I fell in love with someone whose partner doesn't seem cut out for polyamory. The partner has been very much up for an open relationship, but now that he's encountered his own jealousy he forbids his partner (my lover) to let feelings enter the equation. He also doesn't talk about his problems with his partner or anyone else. We're in love but this guy is his life partner and neither of us wants to upset him. How can I get along with my metamour?
Oh friend, dear one, I’m not going to have good news for you. Brace yourself? Trigger warning? Whatever modern social construct of “beware” you choose to subscribe to. Here are some solid poly “rules of thumb” specific to your situation:
When in a “V” formation, the pre-existing couple needs to be prioritized. Right now, your lover is at the bottom of the “V”; you and his life partner are the two “tips”, and, in short, the relationship between him and his life partner needs to be 100% solid before he enters into another physical and/or emotional relationship with a third party. There’s the “he was there first” camp, but in my opinion, your relationship with your lover doesn’t stand a chance at success or sustainability until he can get on grounded footing with his pre existing partner.
When in ANY poly configuration with more than two folks, it’s a good idea to move as slowly as the person who is having the most difficulty adjusting...within reason. Otherwise, said person runs the risk of feeling rushed, backed into a corner, and/or like their feelings are no longer a priority. That being said, it’s a good idea to initiate a “family meeting” early on to determine exactly how long this purgatory-adjustment period is going to last. You don’t want to put the ball entirely into one person’s court, and then find yourselves still stuck in the same predicament ten months down the road. Schedule check-ins either every two weeks or once a month, and try to reach a mutually-consenting agreement to allow for a bit of relationship progress/evolution after each check-in - while still letting the struggling person largely lead the discussion. It can be a slow process, but the payoff is in the unparalleled trust and connectivity that will be built throughout; again, lending to the success and sustainability of your relationship with your lover.
Whether or not you and your lover end up together, he needs to learn from this. It’s never a good idea to enter into non-monogamy when one half of the OG monogamous equation is hesitant, reluctant, in a period of destabilization, etc. Now, it is possible that your lover’s boyfriend THOUGHT he could handle non-monogamy, and “sold” his viewpoints to your lover as such before doing a complete 180 after experiencing jealousy for the first time. Possible, but not likely. A more likely scenario is that your lover was privy to “warning signs” from his partner that he chose to ignore because you were so shiny and new and attractive to him, and he just decided to “hope for the best”. Alos, poly isn’t just something that you hold your breath and plunge into. When done ethically and intentionally, it involves a massive amount of conversation, negotiation, education (books, lectures, podcasts), and exposure to non-monog communities (hanging out with non-monog friends, finding discussion groups, going to non-sexual meet-ups), all BEFORE taking on additional partners. It’s a lot of labor! If your lover and his partner didn’t initiate and follow through with that labor prior to your introduction, then it’s no wonder the partner is backpedaling!
“Feelings” rules never fucking work and I hate them and they should die. Sorry, I’m beginning to unravel a bit in the wee hours of the morning - bear with me! I’m fully aware that some people are going to disagree with me on this, and that’s perfectly fine. This column is a literal platform for my opinion, after all. With that, it’s my opinion that while physical intimacy can be finite, emotional intimacy can not. Emotions are unpredictable, and are almost impossible to stymie when you’re constantly connecting physically. That’s just the way in which most hearts and minds work. To allow your partner a physical connection with someone while forbidding them from developing an emotional connection is to literally set everyone involved up for failure. It’s an unreasonable expectation, plain and simple, and your lover should have never agreed to it in the first place, PARTICULARLY in the earliest stages of “trying on” non-monogamy.
So, reader, in conclusion: Show this column to your lover, then take a step back and allow your lover the space and time to reassure and re-prioritize his partner (this includes digital space and time in addition to the physical). If I were them, I’d rewind back to before you came into the picture. I’d find a non-monogamy-savvy therapist and schedule 3-6 sessions to help them reconnect and to facilitate honest and open communication between them. I’d also initiate the “education” and “exposure” components of familiarizing themselves with polyamory community and practices. After a few months of this, if things are genuinely going well, your lover can reopen the lines of communication between you two, and you can start building a happier, healthier relationship. Best of luck!