Complicated Polyamory

 Posted by on November 20, 2010
Nov 202010

By Sarah Sloane

Dear Sarah,

I am in a poly network that mostly works for me, but one of my partner’s partners and I do not get along. We have tried several ways of communicating and all of it seems to end badly. The other partner & I agreed to not have much contact, but my partner still gets caught in the middle and keeps asking me to try to find a way to get along with them. I don’t really like this other person, and I doubt that they like me, so asking me to try to “get along” leaves me feeling upset. I wish I could say that this is a recent issue, but it’s been going on for years.
This drama is getting to me to the point where I have considered breaking up with my partner; however, we live together and have a multi-year relationship that I don’t want to throw away over something that we can resolve. I just can’t deal with the drama anymore.


Seeking a Drama-Free Approach More In Life, Youknow?


I wish I could easily point out a place in this story where someone has done something intentionally wrong – but the reality is that there is no wrong or right. It sounds like a lot of what’s happening has its roots in old fears; your partner may be afraid of losing either of you, or may be dealing with some poor boundaries of their own and may not know how to balance the needs of multiple partners who aren’t fitting the “ideal picture” of a Happy Poly Family ™. Their partner may feel threatened by your place in your partner’s life, or they may have some issues around their own esteem and acceptance that are coming out in a way that’s not acceptable to you. And you sound like you’re stuck in a place where you feel disempowered to do what’s right for you, or to make any changes in the people around you.

The first thing I want to say is that in any relationship, we can only do what we’re responsible for – nothing more. We cannot change how our partners behave (which in my case is probably a really good thing); we can influence, we can ask, we can yell, we can cajole, we can even threaten, but unless the person sees the need for change and is willing to do the work around it, nothing of lasting value will happen. Creating that boundary between us and our partners (and their partners, as well) is one of the challenges of healthy open relationships – it’s the understanding of what is and what is not under our control.

I assume that somewhere in the conversations with your partner, you’ve mentioned some kind of couples / relationship counseling. Depending on where in the world you are, you may find poly-friendly counselors locally; if not, there are some who will do phone or online sessions.

Having a chance to get a professional “third person” perspective on the situation may help find some common ground on this; having a chance to refine & state your boundaries in front of a witness may help you to take action that you need to enforce boundary violations, as well as to consider whether the boundaries you’ve set are the right ones for you.

If talking with a professional is not possible – then you’re left to make your own decisions on how you set & enforce the limits you need to feel safe & respected. You may want to write them down and provide your partner with a written copy along with a verbal statement. You may also want to keep a copy as a “reality check” to help you remain centered about what you can and cannot control. The most important thing is that you honor yourself and your needs with love, and that you do what you feel is right to honor the love you have for your partner without sacrificing your own values.

In any relationship, considered whether it’s time to move on is a deeply painful experience.

We’d love to say that love conquers all, but the reality is that love is sometimes not enough.

By working to empower ourselves and set our boundaries, we can create a better sense of who we are in relation to our partners and on our own, and our decisions can be healthier and more loving in the long run. I wish you much luck in this process, and hope to hear good things resulting from it!


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