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February 5, 2009 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Relationship filter: Poly-relationship advice?

Husband and I have been married 9 years, always been in a poly/mono relationship. Basically an open vee. He has sex with other men, I am only in a relationship with him. I am not conflicted or looking for advice about this -- just background info.

He's met someone and after about a year would like to add this person to our family. I have met this man and he is quite lovely but this is the first time in our 11 years of living together that we are considering having another person around the house. He's not moving in but we are introducing him into our marriage (non-sexually for me).

Tonight we are having a sit-down meeting where we all talk about our needs and some boundaries. I have done a ton of reading on jealousy and what I might feel left out of or insecure about, I guess what I haven't had a lot of success in acknowledging is what this poly relationship would bring to me. I guess what I'm asking for is some help in finding my voice.

Just as an FYI, I'm a scientist and very rooted in logic and realism.
posted by Sophie1 to Human Relations (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Response by poster: By the way, we actively communicate and I am committed to being super honest about my needs in this.
posted by Sophie1 at 12:42 PM on February 5, 2009

Other than making your husband happy, I don't see that it brings you any direct benefits unless you enjoy new dude's company.
posted by orthogonality at 12:51 PM on February 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Start by listing what it is you want on a piece of paper. Create an agenda for the meeting. By formalizing everyting, you'll have an opportunity to work things out.

Also, ask yourself, what's in it for you?
posted by Ironmouth at 12:53 PM on February 5, 2009

Will this new guy pay for his share of things? Do you think you could spend time with him on a daily basis? You're getting a new house-mate, so if you're comfortable with the sexual aspects to the relationship, you could have a new friend around. Or just some guy who has annoying habits and has a sexual relationship with your husband.

Do you want to ensure private time for you and your husband? Do you think that will be a problem? Are you afraid of this new relationship taking away from what you two share now?
posted by filthy light thief at 12:59 PM on February 5, 2009

I have done a ton of reading on jealousy and what I might feel left out of or insecure about

The most important reading you have to do is not in a book; it's in your own heart. Forget what the books said about what you might be feeling. You need to ask yourself what you feel.

Just as an FYI, I'm a scientist and very rooted in logic and realism.

This comment worries me because, in my experience, very smart people, very logical people, are often very good at intellectualizing away their actual feelings.

So . . . do you actually feel comfortable with this situation?

Do you want this to happen?
posted by jason's_planet at 12:59 PM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: No firsthand experience with poly here, but have had friends in such arrangements, and have contemplated the houseboy thing (we're D/s). Jealousy has stopped us from pursuing it; we know ourselves too well.

Sounds like you are having trouble figuring out what you need and/or want. So try a thought experiment. What would the perfect scenario be? Is this guy your friend? Does he fulfill an emotional need? Can he do something useful around the house? What's he good at? Is he gay and doesn't want to have sex with you, or don't you want to have sex with him? Or doesn't your husband want you to have sex with him?

More rhetorical questions: What are the "house rules"? When is he allowed to come over? Stay over? When can your husband sleep with him and not you? How much privacy do they want? How much do you want from him? Does your husband want you all to sleep in the same bed together?

Is he expected to pay any household expenses? Can he eat the food in the fridge? Does he have any outside relationships? Is he practicing safe sex with them (because that's going to eventually affect you...)? Do you have kids? How is this going to be explained to them? What about the rest of your families? Is he going to go on trips with you? What does "being a part of your family" mean exactly?
posted by desjardins at 1:03 PM on February 5, 2009 [7 favorites]

Will this new guy pay for his share of things?

Can't emphasize this enough, along with "will he help out with things and not make a mess," and "will he prove distracting if you're trying to get stuff done?" Living with the aspect of this guy having emotional ties with your husband will be a lot easier if you both like him and are not annoyed by anything he's doing. Like filthy light thief said, you're basically getting a part time house/roommate, with all the potential for annoyance that will bring.
posted by Caduceus at 1:04 PM on February 5, 2009

I'm still adjusting to my "new" (5 years) beagle. Good luck!

All kidding aside, I've had a LOT of difficult conversations in life, and can't recall correctly predicting if any worked out the way I expected them to. Some involved complex relationship issues.

There are a bunch of binary outcomes possible: it will/won't work out well; it will/won't be comfortable, balanced, fair, rewarding for all involved, etc.

