinks? It's irrelevant to your relationship with your husband, what she thinks. He needs to figure out how to deal with her feelings and how to deal with that without putting that burden on you because it just puts you in a really shitty position and in a position that you don't need to be in.
So first things first, stop that with that— whosever idea is to talk about everything. Because this is another thing that people do when a opening their relationships, They're so afraid of cheating, that they think they need to communicate every single thing to their partner. And it just ends up making the other person feel like crap, that— you don't really need that. You need to trust one another. You need to trust him. And you don't need to know every little thing about what they're doing together. You just don't need to know that.
If you've made an agreement that he's not allowed to be physical with her, then that— you need to respect that he has done that and honoured that agreement without having to hear an itinerary of their day. You don't need to know any of that. So put a stop to that because that isn't going to help you. That's just going to make things worse, and it's only going to stir up anxiety. It just doesn't need to happen. Okay, you can be cordial with one another. If you must, you don't even— I don't really meet my metamours at all.
Like I don't, you know— some people have that whole like “kitchen table polyamory” ideal. It's, you know, it's not my thing. I don't need it. I don't need to be best friends, besties you know, and I've been in situations where I've forced myself to be best friends with my metamours and It's only made me miserable. So you don't need this information. And if— it doesn't have to be a don't ask, don't tell situation. That's not what you're asking for. You're asking for, “I don't need to know what she says about this”.
You don't need to know. You don't, and if she's saying this type of stuff in front of you, then you can put down a boundary and say, “Whatever feelings you have about our relationship, you can communicate those to my husband, to your therapist, or to somebody else. And it’s not me, because I don't need to know this. This is the agreement we have. If you don't like that agreement, you can walk away. Because this is the setup we have right now. Things may change in the future, but they certainly aren't going to be changed by criticism”. So that needs to stop. First and foremost.
Second thing is that you really have to face your fear. You are avoiding your fear. You're afraid that he's going to replace you. And I found that was really, really helpful in trying to conquer this fear is recognising that ultimately, I cannot control whether or not somebody is in love with me or not. I cannot control whether or not someone chooses to stay with me or not. I cannot control any of that. And even though that seems terrifying because your brain is going, “Yes, you can control it. You need to be extra nice or do this or do that”, you know, I can't control it. And it takes a lot of the weight and a lot of the anxiety off of my shoulders.
If you could control someone replacing you with someone else, then you would not have had those experiences that you had. You can't control that. And likewise, because you can't control that it is not your fault. And I think that is something that you really, really need to acknowledge because there might be some part of you that is blaming yourself. (Apologies for the background noise)— that is blaming yourself for this. But you need to realise that all of these situations that have happened to you are not your fault.
You cannot control if someone decides to walk away from you. There isn't any combination of special rules that you can put in place of— there's nothing you can do. You know, it happens to monogamous people all the time, even if he were to say, “you know what, Honey, I'm done with this polyamory thing, I'm going to dump her, or we're going to be monogamous, and I'm happy to be monogamous”. He could do that. And he could still replace you down the line. Being monogamous doesn't change that,
If somebody is going to replace somebody, then it's going to happen and think to yourself— if he is the type of person, you know, how long have you been with this person? You've been married for 20 years. If he is the kind of person that is just going to take you and kick you out for something new and shiny, is that the kind of person you really want to be with? At the end of the day? No, you don't want to be with that kind of person. So what really helps me when I'm thinking that, “oh, I need to do this. I need to be the perfect partner so that I'm not replaced” — is to replace that and face my fear and realise I do not have control over that.
And when you realise that you don't have control over that. When you release that responsibility from your shoulders, a lot of this anxiety is going to become more tolerable. I won't say it's going to go away. As my anxiety certainly certainly doesn't go away. But it definitely becomes more tolerable. Because the only relationship that I have control over is the relationship I have with myself. And likewise, the only relationship you really have complete control over is the relationship you have with yourself. So you need to stop this delaying the inevitable.
And I would really advise that you stop all these rules. Stop you're only dating people— If you don't want to date people don't date people. There are people who have situations where their partner is polyamorous and they're monogamous, and things work out fine. That can work out. If you don't want to date people, don't date people just because he gets his kicks out of it. So what? What about you? So, realise that that relationship with yourself is important.
Allow him to date whomst he would like to date. It's probably grammatically incorrect but let him proceed. You have to build this trust with one another and it's scary. It's going to be scary. You feeling all this anxiety and fear that he's going to leave you? Yes, part of that is you fearing something you can't control. But part of that is just you doing something new. Every time you do something new, you're going to be afraid. You're going to be nervous. You don't know what's going to happen. This is a new thing you've been replaced before. You're the person that's replaced somebody else. So of course, you're afraid you're going to be replaced.
