How do you force yourself out of apathy if you feel the partner you want to settle down with is slipping away?
That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.
Discussion Topic: How has your ideal lifestyle changed over time?
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In the past I was married and dealt with an abusive, homo-normative relationship (married to a power lesbian doctor who wanted a submissive doctor's wife). When I left that abusive relationship and moved to another country, I started my healing process and learned to be my own primary.
I read The Ethical Slut and this helped me define myself as a relationship anarchist. Because I met more people who were into alternative relationships, I felt more open and free. I was also involved in a queer anarchist punk group that I still see as my family.
I became my own primary and was happy to no longer have any other emotional responsibility. I explored my sexuality more and got into more BDSM activities such as spanking, bondage, and humiliation. This led me to move to another country where I started to teach spank therapy.
I loved my life there but also survived two racist/homophobic attacks. As a Black, gender non-conforming individual, I started to feel exoticised and missed seeing a more culturally diverse community. I also missed my family so after 7 years away healing from the past trauma of the marriage and getting to know myself again, I decided I needed to move back to the US.
When I moved back, I had to readjust to the extreme of capitalist life. I started working full time in the nonprofit world again and had to hide my BDSM kink lifestyle. People I dated were either monogamous, or else not familiar with healthy non-monogamy (it just felt quite trendy and not taken seriously). Finally I met someone called K last year that was on the same page as I was about non-monogamy and wanted to develop a healthy relationship. We even started out reading [polyamory books] and doing the exercises together.
About three months into our relationship they let me know that they wanted to date someone who they were attracted to prior. I accepted that and let them know that I supported this, and appreciated that they told me that they felt this way in the beginning. I am attracted to transparency, and I also still had a few lovers that I saw and was able to share that with them without them feeling our connection was threatened. I knew that the lovers I had would not evolve into more emotionally intense relationships (one connection being primarily sexual and the other spiritual). I felt that my relationship with K had the potential to become more well-rounded: emotional, spiritual, and physical.
The sexual connection started off great and continues to feel that way almost two years later. What I didn't expect was for their other lovership to grow into a partnership that they found to be equally important. I met the metamour a few times at the beginning of their relationship and they were very respectful, even seemed to want to become friends.
I was resistant to this because I felt I had enough friends in my life and didn't want a forced connection (although K would have liked this). Also-there were times where K broke boundaries that we agreed on (invited them to the DR to meet their family without telling me until last minute, and also fluid sharing when we formed an agreement around us only fluid sharing together).
Somehow we overcame those incidents and reinstated our boundaries. I still loved them and didn't want to 'break up' because they were still affectionate and apologetic. During the pandemic we became closer and even though we were apart for three months we connected by doing a 21-day meditation challenge together. They were still connecting to their other partner long distance as well, but told me that they wanted to find a place together in the US and plan a future together (start a family and buy a house together eventually).
Fast forward, we did reunite, it felt good, and we now live together in the same flat (with our own bedrooms). With this ideal set-up, I thought it would work well since they would invite their other partner to come and stay with them sometimes and vice versa. But 5 months later, it proves to be more stressful than I thought it would be.
They see their other partner once a month and even though it started off as 4-5 days, it is now at 10 days a month. I am also dating another person that they have met and is also attracted to and we started a triad because I like to include them in my exploits, but with them planning to spend more and more time with their other partner, they have less capacity to develop this relationship with me.
There have been times I really needed them (when my Grandma has been sick, or I am feeling down, or want to plan a doctor's visit together to freeze my eggs) that they just aren't available based on timing. We have a shared calendar but they don't seem to look at it prior to making plans with their other partner and I am starting to feel like a fool for being so accommodating. They sense my anger and proposed that we go to counselling to talk about our different ways of being non-monogamous since the timing has been the most consistent point of contention between us.
I am not sure it is worth it and am also triggered from the time I tried counselling in my last abusive relationship. It didn't help 'fix' anything and I felt that I was being called 'the problem.' I am willing to get rid of this past trauma to work towards a stable foundation with K, but I also don't want to waste my time if we can't reconcile our different philosophies on being non-monogamous. I don't want to be apathetic (my go to shut down), but I don't want to try 'too hard' either.
