My husband [30M] and I [29F] have been seeing each other on and off for more than fifteen years, and got married less than a year ago. He came to me a couple of days before the 4th of July and told me that he met a woman at the botanical gardens to hang out. He told me that he really cares about her and thinks he is poly (which I do believe him, he always has had a lot of love to give). I love him and I don’t want to stop him from exploring himself. But he is kinda throwing this at me and getting a girlfriend before I even get the chance to catch up with what he is wanting. I did meet this woman twice and I found out yesterday that he went to her house while I was at work (working from home right now because of the pandemic). I just feel like everything is moving so fast, and I’m so uncomfortable./u/ykpruiett, /r/polyadvice
What should I do? I love him and I accept him for whoever he is, I just feel it hasn’t been very fair.
Based on the timing of everything, it sounds like everything has quickly unfolded in the past two weeks. So the way you feel – discomfort at his pace – makes sense.
Your husband is experiencing what we polyfolks call New Relationship Energy, or NRE for short. Your husband appears to be trapped in a constant vortex of newfound lust for his new partner, invigorated by the grand potential of expanding upon his bucket of love. Managing NRE is a necessary skill to develop in dating polyamorously. It’s easy for poly newbies to get lost in the incredible vitality that is NRE and let new relationships accelerate way too fast while letting old relationships fall by the wayside. Lack of mindful management of NRE is a mistake that every polyfolk needs to make and eventually learn from.
Ethical exploration of polyamorous relationships requires a wholly different skillset than what he has displayed in your on-and-off fifteen year connection with you. In his long relationship with you so far, he has displayed his consistent commitment to come back to you in his relationship with you. In this new arrangement, he’ll have to figure out what it means to come back to you even in the presence of another partner. And he’ll also have to earn your trust in coming back to you even in the presence of another partner.
While I am a strong advocate for polyamory, I believe that polyamory as an identity is too often used as a blanket excuse for unethical and selfish relationship habits. Instead, “polyamorous” is better defined as a relationship style preference as well as a personal relationship orientation depending on how important exploring other partners is. So I do feel immediately doubtful in your partner’s declaration of their poly identity as absolution and with such conviction. How can he know what polyamory even means to him when he hasn’t had a chance to explore what it means? It is like taking a whiff of a vanilla extract and suddenly claiming you love vanilla ice cream.
The question he asked himself (“Am I polyamorous?”) was not the right question to ask here. The better question to ask is, “Can I do polyamorous relationships?”
Now let’s talk about your next steps.
Consider that there isn’t a truly healthy way for you to dictate the pacing of his other relationship. There aren’t any ethical agreements or boundaries you can establish that is both sensible and agreeable. I think you noticed this when you said yourself that you don’t want to stop him from exploring himself. At the end of the day, he needs to be the one to own and implement his multiple relationships.
Absence of control doesn’t mean that you can’t communicate your observations and discomfort. But before we can communicate externally, we should be certain of our own realities. If you feel that he is going too fast for your own comfort, dig deeper and figure out what is making you feel this way. Are there any particular behaviors that which make you feel insecure about his other partner? How does the pacing of his other relationship make you feel? Once you have the proper words to describe how you feel, communicate so with your partner. I would imagine that his exploration of ethical non-monogamy also hinges on having your buy-in and acceptance as well. And kindly remind him so.
I do think that the pandemic aspect is another discussion topic as well. We talk about using protection and implementing best safe sex practices when it comes to having multiple sex partners. Same logic should broadly apply to this new COVID world. When he is going out to date and see other partners, he is introducing new vectors of COVID transmission to you (especially so if you are nesting with him at the moment). His desire to date others should include your sense of safety from this pandemic. If you have to work from home due to pandemic, why is it okay for him to go out and expose himself and you to a higher level of risk for COVID?
Once he can understand and re-verbalize what you are feeling, then you two can have a discussion about possible agreements to implement to ensure that the pacing is at a level both you and he can accept. If you want to institute a “number of days in a week” agreement where he is permitted to be with his other partner a certain number of days in a seven day period, that might not be a bad idea. Setting up different agreements to address the changed STI transmission risk (i.e. regular STI screening) or the changed COVID transmission risk (i.e. mapping out external risk vectors) seems necessary.
The difference between an unethical non-monogamy (i.e. cheating) and an ethical one is consent of everyone involved. Consent is absolutely critical to any ethical exploration of consensual non-monogamy. And consent should embody PRISM: Proactive, Resilient, Informed, Simple, and Mutual. And his declaration of poly identity does not mean that he has fully earned your trust and consent. And your acceptance should not be granted by the virtue of your past history but earned through this new history that you two are building together.
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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