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Advice – Backsliding in a non-monogamous relationship.

“My husband [34M] and I [32F] have been in an open relationship since December. We initially opened it up because he had an interest in a co-worker and I realized I didn’t feel jealous or hurt by the idea.

At the time, we both decided he should pursue casual connections as romance wasn’t something he wanted. I also communicated that I wasn’t ready for the more emotional implications of a truly polyamorous relationship. Since then, we discovered that my husband is demisexual so he needs to forge a deeper connection. And the FWB was also dealing with a lot of loneliness and is monogamous. So although she communicated she only wanted to be FWB, to maintain their relationship he has had to stay the night a few times per week. Otherwise, she gets angry/passive aggressive on the phone and degrades his feelings and words to her.

My husband’s relationship with his FWB accelerated very quickly. My husband quickly discovered that he is demisexual. So he decided that he needed to establish a more emotional connection with his FWB. She struggles a lot with jealousy and insecurity to the point that my husband has to stay at her place multiple nights a week. Otherwise, she has a tendency to get angry or passive aggressive by degrading his feelings/words to her. They recently stopped using barriers. My husband also told her that he loved her, even though he told me that he meant it only as a friend. My FWB is also very monogamous and once told my husband that she wants him all to herself.

Lately, I feel that he has been responding more to her needs. And although they put a hold on sexual activities currently, I can’t help but struggle with low self-esteem. I see how much it feels like she needs him and how much he responds to her both physically and emotionally. I went into this experiencing expecting a friendship with some romps in the hay, not anything this emotionally charged.

He tries to reassure me with words, but right now it doesn’t feel like enough. I feel like I want to grab at what’s mine and feel validated by knowing he loves and wants me. But I don’t know what to ask for, and for it to feel like enough. At this point, I feel like I’m drowning in emotions and self-esteem issues. I’m not sure how to build myself up and ask for what I need when I’m not sure what that is.

To clarify, we have worked together towards this, and we all agreed that staying over multiple days was fine. And I did a lot of jealousy work previously, but I feel like it is slowly getting out of control.”

Nuthatch Ash on /r/nonmonogamy.

Photo by Cadeau Maestro on Pexels.com

Dear Nuthatch Ash,

The threads are quickly unraveling, faster than either you or your husband can recognize.

First things first. There is a good reason why a lot of non-mono folks establish a rule/boundary early on to not date any coworkers. And it is because if/when things go awry, your husband will be put in a very difficult place of continuing to work at a place that feels hostile. In addition to this, non-monogamy isn’t completely accepted by everyone yet. And he might have to defend his non-monogamous orientation at that same hostile workplace.

Also, this relationship quickly grew out of control for both of you. It sounds like both you and your husband had a pretty good idea on what kind of non-monogamy you personally felt safe consenting to. And while he quickly discovered that that type of non-monogamy is incompatible with his demisexuality, it doesn’t sound like you two ever coalesced as his NRE ballooned his relationship far beyond what you feel comfortable consenting to.

The most alarming thing I see in your situation is the distinct lack of boundary setting on either you or your husband’s part. I’ve written in a very recent column that it is the hinge partner’s responsibility to manage their multiple relationships. And your husband – the hinge partner – is doing a very poor job of establishing boundaries, communicating those boundaries, and upholding those boundaries when the push comes to shove. I get the sense that his FWB – your metamour – is very good at advocating for her own needs, almost to the detriment of others. In your husband’s insistence to please his FWB, he is neglecting his relationship with you. And his actions speak louder than words here.

Photo by Haley Black on Pexels.com

I am also noticing a lot of codependent habits and behaviors from both you and your husband. Take a look at this link from Codependents Anonymous. You are presenting with a lot of the denial and self-esteem patterns, such as…

  • Difficulty identifying what you feel or need,
  • Failing to recognize the unavailability of your husband,
  • Difficulty making decisions,
  • Seeking recognition and praise to overcome feeling less than, and;
  • Difficulty setting healthy priorities and boundaries.

On the other hand, your husband is firmly rooted in compliance patterns while also displaying avoidance patterns, such as…

  • Compromising on their own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger from his FWB,
  • Being hypervigilant about FWB’s feelings and taking on those feelings of insecurity,
  • Making decisions to sleep over multiple nights without a regard to the consequences to your self-esteem,
  • Suppressing his own feelings toward his FWB to avoid feeling vulnerable, and;
  • Avoiding emotional, physical, or sexual intimacy as a way to maintain distance.

