If you’ve given a partner 10 years in monogamy, but they expect you to be happy and feel compersion after deciding to be polyamorous, you might be self-sacrificing a little too much.
That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.
What’s one major way your values have changed in the last 10 years?
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My long term partner and I have been together for 10 years. When we started dating I told him I was polyam and he said he was mono. I had been in mono relationships and so I was ok with us being that. I mentioned it again as our relationship progressed and he seemed to be interested but it just really never got off the ground. At that point I committed to being mono for the duration of our relationship and began building on that.
Then about 7 months ago he decided that he wanted to try polyam. Since then it's been nothing but heartache. For years I worked on turning off all my poly[am] switches and focused on building our relationship. And now he has decided that I need to turn them all back on immediately so that he can date.
I have ways been polyam, even when I didn't know what to call it or even realise that I was.
Believe me, it caused me no small amount of heartache when I was younger and crushing on multiple people at once. My desire to pursue it has not changed because it is who I am. He and I are really struggling right now because I'm not ecstatic for him in every possible way. I am putting in hard work reading and researching and self examination and really trying to break down all the bullshit I've built up over 10 years of being in a mono relationship. I can't even get him to read a book. He says he has it all figured out and he's totally adjusted to everything on every level.
Compersion is very difficult for me. I feel like he asked me to be his one and only special person for 10 years and now I'm not anymore and he is giving away to other people what was ours. And I hate it. I'm working on it but right now I despise his partners and I am angry and resentful and jealous that they're getting a part that, for the entirety of our relationship, has been for me because that's how HE wanted it and now he's just decided to 180 and pull the rug right out from under me.
When we are intimate now I can't think of anything else besides them. As you can imagine, it strains our intimacy. I try. I swear I am trying. It hurts that I can't seem to be happy for him. I feel guilty because he gets mad that I'm not, like I'm doing something wrong.
First and foremost, if you were with a friend, and you had some boxes to carry, and your friend said, “You know what? I don't know if I can do this. Would you carry these?” And you carried them and you were like, “Okay fine. I understand you may not be able to do it”. And you carry them. And then, after a long time, your friend is like, “Oh wait, actually I can totally do this. This is fine. Whatever. Cool, I can do it”. You would be annoyed. And you not only would be annoyed because he'd been carrying them for so long, you wouldn't expect in the scenario for the person who has been carrying the boxes to be happy about the change in situation.
I mean obviously yes. It's great that things have changed to make it a little easier, sort of, on you, but it would be unrealistic and unfair to expect that person who had been carrying all those boxes to suddenly be like, “Oh this is awesome. I'm so glad that you're enjoying carrying your box!” It's not like a completely comparable situation. I don't mean to compare relationships to holding boxes, but it's very very unrealistic for any person to completely change and sacrifice— because this has been a sacrifice for you — and then be happy, just suddenly be happy and cool and fine with things changing.
Changing is going to cause, even if it's a change that you would have liked to have had, changing things is going to be a little nerve wracking. And especially in the situation that you're in, like you said you've kind of— I don't think you can necessarily switch off your inclination towards polyamory if it's what you feel is an inclination. However, whenever people create a hierarchy — and whether this is in monogamy or polyamory — if you create a hierarchy where there is one person who is more important than everybody else and that person is the romantic person and you can do this within polyamory.
This is kind of what happens when people create “primary partners”. If you create a hierarchy that one person is important, it is naturally going to create a worry, and a little bit of a defence mechanism if you are in that prioritised position to want to stay in that prioritised position. You're naturally going to worry about that changing. So it makes complete and total sense for you to, after 10 years of being in a monogamous relationship with somebody, for you to be worried that — what if this person isn't polyamorous? They just want to find someone new to replace me?
It's okay to have those worries. This is a massive change. It's a massive, massive change. It's like if after 10 years, your partner was like, “Nope I don't want kids. Hate kids. Don't want kids. Hate kids. Don't want kids. Hate kids”, and then suddenly was like, “Let's have a million babies”. You would be a little bit concerned. And you wouldn't be wrong for feeling that. So right now, what you're doing is you're putting yourself, not only — and I really hate compersion. The thing that I hate about compersion, right— And for people who don't know what compersion is —Basically it’s supposed to be the “opposite of jealousy” although I've seen that be challenged more and more.
It's basically when you're happy that your partner is with somebody else like you're happy for them. I really hate putting it in a position where compersion is like the ideal or compersion is like the top of the mountain and you're trying to reach the top of the mountain and sometimes you just have to be okay that you can't get to the top. No, it's a cherry on top of the cake. It's an extra side benefit. And it might just not be something that you experience
It’s the same with friendships. Some people are super interested in their friends romantic lives and really get excited when they're dating other people, some people couldn't give a fuck less, and that's okay. It's okay if you're not deeply invested in being happy that you're partner’s with somebody else. It's okay to feel that. You're putting conversion on this like mountain that you need to climb up and you're forcing yourself to climb up this mountain.
