How to deal with negative feelings


I saw your website and am hoping you can help. My partner and I have been monogamously together for 6 years. Recently, they have fallen for another person but they want to stay together, effectively opening up our relationship. I understand intellectually that people change and how this is brave and healthy for my partner but I am so deeply sad, angry and jealous. It’s been a month and I’ve seen no progress on these unwelcome emotions of mine. Do you have any tips for correcting these feelings?

Thank you for your help!
Hurt and Not Healing


Dear Hurt: It’s interesting that you say you want to “correct” your feelings because I don’t think feelings are ever “wrong” per se. They are simply the result of our natural reactions to changes, shaped by our past experiences. So my first suggestion is to not beat yourself up about having negative feelings – they are natural and simply the response you’re having to the current situation based on what you’ve believed and learned in the past.

With that in mind, the way to deal with such feelings is to examine the root of the beliefs that cause them. Let’s take them one at a time.

If you’re sad, is it because you see an open relationship as a downgrade to a closed one? Do you equate your partner’s request as a sign that they don’t love you any more? Open relationships can be just as fulfilling as closed ones, and are often more honest and authentic. And the fact your partner wants to stay together in the face of New Relationship Energy (NRE) is proof that they do indeed love you and want to be with you, difficulties notwithstanding. They’re leaving a six-year bubble of monogamy to try something new with you – that should tell you a lot about their commitment.

Let’s think about where your anger comes from. Is it directed at the new person for encroaching on your perceived territory? Is it directed at your partner for their wandering eye? Or are you angry because you’re afraid of change, of doing more work in your relationship? I think most times in these situations, anger can be traced back to the idea that one “owns” their partner, that they have claims on their time and anger comes from someone else “stealing” that property. Some people genuinely believe that relationships are based on mutual ownership. But in order to create a successful open relationship, one must let go of that idea of ownership and embrace the idea of individual agency, that each person in a relationship is a free and separate individual with the right to engage with others however they judge best. This engagement might include commitments to other individuals, but ultimately each person is responsible for their own actions in pursuit of happiness.

Jealousy – that’s the tough one, isn’t it? I think jealousy occurs when you covet something (e.g. your partner’s time) that you believe you have a claim to. This is different from envy, where you covet something you have no claim to (e.g. someone else’s musical talent). So once again, adjusting your idea that your partner’s time and/or sexual fidelity somehow belongs to you is the first step in dealing with jealous feelings.

Leon, what’s your take?


Hurt – I’m sorry you’re dealing with lots of feels triggered by this situation, but I’m glad you’re reaching out to understand them better.

While Mischa’s advice focuses on how to move forward, I want to look backwards and address the history of your relationship. I’m understanding from your original letter that you feel betrayed or blindsided by your partner’s actions, and if so I would start THERE, rather than jumping ahead to the future.

Trust is a crucial component of any healthy relationship. If you can’t fully trust someone, you can’t fully love them. Since you describe a six-year monogamous relationship “effectively opening up” by your partner’s falling for someone else, it doesn’t sound like you had much if any input or even advance notice of such a thing happening – and it would be more than within your rights to be furious and deeply hurt by your mono partner going behind your back to date and develop feelings for someone else. I wouldn’t try to pretend those powerful emotions don’t exist (or downplay them) if they do. You’d be justified in breaking up with your partner, regardless of whether or not you still loved them, if you felt this represented too large a betrayal of the monogamous relationship you shared.

This puts the ball in your court. Now, knowing all that transpired, if you still wish to continue/rebuild a healthy relationship with your long-term partner knowing it would no longer be monogamous, you’ll need to 1) re-establish trust with your partner, and 2) get yourself into the right mindset for an open relationship. Mischa’s advice addresses #2 by including some good tips for understanding and processing your emotions, but I think you’d first need to sit down with your partner and hammer out the issues surrounding #1 using open and honest communication techniques. Why did they go behind your back? Was there something they needed but weren’t getting? Why didn’t they come to you earlier? Do you each feel you can move forward in a healthy way? What would a healthy relationship now look like? What do each of you need to get from the other now, to feel safe again?

I have a feeling that once these and similar questions are discussed with your partner, and you start feeling like you’re on the same page again, you’ll naturally feel much better about moving forward with your partner – and those negative emotions will quickly be replaced with positive feelings like compersion and happiness.

Good luck!

What sex restrictions are reasonable and when?


Growing up I wanted monogamy because anything else was “not real love”. I didn’t want anything that wasn’t authentic. As a high school girl I started discovering my sexuality, my body, and what turned me on. I started watching porn and was surprisingly turned on by girl-on-girl scenes.

