Answering email: how do I polyamory?

Answering email: how do I polyamory? December 5, 2013

I got this email today from Princess Toadstool:

Today I stumbled across the blog post ‘Talking about polyamory with your partner’ (25 November 2011) while looking for resources for spouses of polyamorous people. I think you can guess where this is heading, but to elaborate: My husband and I have been together nearly 12 years, and married for seven, and we have a young child. About five months ago, my husband realised he had feelings for a friend (who is polyamorous). He decided he wanted to tell her about his feelings, and did so, and discovered that she had feelings for him too. They both wanted to pursue their feelings for each other.

This all came as a total shock to me, and I’ve really struggled with it since my husband told me about his feelings. A lot of the struggle is to do with my upbringing and background, and the fact that I’ve never ever thought that polyamory would become part of my world. However, throughout the whole process, my husband has been honest and open with me about his feelings and actions, and he hasn’t gone behind my back in any way. We’ve talked a LOT about things, and strangely enough, this whole process has seen our relationship gain new life (we’ve both struggled with depression in recent years, and our relationship had become reduced to a sort of apathetic, going-through-the-motions affair). I’ve also talked a lot with his friend, and we have become quite good friends too in the process – she’s a lovely person and I can see why they are attracted to each other, and how happy they are in each other’s company.

After all the talking we’ve done, and exploring the ideas around polyamory, about six weeks ago I gave him and his friend the freedom to pursue a relationship together, thinking that I would be able to handle it. However, I’ve found the experience far more confronting and painful than I had ever imagined. The intense feelings of pain, anger, jealousy and fear are turning me into an awful person and I’m terrified they are damaging my relationship with my husband. I love him and don’t want to leave him, I just want to find a way to be able to accept this part of who he is (and optimistically, I hope one day to get far enough to celebrate it), and not let my fear overwhelm me and ruin everything. The thing I find the hardest is that rationally, I can’t see any reason why this wouldn’t work as long as we have good boundaries and everyone knows they’re safe and loved (we already have some agreements in place). But the emotions … ugh.

So, I have some questions.

1. Are there any online communities for people in my situation? I feel very isolated and have no idea how to handle this – I’d really appreciate the opportunity to talk with someone who has been through a similar process, and has made it work. I know that there’s unlikely to be a one-size-fits-all approach, but being in touch with others for whom it’s worked out would be immensely helpful. We have a copy of the ‘Ethical Slut’ book, which has been really great, but talking with humans would also be good!

2. *Can* this actually work? Is it possible for someone to go from being an unwilling passenger to being a willing (and even enthusiastic) participant? (I think the unwillingness and passenger-status are sort of on the way out with me, but I’m including those because they were my starting point.)

3. How do people navigate the intense emotions without self-destructing or destroying those around them?

4. What are some of the benefits that the partners in a primary relationship can experience through one partner (or both) having a secondary relationship?

I’d really appreciate any suggestions you might have. In the meantime, I’ll continue to read your posts on polyamory – so far I’m finding them very enlightening, as well as the thoughtful conversations among commenters.

Thanks so much for this!

~ Princess T

🙂

Thanks for the email, Princess.  I’ll start by saying that Christina is the real expert here, so take whatever I say with an enormous grain of salt.

One of the real beauties I found to polyamory was that it increased my trust in my partners.  If there is a rule in place dictating how your partner must behave romantically, and they want to behave otherwise, they have a motive to lie.  But if you give them freedom to be who they are and do as they wish, what reason could they possibly have to ever lie to you?  None that I can think of.  So when your partner tells you he loves you, you know he means it.  When he is with you and your child, you know it’s because he wants to be, not because he feels obligated to be.  For me, this made my whole relationship feel even more sincere.

And it sounds like you two already have the bedrock of what makes polyamory work going for you: honesty and communication.  Because most people are awash in the societal standards of monogamous rules, where sometimes the choice is between lying or breaking expectations, it takes a lot of people a while to become accustomed to the notion that being honest with their partner about how they feel about others won’t be a punishable offense.  You two are already ahead of the curve.

Anyway, let’s get on with your questions.

1. Are there any online communities for people in my situation? I feel very isolated and have no idea how to handle this – I’d really appreciate the opportunity to talk with someone who has been through a similar process, and has made it work. I know that there’s unlikely to be a one-size-fits-all approach, but being in touch with others for whom it’s worked out would be immensely helpful. We have a copy of the ‘Ethical Slut’ book, which has been really great, but talking with humans would also be good!

