Stef's Poly Post Archive

Feelings, communication, and negotiation


[Does jealousy cause insurmountable problems in poly relationships?]

Polyamory *Helps* prevent jealousy, because IME, the more jealousy is talked about, and accepted, the less intense it is.

Polyamory Forces better communication -- well, that's a bit strong, but it did feel that way for me, when my partner and I began to have poly problems. Before the problems began, I saw us as reaching a communication equilibrium that was not particularly deep. And I was beginning to worry that we wouldn't be able to break the ice that had formed. The poly problems put a fucking blowtorch to that ice.

There are plenty of non-sexual interactions that can cause jealousy, but in the monogamous world that's not well understood. In the monogamous world, there tends to be an assumption that unless you're fucking someone, your partner has no cause to be jealous and jealousy is to be maligned and ignored. (Or the opposite assumption: that if you're jealous, whatever is doing that must be stopped immediately, no discussion.) Many poly folks know better -- jealousy has to do with time and attention and energy, not fucking, and it can be managed.

[Treating jealousy as an individual problem vs. a problem for the relationship]

Treating jealousy as one person's problem:

"Well, I get jealous when my partner kisses someone else in front of me. I know it means I'm insecure. I should work on my insecurity."

"I just couldn't resist kissing someone else in front of my partner. I know it means I'm insecure about my attractiveness. I should work on my insecurity."

Treating jealousy as a partnership problem:

"The problem is that I think kissing someone else in front of me is rude, and I get upset when it happens, and you think it's acceptable and feel restricted if you can't do it. So what do we do now?"

[What is jealousy and how does one deal with it?]

What is jealousy? For me, jealousy is based a bit on fear and a lot on righteous anger combined with pain.

Some people say "What kind of love is it that asks a partner to cease doing something that is fun for zir?" My answer: it's one that considers what's best for the relationship, and it works pretty well for us.

Some people claim that if you analyze jealousy and look at its components, it will go away. That is sometimes true and sometimes not. I think it's good to see the components of jealousy. But for me, seeing its components does not always make it go away. Actually, seeing its components combined with hearing a voice in my head telling me that I shouldn't be feeling it because it's irrational and selfish makes it a *lot* stronger.

Deciding that my feelings are natural is my best first step toward dealing constructively with them. Therefore, I avoid thinking that feelings, even negative ones, are "failures." When I am feeling something, I refuse to consider whether it is "appropriate to the circumstances"; arguing with my negative feelings only makes them stronger.

After the feelings have passed, I can consider their components and consider ways of changing things that will prevent excessive negative feelings. For me this always involves both working with my environment and working with myself. If I'm told that a feeling is "my problem" I will work with the environment by removing myself from it.

Finding that my jealousy involves an irrational fear does not make it magically disappear. However, over time, one can work with some irrational fears to make them go away.

Then again, sometimes jealousy is pointing out a real fear. Let's say I find the belief that my partner is treating me badly. I may examine this fear and discover that I do indeed think my partner is treating me badly. Then I have several choices: try to ignore it (wrong), try to change my belief (possible but takes a long time and involves a lot of effort), ask my partner to avoid some of the behavior that bothers me (depending on the partner and the behavior, may be easy or hard. May be combined with step 2.)

[What's the difference between jealousy and envy? part 1]

Jealousy vs. envy example: my partner and I are at a con, both of us in a puppy pile, and then my partner goes and cuddles with someone in a corner. I am cuddling with someone on the bed. Zie is having some fun and I am having the same kind of fun, so it's not envy. But I can't seem to enjoy myself because I want to feel connected to my partner and zie is not available.

[What's the difference between jealousy and envy? part 2]

To me, envy is "I want what you have." Jealousy is "Get away from that." Envy has overtones of longing. Envy is not self-righteous. Jealousy is.

For me, it was pretty simple to come up with the avoidance model of dealing with jealousy; what was tricky was learning when to apply it and when to try something else. I still use it, but I use it in specific negotiated instances, not across the board. If I hadn't learned that such negotiation was possible, the jealousy would have turned much of my relationship into an uncomfortable, not particularly intimate standoff. In one case where we couldn't find a negotiated solution, this did happen.