My senior year I met my current partner (a man). However, we started with problems because he couldn’t really commit to me. I wanted monogamy. As time progressed we grew, explored new ideas, and shared them together. By our second year I wasn’t jealous anymore. I figured, if I’m turned on by girls, why can’t he be? I started separating sex and love and was even turned on by him being with other girls.

Fast forward to the present. We have been together four years+. I do not want/get turned on by other men. I only want him (not because I’m trying to be monogamous, I simply just really only want him) However, I do enjoy the company of other women, sexually and what not. So on my end, I’m exclusive to him emotionally but do enjoy other women sexually (thus far haven’t “Loved” any) so I call myself hetereoflexible. On his end, he is emotionally exclusive to me but does hook up occasionally with other women (he is fully straight).

Now, the issue at hand: I love him, we want to get married and have kids, but I can’t see how we can work out long term and have a family and accomplish our goals if we are in an open relationship, if that’s what this is even called. Recently we argued because he went on an overseas business trip and I asked him not to hook up with other women during the trip. I feel that if it’s just sexual then he should stop when I tell him to. It’s no big deal to him, so he agreed.

So can we be in a committed relationship, get married, have kids, and be open sexually to other people? I’m asking not because I’m jealous but because I’m scared. I’m scared that it won’t work out. I’m scared of STIs. Of someone falling for him and causing problems with me. I’m scared of him getting another girl pregnant. I’m scared of the consequences of him hooking up with others. I’m not scared about him being in love with other people, we are emotionally exclusive on both ends not just mine. We are not polyamorous. We love each other but separate love and sex.

I know I cannot ask him to not hook up with other people. Even if he says it’s no big deal, I know I am suppressing his nature. He told me if I wanted him to be monogamous he would try it because he is not going to trade a future with me for multiple sexual encounters. But it’s more than that. I know he won’t be fully happy because he gets turned on by other girls – as do I. He would be suppressing his sexual nature for me and that’s not okay. As for me, being with other girls occasionally is no big deal. I could do without, naturally.

What’s your advice?


Thanks for taking time out from international hacktivism to write us, Anonymous. Hope we can give you some helpful insight.

The first things I noticed were all the good things you have. You’re happy with your long-term partner with whom you’ve developed a history of love, mutual exploration, and trust. You recognize what you are, and what you’re not (kudos on understanding the difference between polyamory and other forms of ethical nonmonogamy!). You’re also asking very reasonable, normal questions regarding your relationship fears, which is a great sign you’ll be able to communicate and resolve those fears in a healthy way. You’re in much better shape than most people who write us!

I think your problems mostly stem from inexperience, which luckily is very treatable 🙂 I do wish people like yourself had more sex-positive role models and resources available. You shouldn’t have to write in to an advice column to learn there are thousands of people in successful committed lifelong ethically open relationships, many with children and grandchildren. You can have a family and reach your goals, no matter what your relationship looks like.

My bigger area of concern is your assumption that your partner would welcome your telling him to stop having sex with someone – or not start – because it’s “just sex.” But the concept of “just sex” – which you seem to suggest is no more meaningful than masturbation with another person’s body – is a myth. The process of getting to know someone intimately enough to get them to sleep with you outside of a sex party or truly anonymous rendezvous involves SOME degree of emotional investment by your partner, both in the resources expended in the hookup process and the actual connection being developed with the new partner. It would be inhuman of him not to have some emotional connection with the third party; would you want your partner to be seen as a cruel, heartless person who only wants to get laid and doesn’t care about the other person at all? Since I’m pretty sure your answer is “no”, your agreement to be emotionally monogamous REALLY means that he can explore new connections but it is up to him to restrict his emotional exposure beyond a certain point. Where that point lies, brings us to your core question: How much is it “okay” to restrict our partners?

You say it’s not ok for you to ask him not to hook up with other people or repress his sexual nature, yet it’s exactly what you’ve done. He clearly values your relationship over others he may have, even to the extent of offering to sacrifice his own needs and desires in order to make you feel special. But rather than both of you sacrificing yourselves for the other like Gift of the Magi (each giving up something special to benefit the thing your partner holds special), you should focus instead on finding ways to give each of you as much of what you want as possible! You don’t really want him to not be with others sexually, you just have reasonable fears about what that might lead to. So instead of telling him what he can’t do, discuss your concerns and see if the two of you can reach agreements and plan shared experiences which take those into consideration while letting him feel unrestricted in important ways. For example, a basic agreement might be “no hooking up while we’re apart,” but if you’re really only worried about issues like safe sex and people coming between you, a better agreement which respects his agency might be “safe sex for all encounters and third parties must acknowledge our relationship’s primacy,” then make sure you define “safe sex” and what an acknowledgement looks like.  

Once you and he are on the same page re: each other’s needs and fears, you’ll realize you were letting your fears get in the way of the amazing happiness that comes with mutual freedom and true authenticity. Mischa, what’s your take? 

