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Advice – I am struggling with my husband’s girlfriend who moved into our house.

My husband and I have been married about 10 years. We’ve been completely open to the idea of polyamory the entire time. Each of us has seen others before, but never for long periods of time. We’ve done a few things as sex only with others as well. Some separate, some together.

A little over a year ago my husband met someone (before COVID19) and they hit it off really well. I liked her, and she seemed to get along well with the kids and such. I loved the fact that my husband was smiling more, and just seemed happier. I know that he doesn’t get AS much attention from me sometimes as we have kids, I have a job, etc… So it was great to see, and I loved him being in a great mood.

Over the summer she moved in (probably sooner than she should but COVID19 kind of screwed up all sorts of things…). I did everything I could to make her feel welcome, even made sure she got enough sleeping time next to him so she didn’t feel left out. This is what we’d really been talking about for years, so putting it all together seemed like a “finally!”

Well not too long after I started feeling very out of place in my own home. I felt almost like a third wheel, like I was just getting in the way. I chatted with them and we all started making changes.

Then I started to get to know her more and realized some of her beliefs are FAR off from mine, or what I would consider a decent human being to believe. I was really thrown off and got pretty mad. I talked to my husband about it because I couldn’t believe he would want to date someone like that. He said that we all see the world differently and as long as she isn’t pushing her opinions on others it was fine.

I also told him her anger issues were going to drive me bonkers. She goes from 0-60 in seconds and sometimes over things I can’t even understand. I feel like I am walking on thin sheets of glass trying to not get them to break while I am around her. Making my decisions based on what won’t piss her off.

Fast forward a few more months. She gets more comfortable, starts reprimanding the kids (more harshly than I), even before I can start a sentence to stop them doing what they are doing.

I finally realized how she REALLY makes me feel. It’s like I am in an emotionally abusive relationship with someone I’m not even in a relationship with! And as someone that has been in a horrid relationship even worse than this, it’s really hard.

Part of me wants this to work. I want my husband happy. I like the extra effort of help around the house. And she and I DO get along often, go shopping (ish… COVID19), watch TV shows, etc… and she CAN be great with the kids. But the other part of me is SO SAD. I am emotionally exhausted. I want my husband back, but I am terrified he will stop being happy. I want my house back. I don’t want to make all my decisions based on others.

I’ve talked to my husband about it so many times. I hate continuing to bring it up. I think he’s blinded by a new relationship as well as the fact that he doesn’t think exactly like I do.

Am I just being selfish? Am I overreacting? I mean I DO have mental health issues (anxiety, PTSD) that maybe are blinding my view. Is there a way for someone like me to fix this? I’m so stuck at this roadblock feeling like there is no good option to make. Kicking her out would be a huge mess. She’s so integrated into our lives. And what if he goes back to not being as happy as he is now? (Keep in mind we have realized the things we as a couple need to work on since this started and are doing that. So HOPEFULLY we wouldn’t go back to exactly the way we were, even though where we were wasn’t BAD.) What if he resents me? I don’t want him to have to go through such a loss.

Please someone give me some feedback.

Munchkin Goggles, Reddit.

Dear Munchkin Goggles,

It sounds like you have been doing an immense amount of behind-the-scenes emotional labor associated with not just the changes in your relationship with your husband but his new partner who moved in rather quickly due to the pandemic circumstances. Imbedded in that transition is a multitude of loss – a loss of the pre-pandemic family life, a loss of ability to authentically occupy your space, a loss of control over your emotional landscape. It is important to acknowledge the underlying grief in those losses and transitions.

The pandemic in and of itself contributes heavily to the emotional exhaustion we all feel. We are currently in the middle of a global traumatic event that will determine much of our adulthood, well past the end of 2020. Constant risk assessment, everyday effusion of mortality, and the uncertainty of the post-pandemic future is both an active and a passive drain on our emotional reserves.

