Should I give this polyamorous relationship a chance or end it?
November 15, 2016 12:19 AM   Subscribe

I'm in a polyamorous relationship of less than a year. It has increasingly been a struggle for me in terms of self-esteem, fear of loss, and anxiety. Lately I've been thinking it's more fair to end this relationship than continue. Is it worth attempting to take this journey in hopes that it will be ok or should I just end the relationship with the idea that, like marriage or wanting children, it's a incompatibility that's a deal breaker? More details below.

I'm apologizing ahead of time for potential rambling.

I'm in a relationship of 9 months. My partner is a incredibly lovely person and our relationship is great. I entered this relationship knowing that my partner is polyamorous and was willing to explore it because I felt that it would be a good fit for me.

My partner (W) is a 38 y/o non-binary, bisexual/pansexual individual who has been involved in both the poly and kink communities for several years. W has hosted the local poly meet up, and polyamory is very much a part of their identity. W prefers hierarchical relationships, and had a secondary partner along with several intermittent FWBs/play partners when we first started dating. I am W's primary partner. W and his secondary partner unfortunately broke up recently.

I'm a 29 y/o transgender, bisexual/pansexual male with experience primarily with monogamous relationships; I attempted an open relationship once several years ago with disastrous results. Historically I am prone to getting the itch to explore a sexual encounter with someone else, and have come close to cheating in every monogamous relationship I've had. I do also believe to some extent that humans probably aren't monogamous by nature, and just desire to be open-minded and progressive enough to accept polyamory in my own life.

However, I am prone to low self-esteem, self-worth, comparing myself to others (usually I have the negative traits) and jealousy stemming from the fear that I'm going to lose my loved one or that they will find someone better than me (better looking, better in bed, better at ). I also have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and, although I am in therapy and take medication, it does have a certain affect on my life. And now on my partner's life as well.

Our relationship has fantastic so far. I really like and respect this person, and I'm very much in love with them. We are compatible in terms of values, opinions on children and marriage, humor, things we enjoy, and sex. Communication is healthy; the healthiest I've ever experienced.

I had little issues with anxiety or self-esteem early on in the relationship. W's secondary partner didn't bother me, and I wasn't jealous the first time I went to the poly meet up with them and interacted with previous play partners. But as I became more involved and more emotionally attached, my issues with self-worth, anxiety, and jealousy have become a problem. Lately I feel like it's been constant, especially when I'm alone... and I'm realizing that I'm not as "fixed" as I thought I was in terms of dealing with self-esteem and intrusive thoughts.

I've definitely talked about this in therapy and with my partner. W has been nothing but supportive, and just asks for open communication on both ends and for me to take this journey day-by-day.

I'm starting to grow tired of feeling both simultaneously "in love" and daydreaming of the future AND feeling empty-chested, anxious, and unhappy. It makes it hard to enjoy all the positive aspects. And I hate that I make my partner worried about when they meet someone else they want to date, because they are worried about how I'll react. It's not fair to either of us.

I guess I'm looking for other people's experiences with a similar situation. Was it worth taking the journey and seeing where it led? Should I consider this a deal-breaker and break things off even though everything else is great and exactly what I want in a relationship and a partner? Are there techniques you utilize when
you are dealing with intrusive thoughts or problems with self-worth?
posted by Thirty7Degrees to Human Relations (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

Hi! I was in a poly triad for almost six months. I find there tends to be an attitude in poly literature and communities that there is some sort of enlightenment associated with being poly that unconsciously monogamous people never experience. But it's entirely possible to be consciously monogamous (or monogamish) -- to recognise the merits of poly and to also recognise that it's not for you.

Poly is not for everybody. It is OK for you not to be OK with it. It is OK for you to end a relationship that makes you feel constantly "empty-chested, anxious, and unhappy." It is OK for you to need and seek out the security that comes with a stable relationship. It will be hard, but you will be OK.
posted by ista at 2:21 AM on November 15, 2016 [38 favorites]

I have never been in a poly relationship, but there have been times in my relationship where I have felt sad, anxious, and awful because I was trying to be okay with something that I really wasn't. When that happens, the solution has always been to talk to my partner about the thing that was bothering me, and then one-- or both--of us works on changing the behavior that was causing problems.

