“Posting on behalf of my NP (we can call him D) who would like some advice. Me too.
D’s SO lives with her (we will call her C) NP about 3 hours away. Because C doesn’t have a car, there has been some challenges with them meeting up. D usually drives to get C from work and drops C off somewhere public so her NP can pick her up. D can’t drop C off at home because they live with family who don’t know. Additionally, C’s NP keeps having things “come up” so that C needs to be dropped off earlier or in a different location, cutting their time short. Usually it’s because C’s NP’s other GFs cancel and he’s now alone and bored. Her NP doesn’t see this as a big deal, but since C and D only see one another twice a month, it’s difficult if even one of those meetings is shortened. C is having a hard time putting her foot down because she feels guilty that her relationship with D is more stable than her NP has with his other GFs, especially since she was initially reluctant to try poly. C is a people pleaser and is starting to have a lot of anxiety from having to keep everything so secret all the time, as well as making sure her NP still feels she values him. The new relationship is only 3 months in and she’s been with her NP for years.
I’d like to know what D can do, as C’s SO, to support her dealing with her anxiety while also effectively communicating the needs of their new relationship. I’d also like to know if there is anything I can do as her friend to be supportive of C. We talk a lot and I want to be there if she needs me. As someone who isn’t anxious I could use some perspective.”
I am really sorry to hear that you are struggling through this really complex issue. There is a lot to unpack here.
Managing responsibilities and expectations in a polycule can be really difficult. There are three direct and two indirect relationships at play here. It is going to be pretty complicated discussion overall, so I will do a deeper dive into each of the three romantic relationships, then go into what your metamour relationship should look like. I know you didn’t use B, but I figured the labels should align.
- Romantic relationship between you and your NP D.
- Romantic relationship between your NP D and his partner C.
- Romantic relationship between your metamour C and her partner B.
I am also going to use the term “hinge partner” to describe D and C’s role in their respective hinge relationships. I know that B is also a hinge partner in his other connections, as mentioned. But it is not really relevant here. In this advice, I am going to assume that everyone is dating separately, and that there are no explicit descriptive hierarchies in any relationships.
Relationship between you and your NP D.
This is the easiest relationship to talk about. There is no fundamental flaw in your relationship with your nesting partner D, from what you’ve shared.
It sounds like D is coming to you a bit for emotional support for his relationship with C. And because you are just a genuinely nice and sympathetic person, you feel like you have to do something to make him feel better, to support your metamour, and to make everyone feel more comfortable with this version of ethical non-monogamy. D might be coming to you more to vent about his frustrations with this particular connection, rather than asking for you to come up with a solution.
It is very difficult being a proper hinge partner. I talked about the difficulties of being a proper hinge partner in my previous columns here and here, if you want to go take a look. But the essence of what makes being a hinge so difficult is that you have to manage differing expectations, negotiate neighboring agreements, and communicate everyone’s boundaries all the while handling the actual romance side of the relationship. It is D’s job to maintain and manage his connections. I wonder how well he is performing in his hingely responsibilities to influence and consolidate different relationship issues down the chain.
What is more important is to be cognizant of how much of an impact this added stress is having in your relationship with D itself. But it sounds like you are pretty much okay with the way things are, for the most part, as it pertains to your relationship with D.
Relationship between D and his partner C.
This is where it gets a bit more tricky and difficult to talk about, especially because so much of what we hear is through D’s perspective.
Let’s first consider the long distance aspect of their relationship. Long distance relationships are very difficult to maintain as is. The forced physical distance, limited shared space, and lower frequency of meet ups all contribute to why long distance relationships are difficult. And because long distance relationships are difficult, it is on not only the D and C to create responsible space for them to explore their relationship, but also on the surrounding partners – you and B – to allow that space to exist.
Let’s also consider the strength of their relationship. You mentioned that C feels like her relationship with D is stronger compared to B’s other relationships. That is not really a fair comparison to make because each relationships are different. Strength come in different forms. Some of it is reflected in its crackling hot sexual chemistry. Some of it can appear in flexibility, of “no matter what happens we will reconnect” variety. Some of it can reside in that sense of deep knowing, the holistic understanding. Some of the strongest relationships can survive from just online interactions while others wither even in nesting scenarios.
With all that said, based on what you’ve shared, I don’t believe that C is being a very good hinge partner. I can see exactly what you mean by C being a “people pleaser.” She is almost too flexible for her NP B’s demands, to the detriment of her long distance relationship to C. And she is choosing to borrow from that perceived “strength” in her relationship with C. Like I said above, it is C’s job to maintain her own set of relationships.