Hi Anonymous! Leon definitely hits all the technical points that pertain to your situation and I agree with everything he’s saying. But if it’s TL;DR for you, my two cents worth of free advice is this:

As Leon points out, most of your fears stem from the fact that you personally haven’t seen many long-term, ethically non-monogamous relationships flourish. Joining a local community of like-minded people may help to change that – there are new ones popping up all the time. On the other hand, you’ve probably seen plenty of monogamous relationships succeed – and fail. Kudos to you for trying a different path than forcing monogamy when it doesn’t fit your vision of lasting happiness.

Talk to your partner about your fears. You may find he has some of the same fears you do, and sharing them openly will make them easier to face. Don’t shy away from talking about the things you don’t think will happen – what if he does fall in love with someone else, but still loves you? Is that a deal breaker for you, even if you have children at some point in the future? What if you’re the one who falls in love? Life can sometimes take unexpected turns and to paraphrase Louis Pasteur, Fortune favors the prepared relationship.

The only other thing I’d add is that if you come up with relationship agreements, acknowledge that your relationship will change over time and build in a schedule to revisit them periodically. Maybe quarterly or bi-annually for the first year or two, then annually after that. Make it part of your relationship anniversary, as a celebration of the unique and enduring love that the two of you are creating together.

Good Luck!

I hate my married partner’s new girlfriend!


I’ve been in a relationship for 10 years with a married woman. I am surprisingly comfortable being in this relationship considering her wife does not know. The married woman and I have been doing this without any idea of polyamory anything. This is Issue 1 and that last sentence will make more sense in a second.

My 10-year partner has recently fallen in love with another woman (Issue 2). I found out because I saw all the signs and asked. It was at this point that my partner told me that she loves us all and that even after I said I wouldn’t stand in the way.

The new woman and my partner have been together now for two years. The new girl knows about me and the wife. She has expressed to my partner that she is most jealous of me and says things like “I can work with the wife, not [me].” She started making demands and requests that my partner (sadly) has accommodated, thinking it would make this woman happy and feel secure. Requests such as I stop picking up my partner from work, that I not send flowers, that I not call her when they are together – all of which has created two years of arguing hurt and resentment (Issue 3).

Now I want to make something clear: when my partner told me she loved this new girl and I offered to leave, I was devastated. I thought it was over. When she told me that she wanted me to stay  because she was still in love me, and loved us all, I thought OK, I could probably do this because I am pretty much doing it already. I was open to everything. I even extended an olive branch and us three did a lunch (which backfired).

Now things are bad with me and the new girl. She has placed crazy boundaries that limit my interactions with my partner, and my partner accommodates all of them. I don’t understand this. When they fight, the new girl tells my partner she is monogamous and that she can’t split her time with my partner three ways, that she doesn’t want to share. Right now I have one set night a week for a date; they work together so they have 60-70 hours a week. they are intimate every day/night and when they go out, my partner makes arrangements to be out late. This does not happen with me. We get home early because she  has to get home.

The worst thing that happened this week was Monday and Tuesday I made plans to meet my partner on train platforms to travel to our neighborhood together – not on their date night. She can’t tell this new woman because she flips out – cries, screams, tells my partner she can’t stand that she is with her all day and then ends the night with me. Mind you, I am only traveling home – not on a date! So what my partner does is she leaves me waiting on the Union Square train platform. She can’t text me because the woman would flip out. On Tuesday she told me to meet her at 42nd Street and that she was only going to walk with the woman to Brooklyn Bridge and take the train to meet me. Well, the other woman decided to travel with her to 125th. My partner said nothing about me waiting for her or us having plans to meet. She literally leaves me there at 42nd Street and she passes by. Calls me when she gets to 125th, where I guess the woman parted ways with her, and tells me where to meet her. I felt and feel destroyed. Disrespected.

Am I wrong? This is all a slow death of my relationship and this is my partner’s way of breaking up with me. Right? Because at this point, my hatred for this new woman is off the charts. I want her gone.

Lady Kept Waiting

Dear Kept Lady,

Usually when poly people (or those acting poly) are having problems, it can be traced back to a communication problem. In your case, it’s not so much a problem with communication as a lack of basic human respect on the part of your married partner.

No matter how much it aggravates her new girlfriend, to leave you stranded waiting for her due to changed plans is inexcusable. Where are her manners? This is beyond the bounds of common decency. I wouldn’t do that to someone I’d just met, let alone someone I’ve been with for 10 FREAKIN’ YEARS! I’m sorry, but there is no justification for anyone to be controlled to the extent that they cannot tell someone they are running late or have to reschedule – especially in New York!

