Advice – How can we address couple’s privilege in a quad?

I am in a square-shaped polycule where my nesting partner is dating my boyfriend’s wife. It had very complicated beginnings due my nesting partner breaking my trust early on but we eventually settled into this dynamic.

For a while now, it feels like our lives revolve around the other couple. At first I thought it was more of an adjustment period but I’ve been with my boyfriend 8 months and nesting partner with meta now 4 months.

There’s kids and jobs in both households and we live about an hour from each other. I completely understand having to work around schedules but lately feel like it’s always their call and I have little to no say, almost like a “third”. My nesting partner also doesn’t get treated well in regards to time, but he doesn’t like to speak out and just accepts as things are which is frustrating because I feel like I am on my own here.

How do I discuss in a non-confrontational way that they are using their couple’s privilege in a harmful way that feels unhealthy for all of us and that my pain is not just an over-reaction but I’m actually being hurt by the way things are and honestly they are hurting each other when they bump heads on how to divvy up time, attention, and resources especially without involvement of us as their partners in the conversation.

Mary, Reddit.

Dear Mary,

Couple’s privilege is usually defined as the strength of the originating dyad improperly overpowering any new existing partnerships from occupying the appropriate relational space. A common example of couple’s privilege is relationship priority, or explicit hierarchy. There is actually a pretty good example of an implicit couple’s privilege inherent in your post as well. When you say that you don’t feel that your nesting partner gets treated well, you are able to say so with conviction because you have added clairvoyance into his thought process that the other couple isn’t immediately privy to. So I’m not sure if there is a problem with a couple’s privilege in your situation, even if there exists a natural privilege in your own relationship with your nesting partner.

In fact, I think that when you say that you feel like “a third”, you are actually trying to say that you feel like you lack a sense of agency in the decision making process within your polycule. And that lack of agency is really the core issue at hand.

In a recent column, I wrote that “[y]ou never just date people on a blank slate; you also date their circumstances.” And Mary, I think that philosophy is something we all need to be considerate of in our relationships. As you noted, there are existing life commitments that need to be accounted for, such as careers and children. Not only that, you two live an hour away from the couple you are dating together. However, even if those aspects were not in the picture, we have existing agreements and expectations to uphold and honor with our existing partners. And those can conflict with emerging new agreements and expectations, creating inevitable friction between the echoes of two dyads.

This isn’t to say that your pain is invalid.

It can feel incredibly disempowering to feel out of your element in your romantic relationships. In specific, if you feel that you have to constantly check in with and clear schedules through them, of course it is going to feel unhealthy and painful.

It is further perpetuated in the echoing conflicts in your own relationship with your nesting partner. Even if he can also recognize that this aspect of the relationship is challenging, he doesn’t feel as bad about the imbalance and relative lack of agency in his two relationships. And from your perspective, that unfortunately exacerbates the underlying frustration you feel. This in turn makes you feel alone and isolated in a love of four.

When you say that your partner does not get treated well in terms of time, it is possible that he himself doesn’t necessarily feel that way in his relationship with your metamour. It is very difficult to truly assess someone else’s lived experiences without being in their bodies. And externally projecting your internalized pain upon your partner’s relationship is a possibility you need to be aware of.

So when you ask how you can engage in a non-confrontational but meaningful dialogue, you aren’t just asking how you can talk to the other couple; you are also asking how you might engage in a non-confrontational but meaningful dialogue with your nesting partner as well.

And I think that might be the best place to start this discussion: with your nesting partner.

Sympathetically connecting with your nesting partner on the subjective reality of your feelings accomplishes two specific goals.

The first goal is that it helps ground you into your feelings. While your pain is valid, many of the feelings we feel are often irrational. And like dusting a house with open windows, we sometimes just need open channels to get our bad feelings pass through us.

The second goal is that getting on the same page with your nesting partner will help you rebuild that troubled trust from prior violations. It can be very difficult to mindfully rebuild upon a shaky foundation. And intentionally re-establishing a more fundamental foundation will help you feel more aligned for not just this quad relationship, but for all other relationships you might forge together in the future.

This discussion might look a bit like a deeper fleshing out of the pain that you each feel in this quad relationship dynamic where you take turns candidly speaking your respective experiences, then relate to each other about each other’s pains.

And that brings us back to the core conflict at hand: lack of agency.

Once you’ve had an opportunity to ground your experiences in each other’s lived realities, the next goal is to communicate so with the couple you two are dating together. In the same way you sat down with your nesting partner to have a frank and honest discussions about each of your pains, sit down with your partner and metamour and have a frank and honest discussions about the challenges you four each faced throughout this relationship.

