Episode 76: No Way Out

If you feel you’re between crushing emotions and a family breakdown, you might feel like there’s no way out.

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic:

Talk about one hard limit you have and how it became a hard limit for you.

Listen here on or on Anchor. Visit the Anchor website to find where else the podcast is distributed or use this handy RSS link.


This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

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'm really struggling with the feeling of being trapped and forced to comply with my [nesting partner]. I'm also dealing with jealousy and resentment, feeling that there is a great inequality in our relationship. I feel rather trapped and like I'm told to "deal with it or leave".

We have been together for 5 years, we have kids and have been active in the BDSM & kink community since we started dating.

The thing that I feel is holding me back within our relationship is the polyamory aspect. My partner (M) and I agreed to start exploring non-monogamy and sex with others. We had a few good times and successes with this. We agreed that we were unicorn hunting (a bit unknowingly) and that was okay for a while.

It was agreed that we would continue exploration and agreed that I would work on myself and my partner would be ok to sleep with others. We stopped "unicorn" hunting. I made the point of expressing that I would like to see others as well but did not chase that because of the fear of upsetting my partner and to work on myself. She has a lot of insecurities around me seeing others and I am trying to avoid triggering her. I didn't bring up my wants and desires for fear of hurting her.

M went on a number of dates and had casual flings with some other men and I felt lots of compersion and was okay with these encounters.

I used to feel lots of compersion and this is the point where I feel the compersion or happiness for me stopped. There has been a progression of this for a number of years. I had hoped out of it all that it would bring both of us freedom and the openness that we both want in our relationship. I also hoped that it would bring a kind of intimacy.

M started dating A about a year ago. I had initially understood that they would be sleeping together casually. I was okay with this and allowed them to meet in our home. Their first real "date" had me really apprehensive and I had mixed feelings about them being in our home. At this time I didn't know my own boundaries and it was really difficult for me figure them out.

We discussed it and I took one of our kids out for the day while they had some time alone. I worked on keeping myself occupied and non emotional, however as the hours wore on I grew more and more upset and anxious (and angry for lack of a better word). I was flooded with emotions. I remember hitting my steering wheel for no real reason as I was flooded with emotion.

M sent me a message after A left and asked if I was okay. I told her I was not and headed home. I fell to pieces when I got home. I could not go anywhere near our bedroom and couldn't stop crying. I had no idea why. I eventually built up the courage to go in but still struggled. M held me tightly and we worked through the encounter.

Their relationship progressed, always meeting at our house because of A's living situation in a shared house. They would sleep in the lounge on a mattress and I would sleep in our room while they met. At first A would not stay all night and I was happy for M to come back to bed with me.

Shortly after they started dating we found out that we were expecting another child. We changed things around after I expressed that I felt restricted around not being able to access the rest of the house and I started sleeping in the lounge room on the mattress while they slept in the bedroom. The nights where A didn't stay, M woke me up and we went to bed together.

This was okay for some time until my anxiety built up over time and I had an anxiety attack while they spent a night together in our room. I remember hyperventilating and getting very emotional as I felt them come out and M & A kissed at the front door (within sight of the lounge room). I shouted and lost my cool and broke down after banging on the floor and shouting. I ended up at the hospital after M didn't feel we were both safe.

M kept talking to me and kept communicating with me about their relationship and how it has changed and morphed into what it is now. Finding out that I don't fill all of her cups has really hurt me. And made me realise that she doesn't always fill all my cups.

When I feel overwhelmed with emotion I tend to keep bringing up that I am not allowed to meet other partners. I have made it clear to M that I would like to but she feels that all these emotional freak-outs of mine and our past history has left her unable to trust me.

We've had a lot of ups and downs in our relationship. Mostly to do with myself. I've been diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder. I am getting help with all of this and have been having lots of success with my treatment. I am finding out who I am and feel that polyam is part of me and I would like to understand and try it, particularly around my own sexuality.

I still feel flooded with emotions when I think about wanting to meet others. I feel physically sick to the point of almost vomiting. Even though M tries really hard to give me space and takes time to spend with me I still feel kind of second best. Even though we spend the majority of the time [together].

How do I cope with the feeling of inequality within our relationship? How do I allow myself to do what I want to do and communicate that effectively without triggering or hurting M?

I'd also like to add that M has told me she feels like I will just brush our relationship aside and put energy into new relationships rather than make our own stronger. I don't feel that this would be the case however I do understand because of the trust issues that we have.

I feel that she won't or doesn't want to do the self work to allow me to date others.