If your partner says she wants you to stay, then you should ask her to show you the basic courtesy and respect that you deserve. While you generally don’t get to dictate how she handles her relationships with other people, you can and should demand that she treat you the way you want to be treated. If the new girlfriend can’t handle her treating you like a human being, that is for your partner to work out with her. But no one deserves to be treated that way by someone who claims to love them.

Leon, over to you!

She’s not trying to break up with you. She’s trying to accommodate the wishes of someone else she loves – that squeaky wheel is taking up a TON of oil here. This monogamous woman doesn’t care about anyone other than your mutual partner and herself, and she makes no bones about it. Your partner is bending over backwards to accommodate more and more of this woman’s demands because she’s trying to “hold it all together” – but it’s obviously taken its toll on the rest of the people in this scenario.  

You can’t have any sort of healthy relationship with this needy monogamous woman involved to such an extent that it’s pushing you out, and I’m betting you’re much more passive than aggressive. You’re going to have to start asserting your needs with your partner and make clear what you want and expect out of your relationship – including picking her up at work, spending time together, telling the monogamous woman off to her face, whatever you feel you need to get back on track again – or ending the relationship to save your sanity.

Out of morbid curiosity, how can the wife not know there’s something going on? I wonder whether she does and is ignoring it all, or whether she herself has a lover or two? I’d love to pick her brain.  

I love two women – how do I stop lying to them?


I hope you guys could give me some insight. I’ll try and make this as short and sweet as I can. Honestly, I am tired of talking about it and thinking about it.

Here is my story – I’m a 35-year-old straight male and have been single and dating for a couple of years. I met my current girlfriend two years ago; we dated for over a year and it took me that long for me to even admit I was her boyfriend. Some of the reasons were “Is she the one?” “Am I really that in love?” I just didn’t feel that “in love” head-over-heels feeling so I took things super-slow, always questioning. I love her, she’s amazing, I care so much about her and I can’t see myself not knowing her. We are super-connected, I know that.

A year ago I met another woman through a friend. Right away we hit it off as friends, but obviously it got deeper as the months went by, another special connection, until months later we slept together. I felt horrible, but I continued to see both, feeling it was wrong. I don’t want to be that guy, I try to be honest, I try not to hurt anyone but it seems I was hurting everyone, including myself. The lies, the deceit, all that was just killing me.

In December I told the first one I needed a break and it broke her heart and it broke mine. I wanted to say it for so long but I didn’t have to courage to do it. So for the last three months I continued to see the other but it didn’t feel right because it all felt like lies. I still had the first one on break, she was still on my mind, and I couldn’t be there fully with the second even though I wanted to. So obviously we would argue, I would tell her I can’t commit right now, and I just feel like I’m ruining two relationships, two amazing women that came into my life, all because I can’t decide.

I love both, I never even thought about polyamory until I read something about it this weekend, and it was the first thing that actually resonated with me. I’ve never gone to therapy, but some friends suggested I go, but it doesn’t work. I just love two people and don’t know what to do, so I’m reaching out and trying to get some feedback, a different feedback that I haven’t received yet.

Thank you so much!

Torn Between Two Women

Dear Torn,

Many years ago, an ex-lover nicknamed me “Poly Yoda” and I’m gonna use a Yoda-ism here – “Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”

You say you don’t want to be “that guy” who lies and cheats and deceives people. I’ve got bad news for you my friend – you are being THAT GUY. You are the most THAT GUY who has ever written into this blog. And the only reason I’m even bothering to give you advice is that you seem to be remorseful about it.

The feedback that you’ll get here that you might not get anywhere else is, maybe you don’t have to choose. Do you envision having both women in your life in an open and honest way? If you had been honest from the start, I would say it would have been a possibility. But since you’ve chosen to be dishonest with them for months, perhaps years now, it’s going to be a difficult proposition – made even more difficult since you indicate that at least one of your girlfriends is looking for a commitment that I assume to mean monogamy.

If you really want a long-term solution, you’re going to have to commit — to being honest. Brutally honest. Step one is you need to come clean with both women, tell each of them the whole story, and beg for forgiveness. I’m talking hands-and-knees, flowers, chocolates, etc. I’d fully expect one or both of them to never want to see you again because of the trust that you’ve violated. This is fair payment due for the hurt you’ve caused (and will continue to cause) to them.

If you get past step one, the next step would be to propose an open relationship that includes both of them. Ask each of them how they envision your presence in their lives making them happy. Think about how you will feel if one or both of them start dating other people. Make a commitment that both of them will get your attention the way they are used to having it, even when everyone knows there are other people in the mix. It will be a bumpy ride, but if you make it this far, I’d be encouraged that there’s some really deep love here.

Finally, don’t knock therapy until you’ve tried it. If you don’t want to do individual therapy, consider couples therapy or get out and join some poly groups and make some friends who can support you in real life. There are more and more people exploring poly and we can all learn from each others’ mistakes. 