In my experience, there are some issues that talking alone can't fix: I need to see a change in my partner's behavior or he needs to see a change in mine before we both start feeling better. Since the thing that you are trying to be okay with is unfixable--because the thing that is bothering you is behavior your partner is not going to change--continuing to talk about it isn't going to resolve the issue. All of which means I think that this isn't the right relationship for you.

Another metric I use is: relationships should make you feel good most of the time, and if a relationship is making you feel bad a lot of the time, then it's time to re-evaluate some things.
posted by colfax at 2:57 AM on November 15, 2016 [9 favorites]

I am the poly partner in a poly-mono relationship that is monogamish. Our journey was really different but it was very very clear to me that my partner was just not ok with polyamory. That is really okay. It is an incredibly okay way to be, in fact.

It may mean that this is not the relationship for you, which is painful. But so are years of trying to fit into a framework that causes you pain.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:20 AM on November 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

have come close to cheating in every monogamous relationship I've had

... But you didn't cheat. If this is the sole reason why you've ruled out monogamous relationships, i'd look into that a bit more. Fancying/being 'into' others is a challenge for a lot of people when they're in relationships but 'itchy feet' does not necessarily mean that jumping to a poly relationship is the right thing for you. As an anxious person, I would choose whatever option would calm my anxiety. It's a worse state to be in than 'i'm really crushing on someone else right now'. It seems as if you have more self-control over this than the former.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 4:25 AM on November 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

Some years ago I put my foot down when my then boyfriend wanted to explore this kind of thing. I'm so sorry I didn't give it a chance. I may have missed out on something fantastic.

As long as you are not being abused or taken advantage of, give it some more time. Say in another 6 months you are not comfortable, walk away.

Good luck
posted by james33 at 6:45 AM on November 15, 2016

So, this is the thing, I think. I'm in a poly triad of about a year now; this is not my first poly foray but is the most successful. I've been mulling this for a while and I don't know if it will help you, but here you go.

1) Anxiety and fear of loss are present in every relationship. The fact of a poly relationship is that no one pretends that YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE, FOR EVER-EVER, and it's acknowledged that people will have boundaries that change over time and that they will have the freedom within whatever the agreements are to explore those boundaries.

2) Jealousy (and fear around the relationship) is treated as a you-issue, when it is really a community issue. Do you fear that others do not respect your relationship with your partner? When you meet metamours, the intention is often stated that it's to "see that you're not jealous" but what if we flip this around and say the intention is to establish that we all respect each other's relationships with the people we all love?

Thinking of things this way has really, really helped me a lot in terms of being able to be present and happy. If this person is really doing it for you, and you're committed to making this relationship work, then I think you can -- but you need to think about how you're coming at these problems. Monogamous people aren't going to solve these issues successfully because they aren't set up to do that. It's very much about making your own path and finding a balance.

Feel free to meMail me . . I'm not an expert but I read a lot.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:50 AM on November 15, 2016 [9 favorites]

I'm starting to grow tired of feeling both simultaneously "in love" and daydreaming of the future AND feeling empty-chested, anxious, and unhappy.

Is your anxiety generally under control? The reason I ask because when I struggle with my anxiety, I have very similar-sounding feelings about my incredibly happy (mono) marriage of almost 20 years. I don't think this is a poly/mono issue, or even a relationship issue, but a general mental health issue that you will have to primarily work on on your own. For what it's worth, I have long (years-long) stretches where this anxiety does not intrude at all, but when other stressors are increased (financial, work, family) it manifests itself again.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:53 AM on November 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Historically I am prone to getting the itch to explore a sexual encounter with someone else, and have come close to cheating in every monogamous relationship I've had.

Is this the primary motivator of your open relationship experiences, that you feel polyamory is the only framework in which you can feel safe and ethical and unafraid that you might do something wrong? & this is why it's so upsetting that it doesn't feel right? because "come close" could mean that you did everything leading up to an ultimate transgressive act, and only technically didn't cheat. or it could mean you thought about it a lot and never did anything at all. thinking compulsively about things you might do wrong even though you've never done them is often an expression of anxiety as much as of sexuality.

and if that is possible, it isn't a meaningful sign of what relational style you need or should practice. Not everyone has strong attractions outside of a monogamous relationship, but not everyone minds being with someone who does. Monogamy does not have to be "pure" to be honest. This is just to say that you might feel better about your current relationship, take a little of the pressure off, if you know it's not something you have to learn to tolerate in order to be open-minded and progressive. You are clearly that already.

