Last update Fri Nov 2, 2012
You've introduced your monogamous partner to this "polyamory" thing, and your partner didn't take it quite as well as you liked...
(Note: This page wasn't written by me; it was written by "Ryan Random," the monogamous partner of a polyamorous person. It offers an insight into the reaction of an essentially monogamous person to the idea of polyamory.)
So, you've told your partner that you want a polyamorous relationship and they've flown off the handle and left.
That wasn't what I expected.
You've told your partner that this kind of relationship is the only choice for you and your partner has had a nervous breakdown and run away, crying. Obviously this is not the kind of response that you were hoping for; however, you have to understand that what you have just told them will have come as a huge shock to them, even if you have tried to prepare them for it. They will be feeling lots of conflicting emotions at this point, some justified and others less so.
Why is my partner so upset?
This will be different from person to person. In general, the monogamous partner will feel betrayed, hurt and lost. This is due to the monogamous partner’s belief and feeling that a partnership is between two people and that three or more people are a crowd. This may not always be the case, but to most monogamous partners this is the accepted norm and any deviation is very hard to understand or accept. The monogamous partner will feel sidelined and left out.
For most monogamous people, the idea of the person that they love being with another person is the worst thing that could happen, in their minds. And this can be attributed to the the theory that of the mental link between seeing a loved one in the arms of another and emotional pain. Think back to seeing an ex-partner that you cared about, in the arms of their new partner for the first time. This hollow feeling that sits at the bottom of your gut is the same feeling of powerlessness which that situation brings about. Now think about how hard it is to smile and be polite to the person who has just usurped you from that relationship and how long it takes to recover from it. Now think about doing that every few days and knowing that you’ll have to do that every few days for the rest of your life.
But surely that’s not so bad, as long as we’re together?
For you, this is a fair point as a polyamorous person the idea of a three way “timeshare” relationship is normal and very appealing. For the monogamous partner, who thought that they would be able to arrive home every night and spend the evening with the one they love, this is a sad situation to be in because not only do they have the disappointment of not being able to spent all their spare time with you, but they have to deal with the fact that, while they sit at home lonely, you are happy to split your time between partners which gives the impression that they are not enough for you (which in a sense they ain't, purely by virtue of the fact that you are polyamorous).
This is a very hard time for the monogamous partner as they have to face this fact EVERY time you are not around, whether or not you are with your other partner. And over time this will distress the monogamous partner greatly. For some this problem is not even a sexual jealousy but rather a emotional one. Monogamous people have a hard time being able to understand the emotional split that you, as a polyamorous person, are able to make. They feel that they have devoted their life to being with you and in return you are only willing to allow them to share you with someone else. Even a polyamorous person can see that this is an unfair deal to force on someone.
Some people have found that allowing the monogamous partner to have other relationships as well helps. However, in the eyes of the monogamous partner, this can seem to make the relationship even more worthless, because the extra relationship with a forth partner would only be a crutch to the support the polyamorous relationship and would, in the long run, be fruitless for both partners in that relationship. One other small problem could also arise, if all the extra partners decide to have other partners, you might end up with a huge group of unrelated people cross contaminating each other during sexual relations, which may lead to STDs and other nasty medical situations. Remember there is no such thing as 100% safe sex and for every partner you sleep with you also sleep with every partner they’ve ever had.
But surly they can live with this, they do love me after all?
This is a good point, because, as they say, "love can move a mountain." However, even love has its limits, and these show themselves when one partner feels that the relationship is one-sided. You may not see it like this, but your partner might, and this could be a major sticking point, especially for naturally jealous or insecure people. Unfortunately it seem to be almost impossible to explain, like trying to convince someone that breathing gas is perfectly healthy for them, because you can and therefore it must be. Either they have it in them to take their life in their hands and try it or they feel deep down inside that it WILL kill them because they are not built the same way as you. One way is a massive emotional risk and the other is a set knowledge that something is beyond their ability.
You may love your partner just as much as they love you, but the introduction of another partner belies that love as far as the monogamous partner is concerned. As far as they are concerned one person is enough for them, so why not for you? You can explain it purely by the fact that you are polyamorous, and they will understand this on a cognitive level. But on an emotional level this is harder to reconcile. And if the partner thinks that this compromise lessens them as a person then this becomes a problem.
But it doesn’t lessen them as a person!!
