Episode 78: Not Good Enough

Sometimes when your partner wants non-monogamy you can be left feeling like you’ve failed or not done enough.

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

Discussion Topic:

What would you do if your family did not like one of your partners?

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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

My wife of 2 years has recently come to me with this I think. I don't know how to take it she says it is definitely not about sex. It's about making connections with people. I've only been able to connect to certain people in my life. She obviously is one but she wants deep connections with more people.

I don't know that I could ever handle her having sex with someone. I don't know how to connect to her any deeper than I have been doing. She says when we started dating that we were more non monogamous. This is what she wants. I don't know what to do. I would like some people's input on this.


First thing that I want to address in your letter, is that you say, “I don't know how to connect to her any deeper than I have been doing”. When someone is interested in non-monogamy or polyamory, it doesn't necessarily have to mean that whoever they are dating is “not enough”. And that can be really really difficult to feel on the emotional level, because there is a certain understandable logic that if someone comes to you and says, “I would like to date more people,” there is something about that in your brain that's going to say “Well, clearly we're not enough”.

I think it's really important to challenge yourself on that. And the reason is that that is an extremely simplistic way of looking at it. The decision to be more non-monogamous or the want, the drive to do that isn't, like,
“I want to go out to restaurants more”. It's a lot more complicated than that, and non-monogamy is a very very wide umbrella, and there are lots of different reasons people have for wanting to be non-monogamous.

I can't say for sure what your wife's decisions are or why she's interested in it. You say she wants to deep connections with more people. So, that doesn't necessarily mean that the connection that she has with you isn't deep. The thing that people compare it to, and I think it works very well as a comparison, is that if you decide to have another child after you've already had one that doesn't mean that the one child you have is “not enough”. It's not as simple as that.

I think that obviously, that is a little bit different, but I still think that that definitely applies. So, wanting deep connections with more people is easier for some people, and more understandable for some people, and I feel like I really relate to what you said in that you've only been able to connect to certain people in your life. I am kind of a little bit like that in a way. I don't necessarily find myself easily being social. I’m an introvert. I’m not really a person that likes chitchat and things like that.

So, I don't necessarily find it easy to have deep connections with people. Those take time and that's hard. And I find it difficult even to get rid of connections that I've had, even when they are not actually very good and healthy connections, because they're deep connections and I've known these people for a long time. It's harder to let go of. And so I understand how you feel about that.

She is a little bit different. But the important thing to remember is that her wanting other connections doesn't necessarily mean that there's a problem with yours. So when you say “I don't know how to connect to her any deeper than I have been doing”… there's nothing that you can personally do to change how or what she desires as far as romance. She may be a little bit more on the relationship anarchist side of things in that she doesn't necessarily have to class a thing as romance but you don't have to see that as a deficiency in yourself.

It's not something that you lack. She said that when you started dating, you were a little bit more non-monogamous. I don't know if that meant that you did date other people in the beginning but if she is comparing it to a time previous that you've had, you don't really mention whether or not you enjoyed that or whether or not you didn't enjoy that.

I think that if you did enjoy that or if at the very least you didn't necessarily have a problem with that, then maybe that's an option, but you do say, “I don't know that I could ever handle her having sex with someone else”. So I think that there are a couple things there. The first thing is, it's worth asking yourself what that's about.

Even people who are non-monogamous or polyamorous— it happens quite a lot actually that there's a couple and one of them wants to be non monogamous, and the other isn't to sure, they go ahead and do it. Then the person who didn't really want to be non-monogamous finds a date and the person who instigated the whole thing suddenly finds themselves in a very interesting position where they're feeling a lot of feelings about their partner being with someone else.

It’s very unrealistic to expect yourself, especially if you grew up in a society where monogamy was the only option that was presented to you, and not only the only option but the only option with added cultural baggage— So there's lots of things that we tack on to monogamy, at least in the culture that I'm in, which is: one person should be good enough for you, there is the one which is the person gets destined to be with and they should fulfil every need and you shouldn't need anything from anybody.

There's a lot of that stuff that's tacked on. It's very unrealistic to go through all of that and just expect yourself to have no emotions whatsoever about your partner being with someone else. That is just so unrealistic. You've grown up with a very, very— especially you, in particular, I'm assuming— Well, I don't actually know. You may in particular feel like there is something personally at stake if your partner is with someone else, especially if your wife is interested in men.

Again, I don't necessarily actually know if that is what you experience but there are lots and lots of reasons to feel afraid, to feel scared, to have all sorts of feelings about your partner being with someone else, especially having sex with someone else, or loving someone else. There's lots there to be scared of. I don't necessarily think that you being trepidatious or afraid means that you can't do non-monogamy.

I think that the first thing that you should think about — and I do have an article on NonMonogamyHelp.com, a 101 article that talks about some of the things that you need to think about if you're considering non-monogamy — and one of the first things that I encourage people to think about is what I call an anchor. So you need to find your anchor and your anchor is the reason — your personal reason — for being interested in non-monogamy, and it cannot be that you want to preserve an existing relationship.

