I'm in a poly relationship with someone whose partner I loathe
August 24, 2016 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to maintain a polyamorous relationship where my partner's other partner is someone I despise? I am very much in love with someone who is married to a person I have met, talked with, and entirely hate. Do metamours typically get along? Should they in order for a relationship to be healthy?

I know ultimately it's my decision to remain involved or not - that I'll have to decide if the pain of this scenario outweighs the benefit. I feel like this scenario is relatively rare and that I haven't talked to very many experienced poly people, or people who've been in situations that resemble this one. I'd love to hear from anyone who has an opinion or has been through something like this.

Jill and I met one another a few years ago and have grown close enough to establish a romantic long-distance-relationship. She's married to Jack, who is local to her.

Jack is essentially my opposite. I am friendly and relaxed, he is controlling and stubborn. Jack and I had the chance to meet in person, and apparently it's "his thing" to corner Jill's potential new partners and deliver a long lecture threatening specific acts of violence if I were to "hurt" Jill. I shared with Jack my view that his action is harmful and unnecessary, and in this conversation I learned that I disagree with most of his views - things like "Jill needs to be protected, her happiness is secondary," "I know I'm hard to get along with but I believe I'm doing the right thing because she doesn't leave me," "I don't think violence is justified but I'm willing to make an expression of egregious violence my last act on this earth."

Jill and I have what I believe to be an extremely rare connection: honest interest in one another's lives, physical calm and comfort when we're near, prolific sex. In essence, something I'd rather not give up. I've talked with Jill at length about her husband's views and behavior and she has assured me her husband is not a credible threat.

Is there any way for me to see her as separate from him? Is that even a recipe for a healthy relationship? Jill says her husband makes her happy and I suppose that should be the extent of my concern for their relationship, as well as the extent of interaction between he and I. But, I have learned enough about him to hate him and now the idea of "you're with THAT GUY?!" permeates my thoughts to the extent that it diminishes my opinion of Jill.

tl;dr: Has anyone maintained a poly relationship while ignoring a metamour? Has anyone endured feelings of loathing and found them to grow tolerable over time?
posted by seiryuu to Human Relations (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

I don't think feelings of loathing are your worst case scenario here. Do not set yourself up as a romantic rival to someone who "doesn't believe in violence, but" anything.

Jill is either in a situation you can't save her from, or is a person who chooses to be with this man. Neither scenario is going to end up well for you.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 3:33 PM on August 24, 2016 [24 favorites]

Oh. My. God.

This is so outside the norms of poly, I can't even begin. You SHOULD have less confidence in Jill's perceptions because her calibrations for what is healthy and normal are way off.

Hey. You know what? Based on Jill's acceptance of her husband's behavior, I feel certain these two are telling you they will bring the drama hard when they are through with you individually or collectively - whichever comes first.

Put down the hot pan and back away from the fire. Immediately.

Sort out your complicated feelings later.
posted by jbenben at 3:39 PM on August 24, 2016 [67 favorites]

now the idea of "you're with THAT GUY?!" permeates my thoughts to the extent that it diminishes my opinion of Jill.

I think you answered your own question? I think not caring for someone's partner is okay but not optimal. However if you hate/despise/loathe someone's partner, those are strong words for someone that the person you care about cares about. Jack sounds like drama. Jill sounds like she should maybe be a little more "Hey man not cool" with Jack's treatment of you imo. I am assuming Jack is Jill's primary partner? If so, I'd stay away from this mess. You shouldn't have to live with threats just to be in relationship with someone.
posted by jessamyn at 3:41 PM on August 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

"I don't think violence is justified but I'm willing to make an expression of egregious violence my last act on this earth."

posted by prize bull octorok at 3:47 PM on August 24, 2016 [48 favorites]

"Jill needs to be protected, her happiness is secondary," "I know I'm hard to get along with but I believe I'm doing the right thing because she doesn't leave me,"

Women often stay in abusive relationships out of fear of leaving.

Men with kinks sometimes basically pimp their lady to try to satisfy their own emotional needs. It is entirely possible that is the deal here.

Given that the amory part of the word polyamory means love, this is not actually polyamorous. Love does not involve threats of violence, murder-suicide, etc.

This is not a good thing for you to be tangled up in. Jill should not be seeking third parties knowing Jack threatens them. Either, she kind of gets off on that or she doesn't feel she has a choice for some reason.