What it WILL be is a change of status quo. That's going to be stressful. It's brand new territory. Obviously, something has changed in their relationship dynamic and it's about to spill over into yours, with unpredictable results. The only way you'll know how it comes out is to look back on it in a few years and see what happened.

Best not to worry about what you will/won't do tonight, but to concentrate on being honest, open, inquisitive, creative, questioning.... which sounds like the sort of person you are, anyway, right?

Good luck. Change is hard and I hope you'll take care of yourself.
posted by FauxScot at 1:05 PM on February 5, 2009

Best answer: I'm going to preface this with the fact that I am not a relationship expert, let alone a poly relationship expert. However, I too am a scientist committed to logic and realism, so I'll give you my take in the hope that it's the kind of advice you can use.

Although you would not be having sex with this man, the phrases "adding him to our family" and "introducing him to our marriage" make it seem like this would have an enormous impact on your life similar to if you were dating the man yourself. This means that he not only needs to be compatible with your husband, he needs to be compatible with you.

You say you've met him and that he's lovely. That doesn't seem like enough. Would you jump head first into a relationship with someone you know as little as you seem to know this guy? I'm sure you trust your husband's judgment but that doesn't necessarily translate into him wanting to be close to the same people you'd want to be close to. What if you turn out not to like this guy? I don't even mean disliking him - but what if he's just not that much fun to be around? What if he bores you, rubs you the wrong way, or worse? Your home, your marriage, those are special places for you where you have the right to demand that only people you truly care about are let in.

If I were you I would insist on more time with this third man before making any sort of judgment or commitment. Spend some one on one time with him. Spend some time the three of you together. Make sure you really, really like him. Make sure you feel absolutely comfortable having him in your space. If you aren't actively saddened by the thought of him not taking on this role in your life - then maybe it's not to be.
posted by shaun uh at 1:06 PM on February 5, 2009 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Excellent questions so far. He's not moving in as a house mate but he does tend to pay for breakfasts if the three of us go out and he'll bring dinner over once in a while. He's very respectful. I am a little afraid of losing private time and that is something I plan on communicating.

Also, re: Jason: Thanks. I do, in fact, tend to use intellectualization as a coping mechanism - having said that, I am comfortable with this situation - just a little anxious. I've written down all of the things I am feeling, and have felt over the last 5 months of getting to know this guy and that's definitely all the stuff in my heart. Security, trust, "me time", feeling intruded upon, etc.

I guess, filthy light thief hit on it - I want to be this guy's friend and I'm terrified it won't happen! I like him, he's respectful, responsible, job, car, no drugs, loves his mother, etc., but I just don't know what it will be like if he and I are in the house alone. It sounds so odd. But I'm afraid we won't be friends and that might be a really bad situation.
posted by Sophie1 at 1:10 PM on February 5, 2009

If you aren't actively saddened by the thought of him not taking on this role in your life - then maybe it's not to be.

winner. you don't want to wind up merely tolerating this guy for your husband's sake.
posted by desjardins at 1:15 PM on February 5, 2009

Response by poster: Mefi is amazing. This is exactly the feedback I needed.

dejardins - the thought experiment is perfect. I'll be working on that this afternoon.

Shaun - that's exactly what this meeting is about but I hadn't put those words to it so thank you for that.

Faux scott - thanks for the support.
posted by Sophie1 at 1:16 PM on February 5, 2009

Following up with dasjardins's excellent questions, you haven't mentioned anything about your own sexual wants and needs. Your husband is clearly getting a pretty good deal here, and after a decade of being together you probably have a good idea of what each of you requires...make sure your own emotional needs are acknowledged and met.
posted by kittyprecious at 1:24 PM on February 5, 2009

Best answer: what's in it for you?

I think what's in it for you is that you get to go on an adventure alongside your partner. There may not be any outright benefit to you that's apparent right now, but that could change as you get to know this other fella and see the relationship he has with your guy up close. Then again, it could also work out unfavorably for you, based on factors that you can't foresee. The fact that you are theoretically open to proceeding is a good sign, and a testament to the bond you have with your husband.

If you don't have any particularly strong feelings about it now, you should at least set a precedent for being able to share them if they come up. He's probably really excited by all of this, which can make it easy to accidentally trample other people's emotions. I think it's fair to say, "I feel fine right now, and am up to the challenge of seeing what happens -- but as your wife, I need to know that I will be heard if I develop serious concerns." Like in an unpredictable sexual situation, there needs to be a sort of "safe word" -- a way to guarantee that you can have his full attention if you wind up needing to discuss something. Be playful about it if you want, make it like a code -- "If you come home and there are roses in a vase on the table, that means you need to find me ASAP and have a talk with me about our marriage."

