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Poly Debriefing #5: The Hostage Situation

·603 words·3 mins
Poly Debriefing Relationships

Part #1 of the Poly Debriefing series is available here.

Part #2 of the Poly Debriefing series is available here.

Part #3 of the Poly Debriefing series is available here.

Part #4 of the Poly Debriefing series is available here.


One of the best things about opening my life and my heart to loving multiple people at once was the sense of interconnectedness, especially when considering phenomena like compersion.

The downside is that the reality of being intimately linked with so many others is also a serious liability. Opening up to more love can entail opening up to more pain, frustration, and disappointment.

Never was this so clear to me as when one of my lovers, especially my husband Seth, was hurt by someone he loved. When a metamour (a word used in poly circles to denote a person your partner is seeing that you are not involved with) hurts someone you love, be it for any reason, the fallout can be devastating. The same qualities that can cause you to experience so much compersion, empathy, sensitivity, etc, also cause you to feel a partner’s pain.

And the worst part is that it’s very difficult to do anything about it, without risking making the situation significantly worse.

In the moment, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to discern the offending party’s true intent – whether a slight is deliberate or incidental. The pain bursts forth, the explanation to come later, if at all. Additionally, even though intentionally offensive behavior is malicious and a great deal more troubling, it doesn’t mean that unintended offenses don’t do damage. This is further complicated by the fact that there are infinite degrees between the extremes of the completely benign oversight and the all-out attack.

To make matters worse, it’s difficult to completely understand a relationship you are not a direct part of, so as much as a conflict might affect you and cause you stress and pain, you are probably only getting a very limited view of what is actually going on. In addition, even in situations where you have a wealth of information, your own insecurities and vested interests (such as the desire to have as much time with partners who are splitting their affections with others) can bias your perspective to the point where you become inordinately upset with the metamour, attributing most or all blame to them in the conflict, vilifying them and completely ignoring your partner’s role.

This can cause additional problems if you mention these frustrations to your love, who may not be assigning any blame whatsoever to the other partner and may become highly offended that you’re doing so. Push too hard, and you risk alienating your partner and may very well trigger an additional conflict of your own.

In these situations, many a poly person becomes frozen in terror, watching a partner and a metamour intently in rocky times, worrying and fretting with little recourse.

I call this emotional interplay the hostage situation.

In a hostage situation, you’re watching what amounts to an emotional stand-off from a relatively short distance as a frustrated bystander, or perhaps you’re acting as mediator for the parties trying to talk them out of whatever crisis they’ve ended up in. In either case, there’s tension, and the stakes are high. In the first case, you’re powerless, doomed to watch what happens without having a hand in the outcome. In the second, you carry the additional pressure of being part of the process, and consequently, part of the failure should things go terribly awry.

These are the times when polyamory simply is not fun.


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