Please walk away. It may already be too late to avoid drama, but you need to extricate yourself as soon as possible.
posted by Michele in California at 3:47 PM on August 24, 2016 [32 favorites]

I think you and Jill are both in danger, and you should disengage and put this behind you as gently as possible. You can't be involved with her without also being involved with him, and that's a thing you must not be.
posted by fritley at 3:50 PM on August 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yikes. I'm fearful for her, based on what you wrote.

Bear in mind that the same picker that picked him, also picked you. I would suggest gently declining, and thinking about that a bit. Specifically, think about the fact that however she is now with you, she likely was with him at the start.
posted by Sublimity at 3:50 PM on August 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

Man. I am a monogamous person by nature, so take this as general relationship advice not filtered through a poly-specific lens: Jill's hubby sounds like a jealous, controlling individual, and I honestly think (as others have said) that you are setting yourself up for maximum drama if you continue your relationship with Jill. Jack sounds like the stereotypical "father greeting his daughter's date while conspicuously cleaning his shotgun" sort of asshole. I wouldn't trust him to remain on the sidelines, and I think Jill is more likely to swing back into his orbit than not. I'd run away and find a more suitable long term situation, TBH. I think if you stay on your present course you are headed for a lot of trouble. Good luck.
posted by mosk at 3:53 PM on August 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

I would run like hell from this scenario. Depending on your preferences and boundaries, you don't have to be good friends with your meta-amour (although hoo boy does it sure help), but you do need to be able to respect one another and work together. This guy sounds absolutely terrible, totally unsuitable for poly, and potentially an actual emotional or physical threat to you.

I would also let Jill know why you're leaving, in polite terms that don't come across as a "him or me" (so tell her you're leaving, get that across in a straightforward way, and then say why), and let her know that you think she deserves better. You can't fix this situation for her, but if she is in an abusive or otherwise troubled relationship with this douchecanoe, it might help her a little to hear that someone thinks she's worth more than this.
posted by WidgetAlley at 3:57 PM on August 24, 2016 [12 favorites]

n-thing both "you should really be able to at least get along with metamours" and "this guy sounds dangerous and not someone you should associate yourself with, especially through a partner of his".
posted by hollyholly at 4:00 PM on August 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

>I'm willing to make an expression of egregious violence my last act on this earth
I don't know how to read this except "If you fuck with me I will murder you and then commit suicide".

Jill is making a terrible choice to be with him, and as someone who is sleeping with his wife who will hopefully eventually smarten up and leave him, perhaps to continue her relationship with you, you are in exactly the right position to do something this monster would interpret as "fucking with him". If you and Jill have drama, or if/when Jill leaves him, odds are good he'll blame you. He is verbally promising that if that happens, he'll kill you.

Sane people do not say shit like that.

People tell you who they are. Make sure you're listening. You should document everything he's said, in detail, because one day he might murder someone else, and when that happens you'd be a useful witness.

Also, get right out of there. It's not worth it.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:03 PM on August 24, 2016 [36 favorites]

It is alarming that the answer did not become crystal clear as you typed the message.

Back away.
posted by Cosine at 4:09 PM on August 24, 2016 [10 favorites]

So, to answer one of your questions: in my experience, metamours typically do get along. My wife's partner is one of my best friends (last message in our group chat: 10 minutes ago). Partner's husband helped us above and beyond the call of duty when we moved wife this month. We spend most evenings over there when I'm out there. Son's birthday gift card is in my bag (I need to get that in the mail). Etc. This is not atypical for the poly folks I know, though we may be closer than your average batch.

We did not get along this well to begin with, and there were growing pains, and partner did feel me out to make sure I was going to treat my wife well, but it was respectful and loving and most importantly, NON-THREATENING.

Please run away from this situation as fast as you can, my friend.
posted by joycehealy at 4:14 PM on August 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

You know that thing where animals have bright colors or patterns to warn that they have poisonous spines or the like? You just saw the bright colors. Get the fuck away before you encounter the poison spines.

Seriously, You've been given a warning of what being involved with these people will be like. Take the warning before you have to change your number.
posted by happyroach at 4:22 PM on August 24, 2016 [8 favorites]

I'll offer a little bit contra to the advice already given in the interest of a little extra comprehension, despite the fact that I think people are right to see red flags here because there's red flags.

apparently it's "his thing" to corner Jill's potential new partners and deliver a long lecture threatening specific acts of violence if I were to "hurt" Jill.

