Poly Pitfalls: The Invisible Puppet Strings of Poly Guilt

a wooden marionette puppet that appears to be a gray-haired old man with glasses and a bowtie, shot from the chest up
Image by Anna / CC BY

“I can’t say I’m a big fan of all the rules we have in place right now,” he says. “Or the fires I’m constantly putting out. The distress calls. It never ends. Everything I do these days is picked apart. I feel like I’m under a microscope.”

I nod. “You do seem really uncomfortable with the way things are.” And I’ve had my concerns as he’s been speaking. Without getting too far into his personal details, what he’s been telling me over the last few weeks is starting to sound perilously close to abusive territory, if not already there (as always, it’s tough to know for sure how accurate people’s reporting is).

“I saw a post recently where you wrote about renegotiating relationship agreements. Something about it being there to serve you and not the other way around.”

“I know the one you’re talking about,” I say.

“So I bet you’re sitting there thinking I’m like the guy in that post, the one who was complaining but didn’t want to change anything,” he says.

“Oh, do you not want to change anything?” I say.

“No, I do,” he says. “That’s where you’re wrong.”

“Well, that’s good.”

“Good? Not really. I want to change it. I just can’t,” he says.

“You’re right. That’s less good,” I say.

“It’s just that she’s been so understanding about the whole poly thing. She didn’t want to even open up our relationship in the first place.”

I nod. “I remember.” It had been a shocking reversal, when she’d agreed to it. No one saw it coming. Certainly not me.

“I feel like I’m lucky to have anything. And if she’s a little ruder, shorter with me about other things, that maybe she deserves to lash out. You know, for putting up with all the stress from my dating someone else.”

The Invisible Puppet Strings of Poly Guilt

As Shea Emma Fett writes:

Poly guilt comes from the belief that we are fundamentally harming our partners by being poly. That we are taking something away that belongs to them. Poly guilt comes from the belief that we are selfish when we enjoy our other relationships. Therefore, we agree to elaborate systems of control as a penance for that guilt.

A lot of people enter polyamorous relationships feeling like they have one strike against them already, which can leave the door wide open for bad behavior.

This is especially true of situations where one partner was far more reluctant to agree to polyamory than the other.

The cultural stigma surrounding consensual non-monogamy certainly doesn’t help matters. The idea that you’re “getting away with something,” getting more than your “fair share”  when it comes to sex and love, that you’re doing your existing partner a disservice by simply dating another person.

It all leads very easily to poly guilt.

And it’s all too easy to manipulate someone with this force.

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Books by Page Turner:

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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