Let’s say your partner is seeing someone new. And you really don’t like them. What do you do?
Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
The first thing you need to do is ask yourself: “Why don’t I like this person?”
It could just be a personality conflict (which totally happens). But here are some questions that can help you narrow things down and see if it’s another common reason:
- Do I feel like they’re smarter, funnier, prettier, sexier, or somehow “better” than me?
- If so, it’s time to invest that worried energy into dealing with those insecurities. If this is the main reason you object to the relationship, it’s likely to happen again with someone else. So it’s better just to take care of the root problem (here’s a post on becoming more secure).
- Do they remind me of someone from my past that I don’t like?
- As I wrote in an earlier post (I Disliked Them the Moment I Met Them: Transference and Jealousy), sometimes we meet someone, and for no clear reason, we dislike them instantly. Or we’re incredibly jealous of them. Sometimes it’s both. We do not come into relationships unbiased. Instead, we enter them as a collection of all of our life experiences. While this transference effect is powerful, it is misleading. Transference effects feel real but typically do not provide helpful information or signals that we should trust.
- Do I feel like this partner is too different from me? And that it means that my partner doesn’t really want someone like me?
- This happens most often in people who are new to non-monogamy. They’ll take their partner’s taste in other people very personally. I walked right into this trap myself when I was newly poly. I looked at Seth’s partner selections as a referendum on me as a person. To the brain weasels of my anxiety, every time Seth chose someone to date, he was giving me secret messages about how he viewed me. The things he wanted to tell me but couldn’t bear to be honest enough to say. So when someone was very different from me and/or someone different than who I would have chosen, I would get upset. I address one way of rethinking that here.
- Do they have a reputation for treating others badly?
- This is something that might be worth paying a lot of attention to. Now, bear in mind that what people say about others is subjective. Consider the source of the information (for example, we have a person in our local community who bad mouths everyone). And just because one person has a bad experience with someone, it doesn’t mean that others will. However, difficult people often have a traceable trail of bad run-ins with others, so I pay extra attention to people who have established a pattern of doing things I find unacceptable (e.g., abuse, extremely controlling behavior, violating consent, etc). Because while people can change over time, it isn’t guaranteed to happen.
- Did they treat your partner badly in the past?
- Hands down, this is my Achilles heel. When one of my partners decides they want to re-date an ex who wasn’t great to them, I struggle. And struggle. My brain boils.
The first three reasons (feeling someone’s “better” than you, reminds you of someone from your past you don’t like, or isn’t the person you would choose for your partner) can be very uncomfortable but bear little cause for practical concern. They are best addressed with self-work. This can involve speaking through things with your partner, but ultimately the responsibility falls on you to reframe and rethink the underlying beliefs.
With the final 2 reasons (a reputation for treating others badly or a history of being bad to your partner) you may just be on to something. But even so, be careful to check your biases and make sure that there isn’t some of the bias from #1, 2, and/or 3 mixed in with your concerns.
Let Your Partner Know
Once you’ve sussed out the reason behind it, let your partner know. As well as the reason why.
Even if the reasons have to do with jealousy, insecurity, or transference, getting it out in the open can help. Jealousy and fear love the shadows. Being able to identify and admit to insecurity and other uncomfortable feelings are key in feeling secure. Denying and hiding uncomfortable feelings only makes them worse.
But there’s a big difference between saying “I’m uncomfortable” and saying “don’t date them” (I talk about that a little at the end of this post). Make sure you’re clear in your expectations and that they’re understood. Feeling insecure can be very uncomfortable, but to me it isn’t a sign that anyone is necessarily doing anything wrong. Or that anybody needs to change what they’re doing.
If you do see concerning behavior, point it out. If you know this person has a reputation of bad behavior, share that.
I’ve run into situations where partners chose to pursue a relationship in spite of warnings from me and others. And while it was hard to watch things unfold (frustrating, painful to see them suffer, etc), I was glad I let them know my concerns. In more than one case, these warnings resulted in my partners figuring out unhealthy things were happening sooner than they might have had they not gotten the initial “heads up.”
Respect Their Time Together
But one thing is important to keep in mind: Even if you dislike your metamour (for any reason), it doesn’t give you an excuse to be a bad metamour to them.
When it comes to sharing time and resources, treat them like you would any metamour.
This means that you don’t intrude on your partner’s time with them. No Buttinski!
Disliking your metamour gives you a prime opportunity to wear the Friend Hat. Practically everybody I’ve talked to has run into a situation where they really don’t like someone one of their friends is friends with. So when dealing with a metamour you dislike, ask yourself: What would I do if we weren’t sharing a lover but a best friend with this person?
The Hostage Situation
It can be very difficult and frustrating watching a bad relationship play out between your partner and a metamour. Especially one that’s emotionally damaging to your partner. But at a certain point? Beyond giving them a heads up? There’s very little you can do that won’t end up hurting your relationship with your partner.
I call this emotional interplay the hostage situation. And it’s arguably my least favorite part of being polyamorous.
I wrote in an earlier post about setting boundaries in polyamorous webs that we can sort everything into 3 buckets:
In the first bucket are things over which we have direct control. Simple stuff like what you choose to wear in the morning. And more complicated stuff like how you talk to your partners. Maybe you can’t always control your initial emotional reaction to something, but you can control the actions that you take based on that emotion.
The second bucket is the influence bucket. Let’s say a friend or loved one asks for your advice about something. You can tell them what you think, but they still make the decision what they’re going to do with your input.
The third bucket is stuff you can’t control. Weather. Traffic. The actions of strangers or of people who don’t care at all what you think.
The hostage situation falls into that second bucket. You let your partner know your concerns. And if they generally care what you think (and you would hope they would if you’re in a relationship with them), this expression influences them even if it doesn’t change what they opt to do.
Once they’ve opted to purse something, can you change their mind about it? Maybe. But you don’t get to pick the time or the schedule. And maybe not. In healthy relationships, you don’t get to control other people, only influence them.
But all is not lost!
More will come in a later post on some common difficult metamour behaviors and ways to deal with them.
Update: I started to write another post and found I had so much to say on the subject that I had to write a book instead.
It’s called Dealing with Difficult Metamours, and it’s the first book devoted solely to metamour relationships, full of strategies to help you get along better with your partners’ other partner(s).