Have you tried, or could you try, a relationship that's not limited to two people but also not open? I think it's pretty normal to not mind other partners' partners who were there before you, but also not want to be superseded by a newer one - not to want to feel like your partner is still looking for something even after they found you.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:00 AM on November 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Does your partner's supportiveness include taking a break from polyamory to focus on your needs and your relationship? Because if not I don't think this relationship is for you. And that's okay.
posted by emd3737 at 7:17 AM on November 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Being monogamous doesn't mean you don't ever get itchy for variety. It just means you prioritize the rewards of sexual exclusivity over the potential rewards of actually going and getting that variety. In other words, the downside of polyamory outweighs the upside, for most people.

Your post is full of language positing that polyamory is aspirational, better than monogamy: more "open minded" and "progressive." But then we hear that for you - just like for most people - the downside outweighs the upside: your polyamorous setup is making you "empty-chested, anxious, and unhappy." You're crazy about your partner, that much is obvious, but I don't hear you enjoying the upside of your actual arrangement.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:09 AM on November 15, 2016 [9 favorites]

I think it's really hard to have generalized anxiety disorder. IANYD and my flavor of anxiety is different. It does often make me unhappy and I would guess it's going to be challenging to tease out what part of your anxiety is actually about your relationship and what part of it is just going to be there regardless as you work on it with your therapist. You are wondering if it is "more fair" to end this relationship. More fair to whom? Are you feeling like a burden to your partner? Or do you feel as though the relationship is unfair to you?

I once went into a relationship, which was a secondary relationship for both myself and my partner, knowing that it would be a challenge because each of us had serious issues. Although that relationship did not last, I learned a great deal over the course of the year that we were together about communication and honesty and other meaningful behaviors that aid relationships. Have you fully discussed your concerns with your primary partner? Have you felt anxiety in earlier relationships? Is this a relationship problem or an anxiety/self-esteem/whatever problem?

You should not be miserable most of the time in any relationship. That said, sometimes it's not the relationship. Sometimes we would be unhappy in any relationship because we still have a lot of work to do on ourselves. I say this not to imply there is anything wrong with you; I say this from personal experience. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is just be single for a while and work on getting as healthy as possible. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is to work out agreements with our partners to try to make things better; sometimes the best thing we can do is to exit a relationship that's just not working out. I have no idea what you should do.

You can end your relationship at any time. It's brave to ask the question, and I wish you all the best. And if I were your partner, I would really want you to show me this question. If I loved you, I would want the chance to work harder to save our relationship. But you're not obligated to give your partner that chance.
posted by Bella Donna at 9:34 AM on November 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've been doing poly for like 20 years now. I also have generalized anxiety disorder, and so does one of my long-term partners.

One thing that's been really crucial for us is taking each other's fears and anxieties seriously, and accommodating them even when that's not necessarily fun. The model of poly that says "Everyone should do what they feel like doing, nobody should stand in anyone's way, and if you're jealous then it's your problem" absolutely does not work for us. What does work is a model that says "Everyone should move slowly and check in with each other a whole lot, and everyone should respect each other's feelings, and if that means turning down a lot of fun dates for the sake of keeping our primary relationships healthy then that's great."

If you hate that your partner sometimes has to worry about your feelings when he meets someone he wants to date, that makes me think that you're trying to cram yourself into a version of polyamory that doesn't work for you. If it makes you two happier having a relationship where you worry about each other's feelings, and often turn down dates because of it, then have that kind of relationship. (And if that would make you happy but him unhappy, then it's possible the answer is less "You need to give up poly" and more "Your needs aren't super compatible with this specific guy.")
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:41 AM on November 15, 2016 [8 favorites]

just desire to be open-minded and progressive enough to accept polyamory in my own life

Whether a person is polyamorous has nothing to do with whether they are open-minded and progressive. It's not a way to score ideological points. It's a style of relationship that works for some people, with some other people, some of the time. That's all. You should take "progressiveness" right out of consideration as you consider whether this relationship is worth it for you.
posted by praemunire at 12:35 PM on November 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm in a polyamorous relationship of less than a year. It has increasingly been a struggle for me in terms of self-esteem, fear of loss, and anxiety.