Now, you have a little bit of a problem here. This is a problem that I have. I run an advice column because I have an inclination to be helpful. I like being helpful. I want to be helpful and useful to people. That's just kind of the way my personality is. I have to be very very very careful about how I do that because I've been in way too many situations where I have basically busted my ass for someone. It's difficult because sometimes I busted my ass for people but I haven't really… They didn't ask me to do that. And they've not recognised or seen what I've done and I felt resentment over that.
You have to be really really careful with the inclination to self-sacrifice, because even though I don't go out of my way to help people because I want cookies for it, or that I'm trying to necessarily do it to get on the good side. I'm not trying to be manipulative about it. But if I do self sacrifice, if I do work for people if I try to help someone, and then they turn around and they treat me like crap… It feels like it hurts worse. And I have to be really really careful about who I decide to sacrifice for. I've been in a lot of situations like not even romantic relationships, friendships.
I can imagine one friendship that I recently had where I— they said that they couldn't afford something and I built a Crowdfunder for them and I busted my ass to get it fully funded and they got the money and then they turned around, and they — we had a disagreement about something and they turned around and told everybody behind my back that I hated them and was trying to conspire against them and that really really hurt me. And it hurt me worse because I busted my butt so badly for them. And when that happens— like I've come to a conclusion that if I'm going to sacrifice or work hard for somebody, if I'm going to give to somebody, I have to release myself of the expectation and prepare for the reality that that person may not be that great.
And it's not my fault. There was a period of time where I wanted to be like, “Well I'm not going to sacrifice anything for anyone else. I’m not going to help anybody anymore”. And that's just not within my personality, right? But I have to just be careful about this. I don't think that it was wrong of you to give up on polyamory, but at the same time you do kind of have to realise that when you make that kind of a decision. You have to make that without basically beating yourself up if it doesn't work out. If you can sacrifice something, and then be okay with whatever the result of that is, then that is the best choice to decide when to sacrifice something.
It's really difficult, because it does hurt, and it is incredibly painful when you really, you know, go out of your way to help someone, and you also need to be — if you have a tendency towards this — I think you also need to be wary about who you do this for. And you also need to realise is this person going to see me? Yes, for me, like, I don't do things to to necessarily get loads of praise, but if I'm doing it for someone and I haven't made them aware that I'm trying for them or if I haven't, you know, if I haven't not necessarily tried to stick it in their face, but if, if they don't seem to be an appreciative person, right, or they specifically aren't asking me for help and I'm just going out of my way to do it I have to be really careful about that.
So that is the thing that I want you to think about in the future. There’s nothing you do about it now. You've sacrificed 10 years to this person and you know, that is all gone and I do think you need to allow yourself to be sad about that. You need to allow yourself to mourn the loss of those 10 years, you know, you’ve kind of put yourself on the back shelf of it, and prioritises your partner over yourself. And that has caused you to lose touch with yourself in that way. It's caused you to miss out on a lot of relationships you could have had during that time, and it's okay for you to be sad about that.
And I do think that right now you're kind of like pushing all of your feelings back, because you're still self sacrificing. You're still prioritising his feelings, You're still prioritising— you want to have compersion because you want him to be happy. And you're still doing that and I think that you need to stop doing that. And you need to allow yourself to be a little bit — like more than a little bit sad about what has happened and what you've missed out on.
The big thing here, aside from all of those issues, is your partner's attitude, which honestly really boils my piss to be frank. Expecting you to just turn around after 10 years of being monogamous, and not only be okay with polyamory, but to have no interest in doing any research after not being polyamorous, and I don't think anyone needs a degree to be polyamorous, but understandably like you— It seems like you want to work through this with him, and you want to talk about things, and it just seems like he doesn't want to talk about it. He just wants to do it and he wants you to be happy. That's kind of bullshit. I'm not surprised that you're struggling with being intimate with him and struggling in having any intimacy. Why would you?
Why would you want to be intimate with someone who completely changes the game on you? And not only completely changes the game on you but, isn't from what you've written, isn't really showing you any compassion for what you're going through? It’s like this scenario that I just introduced you in: you're holding this box. If he said, “Do you know what, actually, I can hold that box. I'm really sorry that you've had to hold it for so long. I'm so sorry.” You can't change what has happened and I respect the fact that like, you know, he could have been too self sacrificing. He could have equally tried polyamory when he didn't want to, and if it hadn’t— I mean I've seen that scenario play out so many times where people push themselves into polyamory, and they really don't want it, and it ends up being a really painful hard thing for them and I'm glad that he didn't do that.
But that doesn't mean he can't show you any compassion for where you are. That doesn't mean he can't try to and I understand like reading books and doing all that research isn't necessarily for everyone, but there's still things he can work with you through. And it doesn't sound like he's even showing you the least bit of compassion for what you have gone through. Even if he wanted to be polyamorous, from the start the fact that you've had to kind of completely switch gears and not only that but he is getting mad at you for not being happy for him. That's bullshit.
