Not Trusting the Happy
How to keep your head and relax in polyamorous relationships.
Posted Nov 28, 2016
With few to no role models, people attempting polyamorous relationships are often working things out themselves. Lacking a set road-map for consensually non-monogamous life, polys and other CNM folks have to make it up by themselves as they go along. This can be wonderfully freeing, and incredibly terrifying, often at the same time. It also leaves many poly folks wondering how to navigate their lives. A reader recently asked me a question about being comfortable as a secondary in her polyamorous relationship, and I share it (with her permission) and my answer below:
I started dating a man whose wife suggested they have an open marriage after she lost interest in going to sex clubs. Both husband and wife have separate relationships and rarely have sex as a married couple, but remain committed to staying married. They have a child. They have a happy marriage and are friends. I have asked what their rules are and aside from being open with each other about seeing others, there doesn't appear to be any rules. I keep looking for articles that address my position in this relationship.
I don't want to date other men. It would feel like I was cheating on him—sounds weird, I know. I love that he and his wife are so open with each other. I like that there is no sneaking around, too. I don't expect him to leave his wife for me and I would never entertain that thought. I'm just feeling confused as to why I find this relationship fulfilling most of the time. Why am I okay with being a secondary? I've never been in a relationship with a man in an open-marriage. I am so thankful to his wife that she condones it.
It's just so confusing for me, but the more I read, the more it makes sense. You can deeply care for more than one person without assigning who has a bigger portion of your heart. It's normal to feel lonely sometimes and some relationships, although not 'traditional' (read monogamous), can be more emotionally, mentally and sexually fulfilling...if I can wrap my mind around it and not overthink things. Am I making sense? I'm still figuring things out for myself.
Mono dating open marriage man
Hi Mono dating open marriage man,
It seems to me the heart of your question is: "I'm just feeling confused as to why I find this relationship fulfilling most of the time. Why am I okay with being a secondary?" You appear to be having a good relationship and don't quite trust it to be such a smooth and wonderful thing. Hopefully these two cautions below are helpful.
1. Beware New Relationship Energy
New Relationship Energy (NRE) is the excitement that makes it seem like everything is glowing with its own light, people are fabulous with their best self showing up to be funny and gallant, charming and fascinating. When the glow wears off and people are revealed as mere mortals, sometimes they still love each other and sometimes they are bemused — or both at the same time. Or they feel something else completely. The point is, NRE wears off and then people have to deal with each others' real personalities. Avoid making big decisions when in the thrall of NRE, so there should be no quitting your job to move to North Dakota to work on the hydroponic farm until after the glow has securely faded.
2. Avoid Making Lopsided Agreements
It may be absolutely fine to be with just this one person, even if that person has other partners and you don't. That can work great for some people, and if you are one of those folks then more power to you! I wish you happiness. I would also caution you to avoid agreeing to be monogamous permanently with this person. Right now you don't want anyone else but you might in the future. Be sure to include the potential for future partners in your negotiations now, so it does not seem like you are breaking the rules later if you want to see other people. If you have rules, that is. Sometimes even when people say they don't have rules, they end up acting like you are in trouble for something—as if it is against the rules—even when there are no rules actually prohibiting it. Making it abundantly clear from the beginning that you are also free to see other people confirms your equality in that measure.
With both of those caveats, I must urge you not to make trouble where no trouble exists. If you are happy then be happy. If that changes in the future and you become unhappy with the situation, then you should be prepared to renegotiate your agreement or change the arrangement so that it works better for (ideally) everyone involved. You can discuss the future and plan for possible events, but even the most detailed plans can be derailed by surprises.
It could be that you are monogamous with that person and it works fine, or that you are comfortable as a solo poly person who prefers to have secondary relationships and avoids primary relationships. Either way, there is nothing wrong with it so relax and enjoy the fun while it lasts. Hard times will eventually come, because they always do for humans no matter what kind of relationships (or lack thereof) they have — difficulties are part of life. How the people involved in your relationship respond when the inevitable challenges arise will determine your long term outcome, and you have no way of knowing that yet.
If you decide you would like more personal coaching to help with understanding, negotiating boundaries, coming out to family members, or whatever, you can find information about my relationship coaching services on my website.