I know a good place to find polyamorous and sex positive communities is on meetup.com.  Christina may have more info here than I.

You may also consider turning to the atheist community.  It seems half of us are poly nowadays.  Who knows?  You may even find some people to talk to in the comments of this very post.

2. *Can* this actually work? Is it possible for someone to go from being an unwilling passenger to being a willing (and even enthusiastic) participant? (I think the unwillingness and passenger-status are sort of on the way out with me, but I’m including those because they were my starting point.)

Oh, it can absolutely work!  Like most new things, time and patience are what gets you through more than anything.  Just keep telling yourself that love is not a limited commodity.  Loving another person has no bearing on how much your husband loves you.

In fact, it has been my experience that having rules in place that bind a person’s behavior, when that person wants to explore beyond those rules, can create resentment.  By saying to your husband that you trust him, that you want him to be happy even if it’s with someone else, you’re showing that you place more value on his happiness than on anything else.  So many times I’ve seen this create a swelling of gratitude that increases a person’s love for their partner.

So not only can it work, but more often than not I’ve seen it work better.

As for the jealousy, I’m not sure from whence it comes.  I’m not sure if it’s something we naturally feel or something we’re taught to feel as we grow (as if being jealous means you love someone more).  I think maybe it’s both, but I’ve also seen people in your shoes grow out of it in short order.  The best I can tell you is to be patient and stay involved.  The enthusiasm will come.

An idea may be to go on a date, so you can see the effects of support from your partner.  Obviously you shouldn’t force a date by going out with somebody you don’t know or with whom you are not at least a little interested.  And also, if you’re not ready for that, don’t do it.  But don’t feel like you would be betraying anybody by doing so.  I think you’d find on your date (and maybe even realize by just imagining yourself on a date) that your love for you husband does not decrease at all.

The way I conquered jealousy was to look at dating/sex/feelings as an avenue for fun.  I didn’t mind that my girlfriend hung out with other guys, that she liked them or even loved them so long as no hanky panky took place.   I didn’t mind if they played video games, went to karaoke, or engaged in almost any fun activity.  But for some reason physicality was an avenue to fun that was off limits, and I could never figure out why one of the most enjoyable things you could do with someone was forbidden when all the others were allowable.  After all, what was my own ideal relationship but dating my best friend, right?  So I just looked at it as my partner having fun with her friends.

I’m not sure if that will help you, but it helped me.

One last thing to try is to go out on a triple date.  The three of you could go to the movies and hold hands.  You said she’s a lovely lady, be a part of what they have.  Not like a supervisory parent, but a real part of it.  Have fun with them, and let her have fun with you and your hubby, regardless of who he sleeps with that night.

3. How do people navigate the intense emotions without self-destructing or destroying those around them?

Talk about them with your partner, your friends, etc.  Realize that you often cannot control your emotions, even when you realize they are destructive and don’t make sense.  That’s an important thing to realize: having an emotion doesn’t mean you think the emotion is validated.  The emotions are real, but they may very much disagree with your thinking.  All the same, you have to get through them and that means having support.

If you have friends in your area, ask them to be your support.  If people in the comments here support you, talk to them.  Hell, you even have my email address, though I can be slow to respond at times (I get a LOT of email).

4. What are some of the benefits that the partners in a primary relationship can experience through one partner (or both) having a secondary relationship?

Everything I listed before I started answering questions.  The thrill of pursuing new experiences and dating new people can often light a spark in your primary relationship.  Even for the most loving couples the fireworks of a young relationship don’t last forever.  That’s fine.  Comfort can be just as valuable (if not more so) than that excitement.  But why not have both, right?  And rediscovering the feeling of a new relationship can remind you of that feeling in your primary relationship.

And for those (like myself) who need x amount of alone time each day, it can provide us with that.

You can also learn new things by dating another person to try out with your primary partner.  Don’t give me 72 virgins in heaven: give me 72 women who have been around the block a time or two and know what they’re doing!

But most of all is that allowing the people you love to do as they wish unmakes any tension of wondering what it would be like if only the rules of possession were not in place.  Those can put a big strain on a relationship (it’s why most people cheat).  Giving your partner freedom is a huge gift.  It says you trust them completely and you love them.  It’s the kind of thing that endears you to a person tremendously.

What you’re doing is very brave.  Casting away the shackles of the normal is always a bit scary.  Remember that you’re already doing it right: you’re being honest with your husband and with yourself.  Keep doing that.  Your emotions don’t make you weak.  Just keep listening to your brain as much as you can and eventually the emotions will start to listen along with you.  *hug*

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