My husband and I have started practicing polyamory for a little over four months now. It has come very naturally to me, but not my husband. I have had a partner for about three months and my husband goes through phases of being supportive and then being negative, creating “boundaries” that previously did not exist, being spiteful and revengeful. This is impacting my relationship with my other partner and making things stressful and hard to deal with in both my relationships. How do I deal with my husband’s negative feelings, and how can I stop that from negatively impacting my other relationship?
One thing I learned in the first few years that I was polyamorous: Emotionally adjusting to dating multiple people at once and emotionally adjusting to your partner dating new people are very different experiences.
This letter doesn’t mention if your husband has another partner of his own, but if he doesn’t, then that’s something important to keep in mind. Even though it might seem that polyamory isn’t coming naturally to him, it’s not fair to compare your ease with dating a new person and his difficulty with adjusting to your new relationship as though they’re the same thing.
Sharing a Partner Can Be Made Difficult By Unhelpful Societal Beliefs We Internalize About Relationships
People tend to experience different emotional realities balancing multiple relationships than they do sharing their partners. And it’s very common for people to have a harder time with sharing, especially when they’re new to polyamory. Not necessarily because they aren’t a good fit for polyamory (or at least will be, with time), but because there are a number of common societal beliefs that many people internalize about relationships that they are confronted with and have to work through when their partner sees someone else. For example:
- Affection is zero sum. When you care for someone, that leaves less caring to give to others.
- One person must meet every possible emotional and social need that we have.
- We must do whatever is needed to protect The Relationship — a simultaneously fragile and all-important entity. If this involves complete isolation, then so be it.
- If a love is true and valid, we will never, ever be attracted to anyone else. Ever.
- If the intensity of that love changes, there is something wrong.
- If we are attracted to someone else, this means that our love isn’t true. Or we’re a horrible person. Or both. Probably both.
- Jealousy is the best indicator of love.
- Commitment is about exclusivity and forsaking all others (and not followthrough).
- How much your romantic partner values you should be a large part of your self-worth.
The incredible thing about these beliefs is that they’re insidious. We often don’t know how many of these we’ve internalized until we’re faced with challenges to them. And one common challenge is opening up a relationship.
Navigating Relationship Agreement Renegotations
Now, that said, spiteful behavior is no good. While it’s somewhat normal for relationship agreements to be renegotiated once they’ve been “road tested” (as things often work out different in practice than they seem in theory), it’s possible to go overboard with revision as well. Here’s a post about renegotiating relationship agreements that has some suggestions about what to do if you’re being asked to change things you don’t feel need changing.
I will say that what you describe sound less like he’s setting proper boundaries and more like attempts to control the behavior of others. And while it can be extremely difficult to deal with, the urge to control other people is a common stress response for many people.
Dealing with a Jealous Partner
Ultimately, it’s up to your husband to learn to manage his own emotions and his own stress, and the best you can do is cope. But I did outline some ways of dealing with a jealous partner in an earlier piece, namely:
- Repair Any Rifts in Secure Attachment
- Don’t Get Defensive About Your Own Behavior
- Ask What They Need From You
- Follow Their Lead
- It Might Not Feel Like Anything is Changing, But Trust Your Partner’s Reporting
Seek Out an Uninvolved Sounding Board
Additionally, I’d advise you look to people other than your husband or your newer partner for support. Perhaps a poly or at least poly-friendly friend, and if you don’t have one of those, make some. Perhaps you could look into online communities or a local meetup. Being caught in the middle is difficult no matter what, and it can help to have a third party (or several) you can look to who is not deeply involved with the issues and can be your supportive ear.
I know it’s been tough, but I do think it’s a really good sign that while it hasn’t been all smooth sailing, your husband does have supportive phases. This signals to me that it’s something he’s likely struggling with and trying to work through, even if it’s frustrating for you to be caught in the middle.
It’s Hardest in the Beginning
The other good news here is that you’re still in the first six months. You’re both new to this. Polyamory is the hardest in the beginning, and the first six months are legendary as being the most difficult time for newly polyamorous people.
Hang in there.