Even if you were both “experienced polyamory people”, even if you both were experienced, and you had a partner who was getting mad at you because you weren't happy for them, that's bullshit. It's okay that like, if he's dating other people and you're not feeling great, it's okay if he struggles with that. A lot of people really struggle with the idea that something they're doing is making their partner unhappy. A lot of people really struggle to go out on those first dates because they don't want to upset their partner. A lot of people want to reach some kind of perfect state of readiness and perfection before they go out and date other people, because they really don't want the partner to be unhappy.
He's not only not doing that but he's getting mad at you for not being happy. Well, no wonder you're not happy. That's no reason for you to be happy. You spent 10 years completely changing how you do relationships for one person whose completely switched it up. Seems like they're refusing to have any discussions with you about this. “I just expect you to be happy about it. Why are you sad?” You're not a robot. And you know what, there might be people out there in the world who could completely switch and be fine and be like “Yeah and I'm totally stoked for you”. That's great, that's not you, and it's not realistic to be— to have this expectation of you and like demand that you be cool.
If he wants to do polyamory it's not like polyamory is not monogamy plus. It's not monogamy but you get to sleep with whoever you want your partner's cool with it. That's not what polyamory is. And he has to be willing, just as he would in a monogamous relationship, to support you. If he has it all figured out for him. Brilliant, great. If he doesn't need to— if he feels like he doesn't need to read anything for him. Great. That's great. But he still needs to be there for you and be supportive of what you're going through. And that's the issue. He could read 500 books and still be unsupportive. The books aren't going to make him supportive.
But if he's just unwilling to do any kind of work with you. I mean, and then he's getting mad at you for not being happy. Of course you're not! Even if you had a completely supportive partner, who was totally down with and gave you lots of assurance and lots and was there for you and apologised constantly about changing their mind and all this sorts of stuff — I would still expect you to not be completely and utterly happy because it's a big shift. It's a big change. And it's scary to know if this is, is this person for real or are they just saying polyamory and then I'm going to get replaced? It's totally an utterly expected for you to have those feelings, and to also mourn what you've lost.
You've lost 10 years that you could have had so many relationships during that time. It's okay for you to be upset about that, but instead of being able to have someone there for you and someone who supports you and understands and is trying to be there for you, you've got someone who is like, “No, I'm cool with being polyamorous, and this is great. Whoo, why aren't you happy for me?” Like what? It would be like in that same scenario that person just like took the box from you and was like doing cartwheels for it and then was like “Shouldn't you be happy that I can carry this box?” No, of course you're not happy. Of course you're struggling to feel compersion.
That is totally an utterly expected in this situation. That is kind of the bigger issue for me in this. Yes, you have an issue here with self sacrifice, and whether or not, you know, that is something you should continue to do. Yes, you have an issue with not allowing yourself to feel your feelings about this because you're too busy continuing to self-sacrifice. Those are issues you can address, but you can't fix him not being willing to support you. And if he was supportive I would advise you to like, okay, accept where you are now accept what you've lost, mourn than what you've lost, try to work through some of this anger, see a polyamory friendly therapist on your own and see how you can reassure each other and work from where you are now to forward because I do see the other side of the situation and that if he did force himself to do polyamory and he couldn't, that could have also ended just as badly.
There could have also been resentment and also then a lot of emotional pain in that situation, so I can understand — and I think it's better that he said, “No, I don't want to do it”, instead of trying to be self sacrificing in the same way you were. I think it's better. But the fact that he is unwilling to be supportive of you is a big issue. And I do really, really think that regardless of whether you consider polyamory or monogamy is not the biggest issue in this situation. It's am I with someone who is willing to support me and be with me and hold me through difficult times in my life and help me and, you know, allow me to feel my feelings?
Someone who is being mad at you because you're not happy is not someone who is allowing you to feel your feelings. It's okay if he has feelings about your feelings. Like, that's fine. But if there is this expectation and you know maybe it's something you're more forcing on yourself but it sounds like he's also forcing this on you. There's an expectation for you to just be happy. That isn't going to work in monogamy, let alone polyamory. That doesn't work in any relationship, if someone just expects you to constantly be happy and doesn't want to deal with any sad feelings or unhappy feelings, that's not realistic in monogamy or any— That’s not realistic in a friendship. That's not realistic in any kind of relationship.
You have to deal with the fact that sometimes people aren't happy. And if you want to have a sustainable relationship with them then you have to be able to work with them through that. If you have the resource talk to a polyamory friendly therapist about all this. But I do really, really think that you need to— you can ask him and put kind of put an ultimatum kind of situation on him, in terms of being more supportive of you, but there's nothing you can do to make him care more about you.
And I really, really think that you should consider whether or not it's worth continuing to self sacrifice and continuing to be with someone who is not willing to sacrifice a little bit for you. Like it has to be mutual. It has to be someone who's willing to at least consider the fact that you're not happy, and try and be supportive of you. I think that you should really really consider if that's the kind of person that you want to be with. Because the problem here is absolutely not that you can't feel compersion. The problem is that you are being forced into a situation where you have to be happy or else, and that's not a sustainable or helpful situation. I hope that helps and good luck.