Leon, what’s your advice?

Whoa, Nelly! That’s a whole lot of harsh for a guy who’s clearly looking for a happy ending for everyone, and since he’s coming over from vanilla world and he’s done what he thinks is “the right thing” (because this is inexplicably how they DO things over there), I’m willing to cut him some slack. 

I don’t think this is a bad situation at all; in fact I think this is a potentially great situation for everyone, because I personally believe in both happy endings and the healing power of love. And because I’m an irrepressible optimist, here’s my take: Yes, you screwed up by cheating. But life doesn’t come with a relationship manual, and you apparently did what you thought was right. And you’ve sort of accidentally wound up in a potentially great launching pad into growing open and honest polyamorous relationships with both your partners simultaneously. 

The catch is, to make this work they both need to be on the same page as you. The key for you would likely be how you approach each: build trust by being honest, share what you’ve learned, listen to their needs, then determine whether and how you can each get what you want (not just you!). 

If I were you, I’d express to each separately that you’ve done some soul searching, and you’ve realized a few truths about yourself. First, that you love them and want to grow a relationship with them. Second, that you’re also in love with another person (your ex- or the person you’ve been dating since you broke up) – and explain how confused it’s made you. (At this point, I don’t think it’s relevant to fess up over the cheating if it’s not already been discussed, since you’ve been openly dating the “other woman” since the breakup and that would open a whole new can of worms.) Third, you have been talking to people with more experience in this area, and you think you have a potential solution you’d like to discuss and have them consider. 

Invite them to watch the Polyamory TED Talk with you and explain that this polyamory thing makes a lot of sense to you. Ask under what circumstances they’d consider exploring this with you? What would they need in order to feel safe exploring together? Then do it again with the other. If you do this right, and if they care about you the way you care about them, there’s a very good chance you’ll have a very good chance. 

 There are a ton of differences between behavior, communication, and expectations in poly relationships compared to the way people relate in default world. This could be a great opportunity for all three of you to potentially find happiness – and at the very least, you’ll learn some very important lessons for your future relationships. Like another (albeit less green) wise man once said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

How can I feel compersion for someone I used to know?

Hi there Mischa and Leon,

I have a partner. He’s married. His wife is wonderful. I’m in a relationship with him, but not her. That’s fine.

My partner is interested in a friend of mine. Well, I say friend. It’s a little more complex than that, but for convenience I’ll call her a friend. Basically, she was really close to me about two years ago, but grew apart, and has solidly not budged when I’ve tried to reconnect in meaningful ways. We no longer share interests that we used to share to the same degree.

I’d be fine about it – people change and that’s okay! – except that there’s subtle little ways where I’ve gotten the impression that she doesn’t respect me.

My partner likes her, and has said he’ll be asking her on a date eventually. He doesn’t anticipate it will result in a date. Neither do I – she’s pretty mercurial, and while I don’t know if she has a ‘type,’ I have never seen her demonstrate more than friendly interest in a person remotely like him in terms of personality and body.

That being said, what if it does work out? I think he’s stellar. What if she does too?

I don’t normally struggle with compersion, but with this particular friend, my heart boils with resentment and rage. What if they get along splendidly when my friendship with her fizzled out, outside of my control?

I do feel like this is a case where intellectually, I feel strongly compersive, but my emotions are struggling to follow.

I just had a dream about it last night where his wife and I were spending time with each other because he was off courting this friend, and I was desperately depressed about it, which has spurred me to write this.

Thanks for the thoughts! <3


Dear Compersionista,

This is a really interesting scenario, and I can think of at least a dozen different outcomes or motivations coming into play. But the bottom line is that if you don’t think this ex-friend respects you, you should let your partner know that so he can be fully aware when their conversation inevitably comes around to being about you.

I’m inclined to agree that the relationship won’t work out. You don’t mention if your ex-friend is into poly or not, but it’s a safe bet she’s not, given the way the world is right now. That might even be the explanation of why you feel like she doesn’t respect you, that she disagrees with your choice of dating someone who is married. So I agree that all this hand-wringing may well be for nothing.

My advice to you for getting your emotional compersion more in line with your intellectual compersion is to engage your curiosity. What if your ex-friend has had some serious calamity in her life that caused her to withdraw from everyone, including you? Perhaps she feels embarrassed or ashamed to contact you directly. Mightn’t this be a way for her to re-establish her connection with both of you?

Clearly, there is some resentment on your part due to how the friendship ended, and that’s natural. You should tell your partner about it, but I’d advise you to avoid letting it affect what he might possibly have with her, lest you engender his resentment. Maybe this new development will be an opportunity to put whatever resentment you might harbor against her behind you, and that would be a good thing.

Leon, over to you!