Relationship between C and her NP B.
At this point, almost everything we know about C’s relationship with B is hearsay. But even from this incredible distance, we can see a couple different things happening in their relationship. Here is a list of what I personally noticed.
- B & C are currently closeted.
- B has a handful of other partners, most of whom are flakey.
- B often asks C to cut her dates with D short. And C honors those requests.
- C is projecting guilt on her other relationships due to a perceived “strength” difference.
- C has to be dropped off and picked up at neutral locations.
It scares me when I read situations like these because neither C nor B are equipped to handle their own emotional labor in their non-monogamous relationship. C often makes decisions for the pure sake of appeasing her partner B (i.e. cutting her own dates short) often at the detriment of her own cost. There is an excessive emotional caretaking that C is doing on behalf of B (i.e. “B’s other relationships are weaker, so I need to take care of him.”). B displays his codependency through asserting control (i.e. forcing C’s dropoff at neutral location, controlling how long C can be out with D). C also weaponizes his own feelings (i.e. “I’m lonely and bored because my dates cancelled on me.”) to influence C’s decisions. They both have exceptionally poor boundary setting skills and completely disrespect each other’s respective relationships. All of this leads me to conclude that B and C have a codependent relationship. And I bet if you or your partner D ever bring the word “codependency” up around C and B, they would vehemently deny it.
This is not healthy. And worse, this is not sustainable.
B will continue to assert and step all over C’s (and respectively D’s) boundaries as a way to verify and validate his sense of control over C. And C will continue to enable B’s disregard for C’s relationship with D until D cannot do this anymore.
Chain of Emotional Labor
And here is why it gets even worse.
Because B is not willing to do his emotional labor to deal with his insecurity and codependency, B thrusts his responsibility unto his codependent partner C, who just wants to please B at all costs. And because C also cannot do the entirety of her emotional labor to enforce proper boundaries, now it becomes your partner D’s problem to do emotional labor by sacrificing his time with C on B’s behalf. The cascading effects of emotional labor trickles down to you, who now have to be the emotional support for D as he feels powerless in his relationship with C. Notice how the chain of emotional labor went from B to C to D to you? Because one person is completely unwilling to do his half of the labor, everyone else is held responsible. It’s like a school group project where one lazy participant makes everyone’s jobs harder!
This is what each person can do to make this process easier.
B needs to recognize that his codependent habits with C is reverberating throughout the rest of his polycule. He needs to become more comfortable filling his space/void with something other than a romantic/sexual partnership.
In addition, C needs to recognize that her codependent habits with C is enabling and amplifying negative aspects of her relationship with B to echo throughout her relationship with C and, by proxy, your relationship with C. She needs to be able to establish and stick to reasonable and self-enforceable boundaries. She might benefit from reading a previous column I wrote about boundaries. A reasonable boundary for C might look like, “I refuse to let others – my partners or otherwise – dictate my own schedule.” C could also stand to benefit from revisiting some of the agreements she has agreed to with B, especially if they’re detrimental to her own autonomous relationships.
Your partner D also could use a refresher course on reasonable and self-enforceable boundaries. A reasonable boundary for D might look like, “I refuse to have a romantic relationship with someone who cannot have autonomy in her romantic relationship.” D also needs to understand that while he is ultimately at the mercy of the external agreements that B and C have discussed, he too is allowed to have a sense of agency in his own relationships. If he isn’t happy about the way things are between him and C, that is a discussion that he and C should have first and foremost. He is not going to fix any of his external problems by going to you in the same way his complaining to you about his workplace would not accomplish anything directly.
And you might benefit from understanding and embracing that relationship dramas are natural, especially with so many people involved. It might be beneficial for you (and for everyone in your current polycule) to have a poly processing partner, someone unbiased that they can approach to talk and vent about poly-related shenanigans such as this.
Now let’s come back to the original question: what can you do for your metamour?
There really isn’t much you can do to support your metamour. As I have outlined above, majority of their issues stem from their codependent behavior, lack of proper boundaries, and general lack of internal or external support network. You can do a little of that support network yourself should you decide your investment of emotional bandwidth is worth the stability in your overall polycule. But that is a short-term fix for a long-term problem. At which point would you and your NP D be enabling D and C’s codependent relationship by allowing this sort of behavior to stand unchecked? If there is a possibility for C to come visit you and D at your nest, then you can also do your emotional labor to create space for them to exist under your own roof. But I’m not convinced that that’ll stop B from asserting control over your dominion as well.
Again. I am sorry you are dealing with this. Polyamory is hard for everyone, and growing pains never really stop. They just get less painful over time.
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