I have a poly quandary! A few months back, my partner hypothetically posed the question of opening up our relationship. We decided that it wasn't the right time for either of us, but now I'm second guessing. This is something I actively want, but now my partner is seriously struggling with mental illness and I'm worried this will break them. How do I bring this back to the table? Or can I even?
For better or for worse, this is a difficult situation with an easy answer: Don’t. At least, not right now.
I wish I had some more information about both your relationship with your partner and your partner’s struggle with mental illness. How long have you been together? How long has your partner struggled with mental illness? What, specifically, are they plagued by, and how does it typically present? How “functional” are they? How proactive are they in acknowledging their illness and seeking treatment for it, and if they’re in treatment, how is that progressing? Etc. Without any of that information, and assuming the onset of the mental illness issues is recent, the best I can do is advise you to hold off on introducing a potentially anxiety-inducing and destabilizing topic into your partner’s head and instead focus on supporting them through this difficult time. Offer to drive them to appointments, to help them research information and resources, and have them ask their doctors and counselors to recommend texts for you on how to be a good partner and ally during this time. If medication ends up being prescribed, anticipate the mood, energy, and behavior swings that often come with pharmaceutical experimentation and leveling out - most relevantly, the potential for your partner’s sex drive to significantly decrease. Most importantly, don’t shame or blame them for their illness, and show up as best you can without compromising your own happiness, health, or financial stability (you don’t want the relationship to morph into one of codependency if you can help it).
On the other hand, you need to consider the possibility that your partner isn’t going to improve and stabilize as rapidly as you’re hoping they will. Ever since the presidential election, mental health symptoms and diagnoses have spiked, particularly in marginalized communities, particularly among sexual assault and other trauma survivors. Many people are living in perpetual states of fear and depression, and unfortunately our country’s trajectory isn’t going to spike for a long time. Your patience might be tested throughout this unprecedented time of constant social and political unrest and panic, and you may be forced to weigh your love and devotion to your partner with your mounting dissatisfaction with monogamy. If I were you, I’d give your partner a good six months to heal - or at least get the ball rolling on some committed, observable progress. Don’t articulate this timeline to your partner, as it may make them feel like you’re giving them an ultimatum or rushing their process. Once six months passes, go ahead and reserve a generous amount of private time between the two of you to gently, compassionately, and lovingly broach it.
They still may not be ready, and while that’s okay, it may be time to consider stepping back and out.