One of the other reasons you feel that way is because you unfortunately have very little agency in your husband’s relationship with his girlfriend. Even if your husband’s girlfriend is emotionally abusive, you can only limit your own and your children’s engagement with his girlfriend, which is obviously further limited in scope by the current shared living space.

Another reason you feel that way is because of how his relationship reflects on your husband. You said that neither of you had serious long-term partners even though you’ve been doing non-monogamy for some time. And deeply embedded in your exhaustion is the dissociation around why he chose someone who is so different from who you are. Internally reconciling that moral and philosophical difference takes time and energy, even if unaccounted for.

I sincerely hope that you can find some restorative space to heal and recover when you aren’t busy being a great mother to your children, a great partner to your husband, and a great pup-parent to your dog.

Photo by Igor Miske on Unsplash

We must also discuss how you envision your parenthood directly conflicts with the role your metamour has taken on in such a short amount of time.

As you have experienced, intermixing polyamory with childrearing intensely complicates both polyamory and childrearing. It is why many polyfolks decide to hold off on introducing any new partners to their children until the relationship has solidified. It helps to create a buffer between their love lives and their family lives. You did not specify what type of previous discussions you and your husband have had about the possibility of a polycule household. But it is evident that maintaining a poly household has been very different in practice than in theory. And it is clear that you’ve gathered quite a bit of present evidence on how your landscape might look in the future.

In the process of gathering evidence, you have outlined several points of data that seem to indicate that your husband’s partner might not be a great fit for how you want to raise your children. In specific, stepping in to reprimand your children even before you – their mother – have had an opportunity to intervene reflects a major disconnect between how different you, your husband, and your metamour each envision her role as it pertains to your children. It is also very, very important to note that she has only had a couple months of seeing how you and your husband parent together. That is nowhere near enough time to study how she fits into a possible co-parenting role. Unless you’ve had an extensive discussion about the role your metamour was to take on in regards to childrearing, it might have felt so disempowering and upsetting to see someone new significant disrupt your parenting style.

Another thing to consider is that children quickly absorb the personal values and worldviews of those around them, especially if they are trusted adults. You did not clarify how vast the moral differences were between you and your metamour. But we as parents absolutely need to be mindful of the values we surround our children with, especially if those values could be harmful to their maturation and growth.

Another important point of note is how she behaves around your dog.

You mentioned that she hit your dog. Similar to the disconnect in your respective childrearing philosophies, that disconnect clearly extends to your respective pet-rearing philosophies.

Many researches show that “using harsh punishment based techniques to change behaviour is frequently counterproductive.” One of the reasons why pain- and stress-based training regiment fails is because high levels of chronic stress greatly inhibits a pet’s ability to learn and retrieve memories. This is one of the reasons why many current obedience training revolves around positive reinforcement and positive habit forming. You mentioned that she treats her own dog this way, and that too is not a good sign for things to come. It just merely reinforces that what happened with your dog was not an aberration but a continuing pattern of behavior that is incompatible with how you want to raise your pets.

Most importantly, it is not your metamour’s responsibility to train or reprimand your own dog, much like it is not your metamour’s responsibility to educate or parent your own children. She didn’t have a say in adopting your dog. That responsibility falls on you and your husband’s alone. And it is clear that your metamour has overstepped both pet-rearing and childrearing boundaries.

One of the concepts that come up often in this column – and with polyamory in general – is the role and responsibilities of a hinge partner.

Inter-relational conflicts commonly appear as metamour problems, rather than as hinge partner problems because an improper or inexperienced hinge partner can perpetuate those issues. It is a hinge partner’s role and responsibility to facilitate and manage their multiple relationships.

No two people will see eye-to-eye on every single issue. What is more important is to consider if your respective perspectives are close enough that you can arrive to a compromise with your metamour. It is especially challenging in this case because not only do you and your husband need to compromise on each of your respective parenting styles, but also need to compromise with your metamour’s parenting style as well.

