Advice – Making a relationship feel meaningful without a relationship escalator.

For context, I’m establishing a new V dynamic, with me as the hinge; the points being comprised of my nesting partner and a new partner I’ve been seeing for about 3 months, and really enjoy.

I’m somewhat new to polyamory, and I’ve never started a new relationship, from scratch, in this context. In my previous monogamous life, I would have pushed for exclusivity early on to provide a security blanket of sorts to explore our feelings and get on the old relationship escalator. Obviously, that’s not the course of action I want or am able to take.

So, I’m struggling a little bit to know how to ethically go about things- what questions should I ask, or conversations should be had, to make sure my new partner is well supported, and to set up our new relationship for success? It’s important to note this person I’m seeing does not identity as polyamorous, but hasn’t had any concerns or issues thus far, and seems (on his own accord, without prompting or encouragement from me) very open minded and interested in pursuing things.

Also, without monogamy or the “relationship escalator”, what are some ways you can recognize the relationship/connection is growing? Or in the same vein, are there steps I can take to undo this innate thinking that every good connection absolutely needs to grow? Obviously I’m fighting through some monogamous programming. Thank you in advance!

Helen, Reddit.

Dear Helen,

Before we can talk about how we can deconstruct the relationship escalator, we must first talk about what relationship escalator is and why it exists.

In short, relationship escalator is defined as a set of societal expectations or norms built around intimate relationships – that intimate relationships must follow specific steps in order to be meaningful. Amy Gahran / Aggie Sez does a great job of outlining the specific steps for the relationship escalator in her book Off the Relationship Escalator and her blog. Sometimes, the relationship escalator manifests in the invalidity of a relationship until it passes a certain milestone or threshold. A good example of this type is in explicit exclusivity. As you had noted, exclusivity can provide security since it stabilizes the external aspect of your romantic relationship. Sometimes, the relationship escalator can also manifest in specific thresholds and internalized hierarchies as well. Think of this like an imagined “glass ceiling”, an invisible boundary that which your non-nesting relationship with your new partner cannot cross. Built into that acknowledgement is also an implicit admission that you buy into the substance of the relationship escalator.

There are very good reasons why relationship escalator exists. As we just talked about, the security is nice. But when we are taught from a young age to associate exclusivity to security, the escalator then becomes an internalized manifestation of our societal norms. The escalator also acknowledges explicit steps, which can be used as an inherited structure to measure the health of your relationship compared to the duration of your relationship. Many folks have a pretty good idea of how long you should date before you marry someone, and that is just one example of this structure. And the structure is comfortable, because it doesn’t ask you to ask the really important questions on what makes your relationships meaningful. The structure tells you the each step make it meaningful.

That is all to say, I don’t think the relationship escalator was created in bad faith. It clearly has virtues and values.

The structure itself falls apart when unaccounted factors are added into the equation.

In one specific way, marriage rates have been going down from the Boomers (91%), to Gen Xers (82%) , to Millennials (70%). So it is apparent that society as a whole is getting better at deviating from assigning marriage as the final step of that relationship escalator. But as you’ve discovered, this structure holds even less weight when we bring non-monogamy into the equation.

Since you have been with your partner for three months, you should each have a pretty good idea on how your relationship might look in the next month or so. So this might also be a good time to gauge what the next six months to a year might look like by having an explicit conversation about it with your new partner. Having a proactive conversation about the future of your relationship will accomplish two goals.

First is that you can better align each of your respective values on what you two collectively find meaningful in romantic relationships. Each person has different set of values and looks for different things to validate their relationships. For some, it is through social acceptance by introducing partners to new friends. For others, it could be more about making impactful life decisions such as getting an apartment together or adopting a pet together. But more importantly, having an explicit discussion about the future of your relationship will also allow you two to build toward that future in a more conscious and accountable way. Spoken words have power. And even just speaking out loud what your intentions are and where you feel like this relationship is going can be a powerful way to bring that vision into existence, just by the virtue of saying so.

I also want to touch on something very specific. Poly communities online are not always a great representation of how your poly relationships should look and function like. I often repeat in my column that different people love in different ways. And you don’t necessarily need to step completely away from the concept of relationship escalator to acknowledge that it might have some practical application for your relationship. For example, many polyfolks do cohabitate with their multiple partners. Just because that happens to be an explicit step in the relationship escalator doesn’t mean that when polyfolks also cohabitate with their multiple partners is a bad thing.

I also want to touch on “successful polyamorous relationships.”

Like the relationship escalator structure, successes in a polyamorous relationships can look wildly different from person to person, and from relationship to relationship. One person might classify a handful of comet-type relationships as a success. Others might only consider their relationships a success when they’ve been together for at least ten years. And a third person might only consider it a success when they can have series of fulfilling short-term threesome relationships with their spouse.

When we dig deeper into what defines success and attributes significance in our relationship, we might find that success is not always defined in very explicit or measurable metrics. Instead, it is more often felt than assessed. Part of this is because our logical sides do not always communicate well with our emotional sides. There is only so many different ways we can fragment and compartmentalize our romantic relationships in small segments as a measure of success, which isn’t always going to be validated through your feelings. So as you connect with your monogamous-minded new partner about the benchmarks that might be measured as success markers for your relationship, keep in mind that growth and success looks and feels different for everyone.

We often don’t always know we are in the good parts of our relationship until we are no longer in the good parts of our relationship. So keep that in mind as you progress through this relationship and find creative ways to celebrate the goodness of your relationships in their own unique ways.

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.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – My wife has high libido with other partners, but not me.

My wife [31F] and I [38M] have been together for 9 years, married for 2. We are best friends, communicate openly and honestly, make each other laugh, and are always physically affectionate. Our poly style is to date separately, and it’s worked brilliantly for us since we opened our relationship in 2017. We are both bisexual. My wife prefers to date women and has had tons of success. I am a man who prefers to date women and I’ve also experienced a lot of great things and success. Everything to everyone else looks, well, almost perfect!

Only one problem. I can’t for the life of me get her to have sex with me anymore! She always says she’s tired, or not feeling well. But when she visits her other partners (she dates two women separately) she’s a love-making machine! I would chalk it up to NRE versus ORE, but she’s been with these women for a while! I’ve even asked her honestly if she prefers women or if there is anything I can do to make her feel more comfortable being intimate with me – but she just apologizes and says “it’ll get better. we’re just going through a dry spell.” Well, this “dry spell” has lasted over a year now! We’ve made love maybe 8-10 times in the past 16 months. I do everything in my power to give my wife a comfortable life. I do most of the cooking, house cleaning, and rub her feet almost every night. I tell her how beautiful she is every day. Still nothing! I’d say maybe it’s all due to the crap couple of years we’ve had in the United States, but again, she’s getting down and dirty with her girlfriends regularly! I am starting to feel a little resentful because I am dating one other woman and I don’t get to see her as often. Maybe once every 6 weeks. And I have to “get in all of my sex” in the little one night only overnights we have. Help!

Fred, Reddit.

Dear Fred,

Learning to manage the surge of New Relationship Energy is one of the most critical skills to develop for any person exploring and engaging with ethical non-monogamy. Many of us learn to manage our NRE by channeling that initial burst of lust and desire back into our old relationships. That can look like harnessing the newfound sexual energy back into old relationships. Others prefer to manage their NRE by establishing proper boundaries around how much engagement they have with their new objects of sexual desire, as to not exhaust all relational energy in new relationships.

But one of the most common misconception is that there is a static timer on how long NRE lasts. The complicated truth of NRE is that it varies a lot from person to person. For some people, NRE is measured in months. Whereas for many others, NRE can last several years. Another complicating aspect of NRE is that its length and influence can vary from connection to connection as well. In many cases, the experience with NRE depends heavily on the context of that relationship. So for example, a comet-type relationship that might meet only once or twice a year might have a more drawn out expression of NRE, simply due to reduced exposure to the object of affection. Age can also play a significant role in how someone experiences NRE. So I think it is very important to keep these different factors in mind as it relates to your wife’s relationships with her other partners.