[What's the difference between jealousy and envy? part 3]

Here are my definitions:

Envy is desire to have the equivalent of something that someone else has. If my neighbor has a Jaguar, I may be envious, but not if I get a Jaguar too.

Jealousy is realizing that you don't have something you thought you had, and wanting to exterminate that thing as a result. If I feel jealousy over my partner's behavior with someone else, I want to scream NO and fling them to opposite sides of the room. (In this case, the "thing" is "romantic behavior.")

[Considering the origins of jealousy]

Part of handling jealousy often involves examining the situations in which it is invoked and the various beliefs that accompany it. If you call it jealousy and *stop* there, then it doesn't work very well. If you say "This is jealousy, therefore it must be obeyed," it doesn't work very well. It also doesn't work well if you expect to be obeyed because you say "I'm angry" and pound your fist on the table and yell.

But if as *part* of your working with the jealousy, you acknowledge that it is "jealousy" -- there is nothing in that that's a recipe for disaster.

Some of us do not use the word jealousy to avoid examining our feelings. We use the word as part of a way of *more fully addressing* the feelings, beliefs, and situations that surround the jealousy.

Here's an example taken more or less from experience (months of experience condensed into 12 lines, but the basic gist is there):

P1 "I feel jealous."
P2 {hugging} "I'm sorry that you feel jealous. I didn't mean to do something that caused you jealousy."
P1 {hugging quietly for some time} "Thanks. I hate feeling jealous. I feel evil."
P2 "It's not evil to feel jealous. It's OK. Is there anything I could do to help you?"
P1 "I seemed to feel the most jealous when you spent most of your time at the party cuddling with another person."
P2 "I want to be able to do that sometimes, but would it help if I spent more time with you during parties?"
P1 "Maybe, but I think I'd still feel jealous if I saw you with someone else. I think what would work better is for you to go to the party by yourself if you want to cuddle with other people."
P2 "That wouldn't bother you?"
P1 "Not on an occasional basis -- I'm not that big of a party goer anyway."
"Jealousy" can be a loaded word. But it doesn't have to be. And I think that denying it as a feeling also has the potential to seem loaded and manipulative.

[Considering the origins of jealousy, part 2]

I don't think jealousy obscures things or provides a built-in explanation. What explanation does it provide? (Unless it's a license for the non-jealous party/ies to cluck and say "Zie's jealous, what a shame" and ignore the issue.)

I do think that one can silence oneself by assuming that any negative feeling having to do with other people's relationships is selfish and evil.

I think people have different ways of articulating/explaining their feelings, and some people are better at it than others.

The first time I felt jealousy in my partnership I knew what I was feeling and why. But I believed there wasn't room in my partnership for that feeling, and so I felt I wasn't allowed to feel it, talk about it, or ask for any changes. So I let it fester.

[Jealousy as an aid to intimacy]

Why I choose to call my feelings jealousy: because based on my definition of the word jealousy, that is the word that best fits how the feelings feel to me.

What I gain: knowledge about myself -- that I feel jealousy in certain situations. This knowledge can be given to my partners. I believe that intimacy between partners is served by knowing each other as well and as completely as possible. Therefore, by using a word that accurately describes my feelings, I gain intimacy with my partners.

[Is jealousy fundamentally unhealthy/dangerous/bad? (part 1)]

I see jealousy and anger as very similar. I do not see anger as fundamentally unhealthy nor as something that anyone can or should hope to "outgrow". Of course it can be abused and often is, and it can lead to spousal abuse, murder, etc. But that doesn't mean anger is unhealthy; it means that people have learned inappropriate ways of dealing with it.

Same with jealousy, IMO. And if people continue to view jealousy as something fundamentally evil or immature *in itself*, then it will be all the more difficult for people to learn appropriate ways of dealing with it, because they'll be so busy trying to deny that it exists in their relationships, or busy trying to defend their feelings by passing the blame onto someone else.

I have only been able to appropriately deal with my jealousy when it has been accepted and listened to. When I believed that jealousy was evil or that it must mean I was immature in some pejorative way, (which I believed partly because of statements like the one of Heinlein's that you paraphrased), *that* was when I behaved badly under its influence. When my partners and I accepted it simply as something that happened when I needed something in the relationship that I wasn't getting, it ceased to be a big issue in our lives.

