My partner wants to be non-monogamous and I'm not ready. What do I do? | I'm Poly and So Can You
My partner & I are working on moving from a monogamish structured relationship to a more non-monogamous structure, but in our talks, my partner has mentioned feeling ready for this move for a long while & is frustrated with my moving slow to figure out how to make it work for me as well. He wants very few boundaries, is ready to be open as of like last month, & feels fulfilled knowing we love each other & live together & anything beyond that he says makes him feel like I am controlling his sexuality/autonomy - any advice for how to move forward together rather than feeling like I am expected to do the work to get his needs met while forgoing my own? Am I being unreasonable asking for more than his love & cohabitation?
This week I was supposed to be in New Orleans on vacation, and although I canceled that trip, the vacation mindset is much more difficult to beat. Here to help hold me accountable and lend a varied perspective to this week’s column is my partner of three and a half years, Justin! Justin is a white genderqueer trans hottie in their thirties, and this is his first time (and hopefully not his last time!) consulting on “I Am Poly & So Can You”.
Justin: I’ve definitely been in the position of the partner wanting to “move things along” when it comes to opening up, but my behavior differed from the person in question’s. For me, I maintained a core of patience and prioritized making sure my partner was okay before I moved forward. I craved meeting someone new, experiencing and expressing affection, and then wanting to share all that with my partner. To have my partner’s blessing. It wouldn’t have felt right to move forward without knowing that my partner was totally ready.
Andre: I know that to be true. It was really challenging for me a year and a half, two years ago when we were negotiating you dating others for the first time, and I really appreciate the compassion that you showed throughout. That all being said, in your most challenging moments, did you ever struggle with more...frustrating thoughts that you hesitated sharing with me? Promise I won’t hold them against you, haha.
Justin: Sometimes I would get upset, and a little sad that I couldn’t experience what I wanted to WHEN I wanted to. I would feel jealous when I saw you with some of your partners, as well as when I encountered other poly arrangements where the boundaries were more relaxed. Made me wish things could be different. However, again, my main priority was for our future - I never wanted us to not be okay. That feeling ensured I didn’t “take it out” on you.
Andre: I’m curious, reader, what “monogamish” looked like for you and your partner. Sometimes that can be “makeout passes” with other folks when either of you are out solo, and sometimes that can mean that you and your partner play with others, but ONLY together. I wonder how comfortable you were in that arrangement, compared to the negotiations that your partner is trying to accelerate now. I wonder how much you feel like you evolved and benefitted. Regardless, it sounds like your partner is laying the pressure and expediency to open up further on thick, and that isn’t okay.
There’s a good chance that this false sense of urgency is being motivated by your partner’s desire for one person in particular. Both Justin and I agree that emotions have run higher in the past when one of us feels like we’re having a “moment” with someone else, and fear that the “moment” will pass while we wait for our partner’s deliberation. We panic. That can make us act less honorably with our partner in terms of patience, kindness, and respect. One question you may want to ask your partner is whether or not they have “someone in mind” who they’re interested in pursuing; could give you added insight into their [annoying] sense of immediacy.
Now, it’s time for me to stop being so nice to your partner:
Again, there are so many things I wish I knew here! How long you’ve been together, whether you started out monogamous and then successfully transitioned to monogamish, if either of you have ever been fully non-monogamous before, etc.
But here’s what I do know.
First, wielding the phrase “I’ve been ready for this for a long time” as a weapon against your partner is bullshit. Humans are not supernatural beings; we can’t read minds, and if your partner pushed that part of themselves down for a long period of time before “bursting” and finally communicating it to you, that’s on them. You are in no way responsible for their past months or years of self-induced silence.
Second, every single relationship on the planet has boundaries built into it, regardless of how “closed” or “open” those boundaries are. Boundaries are healthy, and respecting them builds trust between all parties involved. Boundaries also can - and should - be revisited frequently to ensure that everyone is still on the same page. They are not immutable, and they certainly are not by definition “restricting someone’s autonomy”. If someone agrees to a boundary that feels that way, then that boundary does not work for them, plain and simple. While your partner is being honest about that, they’re doing it in a way that seems unnecessarily cruel, while reiterating that the only possible option is for you to “get over” your “hang-ups”.
Guess what? You can also break it off with them. That’s an undeniably viable option.
I hear that you’re cohabitating, and that definitely makes even taking temporary space more challenging. But it’s something that you should start thinking seriously about. Start working out the logistics in your head now, so that if you feel it necessary to drop the guillotine, you don’t feel unprepared.
Meanwhile, if you want to keep working through this, I have a few resources for you:
If you and your partner have been together for two years or more, I would say that it’s worth trying couples’ counseling. Not sure where you’re living/how accessible non-monog-savvy therapists are in your area, but if you’re in the Bay Area, look up Bay Area Open Minds.
Justin: Oh my god, I never knew how to create a hyperlink!
Andre: Help me, reader. Help me.
Otherwise I’d visit Psychology Today , type in your zip code and search for therapists who specialize in “relationship issues”, “sex therapy”, and/or “LGBT issues”. Once you have a short list, call the offices personally and ask if the professional has experience counseling non-monogamous couples. That will give you the best shot at finding someone capable and competent, and the emphasis at first should be on building better communication and listening strategies between you and your partner so that you can have respectful, engaged, vulnerable, two-sided conversations with one another.
I also recommend picking up the book “The Jealousy Workbook” which features exercises for both individuals and couples to do together.
If your partner claims to be interested in “hurrying things along”, but then balks at the idea of formerly working on your relationship besides guilting and shaming you, then, well we’re back to you formulating your exit strategy. I wish you the best of luck either way!
Justin: What your partner needs to realize is that they’re spending the bulk of their time “sweating the small stuff” during this critical journey you two are on, when they really need to be focusing on listening to you, ensuring that you feel loved and prioritized throughout, and finding a way to meet you where you’re authentically at. And I think it can sometimes take something like almost losing your partner - or ACTUALLY losing your partner - to understand that.