Episode 6: Polyam in the Middle

What happens when your kitchen table polyamory attempt goes awry and you’re left with two loves who can’t see eye to eye. That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Listen below.


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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 have been married to my anchor partner for many years but we only opened up as Poly about a year ago. I entered into a loving relationship with my second partner a little less than half a year ago. she is also new to poly but has had a fair bit more experience than us.

in any event early in the relationship mistakes were made and conflict arose.. a few times. as the dust settled my it ended up that my second partner told my anchor she did not want to be friends with her and just wanted a civil and friendly courteous relationship.  which from her perspective was a fair boundary. my anchor and I prefer breakfast table poly and has a different interpretation of what that means.

So in the breakdown of their friendship my anchor got quite hurt feelings and feels that she cant trust her any more. this is fair because some things were said and implications made that were kinda mean and hurtful to her. I don't believe any of it was meant to be hurtful but there was a lack of sympathy and gentleness.

My secondary partner wants little to nothing to do with my anchor partner because she finds her emotionally needy, dramatic and feels that no matter how hard she tries to assure her that she is not a threat she will always be perceived as such. so she set a boundary with my anchor and said I no longer have the energy to be friends with you so I am going to take that off the table.

So here I am stuck, deeply in love with each woman, fully able to see each others perspective but unable to help repair the damage. They are completely unable to have grace for each other and seemingly incapable of seeing each others perspective. from my position they are both right and both made mistakes and so did I. My anchor is now hurt because we both want kitchen table poly and now I am in love with a woman who does not want to be friends with her, and my other partner does not want to put energy into something that feels like a lost cause and an unending source of drama.

I feel it would be devastating to end a relationship with someone who treats me so well and loves me so beautifully, she brings me profound happiness when we are together. She loves and respects me and I bring a lot to her life as well. From my perspective in our relationship she has done nothing to deserve me breaking her heart.

On the other hand my staying with her is causing my wife to feel un-cared for, misunderstood  and it is a constant stress-or in our relationship. the three of us have a lot of combined friends so social gatherings are now super strained if the two of them are invited to the same space or event.

So, how can I make this situation better, I don't care if they aren't buddies. I don't see it as an issue as long as they are nice to each other and treat each other with kindness and grace.


So there a few things going on here. First of all, what the heck happened? You know, you’re kinda tiptoeing around the issue. You're not saying what was said and I think that is a big deal to me because, we both have stories from each side. One side saying, “Oh these people are…  this person is too dramatic” and the other person is saying, “Oh, this person really hurt me and I can't trust them anymore”. Which is quite a big thing you know. It's one thing for like things to get out of hand. One can call each other a dick head or whatever and the other to be upset about it. But it’s quite another thing for someone to not trust them anymore.

So it's hard for me to really know who is… not necessarily “in the right” but who is necessarily… Specifically whether or not your wife has… it's understandable for her to feel betrayed by you  continuing to have this relationship with this other person/. Because from my perspective, your relationships are your relationships and it's not really anyone's business. However the big thing that you've said… and you’ve said “breakfast table polyamory” and “kitchen table polyamory”… And I actually looked this up because I had no idea what this was.

And for those people who don't know, so “kitchen table polyamory”…  let me actually see if I can pull up an official definition from what I got from when I looked it up… kitchen table polyamory was basically the idea that like you.. hold on, let me… kitchen table polyamory… and I’m going to say polyamory because I don't say “polly”… the idea that even if you don't have a direct romantic relationship with your partner’s partner they're still important to them and thus like family to you.

This is one of those moments that I have where my complete difference to so many people in this community really stands out because the term “like family” and the idea of it being like my kitchen table where I grew up is not a good thing to me. I wouldn't want my relationships to be anything like the relationships I have with my family or what happened around my kitchen table growing up. But I get the gist. I get the idea that you're still close. You have a close friendship and it's a nice idea but I think it's unrealistic to expect everyone to get along in that way.

And this is the thing that… you know people say when you're get involved in the polyamory community usually people say “There is no right way to do it, there’s no one right way”. But stuff like this makes it seem like, while there may not be a right way but there is an ideal that people are aiming for. And I get the idea like it'd be great if everybody got along and there wasn't any fighting and there wasn't any drama and people just loved each other. Wouldn’t that be great? And if ifs and buts were coconuts, we’d all have a merry Christmas.

I think it's slightly idealistic, and maybe that's because of who I am. Because I mean…  I know that you're not dating me but I know from just who I am that I can be an extremely disagreeable person. I don't get along with people very easily. I don't really like socializing and I have put myself in this position in the past, forcing myself to be friends with someone just because they were dating my partner and it made me freaking miserable and I hated it. And I actually I became more bitter and I said like one of the cattiest and horriblest things I've ever said to a person is something that I said to a met amour because she was basically forcing me to be friends with her and I didn't want to do that. And I hated it and I resented it.