It might be very beneficial for you to phrase your experiences in “I” statements (such as “When the dates are scheduled around your availability, I feel that I lack agency in our relationship.”) to help each of your partners understand how you feel about your relationship. This will give each of your partners an opportunity to step in and acknowledge to your pains. And only once you’ve all acknowledged that this is a pain point that needs to be address can you proactively move forward to an action plan that might help you feel more empowered in your relationship.

In reality, that action plan might look a bit more like your partner and metamour being more intentional in planning around meet ups that is both mindful to your schedule as well as theirs. Nevertheless, it’ll have to be a group effort to make sure that you all can deconstruct this specific privilege in your quad together.

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 realistic is poly-fidelity?

“I have recently finished reading the article at unicorns-r-us and I feel really hopeless and discouraged, while also feeling more educated which is great, but I don’t know where to go from here and I need help.

I don’t want to be greedy or toxic. I don’t want to add a woman to our relationship just because it sounds fun or use her like an added sex toy in the bedroom.

We want a third partner, one that we can support and love, and care for, while also receiving the same. We want her to live with us one day and make a life with us.

However so much of what I have been reading makes me feel like asking our third partner to be exclusive with us is damaging and wrong. We don’t want to start down this path if it isn’t something that we can achieve. Do we want something that doesn’t exist?

And if it does exist? How do we start? We have committed to no dating or flirting for 6 months while we talk through this and research and read and learn more about this lifestyle. I have never formally started a dating relationship with a woman, and I feel lost. I have been the secondary in a few poly relationships before my current one, and the female bonding and intimacy was amazing. My partner and I agree it would be wise to eventually put ourselves out there and see how it feels, navigating a relationship with a woman in conjunction with our current connection. How do I do that ethically? We don’t want to just add more notches to our bed post, but we also don’t want to pressure ourselves to bring in the first woman we find.”

Anonymous on /r/polyamory.

Photo by Tree of Life Seeds on

Dear Anonymous,

For folks who don’t know, polyfidelity (abb. poly-fi) is a specific form of ethical non-monogamy where folks in the non-monogamous relationship are not permitted to see others outside of the relationship or polycule. Depending on the size of the polycule, poly-fi can be synonymous with unicorn hunting (which is a couple introducing an attractive, bi woman into their relationship) or even a commune with multiple “poly-clusters”.

Poly-fi draws some comparison with a traditionally monogamous relationship where the two people in a dyad are not permitted to engage in outside emotional, romantic, or sexual connections; the only difference here between the unicorn-hunting version of poly-fi and traditional monogamy is simply the number of people in a relationship. This comparison is one of the reasons why poly-fi is surrounded by negativity. Some polyfolks are unfortunately so incredibly steeped in being so unapologetically polyamorous that, for them, monogamy is evil. For a lot of experienced polyfolks, autonomy is a core facet of their relationship philosophy. To lose autonomy means to lose themselves. In addition, all of this is wrapped up around the negative stigma around unicorn hunters, which is its own thing that you read about on Unicorns-R-Us.

Photo by mark glancy on

It is good to have a vision of the kind of relationships you want to be a part of. But that speaks more about what you want and avoids the how and the why.

Let’s first dig deeper on why you want to be in a poly-fi arrangement. Based on what you’ve shared, it is clear that you want to develop very close and intimate connections with each of your partners. And you want the same for each of your partners. But why is it important that they don’t date anyone else? Why is it important that there exists a relationship escalator in your poly-fi arrangement? Is the depth of female bonding not something you feel like you can accomplish unless it is an explicitly exclusive relationship?

Just because you two like the same genre of movies doesn’t mean that you will like the same exact movies as your partner. As such, just because you two like women doesn’t mean that you two will like the same woman.

Think about what motivates you to lean toward poly-fi / unicorn hunting, and assess what is driving that initial mindset. And when you have the reasons, peel back the curtains a bit more and gather what insecurities are being triggered – for both you and your partner. Once you’ve laid all the cards out on the table, determine if this is still the style of non-monogamy you and your partner would like to pursue.

Photo by Dominika Roseclay on

Now that you have the what and the why, let’s figure out the how.

It is very important to keep in mind that non-monogamous folks only represent a small fraction of the overall dating population. And there are a lot of small subsets within the ethically non-monogamous subgroup that are incompatible with each other. The more restrictions you add on, the more difficult it’ll be to find a suitable match.