M has told me that I am in a "tit for tat" mindset and am only wanting something I don't have because she has it. I only want the freedom to explore myself and explore alternative relationships to fill some cups that M can't or ones that I don't know about.


First and foremost, you say, “How do I cope with the feeling of inequality?” In my opinion, you shouldn't have to cope with inequality. At the very base of your relationship is a complete lack of trust so it doesn't surprise me that you're having all of these emotional reactions or that you find yourself incapable or or just really struggle to control your emotions. You can't work from a basis of a complete lack of trust. M has no trust in you.

And she not only doesn't have trust in you that you would respect her in terms of continuing an open relationship but she also just doesn't like have trust that you understand your own needs. Like the fact that she sits there and tells you that you only want something because she has it means that she doesn't even trust that you can know yourself well enough. And that's a really, really huge problem. It's extremely unfair. And I don't know what happened.

You don't necessarily go into the details of why it got to the situation where she's allowed to date, but you aren't. And maybe there was some infidelity there. But even so, there has to be a basis of trust. And it's very, very unfair for her to expect that you can just have all the trust in her, and she doesn't trust you at all. “Working on yourself”. Okay, but what does that mean? And, you know, if there's infidelity, and if there is lying or cheating, I absolutely understand someone being nervous and finding it— you do have to rebuild that trust.

But it seems like this relationship with A has been a year. I don't know, you've been together for five years. So maybe for at least two years, there's been a period where M’s been allowed to date whomever and sleep with whoever, but you haven't. At what point did you both decide that this period would be over? There has to be some rebuilding and some sign that this period will come to an end. But basically, every single time you have or show any kind of emotion, M is like “Oh see, you have emotions, therefore, you can't date other people”. Which is just ridiculous.

And anytime you complain about the inequity that's going on, M just uses that against you, seems like. “Oh, well, you’re a tit for tat person, and you only want it because—“ That's just such bullshit. That's such bullshit. You know, your emotional outbursts are a thing. And that is definitely something you can work on. But you are getting help with that. And also, you are putting yourself in situations that are going to encourage you to have emotional outbursts.

There are lots of people who are polyamorous and have been for a long time  who don't want their metamors or other people their partners are dating in their bed or in their house. That is not a bad boundary to have. That doesn't mean you're incapable of polyamory. Maybe you don't want to be the third wheel in all of your partners dates. And there's nothing wrong with that. And of course, that makes you emotional. That doesn't mean any— of course, it makes you emotional, especially if you're not allowed to date anybody. That would make anybody emotional.

Like not only you're not allowed to date anybody, but you have to sleep in the living room, while they're probably having sex in the other room, or at some point, they probably will be. Of course you're emotional about that. I get A is a shared living situation. And that genuinely sucks. I've been in situations where I've been with a partner, and we literally like don't even have a living room, like we live in the in one room and the living room or whatever is occupied by somebody else. And there's no shared living space. There is no where for me to even go. So I'd have to like find a hotel.

But them's the breaks. That doesn't mean you're not allowed to have boundaries. It doesn't mean you're not allowed to say, “Hey, actually, you and A need to find a hotel room, or A needs to move out of the shared living space or something needs to happen”. That doesn't mean you can't have these boundaries. And like, obviously, they switched it up for you when you said, “I’m kind of trapped in the bedroom”. But there's more that could be done. And especially if you don't even get to sleep with other people or do that exploration yourself.

The second thing that's totally causing your emotions to freak out is the fact that— I don't want to say that M was dishonest, but your initial thought of their relationship, or it seems like what you agreed together to have was more about casual sex than it was about relationships. And I don't know what kind of conversations you all had when you decided to open your relationship or decided to go after this. But there is a very distinct lack of clarity of what the purpose of polyamory is, what it means to you both, and what it is that you want.

And so if you imagine that the relationship between M and A was going to be just a casual sex relationship and it's literally changing before your eyes into something more of a committed partnership, of course you were emotional about that. Of course you're freaking out about that, because you don't understand what's going on. And that doesn't necessarily sound like you and M are communicating about that.

And you haven't really sat down with each other and said, “Okay, we know we want to open our relationship, but how does that look? What does that mean?” Does that mean that certain nights are free? Do you have anything that's scheduled and planned for you both? Or do you just assume that because you live together and spent— Just because you share a lot of time together because you've live together doesn't mean that's actually time together.