So it's never a good… it's a nice ideal to shoot for but to make it so much that you are not allowed to have a relationship with somebody else unless your anchor partner is best friends with them… is just it's not really fair and it's not really realistic. And like you said you're now put in this position where it seems like you're in the middle and you know when one person is has a fair boundary and now it seems like your wife is kind of saying you kinda have to split up with this girl or she feels I'm uncared for and misunderstood… And you know, it’s hard for me to say because you know on the surface just looking at the situation it does seem unfair.

It's not as if… I don't know what what your secondary partner said. I don't know what happened. I don't know went down. Maybe your secondary partner completely insulted her and because I've also been in situations like that. I’ve also been in situations where my partner is friends with someone who insulted me on a massive level to the point where I don't talk them anymore and I've blocked them and I don't want to be around them. And I don't even want to hear my partner talking about them because I don't like them. And it took me awhile to get to a point where I didn't feel like my partner, you know, being friends with them was some type of a betrayal.

Because it does sometimes feel like that. If you're with someone and they witness you being hurt, you would hope that… if you witness someone hurting your wife, you know, coming up to your wife and saying, “You suck. Fuck you.” You would kinda, “Hey!”. It's not necessarily your business but, you know, it's your partner. To a certain extent, it's not necessarily that you have to make a rule that no one's allowed to ever be mean to your partner or that you'll never be friends with anyone who doesn't like your partner because people don't like each other sometimes.

But it's that… you know, I can see a situation where this secondary has said something that’s really hurt her and you haven't stood up for her in any way, if it was personal, and her feeling a bit betrayed by that. Like I can also see that side. Because even… they don't have to get along and your right, it's not an issue that they aren't best friends and they should be treating each other with kind of “grace”. Well, I don't know “grace” sounds a bit meh… But at least being, you know, civil and friendly and not insulting one another. I don't think that's an unfair thing to expect but at the same time… I really want to know what was said.

Because there are people in my life who have insulted me or hurt me to the point where I don't want to be friendly with them. I don’t even want to be courteous with them. I don't ever want to see or talk to them and that's my boundary. And it does… if my friend were to date them or if my partner were to date them it would hurt a little bit. So yeah, on the whole I see what's going on here.

First thing is… you and your partner really need to talk about this “kitchen table polyamory” thing. This is what you both want but is it… you need to discuss that. What does that mean? Is it something that you both want to the point where you’re going to destroy any relationship if not everyone's best friends because it just doesn't seem fair or realistic to either of you. So you need to talk about that. Independent of this relationship with this other person you need to think about what that means, because it's also, if you think about it, it's also really fucking daunting for someone. Think about you going out to date a new person. Imagine if, not only you have the stressors and you have the kind of whole emotional situation of meeting someone new and starting a relationship with them and you know.. How do we feel about it other and how deep is this going to go? And what's going to come of this?

And then on top of that you also have to be best friends with their their partner? It's not really fair and it's a really awkward ass situation to be in as a “secondary”. It's kind of a shitty situation to put a secondary in cause maybe they've got their own business and their own things and they’ve got plenty of best friends and they don’t want another best friend. That's perfectly fine so I think you guys need to discuss this because I get the idea and it sounds nice but just because it sounds nice doesn't mean it's realistic or that it's a fair thing to ask of someone coming into relationship or even a good expectation to put on yourself.

Because it's very possible that in the process of wanting this “kitchen table polyamory” thing you're putting someone under pressure to be best friends with your wife and that's actually causing these conflicts, to be honest with you. Like me being forced to be friends with someone will cause me to have a conflict with them more than it would if I just was going to be courteous with them in and you know just like every other other person that I meet. So you might want to think about that one.

Second thing I think that… I think it is hard for me to say whether or not the feelings of betrayal are unnecessarily founded or not. I think that both sides can have boundaries because right now  the only person that has put forth their boundary, and a fair boundary, is your on your girlfriend or your secondary. She's put forth a boundary that's perfectly fair. She doesn't have to be friends with your wife. She is fine. She’s established that she doesn't feel it will work. She doesn't want to pursue it. She's willing to be courteous and isn't trying to start anything on. But that's her boundary and that's fine.

But you know what? Your wife can also have some boundaries too and maybe your wife's boundaries are… I don't really want to hear about this person so… if she's so hurt by the situation that she's doesn't feel that she’s able to be civil and friendly and courteous. Then maybe what she needs to do is say, “You know what, I don't want to really see this person. You go see them. Visit her house or go out. You go see her separately of this. I don't really want to talk about it very much. If we’re in the same space or events, we will… maybe we’ll pretend like each other doesn't exist”. And maybe that seems stupid but you know… if that's going to make your wife feel better because she doesn't feel capable of pretending to be friendly with someone who's really hurt her, then I think that's also fair.

