I am a 40 year old solo poly[am] woman in a relationship with a poly man who is in a long term nesting relationship with his common-law wife. They have been together over 25 years; I’ve been with him for just over 3.
I’ve heard you tell readers on multiple occasions that you should not know too much about the inner workings of your partner’s other relationships. I agree with this fully, now that I’ve had the painful experience of doing just that. Three years into the relationship I am really struggling with the consequences of that and I hope you have some advice about where to go from here.
When I started dating my partner, I was brand-new to poly[am], and I was fascinated with the concept right away. I read everything I could find about open relationships, and I asked him a lot of questions. We became very close in a short period of time, in part because we talked about everything. A few months after we fell in love he went on a 2-month trip with his wife and kids, and we communicated mostly by email. We wrote long letters to each other sharing the most intimate details of our lives.
I learned the reasons that he pursued polyamory, which included feeling lonely in his marriage and the lack of sexual compatibility with his wife. He never said anything negative about her, and he clearly loves and respects her and is grateful that she agreed to polyamory even though she much prefers monogamy. Learning this made me feel closer to him, and I assumed that the more I knew about the history of their relationship and the ongoing struggles, the better I could support both of them.
However, about a year into our relationship I started really resenting his wife, mostly because I wanted to be able to spend more time with our shared partner, and I saw her as an obstacle to that. Eventually I realized that he wasn’t taking responsibility for his choices, and I asked him not to scapegoat his wife because it was damaging my relationship with her. To his credit, he did stop, and things got better for a while. He negotiated spending a bit more time with me, and I was very happy with that.
Unfortunately, my feelings towards his wife haven’t fully recovered. She and I have a cordial relationship. We interact only when necessary. I have dinner with them and their kids every once and awhile, but I find it extremely awkward. She is pleasant enough and I don’t think she has anything against me personally, so I’m pretty sure this is all my stuff. Although I’ve asked my partner not to tell me when they are going through a rough patch, it ends up being pretty obvious because he’s an emotional guy. He’s also extremely honest, which is a wonderful quality, but it means he perceives that not telling me what’s happening in his life is akin to lying, or at least “don’t ask don’t tell” — which is fine for some people but not how either of us want to operate.
They seem to go through a lot of rough patches. They’ve talked about separating many times. I know that they won’t break up, because they are both very family-oriented and things would have to get very bad before they would put their kids through that.
I get very triggered when they are re-evaluating their relationship. I worry that one of these days she will ask him to choose between their family and poly[am]. That may not be true, but it’s my fear, and it causes me a lot of anxiety and guilt.
I’ve explained all of this to my partner, and he feels terrible for the pain he has caused me. We are trying to figure out how to maintain our close emotional bond without triggering me. It seems obvious that we just shouldn’t talk about the things that trigger me, but it’s not that easy in practise. And even if we can manage to do that, how do I get over my negative feelings about his wife and their relationship?
In some ways, you have opened Pandora’s Box a little bit because you have been let into their relationship in a way that puts you in an awkward position, but I do think that ultimately your feelings aren’t really about her so much as they are coming from a place of instability in your relationship, which is why they haven’t recovered.
It seems like this is less about her actions and more about his. You don’t seem upset that he went on a two month trip with her and his kids, though he did communicate with you, and then you had to negotiate for more time and he initially blamed his partner for that. You haven’t really overcome that because he gets obviously upset when their relationship is in turmoil. It seems like you’ve not really had time to breathe in that regard.
He can tell you when they’re going through a rough patch without giving you details. He can also reassure you that he does not have any plans to throw you out to save his marriage — if that’s something he can promise. Personally, I feel like in my relationships I would never tolerate one of my partners demanding I dump someone else. That would be an absolute no no for me.
The problem is that, if he is willing to get rid of you if polyamory becomes a problem in his relationship, then he isn’t going to be able to promise that to you. And then you will begin to feel anxious and scared about every up and down in their relationship and then, to a certain extent, resentful of his wife for “causing” the problem. You have a relationship with him whereas you have little in the way of a friendship with her, so it makes sense that it’s easier for you to be upset and angry with her than with him.
There needs to be a combination of you sitting with the discomfort of being afraid of what you can’t control, which is their relationship, but also some reassurance on his part — especially if he wants to be able to tell you when they are having issues or be honest about it. If he can’t give that reassurance or promise… then your anxiety isn’t just happening and this isn’t about her. It’s about your relationship.
So, to sum up, I think this really is less about her and more about the uncertainty you have. If he does reassure you that he wouldn’t accept that kind of ultimatum from her and you still have these feelings, it might be worth consulting a polyamory friendly relationship therapist to work through what specific things are triggering you and figure out how to sit with this discomfort for awhile until the balance is set right. But if he cannot give you that reassurance, it might be worth working with a therapist on how to manage boundaries on your part.
I feel like if he can’t give you a reassurance that he’s not going to chuck you when his relationship goes south, then you’re definitely going to have to maintain more boundaries with hearing about his other relationship because it’s going to, for an understandable reason, make you feel extremely anxious whenever they are going through a rough patch. And you may, in the end, want to consider whether or not you want to be with someone who has no problem chucking your relationship out to save another.
I hope this helps and good luck.