But what you have to do is sometimes just sit with the anxiety and go through it and wake up the next morning, realise you're not dead. You survived it, he's still around, he's still by your side. And that's it. And eventually, over time, it will get better. But you have to kind of go through it. You can’t— you have been avoiding this fear for so long that it's built up, built up and built up and you've given it more power in a way by avoiding it. And you need to face it and just accept the fact that if he's going to leave you for this person, you cannot control that. It is not your fault. And there isn't any magical combination of rules you can put in place that's going to prevent that from happening.
You just have to let him do what he would like to do. Now you have— you know, you can work out physical agreements about like, okay, it's important for you to spend time with me. Like it's not like it's, you know, he can do whatever the hell he wants and just ignore you and pretend you don't exist. That's not what I'm saying. You work out physical agreements, figure out what it is that you need from him. And you know, you may come to the conclusion, after he goes out with this person that you really want monogamy and you don't want to have to do this.
Ultimately, when you choose polyamory— choosing polyamory is about— Basically, you have to be okay with the fact that the person or persons that you're seeing will not spend 100% of their time focused on you. Now, the thing I mentioned in the podcast and the column quite frequently is that monogamous people can make this agreement too. If you if you marry someone who has a time intensive career, or a time intensive hobby, where you know they are a lawyer, they’re doctor— there's something where they can't spend 100% of their time, you can also make that sacrifice.
And you could also make that decision. So it's not just polyamory. But ultimately, if you want to do polyamory you are kind of agreeing to a situation where any partner that you have can't devote 100% of their resources to you. And for some people, that's just not a decision they want. Just like some people don't want to date someone who has it has a time intensive career, and that's legit. That's fine. That's valid. You may through this experience of actually pushing yourself through it, realise that this isn't actually what you want.
And unfortunately, that might be the case and you're going to have to figure out what you know to do after that, but you're never going to be able to figure that out if you don't go through it. If you don't, at least try it and you haven't really tried it, you've been avoiding it, and you just have to keep you know— you just have to try it actually to know if it's not fully for you.
And I wouldn't necessarily see you know, horrible anxiety as a sign that it's not for you. Because let me tell you something, the first couple of nights that my partner spent, without me and out, were horrible. I didn't get any sleep, it was terrible. So sometimes, that's just how it is. You just have to build that up, because it's a new thing. And you also have to remember you don't have any cultural scripts for this. Monogamy has a lot of cultural scripts. People know what to expect. And and we don't really know what to expect, this is a kind of a new thing culturally.
So you're going to be afraid, and that's okay. But, you know, try it a few times. Let him go on a few dates. Really— you know, you'll wake up the next morning, he's going to be there for you. If you find that he is wrapped in new relationship energy and forgets that you exist, then you kind of have to reassert that in terms of your foundational relationship, because that can happen. But ultimately, you're never going to be able to know if this is for you or not if you don't actually try it and you've been avoiding it.
Yeah, I also would advise if you have access to it— finding a polyamory friendly couples therapist, and maybe a therapist for yourself just to be able to have someone to talk to about this kind of stuff. And your partner may need a therapist if he's using you as his therapist, because you really shouldn't need to know all this information about what's going on with them. I realise that some people get anxious about cheating. And they think that confessing to their partner is always the best case.
But really, there needs to be some privacy in between relationships. And there just is no reason for you to know all this information. Just absolutely no reason. It's just going to drive you further— absolutely nuts. Just no reason.
Sorry, I shouldn't say nuts— it's going to worsen your anxiety significantly. So don't do it.
So yeah, to sum up, I think that you need to remember that the fact that you are the person that he picked over a previous primary partner gives you a very good reason to be afraid that you may also be replaced. I think you need to remember that she is right, to be fair, and that this isn’t a fair setup. But this is both of your decisions and your husband is from what I hear doing a good job of saying, “Well, this is the situation”. But you also don't need to know all this information. And wherever that's coming from, whether it's your husband telling you, whether it's her telling you— that needs to stop, you need to put some boundaries up there.
You are delaying the inevitable in terms of avoiding actually having him date other people, because you're afraid of your feelings. And it's only making those feelings even more heightened. It’s only stirring things up more. Avoiding things that makes you make you anxious, will only inevitably give that anxiety, more power. So you need to allow him to proceed. Embrace the fact that it may happen. You may be replaced, but you also need to remember that there is nothing that you can do to prevent yourself from being replaced if someone decides to do that.
And if someone decides to replace you, that probably isn't someone you want to spend the rest of your life with anyway. So learn to cope with that anxiety, realise there is absolutely nothing you can do to control it and free yourself from that responsibility. And hopefully that will help your anxiety get a bit more manageable, but you will feel anxious. You will feel scared.
Maybe the first night he spends with this person, you're gonna be an absolute wreck. Try and you know, schedule a date with your friend. Distract yourself to the max if you can, but you will feel shitty. You just will I just— I guarantee you'll feel shitty. I will be surprised if you don't, because that's just part of it. And it doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with you. It's just part and parcel of the polyam deal. So yeah, I really hope this helps and good luck.