A partner comes to you asking if you'd consider monogamy and then changes their mind later on, but you're still stuck on wanting it. What do you do?
That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.
Discussion Topic: What is one behaviour that you never tolerate?
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When I met my current primary partner, they weren’t available for an emotional relationship as they had a primary partner (and that was a boundary of the relationship). A month or two into us starting to date, the relationship with their primary partner ended. And as that relationship ended ours became more connected and intense.
From the start we had irresistible chemistry, they would text me daily (almost excessively), the sex was amazing, and the energy was there. Once their other relationship came to an end, there was no longer a boundary to stop us from spending more time together, becoming more emotionally attached, and ultimately becoming primary partners.
During this time, there were red flags. I was concerned that they were not doing the work to let go of their ex, release the anger, and trauma they had from the end of the relationship. We started to spend almost every night together. I didn’t understand how they could have the (literal) time to process the end of a huge relationship while spending all their time with me, working, and keeping 2-3 other relationships going (while love can be infinite time is finite). I was not shy about bringing my concerns up to them, they continued to reassure me, and I trusted them.
We had big conversations about how our relationship was changing, what the future could bring and how excited we were. My partner brought up monogamy as a possible desire of theirs, and at first, I was concerned about this (was this a trauma response due their most recent brake up/ was this something I wanted). My past few relationships had been poly[am] or open, and while this relationship was so exciting and intense it was also very new. After thinking about it I expressed interest in exploring monogamy with them but asked that we come back to this further down the line.
Months passed and my partner brought up monogamy a few more times (more casually) and I took these as confirmation that their mind was still on monogamy. I started to watch and analyse my relationships with monogamy in mind and concluded that this is something I’d want to try with my primary partner. This is when things got complicated.
I wanted to let my partner know how I was feeling about monogamy and brought this up to them (this was about 6-9 months after our initial conversation about it). I let them know how I was feeling and asked for them to do the same. What I heard from them was a huge surprise and I’m struggling to adjust to it. They basically let me know that they could never identify as monogamous and weren’t interested in practicing it either. While they did have some conflict about it, and we’ve talked plenty about it I still feel a bit shocked.
I now understand that when they mentioned monogamy, they were not thinking about what they wanted or what kind of relationship they wanted with me. They were thinking about their ex. While I’m available to help my partners hash out what they want, work with them so all of us can get past relationship trauma, I feel as though my partner (maybe not deliberately) gave me a false representation of what this relationship was, could be, and is.
This is what I was concerned about in the beginning and I trusted their response and now I feel as though I shouldn’t have. I feel as though they came to me with a desire (that had to do with me and our relationship) and then changed their mind without telling me about it while I carried on with only the information I knew.
Now I feel lost. I feel like trust has been broken with my partner and I’m not sure how to get it back.
I now have this desire to explore consensual monogamy and my partner doesn’t want that. This brings on a whole other onslaught of questions for myself; will I want consensual monogamy with other people? Could I even find someone that is interested in monogamy (almost every queer I know isn’t)? Why do I feel shame about wanting consensual monogamy? Why am I now feeling extra sensitive to my primary’s other partner? Would this relationship have become so serious if they never brought it up or told me when they were no longer interested? Would I still be wanting this if they never brought it up?
I know [your column] is all about non-monogamy and as I’m in a non-monogamous relationship I think this can belong here. But I’m hoping you could also help be shed some light on the desire to be monogamous, and not in a that’s just what society expects kind of way. But consensual monogamous, in the "I’ve thought about this and want this" kind of way?
So, the first thing here is that like your sense of kind of like feeling that your trust has been violated is really understandable. I mean, you don't say that your partner came to just with the general subject of monogamy and wanting to discuss it. You literally say— and maybe you didn't mean it so literal or maybe you didn't realise what you typed — but you literally say that your partner came to you with a want or desire to become monogamous and mentioned it enough that you actually literally said to them, “I’ll think about it. Maybe in a few months”. Like they came to you with the thought that this was their desire. Like it wasn't just
a random discussion topic, it was something they put forth as something they wanted.