Do you think our non-monogamous differences are worth going to therapy for or that I am hanging on to a configuration that just doesn't work for me and should let it go?
I do know that any relationship can shift and change, but I am feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the way things are going, and feel like this may mean that I should move on sooner than later as I have the tendency to hang on and try to make things work when they aren't supposed to. This is my fear.
The first thing here that I want to say, specifically about therapy — If you go into therapy with someone who is abusive, that doesn't work. There's an amazing book I constantly, constantly recommend people read called “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft, and I recommend this book because it was hugely, hugely helpful for me in understanding the pathology of people who are abusive.
And I do want to illustrate that there's a difference as well between people who do abusive things that maybe they have learned because of where they grew up or just the society that we grew up in, and people who are pathologically abusive, which means — if you read the book then you do understand the difference between the two. And one thing that Lundy Bancroft, and a lot of therapists say who deal with people who are actually you know pathologically abusive is that going to therapy can sometimes make it worse — especially couples therapy can definitely make it worse.
So just because you've had a bad relationship with therapy with your other partner who you say is abusive does not mean that it won't work in this case, I think that this is a situation where you have a really good concept of what your ideal is, but it doesn't seem like you've had that conversation with K.
Or it may be that K’s ideal is shifting and maybe they don't really know how to communicate that to you. The thing that I worry about is that K violated some pretty serious boundaries that you had. It’d be one thing if it's like, “Oh, K was supposed to come to see me this time but didn’t”. But violating the fluid bonded boundary is a pretty big deal. And I worry that maybe you kind of forgave a little bit too quickly.
I'm not saying that you should break up or that you should have broke up. But I do think that you have a clear situation where K is prioritising another relationship in a way over you and you're not really handling it or talking about it or it doesn't seem like you really talked about — Forgiving someone for doing something wrong is one thing, but working out why it is that they did that is another thing.
I think that you need to both sit down and figure out if you share the same, as you said, philosophies on being non-monogamous but also ideals. Does K really want to do this, have a family, buy a house together? Is that something that K actually wants? And this is something that K really needs to figure out especially when it comes to this other person that K is also supposed to be in a triad with you? With this other person?
Maybe K has new relationship energy with this new person and is sort of being sucked in but still does want you know the whole marriage and family and settling down with you. But you have to have that specific conversation. Is the mishaps you've been having with timing intentional? Because you say, we have a shared calendar, but it doesn't seem like K is checking that calendar before K makes plans, is that intentional?
Is K actually just so caught up in things that they don't really think about it for they go ahead and make plans, or is it that K isn't looking? That involves K being really real with themself, and they have to be really real with themself and what they want, because otherwise this is what eventually happens. Like stuff gets missed. The little things start piling up. Resentment and anger starts building, and then eventually it ends up being horrible.
I think that you could have a basic conversation with each other about whether or not you share that same goal. Does K actually want this or is K envisioning…? What is K’s ideal? Does K envision that this partner that they're going to see for 10 days out of the month will eventually come and move with you guys? What is the ideal here? Do you have a shared intentional vision of what you want your relationship to look like?
If you don't have a shared intentional, then what you can do — I don't necessarily even think you have to break up, but it will allow you to decide, “Okay, K doesn't want this” and you may need a break up period” It really depends on how you feel personally, but maybe you can shift that expectation, and then K spending so much time with this other person won't be such a big downer for you. Maybe this other person that you're dating that you have this like triad with, maybe that can be the person that you have this settling down with who is more interested in that.
So, it just comes down to what your shared vision is. I think that if you can get out of K, that you do have some shared visions, that this timing stuff is not intentional, that they have not, you know, they can see that they're caught up in new relationship energy which does sound like. I don't know how new this relationship necessarily is but you can be caught up in new— especially if you're a long distance, and especially with all this pandemic stuff and like the way that people have been touched starved and how difficult it's been like, I do think you can be caught up in new relationship energy for a long. long time with a long distance connection because every time you see each other, as they say absence makes the heart grow fonder.
