My past two relationships have both been non-monogamous. In both, I felt open (even excited) to communicate about my other hookups and sweeties with my more settled partners.
I always made clear with my settled partners my need for transparency in regards to dating and having sex with other people. In part, because it helps keep my jealousy at bay and allows me to feel compersion (the feeling of joy one has experiencing another’s joy) — but also because I have strong feelings about fluid bonding with other people and not letting your partners know. To me, it seems really non-consensual to not share with your partners when you’re fluid bonding with others. However, both of these relationships ultimately ended because my partners cheated on me and didn’t tell me they were fluid bonding/building relationships with new partners.
I feel like I’ve failed at polyamory because my partners didn’t tell me these things — like maybe I didn’t allow them the space to be open and honest with me? I want to continue being non-monogamous but I feel like because this has happened twice — maybe it’s me? I’m not sure how I can better structure my relationships moving forward to have more spaciousness for my partners to be vulnerably honest with me about their other partners.
I Non-MonogaMUST Be Doing Something Wrong
I always think it’s good (albeit difficult) practice to look at our own patterns in relationships, especially when said relationships repeatedly go south in similar ways. However, to determine a winner between “It’s totally them!” or “Maybe it’s me?!” might not be useful because, well, sometimes it’s a little bit of both.
What’s definitely on them: Y’all set up and (presumably) agreed on certain boundaries such as practicing transparency about new developments in other relationships and being very clear about fluid bonding (which, by the way, I agree, is a very important piece of information to share with your partners so that they can make their own informed decisions about health and safer sex). But I digress — y’all set up these boundaries and then your partners hopped over them, secretly, and then lied to you about it. That’s a decision those partners made that is on them.
What’s on you and your partners: Just double-checking here but you and your partners did agree on these boundaries about transparency and fluid-bonding communication, right? It can get quickly sticky if one person makes clear a preference for an agreement and the other person doesn’t overtly agree to it.
For example, you might say “Transparency about relationship changes helps me cope with jealousy” and your partner might be like “Okay, cool” and while you might hear that “Okay, cool” as your partner saying “So, therefore I will tell you any time another relationship shifts in a way that affects you” your partner might actually be saying “Okay cool — good to know about some things that might help you with jealousy.” Though it may seem like overkill to make sure you’re communicating super clearly about these things, it’s important to nail down details such as what exactly y’all want to notify each other about, how, and when.
In other cases, a partner might agree to a boundary that doesn’t actually, in reality, work for them at all! Why would they do this? To preserve the relationship with you, because they think maybe they can do it, out of fear to tell you they don’t want to agree to that particular thing — for a lot of reasons! Though you can’t control someone else’s inability to speak up if an agreement compromises their core desires, you can attempt to make space in your agreement-building conversations for differing wants and opinions. For example, make it clear that you want to make agreements that work for you both and that if something changes and it starts to feel like an agreement won’t work anymore, that you’re open to talking about making edits and adjustments.
What’s on you: Keep communicating your boundaries and not taking shit if/when people intentionally, overtly violate them. If the trend you’re building in relationships is ending them when your partners lie to you, especially in a way that compromises your health and safety, then in my eyes, you’re certainly not failing.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.