It doesn’t it mean it's like a date or it's or it's devoted time together. It’s very, very easy when you live with someone to get to a point where, because they're around you all the time, you just assume that you're “together” all the time. But being around someone doesn't mean that you actually are devoting quality time with them or or you feel like you're actually, you know, with them in a way, and it's very, very easy to get sucked into that trap.

So what is polyamory to both of you? What are you interested in? What is it about it that makes you want to try it? And what do you mean by filling cups? What is missing? Because the thing of it is is that polyamory is not about finding multiple unfulfilling relationships so that you reach a level of permissible stasis. And I say this multiple times, because I think that a lot of people, and even myself— one of the first relationships that I was in, I felt really lonely. And I thought, “Oh, I'm so polyamorous because I'm with somebody, but I still want to date other people, and I'm so lonely”. It's because I wasn't necessarily getting what I needed from the relationships that I had.

So are you wanting to date other people because you aren't getting trust from from M? You aren't getting a base level of trust from M so maybe that's making you want to find other people. So make sure that— and I completely understand people who feel like monogamy is not for them, who maybe have an interest in sexual variety. And that isn’t something that monogamy can’t give them that. And that's fine. Is that what you mean, though? Just make sure that you're not trying to supplement your relationship with other people.

Because you shouldn't use polyamory to avoid a breakup. Two people can be polyamorous and not compatible. And just because you can date other people doesn't mean you should to continue dating someone who doesn't fulfil you, and who doesn't trust you. On a basic level, M doesn't trust you. And I'm sorry, like, if you had bad experiences together, or if you did something wrong, or, you know, and I understand the emotions that you've displayed can kind of make M feel scared but you both have to understand that you can't hide your needs, or try to restrict each other just because emotions are there, or you're worried about triggering each other.

This new kind of way of going about things — because polyamory for most people is a new thing. It isn't something they have a cultural script for. It isn't something that they necessarily are mentally prepared for — not because it's some type of expert level relationship, but because they spent their whole lives in a society that has told them that monogamy is the only way to go.

You know, love only means something if it's rare and you only have it with one other person. So you're fighting all of that, and what you've been told, unless you've been raised in a different society that I'm ignorant of, you're going to be fighting that. You're going to be dealing with reestablishing a relationship with each other, a trust with one another. There's also an issue of child care, and how to balance that. So like there's a lot to go through. But you need to be able to trust each other and be able to cope with the fact that this may make somebody else upset. If you walk on eggshells around each other— I feel like you are walking on eggshells around M.

You don't want to tell her what your needs are because you're afraid she's going to get upset. And she doesn't want to basically release this hold that you've agreed to be in — because you have agreed to be in it — because she's scared that you won't care about her. You have to trust each other. You have to trust that M going to— if she says as a grown adult who wants polyamory, she says “I agree to polyamory”, you have to be able to trust that she can take care of herself, and she can take care of her emotions, and that she is going to reach out when she needs it.

And she has to trust that you are going to invest time in your relationship. This whole entire house that that you've built together is on such a horribly unstable foundation that no wonder you’re emotional. No wonder you're freaking out. It makes total sense. You're not freaking out because you're unable to handle polyamory. And I'm sure that. yeah, having mental health issues does absolutely make it easier for your nervous system to kind of go all out. Even if you didn't have a psychiatric condition, I think you would still struggle in this situation, because you're not being trusted. And because you haven't had the basic level of understanding of what polyamory means to each other.

So you don't know if you're necessarily— All of that emotional stuff in you trying to push it down and going, “I’m going to be unemotional and unaffected”. No, no, no, no, no. All of that emotional stuff is illogical. All of that emotional stuff is designed to help you survive. Your brain right now is going, “Okay, we’re with M. But M’s with someone else. But this is supposed to be a casual relationship that's just about sex. But now they're acting like they're together together. What does that mean about you?” And especially if you've grown up in a society that is told you that love is scarce, yada, yada, yada…

And if she's ever tried to reassure you by telling you something like, “Oh, I'm only going to love you”, or “you mean the most to me”, that means there's one spot in M’s life for the top partner. And so of course, you're going to be freaked out about whether or not that spot is going to be taken, especially if you have children together. And so that brings up a whole other host of worries. So it absolutely makes sense that you're freaking out.

The first thing that you have to do is, I think if you can find a polyamory friendly couples therapist, I would definitely consider going to one together. But the first thing that needs to happen is there needs to be trust. Enough with this you're not allowed to date anybody crap. The idea of pausing a—even if you've messed up— the idea of pausing being open so that you can work on yourself — if it's something that you have decided for yourself completely. And you are saying, “I would like to wait to date other people”, especially since you do have so much emotions about meeting other people.