I do think that can be especially true for long distance, even if K is spending 10 days of the month with them. It's like that absence makes things super dramatic, in a way that can kind of intensify the new relationship energy. So if K is able to say like, “Yeah, I am being a little bit focused on this relationship. But I do want to have this settling down thing with you”. Then I would say go to counselling together.
The fact that K recommended counselling is actually really, really great. That does show an effort to fix things. And again, like I said, just because you've had a really bad experience with counselling with an abusive partner in the past, that won't fix anything. A counsellor is not going to be able to stop someone from being abusive towards you, if that's what they want to do, and going to couples counselling with an abusive partner can actually make it worse.
Like I said, it's another thing about— one thing that's quite popular within the community is Nonviolent Communication, and there's a lot written about nonviolent communication about how if the person wants to be violent towards you, nonviolent communication does not work with them. And similarly with counselling so I think it's a positive sign that K has adjusted to go to counselling. K has recognised that you're frustrated and upset and wants to solve that.
And I think that you also might want to consider counselling on your own, because there's a bit of a contradiction on what you're saying You talk about how you're worried about trying too hard, and hanging on but then you also say you're apathetic and you shut down. And I think that you might want to work out some of the stuff that you went through with your other partner with a counsellor and figure out how to address some of these situations as and when they come up.
Because I do think that if you've had an abusive relationship that and you know depending on what kind of background you come from and surviving so many things that you have survived, it is going to be hard for you to feel comfortable and safe confronting someone about some of the things that they're doing. That is quite understandable. I definitely think that makes sense.
To sum up. Just because counselling didn't work in your last abusive relationship doesn't mean it won't work now because that partner was abusive. So of course, it didn't work and it's okay that you didn't know that. A lot of people go through that. You should definitely like I said, check out that book. Look up what other people go through online with going to counselling and abusive relationships. I'm sure there's tons of things written about it, especially if you had a counsellor that didn't understand your perspective, and where you're coming from, and didn't understand, you know, any kind of marginalisation. That can also compound and add issues to it so you can try and find a therapist who is more understanding of that.
And also, definitely check out online how to interview therapists and ask them questions. They are there to work for you. They are there to help you. And so you can absolutely ask them if they're used to polyamory, if they're used to being with helping people who have been in abusive relationships, if they're used to queer people. You can ask those questions. If you feel like you're “the problem”, you can find a second opinion.
It's not something where you always have to go by what one therapist says. Unfortunately, sometimes even when people aren't abusive and are trying to find a therapist, it can sometimes not work and that isn't because of you. So definitely, definitely keep that in mind. It's a good sign that K has addressed these issues but you can have a sit down conversation and figure out if K is still interested in this shared vision of what you want together.
Is K still interested in settling down? And figure that out with each other. And then, last thing is just give yourself a little bit of a break for having a lot of these feelings and maybe, see if you can get some therapy one on one for what you've been through with not only just having that really horrible relationship that sounds like but also, moving so much, and then facing like specific horrible attacks and like dealing with horrible people. Yeah, it's a lot and that's a lot to go through. And now you're also kind of back in the closet now a little bit when it comes to kink stuff, and that's a lot to go through.
So you need a little bit of support in that regard. And then we all have the pandemic which is a lot of shit for all of us to go through so there's a lot of stuff you're going through. And you can be a little bit easy on yourself. You don't sound like you're beating yourself up too much, but I always think it's good to remind people, especially when they've gone through a lot of stuff that like, “Hey, you've gone through a lot of stuff, and that's understandable that you would feel anxious and a little bit nervous about the things that are happening around you”.
But overall I would say this doesn't sound terrible. Again, my final point is that K suggesting that you go to counselling is a really positive sign. And I think that you should definitely consider it and just have a conversation. I feel like if K is already identifying that you're unhappy and is wanting to fix it then having that conversation about whether or not you have a shared vision won't be so difficult to have without a counsellor, but equally you can find one together who understands polyamory who's accepting and understanding of queerness and kink, and also has maybe Black identified themselves, or maybe has worked with Black clients before or has some understanding of that, instead of just being ignorant about it, which unfortunately a lot of therapists are. But yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.