Compersion develops most naturally when you’re happy with all the people and situations involved; it’s easy to root for a relationship when you’re arguably all on the same team. Unfortunately, it’s pretty clear you’ve got unresolved issues regarding your former bestie which are acting as a mental roadblock.

Setting aside the issue as to whether or not they’d like each other, the fact you’re having nightmares about their potential relationship is enough to break down the reasons why.

You describe yourself as fearful that your partner might succeed where you have failed, but what I’m reading is frustration – I’m guessing because you tried to hold your relationship together and she left anyway, without much of an explanation. It’s a pretty classic scenario, just with a poly twist.

I think you’ll find that this issue doesn’t really have much to do with your partner, and instead revolves around your unresolved issues surrounding your lost friendship. My suggestion is, try to understand better why your relationship petered out, from her perspective. Maybe an email, or handwritten note, or conversation, simply but honestly explaining your feelings and asking for clarity. If you can get out of her why she grew distant, even if you don’t agree with her justification, you can begin to let go of your resentment towards how she treated your relationship, and start making space in your heart for both of them to maybe find some happiness without you.

Open relationship threatened by desperate wife

Hello. I have been looking for somewhere/someone to talk to and get advice/input on my situation.

I’ve been in a relationship for 3 years now; he is married and until now it has been what I consider an affair. He has been torn about leaving the 20-year marriage because of various reasons, mostly the kids. Right from the beginning our relationship was very open and I have never been jealous or bothered by his wife. We had often said it’s too bad she wasn’t open to a poly life. We both continued on and as time progressed, so did our relationship. He had decided that he was done with the marriage and we were going to have a life together; an open poly life. We enjoy sexual partners outside of ours but only together – our agreement that works. We planned on moving in together after he had lived his own a while, giving time for his kids to get to know me.

Last week his wife has out of nowhere offered him a deal of staying together in order to not hurt the kids separating. She has proposed they try an open relationship. I have told him I don’t want this. I can’t see it working as I don’t think she can understand the difference between an open relationship and a poly lifestyle. She is trying to control and give terms that cater more to simple sexual partners outside of the marriage. Example: you are only allowed 2 hours with someone. There are so many more things that factor into it, being that he and I are in a full-on relationship. Am I correct to assume this?

I don’t agree that considering an open relationship is a way to fix a troubled relationship. I feel it will create bigger issues. He has always been secretive with her, always had affairs because he has always desired the poly life and she hasn’t. I am also afraid that she will try to control and manipulate in order to do anything to save the marriage. He and I have been very open about all of this talking and expressing fears feelings and concerns. I am so torn between losing him and risking the chance of all this trying it out blowing up into a nightmare. He is unsure of what he wants to do. He wants us both but I don’t know if he wants her just to keep kids or if he is truly still in love with her. For him to decide, I know. I guess my main question is: can this work? Can a 20-year marriage that’s been troubled and an affair that’s been 3 years even possibly work turning into a poly life?

Ugh, so confused lol. Thank you in advance.

Dear So Confused,

There’s no denying that this is a very complicated and potential volatile situation. You’ve done a great job in explaining the myriad factors and forces at work.

The short answer is that you are right – opening a relationship is almost never a good way to fix a relationship so your fears are not unfounded. However, the option to avoid this route does not take into account your presence in the relationship. The ideal solution for him would be for it to work out with both his wife and you, and the children. The ideal for her is for you to go away and for him to recommit to a monogamous relationship with her.

But the ideal for you is a little murkier. Even if they divorce and you begin an open relationship with him, there will still be the kids to consider, so it’s not likely the ex-wife will be out of your life completely for a while (I don’t know how old the kids are, but with a 20-year marriage they probably aren’t too young). So it behooves you to create a situation where the wife is as much a happily integrated part of everyone’s lives as she can be.

If your partner loves you, it shouldn’t matter if he also loves her (unless he decides he wants to be monogamous). So the reasons for him staying with her are irrelevant. I think the real issue is you need to insist that you have equal say in the rules that are being discussed in the relationship that now includes all three of you. Making rules that affect you without your consent or participation is disrespectful. Just because she has children with him doesn’t automatically make her more important than you – or at least it shouldn’t.

The best solution would be for the three of you to sit down and discuss your wants for agreements and come to a mutually beneficial arrangement. I know – easier said than done. Part of the process is to educate the wife on what being poly and having a poly relationship actually means, since she seems to associate it with swinging. But if this isn’t workable, you may have to insist on rules of your own, ones that respect you as a person and give you at least the minimum of what you want out of the relationship while maintaining your ability to pursue others that satisfy the difference.

Leon, whatcha got for her?

Well, there’s quite a bit to unpack. You’ve got a 20+ year marriage with kids to deal with, a relationship with the oft-cheating husband to maintain, and a potential consensual non-monogamous (CNM) relationship to negotiate with the wife. Sounds like a pretty challenging time for everyone.