Also, if you haven't already, you need to develop your own relationship with this other guy. It's crucial that he grows to respect you for who you are, not just as x's wife. Can't stress this enough.

I've probably done a lot of the same reading that you have about jealousy, and I rarely feel anything resembling that emotion anymore. But sometimes I do. And when I do, at first it's always sort of humorous -- like an "Oh, so THAT'S my appendix" kind of feeling. I'm always shocked by how real the feeling is, but also how fast it goes away. I hope it's that way for you too. I'm really happy that there are people out there like you and your husband (and if he behaves himself, your husband's new love interest as well), and I wish you the best of luck on this adventure.
posted by hermitosis at 1:31 PM on February 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm not an expert, but here's a suggestion (fully admitting I know nothing about the personalities or dynamics involved): privately ask your husband if he will let you be the one to decide when the new guy gets privileges in your home and when he becomes part of the family, so you're included in the process of integration.

Even if you're not sexually intimate with this new person, he is coming into the intimacy of your home and relationship and you should have the rights to only go as far as you are comfortable with over time. I really think it'd be a good idea to spend one-on-one time with him--enough to be able to see him as a friend, not just your husband's lover--before things become official.
posted by itesser at 1:31 PM on February 5, 2009

My impression, from your words and phrasing, is that maybe things are moving a little too fast for you and you're trying to rationalize that away (he's a great guy, husband's known him for a year, etc). If things are moving to quickly, that's okay; it's a big big change. You need to be comfortable, not with just the situation but with him if he's to become a more significant part of your marriage/relationship, even if you're not going to have a sexual relationship. And it also sounds like you simply don't know him that well yet.

Of course I could be way off base here but if I'm not I'd say just take it slow and give yourself time to get to really get to know him. It's not like you all need to jump into an every day relationship overnight.
posted by 6550 at 1:33 PM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I want to be this guy's friend and I'm terrified it won't happen! I like him

If it helps, I'm sure he feels the same way! Just don't try too hard, too much, too soon. Instead of putting him on the spot, put him at ease and let it unfold naturally.
posted by hermitosis at 1:34 PM on February 5, 2009

I'm a scientist and very rooted in logic and realism.

I'm a programmer and pretty attached to a rational, stoic attitude too. Let me warn you that bad things happen when you let your intellectual conclusions about how you ought to feel override how you really do feel.

"The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing."

I would be finding somewhere quiet and solitary, maybe outside, to do some daydreaming about what things working out really well or really badly would look, and how you would feel. Then put those scenarios and feelings into words and you can say "If X were to happen I think I would feel Y."
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:39 PM on February 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Again - how do I express how amazing you all are? I want to send you roses!

Hermitosis - thank you, thank you, thank you. So far, both husband and lover have been exemplary in their behavior with one or two - I hate to call them missteps because when I mentioned that they had crossed a boundary, they fixed their behavior immediately and have never recrossed.

It's crucial that he grows to respect you for who you are, not just as x's wife. Can't stress this enough.

We are working on this part. This, along with me not knowing him very well as anything other than my husband's boyfriend is the biggest missing link at the moment in my opinion.

As for privileges, I've already set some of them and I'm going to be the one who gives him the key to the front door if/when that happens.

Also, thank you so much for your personal touch. I am looking forward to the adventure!
posted by Sophie1 at 1:49 PM on February 5, 2009

When I ask what's in it for you?, I'm asking you to ask yourself what it is you hope to get out of the arrangement. It sounds like you are OK, with it, but knowing what it is you want exactly will tell you what it is you hope to get out of it.

Also the mention of money up there was huge. Messes with all relationships, so being clear that this guy isn't going to be borrowing cash to pay rent would be a good thing.

It sounds like this could work for you. Trusting that no matter what happens, you have the resources to deal with this (you are a human and our ancestors had to deal with saber-tooth cats, volcanos, and the other tribe attacking, which selected for emotional strength) and that you will be OK in the end will help.

