When can you say "it's not gonna work"? | I'm Poly and So Can You

I just read your newest article, and I'm in that same situation. Except my poly partner went monogamous for me, and it's causing a rift. My question I guess is, at what point is it okay to just say it ain't gonna work? 'Cause although I'm happy being monogamous, I can see every day she's getting more and more frustrated. We have different ideas of relationships and beliefs.

I’ll be honest with you, reader: this is the exact question that my therapist posed to me at the end of our last session.

“What would it take for you to walk away from a relationship?”

In CoDA terms, I’m a “control personality”. I’ll never stop believing that everything is within my control; that if I just work hard enough, put in enough time and energy, throw enough money and resources, and/or utilize all of my charm and charisma, I can manipulate any circumstance or outcome. This behavior is routinely glamorized by both the individuals who suffer from it, as well as by society at large. We describe people like this as being “fighters” in relationships, and people who identify as “fighters” will often throw their behavior in the face of more passive partners claiming superiority, ie “I’M always the one fighting for us - why aren’t YOU?!” This is especially common when the partnership has begun to spiral in an observable way. The control personality begins to panic as their illusion of control disintegrates. Not that I know from experience or anything.

Whether you identify as a control personality or not, I think it’s this question of “What would it take…?” that universally binds us, monogamous and non-monogamous folks alike, more than any other. That being said, each individual’s answer is highly unique to their own personal situation, past experiences, aspirations, and capabilities. The best I can do is offer my own answers to this question, in the hopes that one or more of them will resonate with you!

“What would it take for you to walk away from a relationship?”

  1. My quality of life starts to suffer.

    Throwing everything you have into “saving” a relationship drains not only the physical time you have available, but it also does an excellent job of zapping any remaining reserves of emotional energy. This means that your self care strategies fall to the wayside, and you inherently suffer. For me, my self care looks a lot like exercising, spending time with my dogs, reading, getting enough sleep at night, and engaging socially with platonic friends. When I’ve been off-balance for a spell, I typically notice that I’m not feeling connected to my body, that my friends have stopped reaching out to try and initiate plans, that I’m sleeping restlessly, and that I have little-to-no idea how my pets are doing (aside from me meeting their basic needs, of course). This is neither healthy nor sustainable. If you’re not operating as your best self solo, you can’t be expected to operate as your best self within a relationship.

  2. Knowing the other person’s heart isn’t in it.

    If we’re dating, the most surefire way to get me to finally throw in the towel is to throw in the towel yourself. It’s incredibly difficult for control personalities to just “walk away” from a person or situation without feeling like they’ve exhausted every option. But all of that work doesn’t mean a thing if it’s not being directed towards a common goal: a goal that both you AND your partner share. Your partner may not have as many resources to throw towards working on the relationship - ie. time off of work, money to hire a professional coach or therapist, emotional savviness to be introspective and communicate their needs effectively, etc - but many control personalities will tell themselves that the extra labor is still “worth it” as long as they know their partner is as committed to the relationship as they are. If I start to feel my partner pulling away, expressing apathy or indifference about our progress/outcome, I’ll think “well then, what’s the point?”.

  3. My friends start sounding like Jiminy Cricket.

    “Let your conscience be your guide.” When we’re in the thick of a relationship, it’s hard to step outside of it and appraise it with an unbiased eye. In these cases, our friends can often helpfully - and sometimes painfully - be those unbiased eyes for us. Are your friends approaching you about your relationship with genuine care and concern for your well-being? Have they attempted “interventions” where they express thoughts along the lines of, “You don’t deserve this”, or “You’ve done all you can”? When your friends start sounding like your conscience, it may finally be time to listen.

  4. The self-loathing sets in.  

In my opinion, this is the most important point. Whenever I’m in a relationship that is not meeting my needs - and the situation is not improving - I will actively begin to dislike myself. Because the rational part of my brain knows that I can do better, and starts berating the irrational part of my brain that’s been steadfastly holding on to this person for whatever reason(s). It could be a general fear of being alone, or a stubborn reluctance to let go of the specific relationship fantasy I held for myself and this person. It doesn’t really matter. My mental health - and yours’ - are of the utmost importance. If I start entertaining the idea of upping my anxiety medications BEFORE I entertain the idea of ending an incompatible, unsatisfying relationship, I know I’m in trouble.

Andre Shakti