The first thing I’m going to say is when I’ve seen this scenario play out, it’s USUALLY the person in the middle being dishonest with both partners. Our society trains people in relationships to always tell our partners what we think they want to hear, skewing reality as needed to present a good story to each. When someone maintains multiple relationships – especially in secret – there’s a huge incentive to tell one partner one thing, and the other something completely different. I mean, this looks exactly like the so-common-it’s-a-cliche scenario of the husband who swears his marriage is over and he’s going to leave his wife – but ultimately he never does and the “other woman” is left in the cold. The two wrinkles here are 1) it’s happening to YOU (which means, of course, that YOUR situation is somehow different), and 2) that CNM is an option going forward.

Regarding #1: while you’re in a relationship you’re subjective, and logical observations usually lose out to emotional convictions. Ever been in this situation? Your friends will tell you someone’s not good for you, and you’ll respond, “Oh, but you don’t know him; our situation might look that way but is really another. He/We/This isn’t at all like you’re saying.” And then down the line you break up, and you realize your friends were right all along! “How could I have been so blind?” Well, that’s subjectivity vs objectivity. And right now, you’re subjective. I imagine if a friend of yours described this scenario to you, you’d likely be less charitable to the husband.

But thanks to #2, all is not lost! Even if I’m right and there’s been a lot of double-dealing going on here, CNM might offer a way out – but only if all parties have a meeting of the minds. You’re correct in suggesting that entering a consensual non-monogamous relationship to save a troubled mono relationship is often a recipe for disaster. This certainly looks like it could be! Especially since his wife is presumably offering an open relationship as a last-ditch effort to keep the marriage intact (whether or not she’s using the kids as an excuse is ultimately irrelevant), and would presumably agree to anything as long as she gets to maintain whatever it is she feels is crucial enough to save. To her, it’s likely a case of using as much leverage as she can, to maintain as much control and relationship as she can.

If this is going to work at all, all three of you will need to get on the same page. If either of you on the ends of the V-shape see the other as a threat (hard not to) then any negotiated agreement would be under duress, and neither fair nor morally enforceable. Perhaps an experienced mediator could help – either a professional or someone you all know and trust as a friend? It’s a longshot idea, but if this is going to work it would likely benefit from someone external to explain how CNM works and help coordinate agreements, to avoid the appearance of you and him ganging up on his wife.

Ultimately, you might be more experienced with and open to CNM, but you’ve also been engaging in a secret affair with a married guy. You’re going to need to take responsibility for that – which takes away any moral advantage you might want to claim for your “full-on relationship.” It sounds to me like you want what you want – which is a happy CNM relationship with him, with his wife gratefully accepting any crumbs you and he feel like leaving her. I have a very strong feeling that’s NOT going to fly with her, which means you’re going to have to make some compromises, even if they’re seemingly unfair to you – like no overnights or shorter time periods or whatever, at least to start, with the expressed plan of expanding them as the wife gets more comfortable with having you around. At least on paper, she’s the only blameless one here.

The best thing you can do is be 100% open and honest with both of them, and do your damndest to make sure both he and his wife are open and honest with each of you. If you and she can get to know each other, then you can understand each other. Once that happens you can try to work together to help identify and protect the others’ most important needs via the relationship with this guy – and only THEN would this situation work well for everyone. There’s a long, long way between here and there, but it’s possible. Good luck.



First off, I’d like to thank you on running a great blog. I’m pretty new to polyamory and having this resource really helped me out a few times. I have sort of a general question about feelings of poly saturation. I have a primary and a secondary, and have been thinking about taking on a casual relationship with one other person, but I’ve been feeling a bit overwhelmed while talking to this third person about a possible relationship. While I don’t want to hurt them by outright rejecting them, I really think I’m biting off more than I can chew. Have you got any advice?

Thanks again for great information!

Too many feelings

Dear Feelings,

Ah, the old question about poly-saturation! Juggling three relationships certainly can be challenging, especially for a beginner at poly. But if each relationship brings you joy and happiness, it can be very satisfying and rewarding too.

So from the way you phrased your letter, it sounds like the part that makes you feel overwhelmed is the actual talking about a potential relationship, not the hanging out and spending time with this new person. So the easy solution might be to table the “relationship negotiations” and just enjoy a casual friendship for now. There’s nothing wrong with saying to the new person, “Look, I really like you and I want to keep spending time with you, but I’m just not ready to talk about entering a formal relationship with you right now.”

Love may be infinite, but your time is not.

A big part of being poly is recognizing and respecting what each person is willing and able to give you in terms of time and intimacy, and deciding if you want to accept it or not. Everyone has the freedom to choose, and everyone has boundaries. Negotiating what you want within these parameters is the key to making polyamory work successfully.