[Is jealousy fundamentally unhealthy/dangerous/bad? (part 2)]

What causes violence and murder is not feelings, but some people's inability to control their actions. I can be angry and jealous as all hell without committing physical violence against others.

It's rare and exceptional to find someone who jealousy well because most people misunderstand and fear jealousy so much that they won't look at it directly; they can only avert their eyes and say "Please get it away from me" or "Outgrow it!"

Do you believe that sleeping with multiple people breaks up relationships, therefore its basic nature is destructive and unhealthy? Why not? ------> Because wanting multiple relationships is a part of you that you *accept* rather than decry as unhealthy -- even though it is rare, statistically speaking, that engaging in multiple relationships brings more good things than bad.

Consider the following statement:

If the skills you are developing can put the practice of multiple relationships to good use, then more power to you. But I'd rather see people figure out what the wish for multiple relationships really means and fulfill those needs in other ways -- in other words, try to outgrow the need for multiple relationships, which are dangerous.
I don't agree with the above statement because I think multiple relationships can be dealt with successfully. I also think jealousy can be dealt with successfully. But first one needs to get rid of the idea that the very wish for multiple relationships is unhealthy, and first one needs to get rid of the idea that the very existence of jealousy is unhealthy.

I learned to observe and introspect about my jealousy *because I accepted it.* Not because I thought "This is awful! I have to outgrow it!" Likewise, I now can deal with my wish for multiple relationships because I accepted it. Not because I thought "This is awful! I have to outgrow it!"

[Is jealousy fundamentally unhealthy/dangerous/bad? (part 3)]

I won't necessarily judge you for feeling that you want or need to do violence or commit murder. I will judge you if you actually *do* violence (including murder) that is nonconsensual or harmful and damaging.

Can you give an example of someone's telling you "This thing about you is bad," and your successfully changing it as a direct result of being told that?

Can you give an example if someone's telling you "This thing about you is bad" and your becoming all the more determined to defend it as a direct result of being told that?

Which happens more often?

I think the first is only appropriate (1) if the person's actual behavior is targeted, and not what one imagines them to be feeling or wishing; and (2) if the behavior is causing distress to people around them; and (3) other methods have been unsuccesfully tried.

If you apply all three, you avoid telling people that things such as consensual kinky sex and polyamory are "bad." Instead, you use a more objective test of whether damage is happening to judge whether something is bad. And you avoid telling people that their feeling jealous is "bad", but maybe you tell them that you won't tolerate their breaking your crockery as a result of feeling jealous.

Few needs are overindulgent in themselves, IMO -- you have to look at the needs in context of an actual situation.

For example, let's say you want to fuck twice a day, and you have one partner to fuck with, and zie doesn't want to fuck twice a day. Is your want/need to fuck twice a day "overindulgent" or "bad"? Or is it simply a want/need that can't be met in that situation?

Let's say there is someone else who wants to fuck twice a day, and they have two partners, each of whom wants to fuck once a day. So that person's need is met because of the situation. Is their need "overindulgent" and "bad"?

Once you have looked, and seen that the behavior is causing damage, then you might legitimately label it "bad." But even then, going to the person and pointing a finger and saying "Bad person!" may not be the best course of action.

[Can you figure out how to resolve jealousy by looking inside yourself?]

It's important to look inside yourself, but what I don't like about this as a complete method of resolving jealousy is that it puts *all* the burden on the person feeling jealousy. I think in most cases, this is not sufficient.

The person in question sounds unusually self-oriented and self-reliant. I think most people cannot change all their emotional responses entirely by looking inside themselves -- they also need the help and attention of their partners when jealousy arises, and that includes feeling that they have the option of asking their partners to change their behavior. (Asking, not necessarily demanding.)

In most cases, I think jealousy is about both actions and feelings. Resolving jealousy, like resolving any relationship conflict, is about creating a relationship that has room for all the people involved.

Is this a reasonable conversation?