All of this is to say, it is very difficult to get to the root of your current sexual disconnect with your wife because there are multiple contributing factors to your disconnect.

And I think we need to elaborate on the degree of sexual disconnect and deconstruct the various “why’s”.

You say that you’ve picked up on the household chores as a way to lessen the emotional labor burden upon your wife, so that she may be enticed to be more intimate with you. While it is a wonderful thing you are doing, it might work better in a marriage where the imbalance in household chores manifests as a sexual brake in a relationship. In addition, if you dig deeper into your intentions you might find that you are doing those things with an implicit, unspoken intention for sex – that which your wife might be sensing through your actions as if your enthusiasm for household chores is contingent upon her enthusiasm for sex with you. In short, you might be trying to hard to address the problem by yourself when it should really take a collective effort.

I also want to touch on the dangers of keeping score. It is very easy to get in your own head if you keep tabs on the type of sex your partner is having with her other partners. This becomes a more fundamental problem if you end up comparing the dysfunctions within your sex life with your wife to the (assumed) vitality in her sex life with her two other partners. In reality, it might be more beneficial to ground yourself on the dysfunctions of your own sex life.

I also think that your wife bears some responsibility in the current sexual disconnect you are both experiencing with each other. While it is true that many couples do occasionally go through “dry spells”, it could be possible that your wife is less enthusiastic about sexually reconnecting with you because she has two other partners with whom she already has good sexual chemistry with. Dismissing the current sexual disconnect in your marriage as a temporary lapse unfortunately perpetuates the disconnect because that unintentional dismissal also dismisses your lived experience of erotic disconnection. In specific, I am really curious as to how your wife foresees her sexual relationship with you “getting better.”

So what does this all mean for bridging your erotic disconnect?

Esther Perel was once asked if it is difficult to be a partner to a relationship therapist as world-renowned as she is. She responded by saying that she has evolved over the thirty five years that she has been with Jack. She further elaborated that relationships constantly develop and change, and it takes an intentional effort on individuals to mind the inevitable disconnects, plan the reconnect, and celebrate the connection when you do reconnect.

It is clear that even though your wife acknowledges that there is a sexual disconnect, she doesn’t feel motivated to reconnect in the same way you want to. This leaves you with two viable options.

The first option is to address and reemphasize the importance of the reconnect. This might be the easiest to bring up if you can sit down with your wife in a monthly check-in like a RADAR where you can proactively establish action plans for the acknowledged problems. But it is important that you elaborate on the degree of disconnect you’ve experienced and ground yourself in the present pain. This will help your wife understand the gravity of the situation and be more conscientious about reconnecting with you in a more intentional, mindful way. This will also help each of you hold each other accountable in reconnecting with each other. This will allow you and your wife to get on the same page about not only what “getting better” really means, but also what each of you need to do to get better at being intimate with each other. Stated intentions are powerful!

The second option is to acknowledge that this disconnect will have to stand until your wife can independently acknowledge her own pain from this erotic disconnect without any further push. It takes two to tango. And if she really isn’t into bridging this gap, you need to work out a contingency plan to stay sane in your two relationships. You mentioned that you feel like your other partner that you meet once every month or so has to meet all of your sexual demands. And that is a lot of undue pressure filtering through one connection. If your needs are not being met by your current set of partners, it might be time for you to start looking outward to add new partners who can fill in that gap without adding any pressure on your existing partnerships.

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.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – Is it wrong to feel more for one partner over another?

I have been married to my wife Hannah for around a dozen years. She was my second ever girlfriend. We have been poly for the last five years. We both have had partners come and go, but nothing seems to stick. We date separately. We do not have rules for each other, we are fairly autonomous, and we are working on becoming non-hierarchical.

I have been talking/dating someone new – Belinda – for a couple of months. She is very similar to me. Similar love languages. She and I connect romantically in a way I’ve never connected before.

I am very teen-like in my love: making out, high sex drive, clingy, etc. My wife is not that way at all. Sexually, we are different. And while we were monogamous, I just thought the way I loved was silly. Being polyamorous, I’ve seen that others can love this way and it be accepted. Belinda and I connected amazingly, and while Hannah never wanted kids I always did. I accepted it may not be in the cards. And that the romantic relationship with each other was more worth it than sacrificing the relationship by having kids. She was open to the idea of me having kids with a partner, something Belinda was excited about.

Hannah’s mother passed away a couple of months ago. She and I have been at each other and fighting a lot. I met Belinda just after this happened. Due to srcumstances, Belinda is staying with us for a few months. The plan was to build a polycule and have a home all together (myself, Hannah, Belinda, and a possible partner of Hannah’s). This has been the goal for years now.

Hannah was not sold on Belinda as it is still newer, but does not know the depth of feelings between her and I. Hannah and I got into an argument last night where I was asked “Do I feel more for Belinda?” and I was honest and said I do romantically. For me, romance is one aspect of love and relationship. Hannah and I have long known we are on different levels of love. I am a hopeless romantic. I am clingy. She is fine being in the same room and not touching.

Belinda fits me more than Hannah does, so to me it is more natural to feel that romantic connection. I do not love Hannah any less, but it is a different love. She feels I should feel the same and equal to everyone. To which I said that things are not always going to be equal. She may enjoy a sexual aspect with someone more compatible to her, and as long as she enjoys it and loves it with me, we are good. She feels as though poly should be equal.

I am truly asking… am I wrong here? Am I wrong for loving Belinda more romantically or deeper on a romantic level?

/u/PolyGuyBlue, /r/polyadvice.
Photo by Burst on

Dear Poly Guy Blue,

Since you and your wife have been polyamorous for the past five years, I will assume that both you and your wife have already considered the impact of New Relationship Energy when you connect with someone new and exciting, and that you two already know how to manage NRE in a mindful and respectful way. Instead, we will lightly touch on the transition process to a more non-hierarchical polyamorous arrangement, the role of honesty in polyamory, and revisit the recent fight you had with Hannah. Then at the end, we’ll come back to answer the main question: can partner preference be unethical?

Transitioning from an assumed hierarchical polyamorous relationship with your married partner to an explicitly non-hierarchical arrangement is a very challenging and potentially treacherous journey. There are many inherent couple’s privileges and protection that are legally baked into your marriage with Hannah that your or her other partners will never be able to exercise. While the goal of any non-hierarchical polyamorous relationship isn’t to level the playing field for everyone in the polycule, there needs to be a concerted effort for everyone to try their best to smooth out those inherent privileges wherever you can.

You mentioned that you and Hannah never intend to have a child together, while Belinda is open to the opportunity. I don’t have a legal background to give you any legal advice on how you can ensure that the child you might have with Belinda (or with any future partner) is properly and legally accounted for, or how you can protect your paternal rights. So I would strongly advise you to consult with a family law attorney to make sure that all your i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed long before you and Belinda start trying for kids.

Photo by on

Conscientiousness of honesty in polyamorous relationships

Like food you can order at a dine-in restaurant, there are three main parts of any message you deliver.

The first part is the content of the message itself. It is the exact transcription of the words that you type or speak to whoever is receiving your message. It is the words you choose in your head as it leaves your lips or fingertips. In our restaurant metaphor, content would be akin to the very basic ingredients being used to make the food. If you have any singular poor quality ingredient, it’d likely ruin the taste and soul of the food. In the same way, poor diction will mean annihilate a message no matter how it gets delivered.

Delivery is the second part of the message. Delivery is how the words you chose – content – leaves your mouth or fingertips. So the tone of the language, speed & volume in which those words are spoken, and body language are all crucial part of the delivery. In an online conversation, how quickly you deliver those messages in a conversation as well as timeliness of response would constitute delivery. In our restaurant metaphor, delivery would be the service staff as well as the plate or the bowl the food arrives on. Delivery is the presentation of those cooked ingredients and how it is displayed. It won’t matter if you are being served food cooked by a top Michelin Star chef if the food arrives on a used paper plate from last night’s takeout. In the same way, even if the content of the message is perfect, delivery determines how that message is received.