So step one is to decide what you want. If you want some kind of new relationship, is it going to mean giving up time with one of your other sweeties in exchange? How will they feel about that? Are you willing to give up some of your “me time” instead? Will having less downtime negatively impact all your relationships?

Of course, a new relationship doesn’t HAVE to take more time. Your boundaries could include a limit on the time spent together with your new partner. Again, they might not find that acceptable, so you’ll have to negotiate. I can easily see how this can get overwhelming quickly.

But if you feel like you have a genuine connection with someone, there’s no reason to reject them outright. If you’re not ready to pursue it, put it on the back burner until you are ready to give it the attention it deserves.

Leon, what’s your take?

Great question – and I agree with most of what Mischa wrote. The biggest problems when entering the poly world can involve jealousy, or communication, or simply shaking off the shackles of traditional expectations – but perhaps the biggest problem for people who are experienced with polyamory tends to be scheduling! There are only 24 hours in the day for each of us, and both cloning and string theory still have quite a ways to go before we can expect to be able to be in more than one place at once.

The fact you’ve gotten this far – where you’re making poly work for you and feel comfortable with what you’ve got – is a good sign that you’re doing things right, and sometimes you need to trust your gut when it tells you something is a little off. If you’re feeling like this third relationship might be too much for you, you might want to spend a little time figuring what it is specifically that’s giving you cause for pause.

If it’s really a time management issue, figure out how much time you have to spare for exploring with this third person while keeping your other relationships strong, and decide whether or not you feel comfortable committing it – especially if you’re not sure where you want it to go and how much time it might eventually absorb.

Otherwise, look at it clinically. Do they fill a need or desire you have but aren’t currently getting from your current partners? Or is it more of a curiosity about a/this new person? Is it the potential for New Relationship Energy (NRE)? Conversely, might it be a situation in which you don’t feel comfortable saying no?

There’s a lot of potential depth and many angles here, but I think the most important point to take is this, in which it seems Mischa and I are both agreed: first find out what it is you want, then take steps to get it in a way that respects your current relationships, with your partners and with yourself. Only you can tell whether or not adding someone new to the mix is a good idea – or prevent forest fires.

Good luck!

Open relationships vs. polyamory

So I’ll start off with my answer to a question that pops up pretty often, and is asked by both veterans and new polypeople, to wit: “What’s the difference between an open relationship, and a poly one?”

One way of looking at it is that ‘poly’ can describe the mindset and ‘open relationship’ can describes the factual arrangement, like “lovers” and “married”.

If you make a big Venn Diagram (remember those from high school logic classes, with the interlocking rings like a partial Olympic logo?) where the two circles are polyamory and open relationships, they’re pretty close to overlapping, but there are parts of each that exclude the other, and I’d be willing to bet that the “open relationship” part is slightly larger. For example, people can be single, yet honestly describe themselves as polyamorous; others can be in an open, non-monogogamous relationship, but not be honest with their partner/s about what they’re doing and with whom, hence not polyamorous. There’s bound to be a good amount of disagreement with me on this, but I firmly believe one of the principal hallmarks of poly involves open and honest communication – and while poly offers a ton of leeway in defining the terms of your relationship, it generally doesn’t extend to situations where information is hidden, or one or more partners cheat (by acting outside the predetermined rules, whatever they might be).

In addition, many people have “hookup buddies” with whom they have no emotional connection beyond that required for casual sex from time to time. There’s debate over whether or not that qualifies as polyamory, which by its literary definition seems to require some degree of “amory”, or emotional bond – but I’ll say those relationships count as poly, as long as everyone involved knows and consents.


I tend to fall into the camp that says people who have sex outside a loving relationship aren’t poly. For some people, sex and love are very different things (one of my ex’s comes to mind…but that’s another story). Just like if you’re in a kink relationship for play, you might not consider yourself poly because that’s play, not love.

I feel that a lot of people prefer the term “open relationship” to describe their own version of what is in fact polyamory. Facebook, for example, uses it as a relationship option, so that tells me it’s more mainstream. I think it has a positive connotation (i.e. open and honest) and maybe the word “polyamory” squicks out some people because of associations with “polygamy”.

I like your thought that poly is the mindset and open relationship is the product that results. You might be a monogamous person who happens to be in an open relationship (I was, for a while until I came out as poly). And at the same time, you might be a poly person who is in a mono relationship because you’ve agreed to follow those rules. The difference will probably be that poly people reserve the right to renegotiate those rules at some point in the future, whereas mono people tend to understand those rules to be set in stone.

So can we say that “love” is to “sex” what “poly” is to “open relationship”? That works, unless you’re one of those freaky-deaky people who has sex just for fun 😛