And that can be a very small thing like it can be that you enjoy spending time alone. It doesn't even necessarily have to be that you have an interest in dating other people. It can be that “I enjoy spending time alone. I like my alone time. If my partner is out on a date then I get the house to myself”. There needs to be something personal that isn't saving the relationship that draws you to non-monogamy or that you can think of when you're in times of kind of emotional upset.

Because you most likely will be in emotional upset at some point. It is very very rare that you would just be able to be like “Oh, I'm fine”. Even people who are super interested in non monogamy get kind of scared when a partner is with someone else. It's very normal. I think if you can find an anchor, if you can find a reason that isn't saving this relationship to be interested in non-monogamy, then it's worth a try.

One thing that I will say is the reason why I say your anchor cannot be to save your relationship is that a non-monogamous relationship is different. It is not monogamy with an upgrade. It’s not monogamy with a few added benefits. It is a different way of doing things. Accepting non-monogamy on a fundamental level means accepting that your partner will not spend 100% of their time with you. This is true for some monogamous relationships.

If you have a partner who has a time intensive career, if you are with a partner who maybe is in some type of military service or in Peace Corps or something like that where they have to travel overseas, you also have to accept that too if you want to be in that relationship. Not every monogamous person wants that type of relationship because they don't want their partner to spend so much time away from them.

It's very, very important that you are able to accept that and go, “Okay I can accept that”. The anchor is what you use to say, “Okay this is what I'm interested in.” The reason why it can't be that [to save the relationship[ is because, fundamentally, everything is at some point going to change. Trying to use that as an anchor is— it's like trying to hold on to— it’s like expecting that if your relationship goes from in person to long distance, it's expecting that your relationship will be the exact same long distance as it is in person.

It's not to say that long distance relationships are less than but they are different. They're different to an in person relationship. Some people can do long distance. Some people cannot and there's lots of different reasons why. But, if you were holding on to a relationship and you go long distance to hold on to that relationship and you have the expectation that your relationship will not change, then you are going to be sorely disappointed.

So, if you decide to try non-monogamy purely for the purposes of keeping this relationship the way it is now, then you will be disappointed because if you decide to go this way, there will be times when your wife is not there. She will be dating other people. She will be developing connections with other people and that is something that you negotiate as and when, but you can't expect that you're going to say yes to non-monogamy and nothing will change. Things will change and that is just part of it.

Another thing that I'll say, which is also in the article if you have a look at it, is that people can be convinced of the safety of monogamy by society and feel a lot more emotions in non-monogamy because it is not socially reinforced. You could break up with your wife, and meet someone, be with that person for 10 years and they could leave you overnight. The assumption that monogamy is safer, and that it will automatically mean that someone will stay with you, that you will have a long term relationship and that relationship will last until someone in it doesn't make it out alive is not true.

We think that monogamy is safer because there's all of these cultural scripts. There's all of these things that society tells us— especially the relationship escalator, which I definitely think you should look up— you meet, you date you get married and you go up the steps and those steps reinforce the idea that this is secure, but it's not actually secure necessarily. People can, regardless of whether they're monogamous or polyamorous, people can meet someone new, fall in love with someone else, and leave you.

That is something that can happen, and being monogamous won't protect you from that. So, it makes a lot of sense to be afraid in non-monogamous situations of losing your partner, because you don't have that cultural script that says, “This is going to be fine” and in fact a lot of people have a cultural script that says “Open relationships don't work”, so they are naturally more afraid.

I think that, to sum up, your wife being interested in deep connections with other people isn’t an indication that your connection with her isn't deep, and her desire to do that is valid. If you don't have a desire to do that, that's also valid. There's not one right way to do this. I would encourage you to look on NonMonogamyHelp.com for my 101 article, which will help you think about your anchor, think about the reasons if you are interested in this that you might try it and see if it's something that you're interested in.

And don't necessarily take the idea that just because you're not feeling great about your wife being with other people, or having sex with other people, that that necessarily means that you can't do it. It's kind of pretty normal for the society that most people grow up in so it's not necessarily a bad sign. It's just pretty normal. So yeah, have a look at that, see if there is an anchor for you, see if there is some reason that you would be personally interested in it. If there is, give it a shot.

And, you know, worse comes to worse, you don't end up together and breakups suck. And I'm not going to pretend like they don't, but it's always worth remembering that sometimes two people can be good people, nice people, great people, but not great for each other, and that doesn't necessarily mean that either of you have failed or done anything wrong. Because I think sometimes in breakups, it's quite hard to feel like that there isn't some kind of blame or sometimes it's really easy to blame yourself or to be mean to yourself about it.

If it doesn't work out, if you're not really compatible with this, if this isn't something that you want, or you try it and that's not for you, or anything else, if you don't end up together, it doesn't mean that you've necessarily done anything wrong or that you're necessarily— that there's a blame there, if that makes sense. I hope that helps and good luck.

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