We know that violence against women is a thing, and there are a lot of men who either don't see a problem with it or can't help themselves absent the prospect of some outside intervention they respect.

White knighting and other possessive-umbrella responses are pretty far from ideal and maybe carry their own misogyny, but this kind of threat of violence can function as a form of protection against some of the worst misogyny. Sometimes among groups that can't deal with the problem institutionally or culturally, it's the only protection. That's one reason why it's ingrained into some men as a form of chivalry.

I'm familiar second hand with at least one other case similar to this in that the husband had a conversation with his wife's paramour that was more or less "if you hurt her, I'll hurt you, but beyond that, you and I are on the same team with regards to her happiness." One difference would be that his threat of violence was quite credible, as the husband had experience with security and law enforcement. But the intentions were good and apparently the arrangement worked.

In my mind, here's the question:

I've talked with Jill at length about her husband's views and behavior and she has assured me her husband is not a credible threat.

Jill is either correct on this or she isn't. How can you tell?

There's the believing what a woman tells you, just because she told you approach. But as others have said, we know that people sometimes deceive themselves in relationships, particularly about the nature of an abusive partner they're invested in.

If I were probing, I'd ask her stuff like (a) if there's ever been any kind of violence towards her. Or anyone in their family. Or (b) disregard of important boundaries. Or (c) if there's been any threats beyond the initial conversation directed to other past partners.

The only reason I'm saying any of this is "Jill and I have what I believe to be an extremely rare connection." If it's really that rare, that good, it might be worth going out on a limb for.

But for heaven's sake, keep those open eyes open. The concerned advice you're getting here has real merit.
posted by wildblueyonder at 4:36 PM on August 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hang on - does Jill KNOW that Jack said all this to you? Because that could make a big difference.

I see a few possible different scenarios here, whether she does or doesn't know, some of which could be good and some bad:

1. Jill doesn't know that Jack is saying this kind of stuff to people. You tell her. She says, "he said WHAT???" and goes to talk to Jack, rips him a new asshole, breaks up with him and stays with you, you live happily ever after, the end.

2. Jill doesn't know that Jack is saying this kind of stuff to people. You tell her. She says, "he said WHAT???" and goes to talk to Jack. They have a heartfelt talk during which she finds that this is all bluster and he's actually really bothered by the poly lifestyle and just hasn't known how to tell her. Jil decides to stay with him and be monogamous again, and breaks up with you.

3. Jill doesn't know that Jack is saying this kind of stuff. You tell her. She says, "he said WHAT????" and then thinks about it, gushes "that's so ROMANTIC!" and runs happily into his arms. You decide that the fact that Jill actually was turned ON by that is way too weird and you break up with Jill.

4.Jill DOES know that Jack says this kind of stuff. You tell her. She sighs and says, "oh, God, I told him to knock that shit off...." and goes to talk to him. He takes you out for a beer a week later and gives you a sincere apology and explains that he only gets like that when he's really insecure, and he'll make a sincere effort to get over it. You end up bonding as bros, and next time you see him with Jill he's cool, and you all three get along great, the end.

6. Jill DOES know that Jack says this kind of stuff. You tell her. She sighs and says, "oh, God, I told him to knock that shit off...." but she doesn't follow up. And the same thing just keeps happening where Jack is a dick, you tell Jill, Jill rolls her eyes but doesn't do anything, and it just happens over and over and you finally get sick of it.

7. Jill DOES know that Jack says this. You tell her. She tenses up and then quietly tells you that she's scared of him and doesn't know what to do and asks you for help. You help her find an escape house and help her leave him.

8. Jill DOES know that Jack says this. You tell her. She shouts, "oh, jesus, AGAIN?" and gets up and immediately shouts at Jack and they get into a big screaming match, leaving you sitting there for a few minutes all "wtf?" and then you leave and don't look back because HOLY SHIT DRAMA.

...And on and on. There are a lot of outcomes here, whether Jill knows about this or not.