The last part is the context. Context is all the surrounding environment as well as the tone of the previous conversations leading up to this particular message. Context is also represented in the overall mood of the message recipient as well as the room this message might be delivered. On an online conversation, the messaging platform might be considered the context of the message. Context would be the quality of the service staff as well as the table presentation in a restaurant. Even if the food itself is great and arrives on an enchanted plate, your restaurant experience would certainly be soured by a rude waitstaff or a dog poop you stepped on on your way into the restaurant.

It doesn’t matter if the content of your message comes from a good place if they are shouted at each other (i.e. poor delivery). And it doesn’t matter if you thought all about how the message was going to be delivered if you were inconsiderate in your choice of words. Sometimes, even if you choose the perfect set of words and say those words perfectly, it might not be received because the message was delivered in exactly the wrong circumstance. It is important to take into consideration all three parts of a message when you do say those words.

Laying down true honesty in the heat of the moment without any emotional filter is not a healthy way to communicate. Doing so leaves out both the delivery and the context part of the content you aim to get across. Exercising mindfulness and approaching each of your connections with a sense of compassion and sympathy is crucial to your relationship’s success.

Photo by Wellington Cunha on

Revisiting the Fight

Now let’s go back and talk about what actually transpired.

First consider the context of your message. Hannah had just lost her mother couple months ago. I’m sure that has put a significant emotional stressor on your relationship with Hannah as you were asked to step into a more of a caretaker role for your partner. As she is processing the loss and the grief of losing a parent, she also had to witness her partner fall deeply in love with someone brand new. Even if she is a master class professor of jealousy and insecurity management, her current lack of emotional capital in processing those feelings of jealousy and insecurity could have easily overwhelmed her. Based on what you’ve shared, it isn’t just anyone that you fell in love with; it is someone her partner is considering having children with. That is an immense potential commitment that she’ll have to do emotional labor for, even if the initial plan was to maintain a very polyamorous household. Another factor to consider is that you never specified if this is the first time either of your partners have lived in the same house as you and Hannah. If so, learning to live with your metamour is not a level of emotional labor you might truly understand. Then there is the pandemic going around as well as the nonstop news cycle that adds a continuous trauma processing task to all of our plates. Lastly, this question that she asked was delivered in the heat of the moment. You two were in the middle of an argument where the collective emotions were running high.

Then let’s look at the delivery. Now, I wasn’t in the room with you and your partner to know exactly how that message was delivered. But I am guessing based on how she received your message that you were straightforward in your honesty about your romantic and sexual preference for Belinda over Hanna herself. That explains why she gravitated toward objective fairness in all relationships (as opposed to a relative fairness) since your message was delivered in such a way that indicated that her relationship with you was under threat of a direct supersession. And because she felt threatened in her standing, she appealed to equality as a way to remind you that she too is a person who deserves your affection – even if you might not feel that exact same way as her.

You later revealed that the intent of your message was that, while your relationship with Belinda functions at a different level, it does not diminish or otherwise adversely affect your appreciation for your relationship with Hannah. The relationship you have with Belinda is by essence and element different than the relationship you have with Hannah. And Hannah has had dozen plus years to establish herself as a trustworthy life partner for you, through opening up and more.

If that was your true intent in the content of your response, it definitely got lost between the contextual clues and the delivery method, leading to the miscommunication.

Photo by alleksana on

In defense of implicit partner preference

This is all to say that there is nothing inherently wrong with preferring one partner over another in specific circumstances. We all come from wildly different personal backgrounds with completely different personal values and ethics. Our goal in seeking particular partnerships is to find partners who can align close enough with our own values but also different enough that you two don’t immediately cannibalize each other’s beliefs. So it could very well be possible that you do have a romantic preference for Belinda at this specific time at this specific place in your current relational landscape.

However, communicating so when Hannah is already experiencing and handling so much on her own was discompassionately removed from her own personal headspace. Being that upfront and honest to the point of unintentionally hurting others is not a healthy way to communicate with someone you have been dating for the past dozen plus years. For a moment, step away from defending your own perspective out of necessity and step into her perspective to relate with her headspace even if she can’t do so herself at this moment. Think for a moment how much emotional labor she is currently contending with. So even if that partner preference was true, both the context and the delivery were both incorrect from your part.

Polyamorous connections are rarely ever equal. Even if for some reason, you started dating both Hannah and Belinda at the same exact time and did not have preexisting marital commitments to honor, they are very different people. So your relationships with either of them are going to be very, very different, depending on circumstance, personality, and the relationship history that you’d be carving out with each of your partners. But Hannah wasn’t looking for an honest answer from you. She was looking for a supportive answer from you. The kind of answer that would ground her back in reality with you as her partner while she is shouldering so much burden so that she may rest on your kindness for just one more evening.

Even if it wasn’t complete honesty.

So to go all the way back to answer your question…

No. It is not ethically wrong to have preferences. But it is wrong to communicate in such a way at this time.

Especially not to a partner who has been there for you for the past dozen plus years. And especially in comparison to a new partner who has only been around for a couple months.

Photo by Lina Kivaka on

Childrearing and wrapup

As a new father, I also have a couple to add here about the complexities of raising a newborn in a polyamorous household. Like polyamorous dating space, there isn’t really a popular model for you to follow as for how you can raise a child with multiple partners. Almost all the models out there are designed for monogamous households with varying degrees of community support. While some of the new parenting stressors – such as lack of sleep – seems as aligned in a poly household as would a monogamous one, polyamory does bring unique challenges that cannot be experienced in a monogamous parenting scenario.

As such, I strongly advise you to read this article from New York Times from yesterday. It is very rare that such a large publication would cover non-monogamy as something other than a modern fad. This particular article goes into a pretty deep detail into the types of agreements you can implement with your partners to ensure all your grounds are covered.

I am four years into my own personal polyamory journey. And there are days when I feel completely on top of my relationships, cruising between my different relationships like a fish through a stream. Then there are days where I am completely humbled by my lack of expertise and sense. I too am often knocked a loose by an illogical strand of jealousy or insecurity that I once thought I had a better handle of. So even if you feel that you’ve been able to manage NRE better in previous relationships, that wasn’t with Belinda. And that wasn’t while Hannah was shouldering so much external and internal stressors. Stay grounded and rooted in your own experience while fearlessly stepping into other perspectives occasionally. Even if you aren’t as romantically aligned with Hannah as you would with Belinda, love is not a competition nor is it a zero sum game. More you love Hannah, more you can love Belinda. And more you love Belinda, more you can love Hannah.

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.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – My polyamorous wife is uncomfortable with me dating others.

We started opening our relationship in June as an “exploratory” thing we were doing. At that time it seemed like she was just “looking for fun” and she got to have her fun with a handful of people. I started to talk with a close friend and found out this friend is also polyamorous and wanted to explore with me.

My wife has been intensely jealous of this new development between me and my friend. She does not feel comfortable with it but also totes around “fair is fair. I’ve done way worse”. I hate to admit it and I never say it out loud but I feel like she is right in that sense. She has slept with 5 guys in the span of a month and then suddenly me having my first experience is too much for her. To give you some context, my wife has been my only sexual partner my whole life.

At this same time my wife started a friendship with my friend’s roommate. She came out to me a couple days ago that she is actually polyamorous and isn’t looking for casual flings, something I’ve been asking since the start. Basically telling me she has feelings for this roommate.

I’ve been feeling a lot worse knowing it’s not just a casual fling for her while she simultaneously does not want me to pursue anyone. It feels very hypocritical.

/u/ImOkButIsThatOk, /r/polyamory
Photo by Pixabay on

Dear I’m Okay But Is That Okay,

Let’s slow down.

This situation is deceptively complex. So let’s first start by discussing everything that happened with your wife since opening up in June.

In a very short amount of time, she has found five different casual connections. We often find change and progress through our intimate connections. Sometimes, the shortest flings often bring about the biggest changes in us. It could be possible that your wife has found significant growth and development over the past month that allowed her to better fully flesh out the type of relationships she wants to have. That means a personal growth for herself as well as a deviation from the original vision of non-monogamous arrangement with you.