One of the main arguments against unicorn hunters is that there are many, many, many more unicorn hunters than there are unicorns. And as unicorn hunters, you’ll be swimming upstream against unicorns who have a lot of other incredibly attractive options available. This will make that “exclusivity” discussion really difficult to have, since you and your partner will not be coming from a position of power for this negotiation.

Let’s assume for the sake of this discussion that you and your partner did find a person you were all mutually attracted to. The one of the biggest challenge in an existing dyad becoming a new triad is in the complexity of the dynamic. I wrote about some challenges that a new triad might face in a column about five months ago.

In that column, I’ve outlined the four different connections that will have to be maintained as compared to the one currently between you and your partner. You’ll have to develop your connection with your new partner. You mentioned that you’ve never been in a formal relationship with another woman. So the first steps there will be very clunky, like the first time you started dating a man. Your partner will also have to establish and develop his connection with his new partner. If they’ve both had experiences dating folks of other gender, their journey will be a bit better paved from previous experiences. In addition to developing your connection with your new partner and allowing your partner to develop his connection with his new partner, you will have to continue building on your foundation with your current partner. It is going to feel really difficult to funnel NRE to your old relationships when the new channel feels more rewarding and responsive. The last connection to develop and maintain is the one you’ll have as a triad. Dating as three dyads is relatively straight forward; go on dates like you normally used to, except you each have two partners. But dating as a triad is a whole new experience.

In addition to all of this, you’ll have to learn to manage your jealousy and insecurity in a completely different way than what you have experienced previously as a secondary partner. Watching your partner fall deeply in love with another person with whom you are still forging your own connections with is so difficult to do, and not a skill you’ve had a chance to develop quite yet.

Photo by Irina Iriser on

Now let’s talk about de-establishing existing couple’s privilege.

You and your partner have built a relationship together. And with it comes existing privileges and descriptive hierarchies both you and your partner will have to deconstruct. You and your partner have had a lot of time to establish yourselves as a couple among your respective family and friends. If your and your partner’s family or friends are not as accepting of your polyamorous orientation, then that is an explicit privilege that your new partner will not be able to access. Same applies for your new partner’s situation as well.

Then there is the added burden of the current living situation. It sounds like you and your partner currently nest together. Asking another person to come live at a place where she didn’t originally get to choose herself is a lot to ask for. It wasn’t a space she chose, but one someone else has determined for her. Are both of you open to moving to a new place at the behest of your new partner without triangulating her into submission?

But the most apparent privilege that you and your partner face is in the very language of your post.

Notice how you personally identify the new partner as a woman while you and your partner function under the pronoun “we.” She isn’t just a woman, even if she is hypothetically; she is a person. That is an inherent couple’s privilege that you’ll have to deconstruct and avoid in the future. Also, recognize that your new partner isn’t just a third. That implies a numeric hierarchy in that you and your current partner are first and second, and therefore come before your respective connections with your new partner. That will also add a new layer of emotional labor you and your current partner will have to commit to.

Photo by Jannet Serhan on

It is easy to get caught up on the idealistic vision of the relationships you want to have as it sets our sight on the future we’d like to be a part of. But it is even more important to be grounded in realistic expectations.

You can’t just jump into an Olympic-size swimming pool without first learning to swim in a kiddie pool first, yeah? In the same way, skiping ahead to full-on poly-fi without learning how to do polyamory is going to spell disaster.

I would personally advise for you and your partner to take things very slowly, only adding a new facet when you are both ready for that next step.

You need to experience and learn a bit more about same sex relationships before you also add your current partner into the picture. You might also want to try out more non-hierarchical relationships before you think about getting into a triad. Developing a sense of fairness in your relationships even without your two partners intersecting is the best way for you to learn how to manage your distinct and unique relationships. This will also help you learn to manage your guilt and your current partner learn how to manage his sense of insecurity and jealousy. Ethical triads should by default be non-hierarchical that strives to achieve fairness and equity in all connections within the triad relationship.

Once you have done all your prep work, the most ethical way to go about finding yourself in a triad is to be upfront and honest with your expectations. Deferring to ambiguity when you have a clear objective is dishonest. So tell your potential connections that you and your partner are both looking to connect with the same person to form an exclusive triad. The folks going on dates with you deserve to know what they’re signing up for.

Last piece of advice. Be patient. Like I mentioned earlier, there are fare more unicorn hunters than there are unicorns. So take the time to

Good luck.