If you’re trying to convince your partner to be polyamorous, you may not be able to “fix” them wanting monogamy.
That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.
Could you see yourself being monogamous?
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I am a 27-year-old non-binary person who has been with my 31-year-old husband since early 2017. We have been married for a year.
My main concern deals with the fact that both of us are children of abusive parents. His mom was heavily medicated when he was a child and neglectful while at the worst times hit him or made him feel unsafe that he could not have his own privacy. My father was sexually abusive and an alcoholic. You get the idea. Because of this, we both sought therapy and medication management around the same time.
Unfortunately, I realized a few months after I got married that I was polyamorous mainly because I've always felt this way from analyzing all of my previous relationships. This was not taken well by him. We went to see a therapist together for a few sessions and most of it was the therapist saying I "made a promise and I have to keep it." He has admittedly stated that the back and forth moods he has had with the whole situation has somewhat been caused by his recently diagnosed Bipolar 2 condition as well as the fact that when his father was depressed when he was a kid, his step mom cheated on him.
We had many conversations, ultimately to which I said -- I am who I am. I am poly(am) … and he is not. I asked him to give it some time for us to revisit the conversation. It's been a couple of months, yet it has been eating away at me. I feel like I can't talk about someone I like without him wincing or feel like I'm not able to be myself. Trust me, I am aware of his needs too. I make sure to ask him how he is, how I can better support him, etc.
Yet at the times where I try to incorporate my feelings of being depressed because I can't feel like myself or I feel shame for expressing my needs, he will change the subject. He said he doesn't know how to process these emotions or how to have the conversation without anger or insecurity bubbling. I have reinforced that HE himself does not have to be poly(am). I would never force that when someone just isn't. He realized this about himself and that is fine. But how do I go on?
Of course, I have people say "Well it doesn't look like it will work out." I don't agree. Do you have any suggestions to open him up about this? Any conversation tips or something like that? I have stated it's not because he's "not enough" or that I am doing things in a retaliation kind of way. I just want to feel comfortable being… me with the person I love. Ultimately, I know he needs to make these decisions. Or maybe I am the one projecting my own failings.
Anything helps really.
So the first thing that I want to say is that just because you're not forcing someone to be polyamorous isn't necessarily going to fix the situation. Polyamory isn't an upgrade to monogamy and it isn't cheating with permission and I feel like you do know that. But I feel like you're kind of forgetting this because you say, “Well, he doesn't have to be polyamorous”. People are not monogamous because they haven't worked through certain things.
And I feel like you're trying to— even though you admit that he is who he is — you're trying to, in some way, make him okay with you being polyamorous or make that be a life choice that he wants to make. And it's sort of similar to somebody saying that, “Well, you would be okay with wanting kids or being around kids if you just work through some stuff”. And that's not the case. Of course, there probably are some people who are not happy around kids because of their own stuff that they should work through. But that isn't necessarily true for every single person.
And there might be some people who are perfectly fine being monogamous to a polyamorous person if they work through some of the stuff but that doesn't necessarily mean that is every single person. Because, fundamentally, even a monogamous person to a polyamorous person has to change their lifestyle. It is a fundamentally different lifestyle — as much as I hate the word “lifestyle”.
It is similar — and I have compared it before on the column and the podcast — to a monogamous person who dates someone who is in the military and gets shipped out and so they don't see them for a long time. Maybe also someone who dates someone who is a doctor or a lawyer or has any type of career where they don't spend a lot of their time with their partner. Because their career demands so much. Not every single monogamous person, no matter what their background is or how much they do or don't work through things, can deal with that type of relationship and not everyone wants to, whether or not they can or not.
And that's a perfectly valid choice. He doesn't necessarily have to work through anything. If he doesn't want to be with someone who is polyamorous, that is a valid choice. And there isn't any failing on either of you. This isn't a situation where either of you have failed. And whether or not you have abusive backgrounds doesn't necessarily change anything. There are plenty of people who are polyamorous who don't have abusive backgrounds who still struggle with jealousy and all of this other sort of stuff. And then there are people who are monogamous and don't have that type of background and still want to be monogamous.
It's not a choice that people make because of their background. Maybe there is a situation where he might want to work through some of those feelings, but ultimately, you can't make him want to do that if he doesn't want to. The best I can tell you is to ask him if he would want to be in a monogamous relationship with someone who doesn't spend most of their time with him. Would he be in a monogamous relationship with someone who was a doctor or lawyer or had a high powered career where he wasn't going to be seeing them all the time?
And if the answer is no, then he probably isn't going to want to be monogamous to a polyamorous person, because on a fundamental level, if you take out all of the other emotional stuff that can go with it and things that are a little bit less certain, one thing that is very, very certain within polyamory is that your partner will not be spending the majority of their time with you. And if that is something that he doesn't want, that is valid, even if it comes from the fact that he has had traumatic experiences with infidelity in his past, even if it comes from the fact that he is scared or jealous.
People don't always have to work through that. Polyamory isn't an elevated choice. And it might be that he doesn't want to have to work through that, even if it means saving your relationship, because the process of going through that just might not be something that he wants to do. And unfortunately, I kind of agree with the people who say it doesn't look like it will work out because you are treating this as if this is a failing, as if you haven't done the right steps, or he hasn't done the right steps and that just isn't the case.
In the exact same way that if you wanted children and he didn't, neither one of you would be failing in that regard. And you wouldn't be able to convince him that he wants children if he didn't, or vice versa. So I think that you need to understand that your needs are valid. If you feel like polyamory is a core part of who you are and you would like to have a relationship even with a monogamous person where you feel free to discuss this, then that is valid. And to be honest with you, you might find that some polyamorous people may not necessarily want to hear about all of the people that you like or engage in that type of discussion.
Being polyamorous doesn't necessarily mean that you want to hear details about who your partner is interested in. A lot of polyamorous people may struggle with that and that doesn't make them any less polyamorous. But it's okay if this is what you want. And it's also okay if he doesn't want it. It's also okay if he — maybe he could be polyamorous if he worked through stuff, but he doesn't want to. He doesn't have to want to and it's not a failing of his if he doesn't want to.
And it doesn't necessarily mean that he doesn't care about you. It's a very, very personal decision that he has to make and if he doesn't want to make that decision that is valid for him. You can't out of the one side of your mouth say that it is valid and okay that he is not polyamorous, but on the other side of your mouth, expect that he needs to work through stuff in order to be okay with you being polyamorous. That is somewhat inherently contradictory. So I know that it sucks.
Believe me. I can sympathise with having a wonderful relationship that works in a lot of ways. But you have an inherent incompatibility that means that it isn't necessarily a long lasting relationship and that absolutely is painful. But the longer that you draw it out, and the longer that you wait, and the longer you allow the resentment that you will inevitably feel to bubble, the more painful it is going to be in the long run.
So it is really really important for you to decide for yourself, regardless of whether or not he decides whatever for himself, to make the decision to be in a relationship that reflects your needs instead of staying in one that doesn't and trying to force it. Because trying to force it just doesn't work. You can't force someone who has no interest in trying polyamory, even as a monogamous person to a polyamorous person to do that, if that is not what they want to do. And I wish that I had better tips to try and “fix that”. But it isn't something that needs to be fixed. He isn't broken. He just isn't polyamorous. So I hope that helps and good luck.