The timing of her declaration appears coincidental and circumstantial. But let’s assume for a moment that her acknowledgement of her polyamorous identity comes completely independent from the recent developments in your own non-monogamous journey. If we give her the benefit of the doubt that her growth is the result of the past month’s experience, then there are some really big questions she needs to ask herself before she can actually claim the polyamorous identity.

  • What does it mean for her to be polyamorous?
  • Hierarchical vs non-hierarchical?
  • What type of interactions is she willing to facilitate between her multiple partners?
    • Don’t Ask Don’t Tell
    • Parallel Polyamory
    • Kitchen Table Polyamory
  • What does this mean for your rules and agreements from a month ago?
  • What does her ideal version of polyamorous arrangement look like?
  • What does this mean for our future?

I’ve written in the past about polyamory as an identity. And in that column from two weeks ago I wrote, “[P]olyamory as an identity is too often used as a blanket excuse for unethical and selfish relationship habits.” In short, it could be possible that your wife is utilizing her declaration of polyamorous identity as a way to neglect or disregard the emotional labor associated with polyamory. We’ll go into more detail what that means in the next section.

Photo by Scott Webb on

Now let’s talk about what is happening with you. Just like the discussion about your wife’s development, we’ll talk about your current predicament as completely independent from your wife.

It sounds like you found someone you connected with in your close friend. I’m not sure if your close friend has had much experience with non-monogamy prior to connecting with you, nor your friend’s current balance of relationships. But considering that your wife has been your only sexual partner, there is going to be a lot that you’ll need to unlearn, re-learn, and newly learn in regards to developing a romantic/sexual connection with your close friend.

Hear your friend when they say that they are polyamorous. If they have already had a lot of experience with non-monogamy/polyamory, then this is a great time for you to ask them what their experience has been like, what they expect from their relationships, and what preexisting agreements they have with their current partners. If they are coming into polyamory just as fresh as you and your wife are, then they too should be asking the same questions that your wife should be asking herself. I strongly urge you to take a look at the newbie tag on my column. This post in particular has a lot of resources that can benefit everyone.

In polyamory, you don’t just date your partner; you also date the situation. Your friend has to be introspective about the relationship situation their partner – you – are in, just like you have to be cognizant about their situation as well.

This is a good time for you to reassess what you personally expect from both your current and future relationships. One of the ways I have a dialogue with myself is by writing down my feelings in a journal. It helps me distance myself from my own perspective in order to have a dialogue with myself about myself. Another way is through therapy. Through our therapists, we can better hear and engage with our own voices in a more productive, clinical way.

Photo by Pixabay on

Now let’s bring everything together.

I am going to assume that your wife connected with the roommate of the same close friend that you are interested in pursuing a connection with. I’m not sure if her decision to connect with this particular individual was one of choice to limit COVID exposure, of sheer luck that she happened to connect well with your interest’s roommate, or perhaps something more questionable. Either way, intermixing their current living situation with your exploration with open relationship appears ripe for disaster, with almost no safety nets.

I have a feeling that her reticence and reservation regarding your decision to pursue others is heavily and deeply rooted in a sense of insecurity and jealousy, which is common for a lot of polyfolks. It is something that I – an experienced poly person – struggle with on occasion as well. It is also common for a lot of poly newbies that jealousy and insecurity often gets weaponized to influence their partners’ actions, which might be happening with your wife. It could be that in better circumstances that she has enough resources to manage her feelings of insecurity and jealousy. But because she’s trying to juggle her multiple connections, at the same time trying to figure out what polyamory means to her, her emotional capital is tapped out.

Similar could apply to you as well. You spent so much time accepting and being okay with your wife’s other connections over the past month that you are losing sight of the type of connections you want to make. And now that you found a potential connection through your close friend, your wife’s proclamation of poly identity is rocking the boat so heavily that you can’t tell what’s up from down.

In a way, it is like trying to tango on roller skates while the dance floor is also an escalator and also your eyebrows are on fire.

Photo by Burst on

You and your wife should seriously consider slowing things down and only adding one variable at a time. I understand that both you and your wife are tempted to match each other pace-for-pace, and I think this is a mistake. If your wife wants to explore polyamorous relationships instead of more ephemeral casual connections, then this is a great time for her to stop dating for a month and read/listen to materials for polyfolks. If she is really intent on and serious about pursuing a polyamorous connection with this specific individual, this person will still be there when your wife is actually ready to date polyamorously. And in this time, they too can take some time to think about the type of polyamory they want to be a part of. Reading and listening material should give your wife some good ideas on how to manage her insecurity and jealousy in a more productive and meaningful way.

While your wife and her potential connection is researching into polyamory, it is time for you to explore the type of connection you want to make by being in it. Like your wife has discovered, you’ll learn a lot when you start dating others. Only through experience, you’ll get a better idea of how you can connect with yourself, your wife, and others at a deeper level. It’ll also give you a different perspective on what you think that your wife gets out of non-monogamy as well. You might find that your preference could be very different from your wife. But you won’t really know until you’re out dating on your own. This is all going to fold into your wife’s research material as she’ll have real life examples to apply her learning to. And just like you’ll have to explore your own relationships in order for you to discover what you want, she’ll have to explore her own jealousy management skills in order for her to discover what works for her.

Photo by Pixabay on

Last thing I’ll comment on is in the necessity of consent regarding ethical non-monogamy.

You don’t need to make yourself vulnerable to degrees of emotional, relational, or sexual risk that you yourself don’t find acceptable through your partner. What I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to be okay with your wife’s behavior. She has been displaying some very selfish behaviors with reckless disregard for COVID happenstance, your relational landscape, or the type of connections she wants to pursue. And you don’t have to accept this type of behavior from your partner. If your personal boundary is such that you will not be in a romantic relationship with a person who seeks romantic relationships with others, that is a perfectly valid boundary for you to have and a perfectly valid boundary for your wife to adhere to for the sake of your marriage and your kids.

Dating you should be a privilege she gets to enjoy, not a guarantee she gets to settle on.

Jase from Multiamory once said dating multiple people doesn’t make you polyamorous. What makes you polyamorous is in learning to accept and celebrate your partners’ other relationships. The much more difficult part of polyamory is in committing to and doing the emotional labor that comes with jealousy and insecurity. I hate to act the part of a gatekeeper to polyamory. But if your wife cannot (or refuse to) mindfully manage her jealousy and insecurity that comes with polyamory, she does not get to claim to be polyamorous in the same way that enjoying cocktails doesn’t make that person a bartender.

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.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

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.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – I want my husband to date my wife.

I am a hinge in a V, but I would rather the three of us form a triad.

My husband and I have been together for 17 years. My wife and I started out as best friends, but realized we were something more than that about five years ago.

About 2 years ago, my wife and her husband divorced (for reasons other than our setup), and we took a step back so that she could heal. We are just now getting back to where we were before her divorce.

I don’t want to push anything, but my husband and my wife get along marvelously. They share a lot of traits, from political beliefs to sense of humor, etc. I would love for them to be more than friends. I think they would be a great match.

My husband has brought up the fact that he wouldn’t mind dating her, but I told him to hold back while she was dealing with her divorce. Now that she seems to be on the other end of that tunnel, how should I broach the idea of them dating?

We have a pretty good dynamic the way we are now, but honestly, I think we would be closer and happier if we were in a triad.

/u/Gw3nhwyfar, /r/polyamory.
Photo by Adrianna Calvo on

Dear Gw3nhwyfar,

The laws of attraction is rarely just. Relationships are complicated because it requires three major things: match in availability, mutual attraction, and basic chemistry. For example, let’s say that you and a potential interest were mutually attracted to each other and had basic chemistry, but your potential interest was in a monogamous relationship with another. Even if you were single and/or polyamorous, this just would not work. If you and your potential interest were both available and had mutual interest in each other but lacked basic chemistry, it would quickly fall apart as there would be no “spark.” Absent all three, a relationship will quickly unravel.