Plus, make him cook.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:56 PM on February 5, 2009

Response by poster: Ironmouth - as far as money goes, he is not mooching and I haven't gotten that feeling at all. However, your suggestion is valid and I will definitely bring it up in the context of him spending a lot more time around the house. Especially with a loaf of bread being $4.50!
posted by Sophie1 at 2:01 PM on February 5, 2009

I would try not to plan too much. Plans, in uncertain situations, make you brittle and inflexible. You can be sure that you will be challenged in any event, and then it is best to be flexible. Be alert, but open, and you will conduct yourself well.
posted by stonepharisee at 2:37 PM on February 5, 2009

Best answer: Go and ask the same question to the folks at alt.polyamory: they are just as wise but more experienced in doing this kind of thing.
posted by emilyw at 2:54 PM on February 5, 2009

Really, I think you just need to spend some/more one-on-one time with the guy. Hit the bookstore, go to the movies, dinner, whatever. Build your own relationship with him apart from the husband. Friendship will come. I think it bodes well if you already like him so far.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:19 PM on February 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've been one of the ends in this sort of vee before, and I definitely understand your anxiety over ending up friends with this guy. It's difficult to build a friendship when your only immediate bit of common ground is who you're sleeping with — you wind up with a strange combination of intimacy and unfamiliarity, and it's tricky to know how to proceed.

Lots of good advice up above. I'd add that it helps to be open-minded about what sort of friendship you wind up with. Boyfriend #2 and I tried really hard at first to be touchy-feely emotionally supportive friends, and that just didn't work at all. But it turned out we both liked to cook, and we both read a lot of geeky stuff about psychology, and it turned out that arguing about cognitive science over breakfast was more our speed. The friendship we wound up with was pretty cool, it just wasn't what we'd initially had in mind, and there were some awkward moments before we stopped forcing it.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:53 PM on February 5, 2009

Feels like this is asking a lot of you, putting a helluva lot on you, independent of the intimate aspects and otherwise. Dunno the size of your house, size of your town, no. of places you can go/things you can do/friends you can spend time with if you want some space.

Yes it would be an adventure. Climbing Everest is an adventure. People die on Everest.

Feels like most people, certainly not all of 'em, regardless of being single or otherwise, greatly value their home, their peace in their home--coming home to peace and quiet or being able to do whatever the hell they want--read quietly, play video games, have sex in the kitchen, crank death metal and have some drinks after a challenging day, watch brain-candy TV, put smut on the TV and pleasure themselves--whatever they want. And if you want or feel like you need your husband's undivided attention for any number of reasons and he's...

Depending on the house size, feels like that goes away, at least to some extent, short of you and the third person becoming extraordinarily close.

Feels mighty challenging to imagine that there aren't going to be at least some moments of frustration, disappointment, people being drawn in a couple directions. To the extent that you intellectualize things--and Nthing the "the heart has reasons"--dunno that it's reasonable or realistic to expect that all concerned will share your approach.

Feels like there's potential for far more and far more serious problems than a spouse being into their dog/video games/sculpting/garden/softball league. Relative to relationships, human emotions are often enough damned tricky things. As people have said, predictions in that realm, 'specially with the situation's realities, seem pointless or close to pointless.

Yeah, this isn't the most optimistic collection of thoughts and it could be good, but a sense that there is serious potential for the less than good. To quickly lapse into cliche-speak, truly good long-term relationships are really hard to find, keep, nurture. This has real potential to cause ugly, life-altering problems with something of profound importance.

Operationally, perhaps something to be said for something pre-nuppy. "If we go down this road and this ain't good for me, it stops. Full stop."

Not that you could be sure that all concerned would be fine with it if it comes to that.
posted by ambient2 at 10:13 PM on February 5, 2009

If you don't know this guy very well, it sounds like you're being asked to make a serious commitment before you're ready to do so. If I were you, I'd want to be clear about what everyone thought would happen just in case things didn't work out between the new guy and you.
posted by hazyjane at 10:54 PM on February 5, 2009

I don't think anyone's mentioned it, so you might want to consider what would happen on the opposite end of the spectrum, if you like each other too much. Would your husband be okay with you having sex with this man? Without him?
posted by Caviar at 6:09 AM on February 9, 2009

Er, that last "him" was meant to be your husband, not the new guy.
posted by Caviar at 6:10 AM on February 9, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks all. Just wanted to let you know that the "meeting" went exceptionally well and while I expect bumps along the road, all seems to be going well so far.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:58 AM on February 9, 2009

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