And now they're saying they don't want it at all and that is incredibly confusing. And, like, I don't know if they've really addressed that with you. Have they really talked about that with you? Because I've at least found with myself like when the subject kind of starts with monogamy or the thought of monogamy comes up, I will start to see it as a competition in a way, and that is really— it triggers all sorts of horrible anxieties within me.
And, you know, I don't like the idea that there's like this one space for this, you know, there's one spot and you have to basically compete with others to get to that spot and it’s… Yeah, it's just it doesn't bring up very good feelings for me. So I can imagine that it makes a lot of sense that you would all of a sudden now start to have problems with, you know, and start to have feelings about their other partners because basically they brought up this idea that they may want monogamy or they may want to try monogamy, and they've chosen you for that.
And then now all of a sudden they're saying that they're not but then you always have this fear in the back of your head. You're like well, maybe it's because I've done something wrong and now they don't want to try it with me but they're talking to other people and saying the same thing they said to me, which is that they want to try monogamy, and maybe they're just not going to choose me. So, yeah, of course, you're gonna feel anxious and scared and all of these feelings. Like that makes 100% total sense. So, yeah, of course you're going to feel that.
I think that what you need to have are more conversations with your partner about how you discuss things because you kind of hit it right on the nose where you're like I'm okay to like help people hash out stuff but you need to be told that that's what the conversation is. And it may not be that they did it intentionally but to present this as like this is what I want when that is not the case is just is lying. It’s dishonesty.
And your partner really needs to figure out why they did that and why it is that they didn't communicate, if they did feel that way why didn't they communicate? That's a really big change. You know, I mean it’s sort of in a way to kind of comparison that I always make is that like people wanting kids. Like wanting kids is a very big life changing… If you suddenly decide that you want kids it’s kind of really important and you've always agreed with your partner that you're not going to have kids — if you suddenly decide that you want them. That's kind of something you should discuss with your partner and not just wait one day to spring it on them.
Or equally if you decided you don't want them. That's also something that you need to discuss and you can't just avoid that, because you don't want to have that conversation so you need to, like, maybe work with a couple polyamory friendly therapist
to work through like— pick apart kind of why that happened and how you can prevent something like that from happening in the future. Maybe some boundaries around conversations?
I think if your partner had said and acknowledged like “Hey yeah I said that back then, but I don't really feel that way and I changed”. You know if they had given you a little bit more explanation maybe you wouldn't feel so anxious about it? I just feel like there's more conversations to have. I think that all of these conversations about you wanting monogamy like… I mean I can't tell you that if this conversation never came up that you would feel differently. Like no one's ever going to be able to tell you that, and then it doesn't really matter anyways because it's happened you know. It's happened. It's there.
You can't magically make it unhappen so you shouldn't sit and sort of ponder on “well what if this was never introduced?”. It has been so it is what it is. When it comes to you yourself wondering about monogamy I think that, you know… I always say in my columns and my podcasts like no one can tell someone else if polyamory or monogamy are more right for them. Like that's something that you kind of have to glean for yourself, but I do think there are some basic things to— like thought exercises to go through in deciding whether or not polyamory is even or non-monogamy is even an option for you to consider.
The first thing that I usually say to people is, you know, agreeing to a non-monogamous or polyamorous situation means agreeing to a situation where your partner doesn't spend 100% of their time focused on you. And there are some monogamous situations where that does happen, where someone has a time intensive career. Then they may— or a partner who has like a really intensive hobby. Just anything like that where there aren't going to be situations where monogamous people agree to a relationship with somebody who can't devote their time 100% to them. And there are another plenty of people who can't do that sort of thing.
Like there are people who can't do long distance. There are people who maybe could not date a lawyer or doctor anyone with like a really intense long hours style career. And that's legit. So I think that's the first thing to think about like… are you actually fine with a partner who doesn't spend their time with you? I think that you sound like you are, because you have had other open and polyam relationships but it's kind of up to you to really think about.
