“I [29F] live with my polycule, total five people, and most are dating each other, though some few pairings are not actually dating. It’s a bit of a complicated setup when put on paper, but it works out amazingly for us. I’m running into a challenge with envy/jealousy. One member of the ‘cule is very sex positive, he absolutely adores all of us, and normally it’s great. However, since I came into these relationships, he’s had a very tough time with how my relationship is with our mutual partner, we’ll call them X. Fights tend to happen between him and X every time I have a date, or spend the night with, X. A lot of it has to do with their relationship together, but it’s mostly been in relation to how my relationship is with X. Direct comparisons, insecurities about me and how I am with X, and so on. I didn’t really know about this until about two months ago. I wasn’t really sure what was going on other than they seemed to always end up having a major argument/fight/talk, coincidentally right after I got to spend time with X.
It came out about two months ago, after he and X nearly broke up, that it was actually directly in relation to me. It had inadvertently caused tension and struggles between myself and X over most of our relationship. We’d managed to work through it, without TOO much difficulty, and ended up with a better understanding of each other every time. But I have a lot of complicated feelings about what I now know was an indirect cause. He did not INTEND to drag my relationship into their problems and insecurities, and X didn’t INTEND to allow those to affect me, or our relationship. I recognize that, and I’m always a big supporter of the concept of intentions being important, as long as the negative consequences are tackled together.
This however, is not sitting right with me. He’s been actively working on himself, and why he’s having this toxic behavior. But after that, nothing has really changed. X has been doing their best to not let it change our relationship, but the whole thing makes it hard for me to actually seek time with my partner. I have severe anxiety disorder, and I’m seeing my own specialist for ways to mitigate the way this is affecting me. I’ve been having anxiety attacks far more frequently than usual, sometimes just because X and I laughed too loud or had too much fun together. It’s worse when X and I try to have sex, because the walls are thin and there’s no amount of pillow biting or being careful with our movements that will completely hide it. We could try to mask it with music, but at this point even trying that I end up having a massive panic attack, because I’m terrified he’ll hear that and drive himself crazy knowing what’s happening that he can’t hear.
More recently, he was upset that X was splitting their attention between him and me, because I needed X for something only X could do. Neither X nor I knew that he was wanting X specifically to himself for a while. I’m starting to get scared of even talking to X. What if the one time I do is the time he’s needing undivided attention? My anxiety and fear is making me sick at this point.
I love him, I really really do. But I do not love how he is with X. We work together very well, and we see how each other works. We had some similar experiences in our pasts that really helped us connect, especially with mental health. A lot of times we help each other with understanding our own and each other’s mental health. But the moment X shows up in his head, he seems like he transforms into another person.
I guess I’m just struggling with the debate about what I should do. At what point is it healthier for myself to extract myself from my relationships with both of them? I don’t want to, but I can’t just ignore this feeling that makes me physically ill to think about. I know realistically I’m going to talk to them both about my doubts considering the behavior one exhibits and one tolerates. But the scared part of me wants to just pack up and run.”
Dear Poly Enby,
Quarantining with your polycule poses a unique set of challenges. As you are finding, one of the major challenges in cohabitating with your overall polycule is through the lens of urgency in which these problems necessitate immediate solutions, even if they are not problems that can be solved immediately. Both you and your partner X are asked to do some emotional labor – by policing your quality times together and by abstaining from making unavoidable sex noises – on behalf of your metamour who gets anxious when his partner is out of sight.
It could be possible that the major fight that your partner X and your metamour had two months ago shattered this illusion of the perfect poly household in your head. Previously, you didn’t have any reasons to doubt your metamour’s intentions since he is so sex positive and loving in your in-person engagements. Now that you’ve gotten an understanding of how he acts and reacts in his relationship with X and therefore affects your own relationship with X, you are now coloring his actions and reactions through a filter of misunderstanding and miscommunication.
Here is a good example of that changed perspective.
More recently, he was upset that X was splitting their attention between him and me, because I needed X for something only X could do. Neither X nor I knew that he was wanting X specifically to himself for a while. I’m starting to get scared of even talking to X.
In this particular scenario, wouldn’t the onus be on your metamour to communicate what his needs were with X so that X can properly analyze and direct how they wanted to spend their free time? There is a major difference between not getting a “want” compared to not getting a “need.” And your metamour’s failure to communicate so should not have influenced X’s decision anyway since yours was a “need” as compared to his “want.” If his “want” was left unsatisfied, that anger is on himself for his failure to advocate for his “want,” not whether or not he was unhappy that X got your “need” met.
This advice column is being written for you, not your metamour. So let’s try to think about this in a healthier context.
Every person is entitled to feel their own feelings. Your partner, your metamour, and you are all each experiencing feelings. However, that does not necessarily mean that your feelings need to necessitate an action. Just because you are feeling hungry at this exact moment does not necessarily mean that you should reach for that bag of Cheetos. It might be a healthier option for you to cook up a meal that will keep you full for longer. In the same way, not every one of your metamour’s feelings need to be bandaged by you or your partner. Some of those wounds are self-inflicted (like above), and he’ll need to figure out how to manage his own feelings in his own adult ways. If he is having difficulty overhearing you two having sex in the other room, he could opt to wear some noise cancelling headphones, keep a white noise machine handy, or simply remove himself from the house.
I recognize that, and I’m always a big supporter of the concept of intentions being important, as long as the negative consequences are tackled together.
I also wanted to respond to this part from your post. It can be good to have idealistic vision of what type of relationships you’d like to have in your poly household. But your idealistic vision is not necessarily what is grounded in reality. Not everyone wants to or can clearly state their intentions. It could be possible that your metamour having difficulty managing the work-life balance, and doesn’t have the emotional capital at hand to manage his anxiety regarding his partner X sleeping with you. It could also be possible that he just doesn’t do clear statement of intention. In the same way, it could very well be possible that he isn’t interested in tackling the negative consequences together with everyone. A lot of people feel self-conscious about admitting and recognizing relationship troubles. It’s one of the reasons why there are so many anonymized advice posts in my column. And trying to address this ongoing conflict could shine a harsh light on areas he does not feel comfortable residing with you. You even reflected how difficult facing that conflict together could be for you here (“I know realistically I’m going to talk to them both about my doubts considering the behavior one exhibits and one tolerates. But the scared part of me wants to just pack up and run.“) That same fear could be very real for him as it is currently for you.
A much more realistic perspective to have in a similar situation would be “It would be nice to have clear statement of intention as well as a desire to tackle negative consequences together.”
It is a very common saying in my column that the hinge partners are responsible for managing and facilitating each of their relationships. It is entirely X’s responsibility to manage their respective relationships with both you and your metamour to the best of their abilities. While it isn’t X’s responsibility to manage your metamour’s feelings, it is definitely their responsibility to ensure that you don’t have to overstep your boundaries to manage his either. In addition, it is also your responsibility to not be responsible for his feelings. Instead, have faith in X to successfully manage their relationships in an ethical and mindful way that is fair and honest to each of their relationships.
In the same way that it is your metamour’s responsibility to manage his own feelings, it is also your responsibility to manage your own anxiety (with the ongoing help from your therapist). If you personally feel uncomfortable having sex with your partner because your metamour could overhear it, then it might be a good time for you to consider getting your own place in order to create a space in which you and your partner can be the authentic selves you each aim to be. It might not help with his anxiety regarding where his partner is at all times. But at least it won’t constantly press the “what if he overhears” anxiety pain point.
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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