You should probably stop doing it, then.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:25 PM on November 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I do also believe to some extent that humans probably aren't monogamous by nature, and just desire to be open-minded and progressive enough to accept polyamory in my own life.

These are all extrinsic reasons for being in the arrangement that you are in. What do you need? Not this, apparently. It sounds like you've agreed to somebody else's plan.

Chronic anxiety, etc. is a great way to trap yourself in a situation that is not a net positive. It can seem impossible to defeat anxiety itself, so instead your unconscious tries to turn it into something like a regular, structured performance. Instead of having to navigate the nebulous freedom of anxiety and desire in a nominally monogamous relationship - as well as the creeping terror that it might be within your grasp to succeed, or that you could one day lose something worth keeping - you're letting these issues play out inside of a relationship structure that doesn't seem to appeal to you and which seems almost tailor-made to keep you in a constant state of having to keep your own self-esteem in check. There is no risk of failure, because part of you knows that it will never succeed in the end.

I'm starting to grow tired of feeling both simultaneously "in love" and daydreaming of the future AND feeling empty-chested, anxious, and unhappy. It makes it hard to enjoy all the positive aspects. And I hate that I make my partner worried about when they meet someone else they want to date, because they are worried about how I'll react. It's not fair to either of us.

What I'm getting from this paragraph is that you do not like how this relationship is *ultimately* making you feel. I'm also concerned that you hate your own feelings: why on earth should you hate how you really feel about this arrangement? It is an inescapable fact that a big part of this relationship centers around you feeling empty-chested, anxious, and makes me sad that you're describing your feelings as some kind of problem that your partner has to unfairly deal with. What if you *weren't* in a relationship that made you feel this way? Something has to change. The idea that you should just stop having these concerns...I mean, that's more or less describing what an unhealthy relationship is.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:23 PM on November 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

I tried dating a poly guy and while I have no issues with people dating others in theory, in reality, I found it really hard. It really messed with my self esteem and I spent half my time wondering what was wrong with me, even though I knew logically that wasn't why he was dating other people. In the end, I had to admit to myself that I couldn't do it and ended the relationship, but it took 2 years to get there and I was pretty messed up at the end. You tried poly and it isn't for you and that's fine. Spare yourself several years of self doubt and end it. No amount of love will help if you are constantly doubting yourself.
posted by Kris10_b at 12:37 AM on November 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I want to thank everyone for their answers. I've been a long time lurker on Metafilter, and this would be my first time creating an account and asking a question. I'm glad I did. It's good to hear what I'm feeling is not abnormal AND is okay, made me feel that being progressive and open minded doesn't necessarily mean I have to participate in this relationship style if it doesn't work for me, and also made me consider things in a different way than I hadn't been previously.

My partner is absolutely the type who would put polyamory "on hold" to help me work me work on my feelings and our relationship, and they would also take things slowly, etc. That isn't the problem, although that would have the possibility to change in the long run. They have been nothing but considerate and accommodating with feelings, and aren't even currently dating anyone else. It's really my fear of "what if?" that is getting the best of me.

In terms of my anxiety, it isn't quite well-controlled outside of this situation. It waxes-and-wanes depending on the situation AND time of year. I'm sensitive to seasonal changes (so, of course, fall and winter are not helpful) and there are stressors outside of my relationship (work and finance related, which are my biggest anxiety provokers). So I am already amped up at baseline as of lately.

As to previous temptations... It's never been the desire to date someone else. More of the desire to have sex, or fulfill kinks, with another person. I think that leads me to believe that polyamory would then help me to fulfill those kinks in an acceptable way, and same for my partner if they had kinks I couldn't fulfill. So perhaps it isn't polyamory I'm searched for but more of a "monogamish" set up? That's something to think about and discuss with my partner.

I apologize for the delay in my own response; the work and finance related issues have taken over much of my time this week. Regardless, I'm beyond appreciative of all your responses and feel that I'm better equipped to make a decision that is right for me.
posted by Thirty7Degrees at 9:53 PM on November 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

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