I heard you on Dawn Serra’s podcast Sex Gets Real and really appreciated what you had to say about personal boundaries in new polyamorous relationships. I’m a straight guy and my wife just started sleeping with another woman a couple of months ago. I thought I would be fine with it, but then when they started having real feelings for each other I got super jealous and asked my wife to stop seeing her.
Now my wife is really hurt. I’m trying to be more positive about the whole poly thing and am trying to get better about it and go to poly meetings and stuff like that, but it’s really hard.
I thought poly was just sex, but I guess it’s also about having feelings for other people so I should’ve known better. I’m sure I’ll come around to it eventually. Any suggestions on making it easier?
— Fighting My Feelings
Non-monogamous relationships (much like all relationships) are hard work. While monogamy typically has unspoken rules that people adhere to (don’t have sex with other people, the goal is marriage, let’s spend most of our time together), non-monogamous relationships such as polyamory don’t. Folks in non-monogamous relationships have the freedom (and challenge!) of creating relationship agreements that work for all people involved.
In non-monogamous relationships if the “don’t have sex with other people” rule is absent does that mean that all expectations are out the window? No way. My first question for you, FMF, is what were/are your agreements with your wife for your non-monogamous relationship and what was the process like in making them?
From your question, it sounds like 1.) You were a little blindsided by your wife catching feelings and 2.) Aren’t super into it. Like all consent practices, an important aspect of the process is that everyone involved is adequately informed as to what they are agreeing to.
This is what’s so problematic about proposals like “Netflix and chill?” If I say yes to this, what am I agreeing to? Five minutes of Netflix and an hour of sex? One episode of Broad City and 30 minutes of making out? Binge-watching Stranger Things and stuffing our faces with popcorn?
If your agreement-making process with your wife was the equivalent to “Polyamory and chill?”, not nearly enough time was devoted to creating your relationship agreements. This lack of informed, enthusiastic consent has led you both to a place of hurt feelings and at least the temporary halting of her relationship with her female partner — a painful place for all of you!
It’s very common for folks in non-monogamous relationships to conflate jealousy and personal boundaries. What I mean is, if my partner and I spend a lot of time creating non-monogamous relationship agreements that we’re both enthusiastically yes about and then I feel jealous about someone he’s dating, then I’m in a place to process my jealousy as a natural emotion. Processing my jealousy might look like investigating the vulnerable emotions underlying jealousy, asking my partner for reassurance, or reminding myself of my worth and autonomy.
If my partner and I did not take the time to enthusiastically consent to non-monogamous agreements and jealousy rears its ugly green head, then this feeling may be a warning sign that something is wrong. I think yours, FMF, is the latter. Of course you feel jealous and anxious! You thought you were signing up for your wife to have casual sex with another woman and what you got was her developing an emotional and sexual relationship.
This isn’t just your issue to “eventually come around” to, FMF. This is a core agreement discrepancy between you and your wife that needs discussion. She says “polyamory” and hears “sex + feelings” and you heard “just sex.” Neither of you are wrong in your assumptions. But both of you are on separate pages.
Go back to the drawing board. Clearly state what each of you wants out of a non-monogamous relationship and find where your honest desires and relationship capabilities overlap. For you in particular, FMF, read the Relationship Bill of Rights on morethantwo.com before you do.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a pleasure-positive sex writer and educator living in the Pioneer Valley. She has a website bursting with advice, workshops, and resources at yanatallonhicks.com.