It is even more challenging to ensure a spark to a new relationship if it involves two of the people you are romantically connected with. Here is why this is such a challenging feat. First, it requires that both your husband and your wife are open to dating others who are in serious relationship with another – you. Even if they have other partners, your husband and/or wife might be currently polysaturated and therefore not looking to build any new connection. And even if they’re both familiar with each other, a romantic connection will be a new one. Second, it requires that both your husband and your wife are each interested in each other. Based on what you have shared, I get the sense that at least your husband has thought once or twice about connecting with your wife. But we have no idea whether or not your wife is interested in your husband in a romantic or a sexual way. Third, it requires that both your husband and wife feel basic chemistry with each other toward each other. I don’t just mean interpersonal chemistry as if they’d be dating each other as folks who are just discovering each other for the first time, but initially as each other’s metamours. Then there is the added potential difficulty of logistics and balance between each of their intertwined relationships.

I wrote in a column a while back that triads are about three times as difficult as a traditional hinge-type poly relationship. Triads are a completely different type of a relationship than functioning as a hinge relationship. It might be more important to get down to why you feel like you want a triad relationship, rather than your husband and your wife being a good match for each other. I get the sense that you have a deep sense of appreciation and affection for each of your partners. And through that appreciation, you might also see compersion through your partners dating each other. What is it about triad relationship that appeals to you in general? And why with these two very specific people?

Photo by Ryan Baker on

If you really are insistent on pursuing a triad relationship, then you need to start lowering your expectations. Relationships cannot be forced. And if a relationship is on a roll, its natural rhythm can rarely ever be stopped. Love and care is often beyond reason and stands often times against reason and logic. And instead of coming from a place of “I would really like for them to have a romantic relationship with each other”, perhaps start from “I would really like for them to get closer”.

Once you have properly set your expectation, allow for them to forge and foster their own connection at their own pace. This isn’t the place for you to assert yourself by declaring your desire for them to connect as lovers. Even if the romantic potential is there (as you stated), it is completely and wholly beyond your sense of agency as the hinge partner of the two relationships. Instead, allow them space and time to build and establish a wider foundation for them to build a different house atop their current existing one. Give them space to better flesh out the type of connection they each want to have with each other.

I’ll leave you off with this thought. I’ve had a handful of deep and enriching connections with my metamours that never intensified to a sexual or a romantic relationship. Adding sex or attaching romantic aspirations to those connections might have soured the incredible connection that we had as metamours. There are a lot of different shades and depth of connection that is just as invigorating as an intense lustful connection and just as relaxing as a long-term connection with whom you’ve developed an immense amount of trust with. Keep that in mind.

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.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – Managing relationship burnout.

My nesting partner and boyfriend are both monogamous, in that they’re not currently interested in pursuing anyone else. Neither wants to maintain multiple relationships and they don’t crave anything beyond their connection with me for now (of course that might change in the future).

We’re all fairly new to polyamory and trying our best to balance time and energy. I stress about giving enough to both relationships and worry about burnout. Any tips on navigating this guilt and anxiety?

Gooseberry Muffins, /r/polyamory
Photo by Ena Marinkovic on

Dear Gooseberry Muffins,

I think you have a very legitimate concern here, and it is twofold. The first fear is in experiencing relationship burnout. And the second fear is in not being able to provide enough for your boyfriend and your nesting partner. Let’s take some time with each of those fears before we talk about how those fears and anxiety points can be better managed.

Relationship burnout is generally defined as the feelings of exhaustion and detachment folks feel as they are increasingly disengaged and emotionally disconnected from their partners. There are several factors that contribute to feeling burnt out in your relationships. Prolonged conflict is one of the major causes of relationship burnout. Extended cycles of conflict forcibly elevate and hold couples at a high stress level, which then depletes the emotional capital that folks have invested in their relationships. As the emotional reserves run out over the highly intense cycles of conflict, exhaustion and relationship pessimism will set in as the lack of emotional payoff gets associated through repeated conflicts.

I’ll also mention that relationship burnout is different from dating burnout. While they are both burnouts, dating burnout stems from the consistent high stress cycle that come with going on new dates and forging new connections. This is especially true for polyfolks who might be dating for longer cycles. Based on what you have shared, you are more worried about feeling burnt out from your two relationships rather than the burnout you’d feel in dating new partners.

Causes of relationship burnouts aren’t all that different between monogamous and polyamorous relationships. Both types of burnouts come from conflict escalation and resolution exhaustion.

Photo by Gabriel P on

The next step is to figure out how you can address burnout before it happens.

If relationship burnout is correlated with consistent high stress cycles, then the best way to manage it is by managing conflicts in a productive and healthy way so that you may avoid those high stress cycles.

This means finding rhythm to manage and address struggles together as a team rather than on your own. One of the tools I think every polyamorous folks should utilize is a monthly check in. In my monthly check ins, my partners and I sit down for a deep discussion on how things have been going, what fractures have we noticed, and what action plans we need to implement to address those fractures. Multiamory’s RADAR model works really well for this.

Another way to proactive manage burnouts is to allow for neutral “padding” in your relationships. By this, I mean to create some extra fluff in your life so that your entire identity doesn’t dissolve down to who you are as a partner. It’s easy to get caught up in the relationship spark and lose track of your own interests and other platonic connections. So keep in touch with yourself outside of these relationships by staying true to your interests and hobbies that are independent from your partners.

Photo by Pixabay on

Now let’s talk about the second fear: the fear of not being able to provide enough.

With two monogamous partners who are committed and dedicated to you, it’ll fall heavily on your shoulders to manage and meet their needs. This can seem like a big ask and is a very valid fear.

Similar to above, this too is not a fear that is unique to polyamorous relationships. Folks in monogamous relationships also ask themselves the same questions when they get into very ambitious and promising relationships. At its core, this fear is about what you assess your partners need from an external perspective, and how it compares to what your partners actually need from their respective internal perspectives.

Our perspectives are limited to what we can immediately perceive through our senses, our intuition, and communication through our trusted channels. What you see, what you hear, and what you can project is a strict internal process about external factors. In the same way, it is important for you to acknowledge that what you think that your partners will need is strictly your own internal assessment of what your partners need, not what your partners actually need. I feel a bit like a broken record here, but communicating with your partners and letting your partners dictate what they need is essential to bridging that gap between what you assess as their needs and what they assess as their needs. Only then can you actually sit back and assess whether or not you can actually meet their needs.

Photo by on

I’ve talked about proactive consent in my column a bit in the past. Your partners are proactively consenting to being in this relationship with you when they communicate their needs with you and subsequently give you space to meet their needs with your resources.

If they communicate a need that you might not be able to meet at this moment, then you have the ability to also assess and analyze your consent status. But until that happens where their needs are mismatching what you can (realistically) provide, recognize this fear as a voice of anxiety. Give it room to breathe and kindly remind the voice that it is simply an irrational result to an irrational process.

I’ve personally found meditation and self-care to be immensely helpful in creating some distance from my ego, in order to have those rational discussions with my own irrational sides. Your method of conversing with yourself to keep yourself in check might look more kinetic or more metaphysical.

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.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – Conflict is making it difficult for me to connect with my metamour.

“I [29F] live with my polycule, total five people, and most are dating each other, though some few pairings are not actually dating. It’s a bit of a complicated setup when put on paper, but it works out amazingly for us. I’m running into a challenge with envy/jealousy. One member of the ‘cule is very sex positive, he absolutely adores all of us, and normally it’s great. However, since I came into these relationships, he’s had a very tough time with how my relationship is with our mutual partner, we’ll call them X. Fights tend to happen between him and X every time I have a date, or spend the night with, X. A lot of it has to do with their relationship together, but it’s mostly been in relation to how my relationship is with X. Direct comparisons, insecurities about me and how I am with X, and so on. I didn’t really know about this until about two months ago. I wasn’t really sure what was going on other than they seemed to always end up having a major argument/fight/talk, coincidentally right after I got to spend time with X.

It came out about two months ago, after he and X nearly broke up, that it was actually directly in relation to me. It had inadvertently caused tension and struggles between myself and X over most of our relationship. We’d managed to work through it, without TOO much difficulty, and ended up with a better understanding of each other every time. But I have a lot of complicated feelings about what I now know was an indirect cause. He did not INTEND to drag my relationship into their problems and insecurities, and X didn’t INTEND to allow those to affect me, or our relationship. I recognize that, and I’m always a big supporter of the concept of intentions being important, as long as the negative consequences are tackled together.

