My husband and I have been married six years, have had an open relationship for four years, and we’ve been exploring poly for the last year. It’s been a hard year.
My husband had a girlfriend, but they just broke up. She told him she can’t be secondary in his life and she wants him to leave me and our kids to be with her and her kids. One of the hardest parts is I knew all along that’s what she wanted. He has chosen to stay with me.
We have a “no veto” rule in our relationship. We don’t tell each other what to do. So, I used that as an excuse not to clearly communicate my concerns. He used it to continue a relationship that was damaging ours.
He says he wants to be back together with her. But for me, her saying that she wants him to leave me and our kids and close up between just the two of them feels disrespectful and dangerous. And it’s not something she is likely to give up wanting if the past is any indicator.
I told him getting back together is a boundary that I need in place for my own mental health. He feels like he’s being told what to do. I’m not sure the solution here. Help!
My heart is with you. This one is hard and scary. Pen to paper, I wasn’t quite sure where to start, knowing hundreds of monogamous people will read your question and my response, and they just won’t get this. Ultimately, I decided to write this column just for you. So, it’s just you and me here, Suzanne, okay? With pen back on the paper and ready to write, I was forced to take another pause to walk around the block and shake off my irritation at your husband for not establishing an “I only date other poly people” best practice, and at this woman who’s trying to cowgirl your relationship. Rude.
After shaking it all off, I’ve rolled up my sleeves and I’m ready to dig in. Are you? Here we go.
You have told him that you want an open marriage. She has told him she wants a closed, monogamous marriage. He doesn’t get to have both.
If you go with the “getting back together with her crosses my boundary” scenario, then one of two things will happen:
- You give up honoring your own best practice of no-veto power, and that will change the dynamic of your relationship in unsuspecting, unlovely, and unworkable ways.
- He’ll pull the victim card and leave you for her. As he walks out the door, he’ll say, “We had the perfect open relationship, and you changed the rules. You closed it and tried to control me. This is all your fault.”
“You can’t see her” is an ineffective plan.
Now, if you stay the course and stick to not vetoing any of your partner’s decisions, he’s free to choose, but that doesn’t mean he’s free from the consequences of his choice.
If I were standing in your shoes, I’d state the obvious, clearly and succinctly. As in, “You have to decide what life you want to live: a poly one with me, or a monogamous one with her.”
If he responds with, “I want you both,” you can set your boundary walls around you and the kids, not around what he does. He wants to see Ms. Monogamous? Cool. He can’t talk to you about her. He can’t host at your house. And he needs to give you and your family enough time and attention to not disrupt your lives. He can see her on his own time outside your world as much as he wants as long as it doesn’t get in the way of what you need in terms of time and attention for you and your family. In other words, you take care of yourself and your kids, and you wait out Ms. Monogamous—based on what you’ve described, chances are it’s only a matter of time before things blow up between them. Maybe then, after a considerable amount of pain, he’ll invoke the “I only date other poly people from here on out” rule.
What no one, monogamous or polyamorous, likes to admit is that it doesn’t work to try and own people. We can’t control the ones we love, nor should we seek to, and no matter what type of relationship structure we choose, people ultimately do what they do for their own reasons. It’s in finding that person—or people—whose desires and needs align with our own that we are able to partner well. That person may still be your husband, but you won’t know unless you two figure out what you both really want, and whether you are able to still give that to each other.
Polyamory doesn’t have to be hard, but it only works with ease and peace when everyone in the poly boat picks up an oar and rows in the same direction.
Loving someone and trusting them to do what’s right for the relationship and the family takes a lot of vulnerability and courage. Poly takes the same ingredients. But a person isn’t an iPhone—we don’t own them, can’t program their behavior, and we can’t even track where they are all the time (iPhones are great, aren’t they?) The only things we fully own in our relationships are our choices.
He has to own his decisions. Let’s allow him to fully own all the consequences that follow.
If you’d like some advanced relationship help and some tools on how to live powerfully in partnership, grab Happy in Love, my relationship workshop (audio series). I go into detail on this topic and will give you easy-to-understand concepts on how you can partner well without the need to possess or control your person. And just so we’re clear, I’m not saying you’re doing this! It’s a crucial skill worth having, complicated relationship woes or no.
Good luck, Suzanne.