“I have a situation that I’m unsure how to feel about and that makes it difficult to decide my actions.
I’ve been married for ten years, we’ve been poly for not quite two years. During the first 1.5 years they dated and I did not, they never got to the point of a sexual relationship with anyone they talked to until very recently (November) and the relationship ended on bad terms. I have started dating and I am ready to have a sexual relationship including sleepovers.
My partner has recently come out as a trans woman. This is obviously big news and has changed some things at home. I’m still adjusting to the idea and being as supportive as possible. I’ve known less than two weeks. I don’t know if this is relevant.
My partner has stated that my new boyfriend (3 month relationship) is not allowed to come to our house and if I were to sleep at boyfriend’s house then partner would have to decide if they wanted to continue in our marriage. Partner does not like boyfriend and experiences jealousy in ways that I never have. I feel the reasons are unsubstantiated and based on miscommunication on partner’s side of the conversation. Partner has stated that the idea of boyfriend and I having a sexual relationship “bothers” them but I am free to make that choice despite their discomfort. To be clear: boyfriend and I have not been forbidden to have sex, we have only been asked to not have sleepovers (at the risk of divorce). Boyfriend is not allowed to come to our house per partner’s boundary.
I’m doing my best to be understanding and supportive. It seems like this new boundary is unfair to me and I’m having trouble accepting it.
Could I get some outside perspective please? I don’t know how to even approach a conversation about any of this anymore.
Please feel free to ask for any more details that I might have forgotten about. Thank you for reading and for any potential insight!”
Let’s first talk about the differences between boundaries and rules. Boundaries are internally driven, mutually communicated, and externally exercised guidelines. Rules are externally driven, mutually communicated, and externally exercised restrictions. Boundaries sound like, “I will not be in a relationship with someone who will have overnights in our shared house with other partners.” Rules sound like, “You cannot have overnights with your partners in our shared house.” The ultimate result might be the same – end of a relationship – but the phrasing makes the difference. In a boundary, the boundary communicator owns the communication, assessment, and enforcement in its entirety. Whereas in a rule, the rule is meant to be acknowledged, assessed, and enforced by everyone involved.
So to get the verbiage correct, your partner communicated a rule, not boundary. And it is also conditioned with a threat of a divorce. You also mentioned that this is one-directional, as in he is allowed to have sleepovers but you’re not.
I have long held a very personal belief that polyamorous identity is not only hinged on whether or not you can have multiple satisfying relationships, but also dependent on whether or not you are okay with your partners also having multiple relationships. It is easy to sleep with and date multiple people. It takes a significantly more emotional labor to manage jealousy and insecurity in order to accept that their partners will love others as well.
I honestly do not believe that your partner is compassionately practicing polyamory. They are taking advantage of your flexibility. They are asserting control over relationships that which they’re not a direct part of. They are weaponizing their unmanaged jealousy in their interactions with you. They are withholding consent and permission over your head in ways that rob you of your own sense of autonomy in your other relationships. None of these reflect healthy behaviors.
While I don’t claim that every relationship needs to be fair and equitable, I do think that the intention of evening things out need to be there. Compassion is a necessary practice in love and relationships, of which there seems to be a sore lack of in your partner’s half. Their behavior isn’t ethically or morally wrong, per se. But it does feel harmful and dispassionate.
Let’s step away from the unfairness of this one-directional rule and the unfairness.
Depending on your living circumstances, it might be beneficial to design out what is their space, what is your space, and what is shared space. It can be a fair request to permanently disallow others from entering their personal space, and to temporarily disallow from shared space. But the way this rule and ultimatum has been communicated has not reflected their ability to work on their own sense of jealousy. But this is your house too. And you have a right to claim your own space in your own living arrangement. And just like you have a right to claim your own space, you have a right to claim your own relational autonomy to intentionally state what you want and expect from your respective partners.
Their new trans woman identity could be relevant to the discussion. It could be that this new transition is clearly taking up a major part of their emotional bandwidth to process new information. Even though their trans woman identity has only been communicated with you in the last two weeks, it is very likely that they were processing and chewing on what this transition could mean for them for months or even years prior. With that said, I don’t think that is an acceptable reason to reject your space for other relationships. I sincerely hope that they’re receiving their individual therapy to help develop tools and process the ongoing developments in their personal and relational lives. December’s fallout in their other relationship is still really fresh and that wound could also be affecting their judgment as well.
At the end of the day, relationships are all about creating and maintaining space. Is there a sizable space in your life – emotional, physical, and financial – for a meaningful relationship with your boyfriend to exist? If so, how can you make sure that you can keep and maintain that space? If not, how can you get there with the resources you currently have? Can you get there in a month? In three months? In a year? If this continues, will your boyfriend have enough patience to accept your partner’s rejection of your autonomy and to continue hosting your relationship in his space that he created for you?
Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.
I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at email@example.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!