This however, is not sitting right with me. He’s been actively working on himself, and why he’s having this toxic behavior. But after that, nothing has really changed. X has been doing their best to not let it change our relationship, but the whole thing makes it hard for me to actually seek time with my partner. I have severe anxiety disorder, and I’m seeing my own specialist for ways to mitigate the way this is affecting me. I’ve been having anxiety attacks far more frequently than usual, sometimes just because X and I laughed too loud or had too much fun together. It’s worse when X and I try to have sex, because the walls are thin and there’s no amount of pillow biting or being careful with our movements that will completely hide it. We could try to mask it with music, but at this point even trying that I end up having a massive panic attack, because I’m terrified he’ll hear that and drive himself crazy knowing what’s happening that he can’t hear.

More recently, he was upset that X was splitting their attention between him and me, because I needed X for something only X could do. Neither X nor I knew that he was wanting X specifically to himself for a while. I’m starting to get scared of even talking to X. What if the one time I do is the time he’s needing undivided attention? My anxiety and fear is making me sick at this point.

I love him, I really really do. But I do not love how he is with X. We work together very well, and we see how each other works. We had some similar experiences in our pasts that really helped us connect, especially with mental health. A lot of times we help each other with understanding our own and each other’s mental health. But the moment X shows up in his head, he seems like he transforms into another person.

I guess I’m just struggling with the debate about what I should do. At what point is it healthier for myself to extract myself from my relationships with both of them? I don’t want to, but I can’t just ignore this feeling that makes me physically ill to think about. I know realistically I’m going to talk to them both about my doubts considering the behavior one exhibits and one tolerates. But the scared part of me wants to just pack up and run.”

/u/polyenby on /r/polyamory.

Photo by Tatiana Syrikova on

Dear Poly Enby,

Quarantining with your polycule poses a unique set of challenges. As you are finding, one of the major challenges in cohabitating with your overall polycule is through the lens of urgency in which these problems necessitate immediate solutions, even if they are not problems that can be solved immediately. Both you and your partner X are asked to do some emotional labor – by policing your quality times together and by abstaining from making unavoidable sex noises – on behalf of your metamour who gets anxious when his partner is out of sight.

It could be possible that the major fight that your partner X and your metamour had two months ago shattered this illusion of the perfect poly household in your head. Previously, you didn’t have any reasons to doubt your metamour’s intentions since he is so sex positive and loving in your in-person engagements. Now that you’ve gotten an understanding of how he acts and reacts in his relationship with X and therefore affects your own relationship with X, you are now coloring his actions and reactions through a filter of misunderstanding and miscommunication.

Here is a good example of that changed perspective.

More recently, he was upset that X was splitting their attention between him and me, because I needed X for something only X could do. Neither X nor I knew that he was wanting X specifically to himself for a while. I’m starting to get scared of even talking to X.

In this particular scenario, wouldn’t the onus be on your metamour to communicate what his needs were with X so that X can properly analyze and direct how they wanted to spend their free time? There is a major difference between not getting a “want” compared to not getting a “need.” And your metamour’s failure to communicate so should not have influenced X’s decision anyway since yours was a “need” as compared to his “want.” If his “want” was left unsatisfied, that anger is on himself for his failure to advocate for his “want,” not whether or not he was unhappy that X got your “need” met.

Photo by Gustavo Fring on

This advice column is being written for you, not your metamour. So let’s try to think about this in a healthier context.

Every person is entitled to feel their own feelings. Your partner, your metamour, and you are all each experiencing feelings. However, that does not necessarily mean that your feelings need to necessitate an action. Just because you are feeling hungry at this exact moment does not necessarily mean that you should reach for that bag of Cheetos. It might be a healthier option for you to cook up a meal that will keep you full for longer. In the same way, not every one of your metamour’s feelings need to be bandaged by you or your partner. Some of those wounds are self-inflicted (like above), and he’ll need to figure out how to manage his own feelings in his own adult ways. If he is having difficulty overhearing you two having sex in the other room, he could opt to wear some noise cancelling headphones, keep a white noise machine handy, or simply remove himself from the house.

I recognize that, and I’m always a big supporter of the concept of intentions being important, as long as the negative consequences are tackled together.

I also wanted to respond to this part from your post. It can be good to have idealistic vision of what type of relationships you’d like to have in your poly household. But your idealistic vision is not necessarily what is grounded in reality. Not everyone wants to or can clearly state their intentions. It could be possible that your metamour having difficulty managing the work-life balance, and doesn’t have the emotional capital at hand to manage his anxiety regarding his partner X sleeping with you. It could also be possible that he just doesn’t do clear statement of intention. In the same way, it could very well be possible that he isn’t interested in tackling the negative consequences together with everyone. A lot of people feel self-conscious about admitting and recognizing relationship troubles. It’s one of the reasons why there are so many anonymized advice posts in my column. And trying to address this ongoing conflict could shine a harsh light on areas he does not feel comfortable residing with you. You even reflected how difficult facing that conflict together could be for you here (“I know realistically I’m going to talk to them both about my doubts considering the behavior one exhibits and one tolerates. But the scared part of me wants to just pack up and run.“) That same fear could be very real for him as it is currently for you.

A much more realistic perspective to have in a similar situation would be “It would be nice to have clear statement of intention as well as a desire to tackle negative consequences together.”

Photo by Jake Colvin on

It is a very common saying in my column that the hinge partners are responsible for managing and facilitating each of their relationships. It is entirely X’s responsibility to manage their respective relationships with both you and your metamour to the best of their abilities. While it isn’t X’s responsibility to manage your metamour’s feelings, it is definitely their responsibility to ensure that you don’t have to overstep your boundaries to manage his either. In addition, it is also your responsibility to not be responsible for his feelings. Instead, have faith in X to successfully manage their relationships in an ethical and mindful way that is fair and honest to each of their relationships.

In the same way that it is your metamour’s responsibility to manage his own feelings, it is also your responsibility to manage your own anxiety (with the ongoing help from your therapist). If you personally feel uncomfortable having sex with your partner because your metamour could overhear it, then it might be a good time for you to consider getting your own place in order to create a space in which you and your partner can be the authentic selves you each aim to be. It might not help with his anxiety regarding where his partner is at all times. But at least it won’t constantly press the “what if he overhears” anxiety pain point.

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.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – How can I be a better metamour?

“My primary partner and I have been together for almost ten years and polyamorous for five, but we’ve experienced real deep romantic love outside our relationship in the last couple years.

We are discovering our difference in values might mean he can’t date other people without causing pain.

For me, you should be willing to go to war for your family. I’d do anything for him. If someone doesn’t like him, it forever taints how I view that person. I would, without a doubt, break up with anyone who doesn’t respect him or my relationship with him.

He finds compassion and understanding for everyone. Everyone’s opinions are valid and he will hold space for them. If I’m struggling, he’ll be there to cheer on my success and comfort me in failures, but my battles are my own. All these characteristics are what made me fall in love with him. I love that he doesn’t have a judgmental bone in his body. I love the balance of commitment and autonomy in our relationship.

This all falls apart when he dates someone I don’t get along with. He will never take sides, in any way, which leads to me feeling trapped with someone I don’t like. (He usually dates someone from our larger shared friend circle, so I always know my metas.) We’ve been solving this by just creating more space between me and his other partners. But there always seems to be a new way that the his other partner can do something that gets back to me and affects me. And every time I don’t understand why he won’t do anything to find reconciliation. It’s impossible to keep us completely separate in our small town and our small community. At some point he has to do something to help us heal and get along. But he’s just not good at this type of problem solving.

He’s not dating anyone else now, but does that have to be forever? What can we work on so small fights with metas don’t always blow up? I don’t have these problems anywhere else in my life. Except with my last two metas, I’ve always been able to solve conflict without fighting. The fact that I feel abandoned in these conflicts is what makes it worse for me.”

Fishy in the Middle on /r/polyamory.