But all of the scenarios I've described start with you talking to Jill about what happened, which is something I definitely think you should do. Right now you're trying to decide how you feel about this, but one thing that could help you make a decision is to find out how Jill feels about it, and that's something I don't see that you've done yet.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:48 PM on August 24, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a low-experience poly person. Sometimes I've had a partner refuse to meet metamours; sometimes I haven't wanted to meet a metamour. But I and my partners have never hated anyone we've met and, more importantly, none one of us has threatened anyone involved in our relationships nor been threatened by anyone. It sounds to me, OP, like Jill's response to your experience was "Jack's not a credible threat" rather than "OMG, I am so sorry you were treated that way. I am appalled and will take care of this." If Jack and Jill happen to be kinky, it's possible there's some kind of consensual power exchange going on. But here's the thing: Even if that's the case, you didn't sign up for this game. And sane kinky people don't inflict their kinks on innocent bystanders. So I'd be nope, nope, nopeing my way out of there. He's an asshole and her perspective is not skewed toward reality. Unless you can show her the bright light of societal norms, which seems unlikely.
posted by Bella Donna at 5:17 PM on August 24, 2016 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I think you should not try to convince Jill. Jack threatened to murder-suicide you if you... something? Hurt Jill? Interfered in their relationship? Interrupted her happiness? What??

Telling Jill she's in an abusive relationship will put you in the cross hairs. You may get brought up between them months or years down the road during arguments. You don't want to be on this guy's radar. Back away gently and say no more about Jack to Jill.

You've already told Jill about Jack and she thinks it is fine. That's the the end. You're done here. Back away.
posted by jbenben at 5:27 PM on August 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Jill and I have what I believe to be an extremely rare connection: honest interest in one another's lives, physical calm and comfort when we're near, prolific sex. In essence, something I'd rather not give up. I've talked with Jill at length about her husband's views and behavior and she has assured me her husband is not a credible threat.

I have done a lot of research on this, and Jill is who she is in part because she is with Jack. If you could separate her from Jack, she would be a different person and that person might well be someone you do not get along with.

I have a history of being involved with possessive, violent men who would happily threaten other people on my behalf. My opinions here are filtered through the lens of having been Jill in some sense. For a time, all my good friends were covered in knives or had a gun in the glove box, a gun under the driver's seat and a gun in the trunk and threatened people who said the wrong thing to me. And I married one of those guys.

If you think you and she have a calm connection though he threatens you with violence and possibly murder if you hurt her, one possibility is that she is calm because she feels safe because of the protective role Jack plays. This is a woman you cannot really trust. She does not trust you and will not protect you from him.

Either he is pimping her out and she isn't really consenting and doesn't really have agency, which is incredibly problematic, or she has agency and is not choosing to protect you because using Jack as her guard dog fits well with her internal psychology.

Whether she is his property and victim or he is her guard dog that she sics on folks that upset her, I think you are in over your head. In some ideal world, that special connection you feel would lead to love conquering all and you extricating her from an abusive situation and living happily ever after. I don't live in an ideal world. I live in the real world and I find that scenario laughably unrealistic.

I had affairs. They always seem like a rare and special connection. The reason: You are not dealing with her literal and metaphorical dirty laundry. She fights with Jack about housework and how to make the budget work and so on, not with you. You only see her at her best.

You wouldn't really love all of her. You would be seriously disillusioned if you tried -- ie if you got her all to yourself. You and she only work because the parts of her you would hate are served well by Jack, who makes her happy.

You can have that rare and special connection with someone else. I suggest you try to figure out what the magic ingredients are and try to recreate them in a way that does not involve a threat to life and limb.

There is an episode of Star Trek where a woman is in an asylum for the criminally insane for murdering all her lovers to ensure their fidelity. As a teen, the psychology of that character resonated with me. That was long ago and far away and I did a fuckton of therapy to put it behind me.

I am a former Jill. Let Jack have her. He may be safe-ish with her. But you are not.
posted by Michele in California at 5:32 PM on August 24, 2016 [40 favorites]

Best answer: To answer just the sort of ethical question here...I personally believe that everyone involved in long-term relationships need to be friends to the relationships. That means sometimes very practical things like respecting boundaries set by the metamour and sometimes more fuzzy things like "hmmm...have you told metamour that?" instead of playing divide and conquer.

In this case though I think I would advise you to break it off on the basis that you've been threatened with violence and you're losing respect for the parties involved. I agree that if you don't understand that Jill chooses the drama of Jack, you are ignoring really critical information. And to be even a bit flighty about it...that's the energy you are inviting into your life.

