“My [26F] partner [33F] and I have been together for 2.5 years. She is poly and has another partner [34M] and has been with him for 15 years. When I met her I fell for her hard and we just moved in together a few months ago. The problem: she acts like a toddler sometimes. It started with little things like refusing to cook (NEVER cooks) or clean (except on Sundays when she is home…if she’s away on a Sunday, the cleaning has to wait for a week). I cook, I maintain cleanliness of our apartment, I drive everywhere (she has a car but doesn’t like driving). In all honesty, that stuff doesn’t bother me too much because she contributes a lot for financially, plans date nights/weekends, and is generally great company. This issue is that she yells when she doesn’t get her way. Like, legit yells. And when we have disagreements, it’s impossible to have a productive conversation. Our fights last an average of 3–5 days. This last fight started when I asked if her dog (Jack) could not sleep in our bedroom with us temporarily (with her other partner instead – we all live together – because I hadn’t been getting a lot of sleep lately and the dog keeps me up at night). Her immediate response was “Jack goes where I go. If Jack can’t sleep with me, I’m not sleeping with you, and we’ll have to renegotiate rent.” She went on this whole Tirade about how I’m trying to kick Jack out of my life and how much more she loves Jack than me. I know she loves her dog. When I told her that this reaction was hurtful, she responded by saying that she’s not apologizing for defending Jack and I need to figure out if I want to be with her or not. There’s a lot of other stuff going on in our relationship in terms of stressors (we just moved; her and 34m looking at buying a house; new jobs) but this reaction is making zero sense to me. I left town for a few hours one night after work to take some time for myself to figure all this out (3 people, and 2 dogs in an apartment is suffocating sometimes) and I told her that I was leaving and would be back later that night. Her response to that was that she’ll never trust me again and I’ve broken her heart…by taking 4 hours to myself one night after work. It’s starting to dawn on me that all of our past fights have started by me expressing an opinion or feeing that she either doesn’t agree with or doesn’t understand. And instead of being able to talk about it, she lashes out and I come crawling back a few days later.
I’m at a loss. I don’t know if I can fight like this anymore – it’s emotionally exhausting and I don’t feel like I can ever express myself without her going off the handle. Am I being too patient? The good times are really good and we typically go a couple months without a fight. But when we do fight….I just don’t know if it’s worth it. Is it time to leave? Or should I stay and try to make things work?”
TL;DR – My partner explodes if I share an opinion or feeling that she doesn’t agree with or understand, and instead of talking to me about it, she gives me the silent treatment and is extremely rude to me for days at a time.
First thing I noticed when I read your story was how there appears to be a significant power imbalance between you and your partner in your relationship. You mentioned how there appears to be a major gap between the amount of chores you each do in house and the amount of money each of you makes. I think it’s important to point out here that it doesn’t necessarily matter how much money each of you makes. Household chores are an even playing ground regardless of your income and you absolutely have a right to ask that their balance of chores is done especially in a shared living situation.
I am also deeply concerned with how little compassion and empathy your partner displayed in their actions. When you suggested to your partner for her pup Jack to sleep elsewhere, her immediate reaction to defend Jack instead of relating to you tells me that her priorities are all out of whack. You have essentially stated your own boundary (“I will not sleep in the same bed with a dog that interrupts my sleep”) and your partner has dismissed your boundary instead of listening. It is perfectly within your own write to establish, communicate, and enforce your own boundary in your own living space. It’s not really your partner’s place to tell you whether or not that boundary is valid. That’s not the worst part. She rebuffed by asserting her own boundary (“I will not sleep with a partner who will not sleep with my dog”) and immediately jumped to weaponize the financial power imbalance by suggesting rent renegotiation, an aspect of this arrangement that she knows you feel sensitive about.
But I think the backbreaker is when you mentioned you couldn’t even have a four hour night out for yourself without her blowing up at you about how you’ve betrayed her trust. It was just one night out from an otherwise crowded household.
Here are three interpersonal traits of your partner that I am seeing in your recollections of their behavior.
Your partner has poor relationship management skills. Instead of acknowledging your needs, she constantly asserts her own needs above your own. She does not manage her relationships with authenticity and good faith. Instead, she appears to assume the worst possible intent (i.e. she doesn’t trust you after you spent four hours on a night out) and immediately uses her insecurity to control your behavior.
Your partner lacks proper emotional regulation skills. Instead of having successful and meaningful dialogues about working on issues together as a team, she immediately internalizes any criticisms to herself, her possessions, and her space as critiques to her ego. Her inability to de-escalate heated situations and productively discuss solutions with you does not reflect healthy internal interactions she has with herself or with others.
Your partner appears to utilize very basic manipulation tactics (i.e. cold shoulders, guilt tripping) to take advantage of your vulnerabilities. She might or might not be utilizing those manipulation tactics with intention. But at the end of the day, does it matter if she is intentionally or unintentionally hurting you when she doesn’t even acknowledge that she is hurting you?
Regardless of what you decide to take away from my reflections, I think it is a good time for you to establish some really difficult and hard boundaries about what you are and are not willing to tolerate in your partnership. One of those boundaries could be, “I will not continue to take part in a discussion where my partner raises their voice in an effort to silence my input.” If your partner continues to raise their voice even after you communicate this boundary, you might want to step away and remove yourself from this situation until there can be a more productive discussion on what is unfolding.
Another hard boundary you can set for yourself is to determine what is your own personal space she has to ask for permission to be a part of. Just because she pays more in rent or makes more money than you does not mean that you are not entitled to your own space in your own apartment. You are paying rent after all.
And start thinking about a possible exit plan. As you said, you’re getting emotionally exhausted from tolerating this kind of behavior from your partner. Gottman Institute published an article that said the magic ratio that makes happy relationships click is five positive interactions to one negative interaction. That means, you need five good experiences with your partner in order for that one bad experience to even out. When you say that the good times are really good when things are smooth. But even when things are smooth, would you say that you have an even balance of five good interactions with your partner to each bad interaction?
I’ll leave off with this. Since you are in a polyamorous relationship with your partner, you might not necessarily have to end your relationship even in the face of these incompatibilities. I don’t think the problem here is the poly arrangement. The problem is with your partner and what more you’re willing to tolerate before you decide to take an action. You’ve had two and a half years of history together. And like you said, when things are good, they’re good. If you feel like there are still qualities to your partner that you can appreciate better from a distance, you might benefit from moving out to create some distance from your partner or even de-escalating so that you can keep some distance between you own sense of sanity from her emotional outbursts.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.