This is something that you have to understand from their point of view. Most people like to feel that the team, made up of them and you, as a partnership, has a mission to do. To work hard and smart together and at some point be able to turn round to the world and say "LOOK WHAT WE DID WITH OUR LOVE." However, this become strained with the addition of a third person; "look what we did with our love and the help of this person" don't sound quite right. Now, much as this might sound trivial to you, these are very important things to a monogamous person.
For men this can boil down to the simple primitive thought that two males don't share a mate without deciding who is dominant, which in human terms makes the relationship unworkable due to one or both monogamous males constantly competing for the attention of the female. Also, having another partner can make some people feel unneeded and inadequate. For women, this situation could make the female feel unneeded and possibly unattractive. In the end the partner who doesn't feel comfortable in the relationship becomes the pariah, which leads to more problems of alienation and distrust. What this comes down to is that if a monogamous person accepts the polyamorous relationship, they feel as if they are subjugating themselves to the other person. Whether they are or not. And this causes deep-seated feelings of unworthiness and of being "surplus to requirements."
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But that’s rubbish; I love them and need them as much as I always did.
Again, another very fair point, but if you have been in a relationship for a while and than want to include an extra person on an equal standing, it soon makes the first partner question why the other was needed, "what do they provide that I don't?" Of course, to you the answer is simple: nothing, it’s just a change, another person to run to, an extra person to make love to and be loved by. But the monogamous person doesn’t need that extra person and feels resentful of them. This is even more pronounced in long term relationships, because the first partner may feel that they have put a lot of effort into the relationship, hung on in the good and bad, and yet this new persons get to join the team without even doing an initiation or learning the secret handshake, so to speak. This "promotion from outside the ranks" will be seen as a betrayal and will hurt the monogamous person deeply because they feel they have worked hard to be with you. A good example would be a builder sweating and hurting to build a house and the painter getting all the credit because he finished it off with a nice coat of paint on the window sills.
This may sound odd but to the monogamous person this is obvious just as their distrust of the situation sounds odd to you. Your feeling might not have changed for them but as soon as you mentioned this to your partner, they started to question every assumption they ever made about their relationship with you. Obviously this has come as a shock and they are not happy but also they might never have thought that you would put them in the position where they have to choose between losing you or losing their special relationship with you. Because, remember, even though to you the relationship would be better and stronger the way you see it, to them it would never be the relationship that they wanted and they would never be with you in the way that makes them happy.
Well it looks like we’re fucked then!
This is true. If neither of you will budge on your stand points then you will never have any kind of romantic relationship with each other. However compromise is possible. Try to sit down and strip it down to the basics, what do you both want? Try going into separate rooms and writing a list of the things you would like to happen with your relationship in the long term. Aims and goals.
For example "In ten years time I would like us both to be living together in a farm house in Outer Mongolia with a dog and two cats, I would like to be able to travel and work wherever I wish and have the money to do it." How? "By stealing just enough children from the local village to harvest organs for the black market, but not enough that anyone would notice."
Obviously this is a silly example, but it give the idea of what the other partner would like out of the relationship, without making demands. Think if it as a first draft of your life plan. Then come together trade papers and read them separately a few time before coming together to discuss a plan to make as much as is practical of the two plans possible.
- How far can we both bend to make this work?
- Is there another way for the poly partner to get the extra affection they need (secret affairs, dressing up, swinging, fetish parties)?
- Can the monogamous partner live with these options or are they going to have the same effect as the poly relationship in the long term?
Most relationships take a lot of hard work and compromise but the key to them all is open communication.
Unfortunately, it is possible that this will not work for you. If one partner is totally against the idea of you with anyone else, known or unknown, or if you feel it is impossible for you to function without two constant partners, then this is a hurdle which will be dangerous and painful to try and cross and might be best left.
Having said that, not enough effort is a bad thing too. Many people all over the world tell the same story in the same type of bar, of the one that got away because they were too stubborn or quick to judge and it ended up ruining their lives. This is a misleading story in my opinion, personally I never subscribed to the idea that "it is better to have loved and lost," and if I’m honest I think it's usually used as a kind of excuse for not being attentive enough to fix the problem in the relationship. All relationships have problems but if you REALLY care and REALLY want to be with a person it is possible, through mutual respect and hard work, to have that relationship no matter what stands in your way.