If it's a self imposed, “I am making the decision myself to not do this”, then that's one thing. But if it's a rule within your relationship, that she is then now saying that she doesn't trust you enough to— No. No, that isn't going to work. You need to start from trust. You both really need to have a conversation about the trust in your relationship. And it is unequal. And that isn't fair. It just isn't. Even if you agree to it, maybe you agreed to something that was unfair. And a lot of people do, especially if they've made a mistake.

The second thing that you need to do if she agrees and if she— but I’m very hesitant about her attitudes towards you. I’m very hesitant about the fact that she is telling you that you only want something because she wants it. That is very patronising. And that's very awful. It's awful. She shouldn't be telling you what— So awful. No. She needs to be able to trust that you know yourself better than she does. Because you do. So you need to give yourself a little bit more credit and not let somebody else tell you stuff like that. Don't tolerate that.

Don't tolerate somebody else being like, “Oh, you only want—”. No, don't tell me what I want. And don't tell me what I want. I don't care about what you think that I want. I'm telling you, this is what I want. And you need to respect that. That is that's not on. It’s not cool. Maybe she was in the heat of the moment, and it was something that she didn't mean to say so if she's willing to in the future, trust you, then that's one thing. Second thing I think that you all should do is really think about what your ideal setup looks like.

I have an article called “13 mistakes people make when trying polyamory”, and also another article called “13 things I wish I'd learned before trying non monogamy”. You can find those at NonMonogamyHelp.com. I would definitely check those out. And look at kind of the idea of setting up an anchor and figuring out — both of you — what polyamory is to you. What kind of ideal life do you want? Because, again, you can both be polyamorous, but both have very different ideas about how you want to do polyamory. And there's no one right way. And there's lots of different ways to do it. So you need to find out if you're actually compatible in terms of polyamory styles.

Figure out your ideal setup, how you can compromise on that, what you're willing to compromise on, talk things like that through. And then think about the physicalities of it as well. If you say, “Okay, I would like us to have two dedicated nights together. This is how we’ll handle childcare,” Things like that, then, you know, when she's out on dates with other people, you know      at least you have that kind of anchor as well of, “Yeah, but we have these nights together”. And that will help you with that. If there's no organisation or idea of how polyamory is going to fit into your life, you're of course going to be freaked out. Finding your anchor and having a little bit more understanding of what you both want, will make you feel a little bit calmer about it.

I think— or the third thing is you need to put some boundaries down around your shared living space. Clearly, you're not in a position— and this is totally fine. There needs to be some leeway about things. Just as if you wanted to bring someone home, she might also really struggle with that and that's fine. Being polyamorous is not about trying to get to some magical zen state where you're not bothered by anything. Sometimes you're bothered by things. And you know, even if she broke up with with A and met C and maybe C’s a dickhead and you don't get along with them.

There's all kinds of things where maybe you do want to put a boundary down around your shared living space, you might do the same if you were monogamous and maybe she had a really good friend who she kept bringing over, but you couldn't stand them. We put these kinds of boundaries down in monogamous situations.

It's your shared living space. It's your house. It’s your home. There should be some compromise there. And not just whether or not you sleep in the bedroom or sleep in the lounge. It’s okay for you to say, “Hey, you know what, I don't want to be the third wheel on your dates. So please find some way of going into A’s house, find a hotel room, or, you know, give me time to arrange so that I can go somewhere else. And then I'll be less bothered by it”. I think that that would be an enormous help. And I don't think it's too much to ask for. It is your house too. And that's okay. And it doesn't mean you can't do polyam.

I think the other last thing that you should do is, again, just have a little bit more communication between the two of you about what— It does seem like M was communicating with you about how the relationship with A changed. But you use non-monogamy and polyamory interchangeably. You haven't really talked about or made clear what is it to you. So I think you need to have just a little bit more communication. And also, I think for you what would really help is working with the specialist that you're working with in terms of your psychiatric disorder about what you do with these emotional outbursts, how can you handle them? Things to calm down a little bit, practices, even if it's just going outside for a walk.

There are ways to excuse yourself from a situation and just say, “I need a break”. And you should be allowed to do that. You don't have to sit there and try to hold all your emotions in and not show anything. That really isn't going to help you. Make sure that you have just a practice or something you can do that allows you to get those out. And then you can come back to the situation. I hope that helps and good luck.

Subscribe to Non-Monogamy Help

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.