Advice – Our triad is breaking up.

So, we’ll call my gals Jane and Mary. Not their names obviously. We’re all F24, and Jane and Mary have been together 2 years, Mary and I 1 year, and Jane and I 7 years.

Jane wants to break up with Mary.

Mary has severe anxiety, abandonment issues, depression, a lot of Things. We all 3 live together. If Jane breaks up with Mary, I’m afraid I’ll end up pulled between them, a high-pressure crutch between two vulnerable people, and I frankly don’t have the emotional strength for that.

To be perfectly honest, if I’m forced to choose between them, I will choose Jane. We’re basically soul mates, and to be fair, a lot of the same things driving Jane and Mary apart have been putting a thorn in the relationship between me and Mary as well. But I feel weird and wrong dumping her as a duo, just kicking her out of the triad completely. It would destroy her. I’m terrified she’ll need to be hospitalized or something. But I don’t know if Jane and Mary’s relationship is salvageable at this point, either.

I don’t even know if this is a vent or advice post. I’m so confused. Should I just stand back and let Jane do as she wishes, or try to fix this before it’s too late?

Anonymous, /r/polyadvice
Photo by Ena Marinkovic on

Dear Anonymous,

I am really sorry that your polycule is going through this. We already live in a deeply troubling and stressful times, and it sounds like this end to Mary and Jane’s relationship has been some time coming. I’m sure this has been adding additional stress to you to see two of your lovers disconnecting more and more over time. It is never easy watching a romantic connection come to an end, even if you have absolutely no personal stakes in that relationship. You have arguably the most to lose as you’ll have to help both of your partners deal with their respective end to the relationship with each other.

Let’s start with this. Jane has always been able to do as she wishes. It’s part of the relational autonomy we grant ourselves by proactively consenting to the relationships of which we are parts of. Just like you are free to walk away from either Mary or Jane at any point for whatever reason, Jane too is free to walk away from you or Mary at any point for whatever reason. If Jane wants to break up with Mary for whatever reason, there is nothing you can do but to accept and respect Jane’s autonomous decision to do so.

Second is to understand that just like Jane has the autonomy to choose her relationships, so do you. Jane does not get to dictate who chooses whom. I’d argue that a partner who forces you to choose should be no one’s partner. Instead, it might be more beneficial to envision your two post-breakup relationships as individual, non-intersecting planes that now run parallel. Your relationship with Jane will need to be independent from your relationship with Mary.

Photo by Vladyslav Dushenkovskyi on

If you foresee that your relationship with Mary will be too heavy for you to carry on your own following the end of the relationship between Mary and Jane, that it is your own prerogative to also end that relationship with its own unique set of reasons that are independent from Jane’s decision to end her relationship with Mary.

You mentioned that some of Jane’s problems with her relationship with Mary is echoed in your own relationship with Mary as well. Then that should be discussed separately and independently from Jane’s relationship issues with Mary.

Think of it like this. Your relationship with Mary is like chocolate milk. Mary’s relationship with Jane is like cereal with milk. I suppose that makes your relationship with Jane is like chocolate cereal. Chocolate milk, cereal with milk, and chocolate cereal all share similar basic theme with similar ingredients. But the combination of those ingredients make each of those end results completely unique. Even if all the ingredients are the same, how it is prepared and cooked will make it completely different. In the same way, just because Jane could not make a relationship with Mary work does not necessarily mean that you cannot make a relationship with Mary work. Jane is a wholly separate person and human being with completely different human experience than you. The end to their relationship does not need to necessitate an end to yours as well.

That sense of weirdness and wrongness likely stems from a sense of guilt that you preemptively feel toward Mary as you might not be able to support the end of this relationship as well as you could have. It could also stem from feeling as if you’d be participating in Mary’s own ostracization from this particular polycule. By owning your own reasons on ending your relationship with Mary as one that is separate from Jane’s own rationale, you should be able to rationalize and better envelop your guilt in a sense of righteousness.

Photo by Lum3n on

If you decide that you want to continue seeing Mary post-breakup, then the most important step will be to immediately establish proper intrapersonal and interpersonal boundaries that is both fair and respectful of each of your relationships while mindful and conscious to your emotional bandwidth.

This sounds a bit rigid and structured, but setting aside days of the week where they can openly approach you about their respective breakup stress can be a good way for you to diffuse the situation in a productive and proactive way. If setting aside days is not possible, then just setting a timer of an hour where they can just rant and cry and scream (if they need to) is not a bad idea either. Their own headspace is for them to own. And while you can be there to support them through this pain, you cannot manage their pain for them; that is their own responsibility.

At some point, you’ll have to communicate with Jane your own rationale on why you are choosing to stay with Mary, and have a separate talk with Mary to reassure her that you are still staying with her despite what is happening.

Figuring out some longer-term expectation for what comes next should probably be figured out as well. Since you are all living together at the moment, figuring out if one or both of your partners need to move out to a separate place should be discussed. It’ll probably be a bit of an awkward discussion, since we don’t really have a social prototype to tell us what to do when your partner breaks up with your other partner. If living together is the only financially feasible option, then you will all have to figure out what would be the best way to manage and handle this transition while being fair and respectful of each other.

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.

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