You communicated back in December that you weren’t “ready for the more emotional implications of a polyamorous relationship.” And it doesn’t sound like you are today. It doesn’t really matter what label your husband uses to describe his coworker – FWB or partner. He already said I love you to her. He is doing an immense amount of emotional labor, and subsequently asking you to accept a much smaller slice of him than you originally consented to. So you need to communicate that with your husband as soon as possible. Reconnect on your respective, original visions of how this experience was going to go and determine if you are both really okay with the way things are now. Remember. Consent is ongoing and proactive. If your mental well-being is threatened beyond reasonable path of recovery, you can renegotiate the terms of your relationship to match the level of exposure you’re personally comfortable with.

Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com

Both you and your husband need to establish some safeguards and boundaries immediately.

You said you aren’t sure how to figure out your own needs or how to ask for what you need. But your needs are pretty clear in what you’ve laid out on your post. You want validation of his feelings far beyond just words. You want your original commitments to be honored. You want to feel like you are enough.

It could be possible that your hesitation on communicating your needs comes from relative lack of trust in your husband as he continues to expand on his other connection while neglecting his connection with you. And you aren’t sure whether or not he’ll honor and advocate for your needs when you communicate so. If this is the case, then you have a lot more to worry about as your trust in your hinge partner has clearly eroded past what would be considered healthy.

It could also be possible that your hesitation is rooted in your lack of trust in your metamour to honor your needs. Based on what you’ve communicated, there appears to be a lot of ill will on her part. In her desire to replace you is her inability to acknowledge your importance in your shared partner’s life. And her perspective regarding her own role in her relationships reflects a woeful short sight that should warn both you and your hinge partner of dread to come.

I think the biggest problem is in your husband’s inability to see logic. He is clearly deeply mired in NRE. And I am afraid that he just can’t see clearly what poor life choices he has been making in regard to his FWB. At any point, he could have established a boundary that said, “I will not be in a relationship with someone who disregards or badmouths my other relationships.” And he hasn’t. He could have also developed a personal boundary of his own that limited the amount of engagement he has with people outside of his marriage, as he originally sought out to do when you two discussed opening up. But he too has failed to do that. And based on how you have portrayed your husband, I don’t even know if he would be a trustworthy narrator in his own story about how his two relationships have been progressing.

He can’t even be honest with you or himself about how he feels toward his FWB because he’s afraid of upsetting you.

You do know that, right?

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

There’s a slang term for people like your metamour in the poly-verse called cowgirl. In short, cowgirl is monogamous woman who “lassos” a non-mono person away from the herd to “make them hers.” And that slang term honestly doesn’t get bad enough press, as much as unicorn hunters do. You are acting like you are playing on an even playing ground with his FWB. In doing so, you are doing great disservice not just to yourself but to the marriage you two have cultivated together before this particular cowgirl came along.

You are not in a non-hierarchical polyamorous relationship. You are in a very hierarchical open relationship with your husband. So act like your partner’s wife, and not just his other partner. And lay it all out on the table that his recent behavior to enable his FWB has been unacceptable. Remind him that his enabling of her continued assault on your marriage is no longer something you’ll try to reason with. If you and your partner have agreed to veto powers, this would be a great time to exercise it. If you feel like you need five or six days a week together, then set that as an agreement or a rule. And until he has earned back your trust by showing you that he is able to restrain himself in presence of NRE, kindly and repeatedly remind him that breaching on your personal boundary is a dealbreaker and potential grounds for ending this marriage.

As for your metamour, stop caring about what she thinks. You already know what she thinks of you, and it’s not good. She has deserved none of your good faith in what she has said and done. Based on what you’ve shared about her, she treats your husband really poorly. Are you sure you want to just stand by and allow someone else to abuse your husband like this? Or watch as your husband refuses to grow a backbone to defend his marriage with you? She is not entitled to upgrade this relationship just because she feels insecure. She is entitled to managing her own feelings, or getting out of this tragic relationship to find a monogamous relationship that works better for her.

Good luck.

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 teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

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