Photo by Valeriia Miller on

Dear Fishy in the Middle,

I am really sorry to hear that you are experiencing this particular disconnect. There could be multiple contributing factors to why you are experiencing difficulty connecting with your metamours. It could be specific problems with your two former metamours. It could be a hinge problem with your partner. And it could also be a personal problem with you. Let’s dive into those one by one, and talk about what you can do personally about each of those problems.

Metamours pose a set of questions unique to polyamory.

Polyfolks’ relationships with our metamours is a lot like our relationship with our in-laws. They are close to our partners but we often keep them at some distance. It obviously comes with its own idiosyncrasies. But the overall sentiment still holds true.

You said you have had a lot of problems with your two former metamours. You did not specify the type of problems they each had. But I get the sense based on what you’ve shared that they did or said things that you weren’t totally on board with. I am curious what type of disconnects you had with your metamours, and would love to do a deeper dive to see where the responsibilities actually lie.

In my own personal experience with challenging metamours, I have found that my personal challenges with my metamours often boiled down to differing tastes and preferences. We all grow up with our own respective personal histories, which all contribute to the different styles and preferences we have as adults. As such, I found it difficult to assume that everyone was going to be exactly on the same page about our respective styles and preferences. Some of my metamours really understood this aspect. Some could not. It could be possible that your former metamours could not successfully assess what type of words and actions would upset you. That presents a specific type of challenge that is ultimately out of control for you: metamour incompatibility.

As for what you can do about the incompatibilities you had with your former metamours, it sounds like you’ve done your best to create distance to protect yourself and your metamours from any more hurt feelings. And I do think that boundary setting is generally a pretty good solution to people-problems. With that said, setting boundaries around people who are not used to being set boundaries on could have exacerbated and aggravated the growing disconnect you and your metamours felt around each other.

Photo by Just a Couple Photos on

Your partner also has a lot of responsibilities to manage in his multiple relationships.

Hinge partners are responsible for managing their multiple relationships. By this, I mean it is your primary partner’s responsibility to resolve conflicts, communicate expectations, and uphold boundaries & agreements. That is the price of admission we must pay to engage in polyamorous connections: emotional labor.

This also includes facilitating productive discussions between their partners especially if they don’t get along.

It is clear that your partner does his relationships a bit differently from the way you do your own relationships. Based on what you’ve shared, I get the sense that your partner is very easy going and relatively conflict-averse. In his deep sense of care for others, he struggles to evaluate conflicting values and instead strives to spread a sense of understanding. He is very open to cherishing all the success as well as to supporting through any of the failures. Those are all really great open-minded characteristics to have in relationships; and it is one of the many reasons why he has had such a great, lasting relationship with you over the past decade.

His perspective allows for him to form the kind of connections he wants to nurture in his life. And it is apparent that his personality could attract a certain type of people – folks who are more driven and intentional. And when those folks – in the form of your metamours – butt heads with your more driven and intentional perspective, it creates conflict.

If his preferred role in conflict resolution is as a peacemaker, it is understandable why he would take a more cautious approach to resolving issues. It also explains why you have such a personal problem with the way he addresses conflicts. You see a refusal to reconcile in his slower approach to resolving conflicts. And he sees you pressing him for action before he is ready. Neither of those perspectives are accurate because each of your intentions are different than assumed. But it is a reasonable enough assumption that ultimately led to his latest realization, that he doesn’t think he can date others without causing you or his other partners pain.

Photo by Viktor Lundberg on

Now that we talked about where his head is at, let’s now talk about what this means for your relationship.

For the sake of this section, I am going to assume that every other aspect of your connection with your partner is great. How does problem resolution traditionally work out in your relationship with your partner? Are you generally much more assertive than he is in solving problems in your relationship? Does his problem resolution skills present a direct conflict for your personal relationship with your partner? Or is it only in regard to his other relationships?

Let’s suppose that your partner dates a person who is cheating on their spouse. For most polyfolks, enabling infidelity is a hard boundary. In this particular situation, you would be justified to set boundaries around interacting with someone who is so clearly involved in an unethical behavior. But this scenario poses a deeper question into the character of your partner than it does for your hypothetical metamour. You aren’t in a relationship with your metamour. But if your partner is enabling infidelity, then your partner’s judgment too is flawed. It should be his responsibility to recognize when there are irreconcilable differences and only seek partnerships with people who also practice ethical non-monogamy, with people who are compatible with his own personal brand of polyamory.

So you should really ask yourself if he is consistently picking partners who are practicing unethical non-monogamy or folks who are deeply incompatible with his current poly happenstance. Both of those would reflect a deep character flaw which should make you re-think about the status of your relationship.

However, if he just happens to pick partners who become more incompatible down the line, then it might be more of an issue with you than him. Like I mentioned, it is the hinge partner’s responsibility to manage their multiple relationships. But he needs to have the space to manage in order for him to manage his multiple relationships. And if there isn’t the kind of space he needs to manage his multiple relationships, then he just doesn’t have enough resources to do what he needs to do.

Photo by Engin Akyurt on

I am going to tell you about the best metamour I’ve ever had. His name was Dave. He was monogamous, but cherished his wife’s other relationships better than any non-monogamous metamours I have ever had. He never outwardly expressed his insecurity or jealousy. His confidence was quiet and unassuming, but naturally flowed out of every interaction I’ve had with him. But better than anyone else, he knew how to manage space in his life. He knew exactly when he was welcome to join at the dinner with our shared partner. And he knew exactly when to leave us alone. He was the most unintentionally charming man I have ever met. I never had to do any kind of emotional labor with Dave because he was so secure and self-aware that he could manage his own feelings. Even though my relationship with Dave’s partner never worked out, I strove to be as self-assured, as socially aware, and as polyamorous as Dave was for me.

At the end of the day, you only really have control over your own actions.

There is a big difference between loyalty and autonomy. The perspective you have in loving someone so wholeheartedly is respectable. But based on what you’ve shared, it could be possible that you ask a lot from your partner. You say that you live in a small town with a small community. So you should already know how difficult it is to create distance among folks with whom you were already familiar with. That kind of boundary setting is ripe with potential misunderstanding.

I am also very curious about how you personally define “respect” with regards to respecting your partner or your partner’s relationship with you. There is already an explicit hierarchy in your polyamorous relationship. Demanding respect when you haven’t shown yet that you’ve earned so is going to prove incompatible for a lot of folks who want to explore a long-term connection with your partner as well. Instead, show them who you are by mindfully exercising your secure attachment with your shared partner, very much like Dave confidently made space in my relationship with our shared partner.

Based on your label, I also get the sense that you two have a very strict hierarchical polyamorous relationship. And based on what I gather, I get the sense that when you don’t get along with a particular metamour, you ask your partner to end his relationship. That is fine if that is the preexisting agreement you have with your partner. Whether it is an implicit veto (i.e. I’m going to But that veto agreement is unfortunately going to rub a lot of people the wrong way.

I’ll also float the possibility that your partner just happened to have had an unfortunate encounters with two incompatible partners. I don’t imagine that it has always been an issue in your five year polyamory journey together that he always pursued folks who were clearly incompatible with you as a metamour. But I also think that we – the non-monogamous folks – represent a small subsection of the overall dating population. The more selective you and your partner are about his secondary partners, the more difficult it will be to find any suitable match. So it might not be a bad idea to keep an open mind and more kindly approach your partner’s interests.

At some point, you are going to have to trust that your primary partner can solve his problems on your behalf – even if it looks like he lacks agency. And you are also going to have to trust that he will pick out the type of partners who will also get along with you. You’ve had a lot of opportunities to build trust around each other’s capabilities to be partners to other folks. The inherent part of trust is in having faith that your partner does have your best interests at heart. It looks like there are a lot of room for improvement and growth for both you and your partner as you continue to explore polyamory. So be patient!

Good luck.

Advice – Backsliding in a non-monogamous relationship.

“My husband [34M] and I [32F] have been in an open relationship since December. We initially opened it up because he had an interest in a co-worker and I realized I didn’t feel jealous or hurt by the idea.