Person A:
I'm angry with you because you left dirty dishes piled in the living room for weeks and they got moldy and ruined the carpet.
Person B:
Well, your anger is not about my cleaning up dishes. It's about *you* figuring out why dirty dishes press your buttons.
Presumably not. Well, that's also not a good response to jealousy.

Jealousy can also be positive in that it can be a warning sign of changes in a relationship that the participants do not want. By dealing with the jealousy early on, people can bring their relationship back to a place they want it to be, if they choose.

[Is looking inside yourself the best way to resolve jealousy?]

I believe that men and women are capable of jealousy and capable of controlling behavior, and I believe that when someone insists jealousy means another person has to change zir behavior, part of what is going on is that the people don't know of any other way of handling jealousy.

Jealousy can be a very strong emotion. We are not taught much about how to handle it. So a lot of people develop avoidance behavior around it. "Don't do anything that causes me jealousy" is avoidance behavior that attempts to control another person.

In one (non poly) relationship, my partner was frequently jealous. We used the avoidance solution because we knew of no other. Later on, I got into another relationship where I was the one feeling jealousy. (Poly is a great karma distributor!) We started with avoidance behavior, but also we worked with other methods, such as communication and negotiation.

"If you loved me, you wouldn't do X, which makes me jealous" could be used deliberately to control another person, or it could be used because the person knows no other way to deal with the jealousy.

Looking inward can be important. However, I don't think it is the key to solving jealousy problems -- it is only one of the tools. My quarrel with some of the writings on jealousy is that they say or imply that looking inward is the key.

I've looked inward at my jealousy, and I've discovered various things about it, but that doesn't make it go away. Many of them are things from my past that I can't do much about, combined with certain features of my personality, such as a tendency to phobia, that I can't do much about.

Looking inward can be important because it can help someone to realize: the jealousy is not *strictly* caused by one's partner's behavior, but by an interaction between one's partner's behavior and one's personality.

But some people just aren't very good at looking inward or looking into their past. Such people need other solutions, usually based on agreements and action.

When I see someone trying to control another person (and I've been on both sides), I see a person who feels out of control of zirself and insecure because zie has bought into cultural beliefs about what zie should be and what the world should be that are impossible to achieve. My response would be to try to unravel those beliefs and give the person new ones that are easier to live with.

Same if I saw the person's abused partner -- I'd try to give zir new beliefs that zie can take care of zirself and doesn't have to put up with abuse.

[If I don't like my partner's partner, does that mean I am jealous?]

It's perfectly possible to dislike someone without being jealous of him/her and without being insecure.

Jealousy is usually a sign that someone feels a relationship is on shaky ground -- that someone isn't getting what zie wants out of the relationship. That could be called "insecurity." However, contrary to popular current belief, insecurity can be an *accurate* assessment of a situation. It is not always irrational, and it is not always based on unhealthy responses to your childhood.

If you are standing on a tightrope and feel you're getting off balance, that's insecurity -- but it's a response to a real situation, and it's a damn good idea to pay attention to it!

Likewise, if your lifepartner has just flown off to spend six months with another lover, and you feel insecure about whether the relationship is the same as it used to be, I'd say you have a very good reason to feel insecure: no, the relationship *isn't* what it used to be.

Sometimes jealousy and insecurity are irrational, of course, but not always.

Jealousy is not always bad or unreasonable. You are in a relationship, and that means you have certain expectations of each other and certain wants and needs you want met by the relationship. If they are consistently not met, you feel upset. That's reasonable. If your needs aren't being met, why should you bother to be in a relationship at all? After all, you're secure and don't need anybody, right? 1/2 :-)

I'd say a poly-friendly definition of jealousy would be: "upset at the [potential] loss of another's sufficient attention because zie is spending that attention on another person or thing, with the result that you want to force the person to stop spending [so much] attention on that person or thing."

You can't be poly and expect the total devotion of anyone else. You can't be mono and expect it either, unless you and the someone else are hermits that live in the woods with a lifetime supply of canned goods in a shed. People have other things they need to attend to -- work, children, friends, parents, cleaning house, watching TV, whatever.

If you don't like it when she saves her energy for her other lover, that probably means you want more of her energy. If she is saving *all* her energy for him, then *she* is not poly, because poly means dividing your attentions among several people.