I am very, very curious what your husband’s reaction was to discovering that his girlfriend hit his dog and reprimanded his kids in such a way.

Based on what you have shared, I gather that your husband – as a hinge partner – has failed to properly step up to do what was expected of him. There is a world of difference between recognizing the difference in each person’s view and quite another perpetuating the difference in each person’s worldview. The first acknowledges and celebrates the differences and the second breeds unnecessary contempt and conflict. It can be difficult to stay grounded in the midst of NRE, but he absolutely needs to step more into the role of a father, a pet owner, and a hinge partner to enforce proper boundaries, to renegotiate conflicting agreements, and to set the tempo for how his household is run. Doing anything less than that is naive at best, neglectful at worst.

That was all a really long way of saying that You Are Not Overreacting.

Underneath that initial layer of guilt and self-shame lies the ever-present ambivalence. Clearly, there are some positive aspects to your husband’s relationship (“I loved him being in a great mood.”) as well as her presence bringing obvious benefits (“I like the extra effort of help around the house.”). But it is brought down by a deep-rooted resentment for her general disrespect for your previously established boundaries in a home that you have already nested in. That resentment is anchored around your emotional exhaustion, which then feeds into your difficulty around actively addressing problems in your poly household through your hinge partner.

This is just one part of your emotional burnout.

In his groundbreaking 1974 study, Herbert J. Freudenberger identified three major components of emotional burnout: emotional exhaustion, decreased sense of accomplishment, and depersonalization. We have already talked extensively about your emotional exhaustion, but there are also signs of other two components as well.

Specifically, “decreased sense of accomplishment” is manifesting in the disempowerment in your own relationship with your husband. It could be that your reticence to bring this up again with your husband is because you see so little improvement or changes. It is also manifesting in the perceived lack of control over your own decisions (“I’m so stuck at this roadblock feeling like there is no good option to make.“). The “depersonalization” on the other hand is manifesting through the depletion of empathy and detachment you feel towards your own place in your home (“Well not too long after I started feeling very out of place in my own home.“).

Photo by Anshu A on Unsplash

Now that we have fully fleshed out what you are experiencing, let’s finally talk about what you can do.

In a recent episode of Unlocking Us, Brene Brown interviewed Drs. Emily and Amelia Nagoski about emotional burnout and the process of completing the stress cycle. I strongly recommend that you give that episode a listen. In that episode, they discussed that removing the stressor doesn’t mean the stress cycle is complete. So even if your stressor – your metamour in this case – moves out, that doesn’t mean your stress cycle is complete. You are still in the middle of your stress cycle.

The only way a stress cycle is completed is through fully experiencing the breadth of the emotions that accompany the stress itself. It can be as simple as a twenty second hug from a loved one, or as intense as going on a run. Sometimes, competing your stress cycle can look like scream-cry during a solo drive, a routine yin yoga with plenty of breathing exercises, or a creative expression such as writing a 2700-word advice column for a complete stranger. Whatever it is, it is very important to allow yourself to complete the cycle of your internalized stress.

In addition to completing your stress cycle, I also advise you to outline what you have experienced and engage in a meaningful conversation about how this past year has gone. 2021 is finally upon us. So take time to revisit how 2020 has gone, outline what did & didn’t work in 2020, and lay out what your goals & expectations are for the brand new 2021. That doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone has to move out, de-escalate, or end their relationships.

But it does mean that things can no longer simply continue as is.

Lastly, I want to touch on this comment (“Kicking her out would be a huge mess. She’s so integrated into our lives.“). This is a simple manifestation of the sunk cost fallacy. It is a false narrative we tell ourselves. Just because we have already invested so much time and energy into something doesn’t mean that it needs to continue even as it is no longer a fulfilling or rewarding endeavor. In the same way, just because you spent a lot of time and energy trying to be okay doesn’t mean that you are or will be okay. It isn’t like she is going to get any less integrated into your lives as long as she continues to be a very dysfunctional part of your lives.

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 follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

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