“I [27M] am a poly newbie. Polyamory has been something I’ve always thought about but have been too scared to venture into. I had a lot of insecurities and jealousy to get over because of past relationship experiences. I am currently in my first poly relationship, and it was going well. I’ve been seeing my partner [32F] for about 6 months and it has been going really well between us. She is married to her husband [30M] but her marriage appears to be having severe problems. And it looks like they are in the middle of a divorce. They appear to disagree on polyamorous aspect of their marriage, in that she wants to remain poly whereas he does not. I am having trouble with deciding if I want that to be a part of my life and if I want to stick around for the fallout. I don’t know if it is unhealthy. She has told me multiple times that the divorce/separation has nothing to do with me and that I won’t be dragged into it. But the fallout from the separation has already started to affect our relationship. I like her so much but I don’t know what to do. Do any long time poly couples have any experience with this or advice that they can give me? I’m very conflicted and don’t know what to do.”
Dear Strict Anomaly,
This is one of those instances where I really, sincerely wish I could speak to the other affected parties as well. You shared in our follow up exchange that they’ve been together for eleven years, poly for four. You’ve also shared that she has had one year-long poly relationship with someone else that ended before she met you. I understand that he is unilaterally asking to close the marriage up for good.
You are doing a great job by staying distant and removed from the fallout from the end of their relationship. It is natural that life-altering decisions like divorce and separation will affect the entire polycule. It is a major disruption to your hinge partner’s life. So of course it is going to bleed into and impact your relationship as well. One of the most important aspects of polyamory is in being able to compartmentalizing each relationship if the state is volatile. Their marriage is volatile, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. And there’s only so much your hinge partner will be able to sequester and compartmentalize such that her marriage’s end does not too negatively impact your relationship with her. That is her responsibility as a hinge partner. And it is your responsibility as the leg of her hinge that you too can decide if this is a price of admission that is worth paying to ride this particular ride.
Reflecting on my own personal experience, I will also add that you’ve had six months to establish your rapport and trust with your partner. And I’m certain that things haven’t always been this rocky in her other relationship either. You didn’t share how far along they are in the divorce and separation process. I’m sure that process has already been terribly painful for her as well. I really feel for her struggles and pain. She is going through a lot. End of any relationship can be devastating and traumatic. I sincerely hope that she has the necessary support network around her who can keep her afloat amidst this transition. I really hope she has someone who can tell her that her polyamorous relationships weren’t the problem, but that the disconnect between their mono-poly orientations was just one of many problems that doomed their marriage.
At some point in time, you are going to have to trust her when she says that the separation / divorce has nothing to do with you. And honestly – even if it had to do with you – it might not be a good decision to admit and say so, especially since neither you nor your partner want you to be a part of this separation / divorce process. Do you trust her? And can you trust her to continue to compartmentalize the marriage troubles to the best of her abilities?
With all this said, you are by no means on the hook if you want out. You need not be a part of this relationship if you don’t feel happy about the amount of her stress bleeding into your relationship together. Consent is proactive and ongoing. And if your personal and relational constitution does not allow for external stress like these, you absolutely do not have to do this emotional labor to be with a partner who is struggling in her marriage. You do not have to be a part of their failing relationship.
And that could be for the best. The road ahead for her is long. Divorce will take a long time to finalize. And depending on how enmeshed they are, it could be a very difficult process for everyone involved. Even if they decide not to separate, the implicit trust she had in your metamour to wholly accept her relationship has been broken. And the trust that you had granted him through your partner has also been broken as well. None of those are emotional labors you have to opt in to.
If you do decide to stay, please understand that your road ahead too will be very difficult. Even the best poly arrangements can have moments of difficulty from time to time. But the best relationships truly are worth sticking through all the yuck and muck.
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.
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