The thing about long-distance relationships is that you form an opinion of the person you're with on a thin (if deep) slice of information. This new information really is a game changer.

The description you gave of your extremely rare relationship really just describes a lot of good ones. I encourage you to break it off, grieve, and then go after that.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:41 PM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I've been in a poly relationship where my partner's other live-together partner and I did not like each other. It sometimes got nasty, at the level of mutual friends would have a party and she would refuse to go if I was going to be there, or I would deliberately rearrange my attendance so that she could go and leave and then I could go. Which is some fucked-up nonsense, yes, and there are reasons why I am no longer in that relationship and will never be in that kind of relationship again.

This is a whole different level. This is not about you don't like your partner's partner, this is your intuition telling you that this is some fucked-up shit. Which it is. Look, at best, he isn't going to follow through on those threats but the fact that he thought it was necessary to make them to begin with will always haunt you as long as you are with Jill. At worst, he will blame you for the first problem that happens and there will be physical violence, either to you or to her or both. There's also the middle ground, where there will just be this constant, niggling series of threats and drama and tiptoeing around and basically holding you hostage. Is that the kind of relationship you want?

I agree with Michele in California that Jill herself has been shaped by Jack. Maybe she hasn't realised it's an abusive, controlling relationship and maybe she has. Or maybe this is how she likes it. But there is no good outcome here for you, just lots and lots of drama.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:46 PM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Jill sounds like she's an abusive relationship. You can decide whether or not to continue your own romantic relationship with her, but I would definitely feel I had an ethical obligation to help her as an abuse victim, and not write her off as "drama" or whatever. The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233 in the US) will likely be able to give you more information and help.
posted by lazuli at 7:11 PM on August 24, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, everyone. I bailed out. I really appreciate the perspective - not only that the chance of getting into a good relationship is likelier than I think, but that it isn't worth the risk to be associated with violent individuals.

I did, at least, get the chance to tell Jill that I believe she is an abuse victim. Also that I believe "most reasonable people would run screaming from this situation" as it pertains to her attracting any other poly partners.
posted by seiryuu at 7:18 PM on August 24, 2016 [8 favorites]

It's not for you to judge if she is an abuse victim.

What Jack told you is the legal definition of Criminal Thretening in most jurisdictions. It would have been OK for you to tell Jill what Jack said to you was out of line and you're not OK going forward. But even that's too much info! Now you might be the subject of arguments between them. If she is abused, this did not help her.

Also. Gasoline. Meet Fire.
posted by jbenben at 7:38 PM on August 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

For what it's worth, telling someone, "I think you're in an abusive relationship" would not, in my eyes, discharge my ethical obligation to actually help someone in an abusive relationship. I again recommend that you call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for advice.
posted by lazuli at 7:49 PM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

(And they may tell you to walk away, which is fine, but I think it's worth realizing that you're walking away because you're unequipped to help rather than because she's unhelpable.)
posted by lazuli at 7:50 PM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

This guy is a psycho. I'm with everyone else here in thinking that you needed out of there fast.

But I sure think it was a mistake to tell Jill anything other than goodbye; a slow fade would have been great. Not *too* slow, mind you. But just backing away, not really saying why.

You don't want this madman to have *any* reason to think "you've hurt Jill" or whatever else.

I'm real glad you're in different cities. I believe you should be real glad, too.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:51 PM on August 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

wow. It's ultimately your decision. Be safe...
posted by stubbehtail at 9:00 PM on August 25, 2016

I see that you've already backed away, which is cool. This guy may well be nuts (I don't feel like we can really judge him from here quite as much as some posters are). But I will say, for your and anyone else's information ...

I loathe my metamour. I have been in a very serious, incredibly fulfilling relationship for 5 years now with a woman whose now-husband I hate. We do make it work. He is very stubborn, hates change of any sort, likes to solve things through arguement/debate, and is a packrat. His personality grates on my nerves, although I can tolerate dinner together. He used to be very condescending to her (he's gotten a lot better about this.)

The key was in her explaining very clearly to me why she chose him. And her reasons make sense. He has good qualities (even if they aren't ones I particularly value) and she can put up with his flaws much better than I can.
posted by mkuhnell at 5:01 AM on August 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

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