Like I said, I’m in situations now where my partner is friends with someone who I fucking hate to be honest with you because they were intensely rude to me and I've blocked them on Facebook and I don't see them. If I saw them I’m not gonna like… punch them in the face but I certainly won't talk to them. I certainly won't acknowledge them and I certainly won't be friendly or courteous to them and if they came up to me and said something I'd probably say something like “You know I don't like you. Why you talking to me? Go away.” And I’m… I'm ok to do that because I feel hurt by this person and I don't want to speak to them. And until they are going to apologise to me for what they said I don't want anything to do with them. And that's fine and my partner can be friends with that person.

You know, there was a period of time where it was hard for me and I felt a little betrayed because I wanted my partner… I feel that way towards my partner. You know, if people insult my partner, I have a really hard time wanting to stay friends with them. If people hurt my partner… maybe it's none of my business technically but it is my business because it's my partner. I’m just… that's how I am. I’m that way about my friends. You know, when people… it's kind of almost bad because people attack me or insult me or insult my character and I'm willing to forgive them but the second they come for people that I care about… you know, that's it. I am really… people hurting my partner or hurting my friends is not something I take very lightly.

So it's hard for me sometimes to accept that… ok my partner understands that this person hurt me but doesn't feel like it's any of their business and doesn’t… you know, has this friendship with this person that they value and maybe doesn't have a lot of friendships. And feels like they want to hold onto this friendship. I don’t… I know that nothing can be gained by forcing my partner to stop being friends with that person and I think that's what your wife also needs to realise is that… her feelings of being misunderstood and uncared for and that someone's not sticking up for her after she's been hurt are perfectly valid.

She's allowed to feel that way but she also needs to look at the situation say honestly would forcing you to break up with that person work? Would it work? Would you not be extremely resentful? Would you not be hurt? And she needs to kinda look at it from that aspect and you might want to talk about this with a polyamory friendly therapist together and work through these issues. Because it took a bit of talking between me and my— and this isn't even someone might that my partner is dating. I think if it was someone… if they were dating this person it would probably be a little more difficult but I would still want to work through. We’d still sit down and we talk about it and I'd say “This person really hurt me”.

But when my partner explained to me, “Yeah, I do understand that they hurt you and I don't think that was right. I don't have a lot of friends. This is the value I get from that friendship and I don't want to end it because I get a value from it”. And then I was able to understand and go ok.. Is forcing my partner to… control who they’re friends with or control who they date… is that going to inevitably work in my best interest? Maybe I'm coming at it from a completely selfish standpoint. But is it going to work? It's not going to work. My ultimate goal isn't to control who my partner dates or is friends with. My ultimate goal is to be happy and for them to be happy and for us to have a good relationship.

And I know that if I force them to not… you know, if I force them to break up a friendship that means something to them, that's going to cause resentment. So you know, t’s a balance. If it gets to a point where your wife just literally feels like the fact that you aren't angry that this person said these things to her… it might be something that for her is not workable. And that’s her boundary and that might be be a conclusion that she comes to. But I think that you need to think about explaining… “This is a relationship I value. I get a lot out of it. She has these boundaries. What are your boundaries? I can not talk about her. I can make an effort to try and go to things with you and go to things with her and not try to force you to be in the same environment”. Find out what boundaries would make her feel better.

But she needs to understand that forcing you to break up a relationship isn’t… she could do it and I think it would work. Like if she said “It's me or this person,” I think you probably would pick her. But would that fix the situation? I don't think so. Maybe she'd be happier because she’d never have to see this person again but you’d be miserable and maybe that is a hard limit for you. Maybe being forced to get rid of this relationship would damage your intimacy together so much that it's not repairable.

So I think you guys need to talk this through with it with a polyamory friendly therapist. If I had a bit more information about exactly what was said, I think I'd be able to give a little bit more of an idea of whether or not… but either way like, if your wife feels these things, her feelings are valid. And you have to, whether or not they are “logical” or whatever, it's important to recognise them and it's important to work with them rather than against them.

But you need to kind of work out what boundaries can you put in place for her.. Or what, sorry, what boundaries she can put in place that will make her feel better. I don't think from the other side… I don't know what this secondary said, but I don't think it’s… it's certainly not an unfair boundary to say “I don't want to be friends with you”. Because equally I think if you put your secondary partner in a position where she's forced to pretend to be friends with your wife she's just going to get resentful and then she's probably eventually going to get sick of it and leave.

So yeah I I think you need to have a talk with your wife and decide about this “kitchen table polyamory” thing if that's a realistic thing you want to aim. And also think about ways to make her feel that you do care for her and she feels misunderstood so… you know, try to understand her. Try to understand the situation. Try to make her feel like you understand her feelings and do that with a therapist that can help a little bit, if you can find someone. But yeah, that's basically what I think would help out the situation and I hope that it helps. I'm really sorry that you're going through this. It sounds really difficult and I hope that I hope that this helps and good luck.

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