Because the other thing that I've said and I actually I think I just said this in the discussion question but I can't remember. My memories terrible, but polyamory is about, and I say this a lot — polyamory should be about finding multiple fulfilling relationships, not about finding a bunch of halfway fulfilling relationships that kind of makes you okay. I think that's easier said than done because like, when we're with somebody we don't want to just break it off. You don't want to just throw away a partnership that you've just put together so it makes a lot of sense to not want to throw that away.
But if a, I don't think— like we say “Relationship broke, add people” doesn't work. Opening up your relationship to solve problems in your first relationship, adding another person to that equation isn't necessarily going to fix anything so that is something for you to think about. Is this relationship fulfilling? That doesn't necessarily mean that you can't do polyamory. It just means that relationship isn't fulfilling. So anyway, yeah. The first thing is about time. I think the second thing is about, is there a benefit to polyamory that you see, just for yourself?
So when I kind of talk to people and usually like nine times out of 10, people don't arrive at polyamory when they're not with somebody. Usually they're with somebody. Usually someone suggested it. Most of the time I'm answering questions for people who aren't the ones that suggested it. And all of a sudden they have to like decide if this what they want to do. And so that's pretty normal. Generally speaking in those situations I always kind of tell people to think about if they can see a benefit to non-monogamy that is purely selfish, because so many people I think try non-monogamy because they don't want to break up with their partner and the problem with that is that basically they're trying to save a relationship that doesn't really exist anymore.
They're trying to save the monogamous relationship they had with their partner, when they don't have that anymore. Like that, that ship has sailed. So they can't really save that because they have to realise that their partner isn’t gonna spend the same amount of time with them, isn't going to remain focused on them all sorts of things. So like, can you find what I call an anchor, which is something where you see a benefit to it that is completely your benefit and isn't just keeping this relationship? And I think that it sounds to me quite honestly that you have been kind of pushed into really considering monogamy because this relationship has been so intense and has been really great and you don't want to lose that.
And so you've been faced with this real threat that you may have to, you know, consider the benefits of monogamy in order to save this relationship so naturally you're considering the benefits of it. Almost in the opposite way that people— you’re kind of like doing the opposite and the way that people will consider and try polyamory so that they can keep their partner. And there isn't really a benefit in it for them but that's their benefit. I think that in a way that you're doing a little bit with monogamy.
Like you're sort of seeing the benefit of monogamy as it applies to this relationship. And I think that maybe you should just think a little bit more about that, like, what are the only selfish benefits that, not keeping any relationship— You know, if you were single what would you choose? I think that will help you get to a realisation of what it is that you want to choose. But essentially it's something that you know it's honestly something that you have to tell yourself. I won't be able to tell you that. I won't be able to tell you what works best for you. I think that there are totally people who can do both monogamy and polyamory. I certainly felt like I could do both for a long time.
I feel less and less like I could do both, as time has gone on, but for a short time I didn't feel like — you know there are some people who feel like polyamory is their orientation in terms of how they want to do relationships or is unchangeable. I don't personally feel like it's always unchangeable for everyone. I think that for some people they can do both. So you could be one of those people who do both. And you just have to decide what it is that you want to do. I would really really really really hesitate to do any kind of relationship with someone who presents to you like a want that they have and then changes their mind about it.
Like I just feel like that's really— or even, like, the thing is is that, no matter which way you cut the situation that's bad. Like, whether they— whether it was never something that they wanted and they just told you they did — not great, or if it was something that they wanted, and then they changed their mind and are now going “I never wanted that” — that's also not great. So you kind of, no matter which way you cut that, it's kind of not great. So you kind of just have to think about, okay, you know, is that— that really needs to be worked through.
Because I just think that there needs to be— there's more to that story, and you need to find out what more there is to that story and why they decided to— if they didn't lie intentionally like what's going on there? Because that is definitely a red flag for any kind of relationship, monogamous or polyamorous. Somebody who communicates in that way… it's not great. So, yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.