At the time, we both decided he should pursue casual connections as romance wasn’t something he wanted. I also communicated that I wasn’t ready for the more emotional implications of a truly polyamorous relationship. Since then, we discovered that my husband is demisexual so he needs to forge a deeper connection. And the FWB was also dealing with a lot of loneliness and is monogamous. So although she communicated she only wanted to be FWB, to maintain their relationship he has had to stay the night a few times per week. Otherwise, she gets angry/passive aggressive on the phone and degrades his feelings and words to her.

My husband’s relationship with his FWB accelerated very quickly. My husband quickly discovered that he is demisexual. So he decided that he needed to establish a more emotional connection with his FWB. She struggles a lot with jealousy and insecurity to the point that my husband has to stay at her place multiple nights a week. Otherwise, she has a tendency to get angry or passive aggressive by degrading his feelings/words to her. They recently stopped using barriers. My husband also told her that he loved her, even though he told me that he meant it only as a friend. My FWB is also very monogamous and once told my husband that she wants him all to herself.

Lately, I feel that he has been responding more to her needs. And although they put a hold on sexual activities currently, I can’t help but struggle with low self-esteem. I see how much it feels like she needs him and how much he responds to her both physically and emotionally. I went into this experiencing expecting a friendship with some romps in the hay, not anything this emotionally charged.

He tries to reassure me with words, but right now it doesn’t feel like enough. I feel like I want to grab at what’s mine and feel validated by knowing he loves and wants me. But I don’t know what to ask for, and for it to feel like enough. At this point, I feel like I’m drowning in emotions and self-esteem issues. I’m not sure how to build myself up and ask for what I need when I’m not sure what that is.

To clarify, we have worked together towards this, and we all agreed that staying over multiple days was fine. And I did a lot of jealousy work previously, but I feel like it is slowly getting out of control.”

Nuthatch Ash on /r/nonmonogamy.

Photo by Cadeau Maestro on

Dear Nuthatch Ash,

The threads are quickly unraveling, faster than either you or your husband can recognize.

First things first. There is a good reason why a lot of non-mono folks establish a rule/boundary early on to not date any coworkers. And it is because if/when things go awry, your husband will be put in a very difficult place of continuing to work at a place that feels hostile. In addition to this, non-monogamy isn’t completely accepted by everyone yet. And he might have to defend his non-monogamous orientation at that same hostile workplace.

Also, this relationship quickly grew out of control for both of you. It sounds like both you and your husband had a pretty good idea on what kind of non-monogamy you personally felt safe consenting to. And while he quickly discovered that that type of non-monogamy is incompatible with his demisexuality, it doesn’t sound like you two ever coalesced as his NRE ballooned his relationship far beyond what you feel comfortable consenting to.

The most alarming thing I see in your situation is the distinct lack of boundary setting on either you or your husband’s part. I’ve written in a very recent column that it is the hinge partner’s responsibility to manage their multiple relationships. And your husband – the hinge partner – is doing a very poor job of establishing boundaries, communicating those boundaries, and upholding those boundaries when the push comes to shove. I get the sense that his FWB – your metamour – is very good at advocating for her own needs, almost to the detriment of others. In your husband’s insistence to please his FWB, he is neglecting his relationship with you. And his actions speak louder than words here.

Photo by Haley Black on

I am also noticing a lot of codependent habits and behaviors from both you and your husband. Take a look at this link from Codependents Anonymous. You are presenting with a lot of the denial and self-esteem patterns, such as…

  • Difficulty identifying what you feel or need,
  • Failing to recognize the unavailability of your husband,
  • Difficulty making decisions,
  • Seeking recognition and praise to overcome feeling less than, and;
  • Difficulty setting healthy priorities and boundaries.

On the other hand, your husband is firmly rooted in compliance patterns while also displaying avoidance patterns, such as…

  • Compromising on their own values and integrity to avoid rejection or anger from his FWB,
  • Being hypervigilant about FWB’s feelings and taking on those feelings of insecurity,
  • Making decisions to sleep over multiple nights without a regard to the consequences to your self-esteem,
  • Suppressing his own feelings toward his FWB to avoid feeling vulnerable, and;
  • Avoiding emotional, physical, or sexual intimacy as a way to maintain distance.

You communicated back in December that you weren’t “ready for the more emotional implications of a polyamorous relationship.” And it doesn’t sound like you are today. It doesn’t really matter what label your husband uses to describe his coworker – FWB or partner. He already said I love you to her. He is doing an immense amount of emotional labor, and subsequently asking you to accept a much smaller slice of him than you originally consented to. So you need to communicate that with your husband as soon as possible. Reconnect on your respective, original visions of how this experience was going to go and determine if you are both really okay with the way things are now. Remember. Consent is ongoing and proactive. If your mental well-being is threatened beyond reasonable path of recovery, you can renegotiate the terms of your relationship to match the level of exposure you’re personally comfortable with.

Photo by Dominika Roseclay on

Both you and your husband need to establish some safeguards and boundaries immediately.

You said you aren’t sure how to figure out your own needs or how to ask for what you need. But your needs are pretty clear in what you’ve laid out on your post. You want validation of his feelings far beyond just words. You want your original commitments to be honored. You want to feel like you are enough.

It could be possible that your hesitation on communicating your needs comes from relative lack of trust in your husband as he continues to expand on his other connection while neglecting his connection with you. And you aren’t sure whether or not he’ll honor and advocate for your needs when you communicate so. If this is the case, then you have a lot more to worry about as your trust in your hinge partner has clearly eroded past what would be considered healthy.

It could also be possible that your hesitation is rooted in your lack of trust in your metamour to honor your needs. Based on what you’ve communicated, there appears to be a lot of ill will on her part. In her desire to replace you is her inability to acknowledge your importance in your shared partner’s life. And her perspective regarding her own role in her relationships reflects a woeful short sight that should warn both you and your hinge partner of dread to come.

I think the biggest problem is in your husband’s inability to see logic. He is clearly deeply mired in NRE. And I am afraid that he just can’t see clearly what poor life choices he has been making in regard to his FWB. At any point, he could have established a boundary that said, “I will not be in a relationship with someone who disregards or badmouths my other relationships.” And he hasn’t. He could have also developed a personal boundary of his own that limited the amount of engagement he has with people outside of his marriage, as he originally sought out to do when you two discussed opening up. But he too has failed to do that. And based on how you have portrayed your husband, I don’t even know if he would be a trustworthy narrator in his own story about how his two relationships have been progressing.

He can’t even be honest with you or himself about how he feels toward his FWB because he’s afraid of upsetting you.

You do know that, right?

Photo by Lisa Fotios on

There’s a slang term for people like your metamour in the poly-verse called cowgirl. In short, cowgirl is monogamous woman who “lassos” a non-mono person away from the herd to “make them hers.” And that slang term honestly doesn’t get bad enough press, as much as unicorn hunters do. You are acting like you are playing on an even playing ground with his FWB. In doing so, you are doing great disservice not just to yourself but to the marriage you two have cultivated together before this particular cowgirl came along.

You are not in a non-hierarchical polyamorous relationship. You are in a very hierarchical open relationship with your husband. So act like your partner’s wife, and not just his other partner. And lay it all out on the table that his recent behavior to enable his FWB has been unacceptable. Remind him that his enabling of her continued assault on your marriage is no longer something you’ll try to reason with. If you and your partner have agreed to veto powers, this would be a great time to exercise it. If you feel like you need five or six days a week together, then set that as an agreement or a rule. And until he has earned back your trust by showing you that he is able to restrain himself in presence of NRE, kindly and repeatedly remind him that breaching on your personal boundary is a dealbreaker and potential grounds for ending this marriage.

As for your metamour, stop caring about what she thinks. You already know what she thinks of you, and it’s not good. She has deserved none of your good faith in what she has said and done. Based on what you’ve shared about her, she treats your husband really poorly. Are you sure you want to just stand by and allow someone else to abuse your husband like this? Or watch as your husband refuses to grow a backbone to defend his marriage with you? She is not entitled to upgrade this relationship just because she feels insecure. She is entitled to managing her own feelings, or getting out of this tragic relationship to find a monogamous relationship that works better for her.

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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