What's the best way to "cool down" a relationship (poly)
September 22, 2017 12:45 PM   Subscribe

Started a relationship over the summer that got really intense, really fast (emotionally, not so much timewise due to competing family and work priorities). I'm poly, which he knew going in - but once intense feelings got involved he developed jealousy issues he isn't willing to deal with. He has proposed we "go back" to being FWB, which I'm not opposed to. Does anyone have any practical advice about how to let go of some of the feelings and cool things back down to a more casual level? (longer details available inside)

Hub and I are poly, over the summer I started dating a guy who was/is amazing in many ways. Our schedules/wants were mostly in sync and we just clicked, really super fast. As is prone to happen in these situations we both developed some pretty intense feelings. And then life hit the fan and we couldn't see each other for nearly a month. His offline communication has always been a bit spotty, but we talked enough. We reconnected for a couple weeks and things were better than ever. Then more nonsense on both of our ends (he got sick, I got swamped at work) and that's when my insecurity started going nuts.

So I pushed for more communication. He realized that he was developing a lot of jealousy issues around me dating other guys - but was not willing to entertain the idea of me NOT dating other guys because "that's not fair". End result was a painful conversation about the fact that we really really like each other, but that he doesn't feel able to have an actual relationship with me because he thinks it'll turn him into an asshole.

So now we're talking about trying to step back into friends/FWB. I'm looking for any advice at all about cooling a relationship off, setting boundaries around FWB that will help keep everyone comfortable, helping him deal with his jealousy. Basically anything that would help this work and develop into a sustainable relationship.
posted by dadici to Human Relations (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: In my experience (as a fellow poly person), adding more rules in order to protect someone's jealousy feelings from coming up is a recipe for disaster. It validates their jealous feelings and tends to lead them to ask for more and more as smaller things become trigger points for their jealousy.

Part of the nature of a quickly-intense connection is that the hormones can block out some of the reality of the situation and the "MINE" impuless (especially from mono-inclined people or people without poly experience) can overwhelm the "Well, they are poly and that doesn't mean our connection is less valid, only that it is not exclusive"

My advice TBH is to take a break from this person, as any further accomodation of their discomfort may not have the positive influence on y'alls relationsihp as you may intend for it to be.

That said, he could do a bunch of reading and look at the jealousy stuff in therapy. There's "The Jealousy Handbook" which poly folk seem to recommend.
posted by softlord at 12:58 PM on September 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

I don't see how continuing to have sex with him in a FWB will curb his jealously. Even being friends may be too much for him. This situation sounds like it would be too much emotional heavy lifting for me.

I think him saying that he can't have a relationship with you because he'll turn into an asshole is a cop out. He's an adult. He should handle his emotions in such a way that he doesn't become an asshole and doesn't blame his emotions for his actual behavior.

Part of being an adult for me is knowing when to walk away from someone even if it's personally painful to me. I would take a break from him for a couple of months and then re-evaluate together to see if he can get past his jealously.
posted by parakeetdog at 2:05 PM on September 22, 2017 [6 favorites]

How is FWB different to what you have now? You're relabelling a relationship but in practical terms it presents in exactly the same way, in that he's having sex with someone who is also sleeping with other people which he's told you he can't handle. Giving it a new badge doesn't change his emotions surrounding it. If he has feelings and can't deal with you being with other men, you aren't fit to be friends, much less lovers. This doesn't make him an asshole, it makes him a person who knows his own limits and is emotionally mature enough to acknowledge them. Both of you need to move on.
posted by Jubey at 2:37 PM on September 22, 2017 [18 favorites]

we really really like each other, but that he doesn't feel able to have an actual relationship with me because he thinks it'll turn him into an asshole.

What's that saying about ignoring everything before the word "but" when someone is telling you something, because throwing that "but" in there negates it all anyway? Yeah. I'm not poly, but I've dated more than my share of emotionally immature dudes. This is one of those, I'm afraid. Your answer lies between "but" and "because".
posted by palomar at 3:20 PM on September 22, 2017 [4 favorites]

Bear in mind the other old trope about how we need to listen when people tell us about themselves. He's laying out as plainly as he can, if you try to stay in a relationship with him he's going to "magically" turn into an asshole. What this means in nonavoidant adult language is that if you stay with him after knowing this fact about him, he's off the hook for anything he might say or do that hurts you. After all, you knew up front that he was going to turn into an asshole...
posted by palomar at 3:23 PM on September 22, 2017 [19 favorites]

Married poly person here. I agree with these comments, palomar’s in particular.

Does this guy have experience with poly relationships? He sounds very much like the people I’ve dated who swear up and down they “get it” even though it’s their first poly experience and then have doubt when shit gets real.

What really stood out to me, though, is that he agreed to the parameters going into this and is now warning you that if you don’t agree to different boundaries your choices will cause him to become “an asshole.” Poly or mono, that gaslighting bullshit is not okay.
posted by _Mona_ at 4:11 PM on September 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

He's laying out as plainly as he can, if you try to stay in a relationship with him he's going to "magically" turn into an asshole.

you can't choose to not accept a breakup, so I wouldn't call it "magic" so much as him having to spell out what is usually tacitly understood. Contesting a breakup will lead to unpleasantness, he is correct. Trying to gallantly take all the blame in this kind of grand it's-not-you-it's-me way runs the risk of having the other person believe you and decide that hey, you said it was you, so it must be you.

and indeed it is him, in that he has decided not to be in this relationship. I am not sure whether you refer to "jealousy issues" rather than jealousy because there's more to it than ordinary jealousy and you don't want people to call him an asshole, or because you don't believe jealousy exists without issues. but it barely matters because:

he doesn't feel able to have an actual relationship with me
anything that would help this work and develop into a sustainable relationship.

You cannot continue as friends if you treat his personal emotional decisions as suggestions and decide you can convince him to date you/stay emotionally entangled when he already said he was out. that is not respectful and will not work. If you count friendship as a relationship worth salvaging, DO NOT accept the FWB offer. he is either an unrealistic idiot to make such an offer or else he means it as step one of a drawn-out multi-step breakup, which is even worse. If you continue to be in love with him or just interested in being his girlfriend, it will hurt you more if you're sleeping with him while feeling that way. date him again if he changes his mind and you still want to, but don't do this.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:15 PM on September 22, 2017 [7 favorites]

Nthing that this guy is setting you up for his "asshole" nature to show and for it to be "your fault" because he warned you.

As poly women we are not so rare that decent men can't figure out how to behave because, news flash, we're people. Jealous people are going to find something to behave jealously about. It just happens that sleeping with other people is low hanging fruit. He's telling you he doesn't plan on maintaining good behavior. Run from this one.
posted by bilabial at 4:16 PM on September 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Hmm, what did he mean by asshole? I thought he meant that it'd be hard for him in a way that he'd have to turn more callous or something. (Like, he'd generally become an asshole, not just that he'd act like one to you.)

Ah, well, regardless, since the problem is that emotions (his at least) are already overflowing the box that you guys are trying to contain them in, I think the only answer is to take a lot of space. I don't think that creating a box of a different size or shape is likely to work. But you could discuss it with him and see what he thinks.
posted by salvia at 7:30 PM on September 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

Dealing with insecurity (yours) and jealousy (his) are kind of the bread and butter of open relationships. This whole FWB business reads like an overly complicated way to side step that - as if the FWB designation itself will do for you both what you can't do for yourselves.
posted by space_cookie at 9:22 PM on September 22, 2017 [2 favorites]

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