[Resolving anger]

I got to the point where I could usually give out a snippet of information (such as "it's a button" or "it's not your fault"), something so my partner wouldn't feel scared not knowing what was going on. That would usually allow him to stay with me during the non-talking part and then I'd be able to talk eventually. Sometimes it takes a few days to go through the whole cycle, but once the immediate crisis is past we are able to put it aside for a while and then bring it up again to see if we can get additional perspectives/understanding.

We had a good counselor to help us and we worked with some books, too -- still it took about two years and multiple difficult sessions before we began to feel that the different ways we deal with anger weren't going to tear apart the relationship someday.

Given that anger is handled so badly in this society, either repressed to the point of core meltdown or used as a weapon, given that people aren't taught reasonable ways of dealing with it and have to muddle through on their own, I think we're doing pretty well, though.

[Handling strong negative feelings]

Feelings need to be given room, but they need to be recognized for what they are -- feelings, not rational discussion tools.

When I have a fight with my SO, there is usually a period where we are both saying "You did this," "Yeah, well you did that." And sometimes we get stuck there for a while.

But both of us know, when the adrenalin has boiled off, that it was a miscommunication, not a deliberate hurt. And we come back together and say: "OK, so when I did this, you thought I meant that, and you felt such-and-so."

To reflect the other person's perception of things is an amazingly powerful healing tool.

[Reconnecting after a serious problem]

OK. Things went wrong. Things went wrong because some people were not comfortable with the way things went and because some people tried to exercise inappropriate control over the way things went and because some people were deceptive and because some people decided that the rules didn't apply to them.

Now you are left with a mess, and you get to decide what to do with what you have.

You can continue to blame each other and put words in each other's mouths and try to force your points of view on each other and be polarized and defensive.

You can continue to each act out of your own view of what's right with little consideration of the other person's preferences and views.

These will probably result in your partnership's breaking up or dissolving into bitterness.


You can stop all this right now and take a break from arguments about polyamory to rebuild your relationship and focus on each other and on healing the wounds. Read a book on healing a marriage after infidelity. It can take a long time, so be patient.
If you work at it you have a good chance of bringing your partnership back together again.

THEN, when things are better,

You can begin to talk about whether you ever want to do polyamory again and what would be a good way to do it that does not cause discomfort to anyone and that everyone thinks is fair.
If you do this right, you have a good chance of developing a better model of poly, one that is OK for both of you (because you both like being with others, so you both get something out of being poly).

When you do that, keep in mind the following:

It helps very much to deeply understand the *other* person's position before you negotiate or argue with them. If you merely push your position on them over and over again, the negotiations will get nowhere. Put your energy into seeing their position, not plugging yours. (Read GETTING THE LOVE YOU WANT by Harville Hendrix.)

A poly arrangement must be based on mutual comfort or at least agreement. Basing it on guilt and principles does not work well. That means the person who wants to go the slowest and be the most conservative should get to set the pace. If that makes you think "But she'll control everything then," you don't trust each other enough to be poly. Go back to step one.

Fairness should be based on whether both people are getting what they want, and avoiding what they hate. Not necessarily on whether each person gets to do exactly what zie wants, or whether each person gets to do exactly what the other person gets to do.

[Healing a feeling of betrayal]

Betrayals take some people a very long time to get over-- as long as a couple of years -- especially if they are trying to maintain the relationship in which the perceived betrayal occurred.

have a talk and agree that J gets to set the pace -- she gets to decide when and how much you and B can spend time together, and/or she gets to decide what it's OK for you and B to do together when you're alone. I.e., perhaps she wouldn't mind your talking or doing some project together without any physical contact.

Security takes time to grow.

You have a right to feel jealous, of course, because you have a right to your feelings. And you have a right to seek a triad relationship rather than a primary/secondary relationship -- but you may not be able to get that with them. Patience may help, or it may not. I guess you need to ask yourself whether you're contented enough with the situation now that you're willing to go with it for a while, or if you're truly uncomfortable with it.


[Is fear at the root of every negative emotion?]

Some people live with fear as the root of most of their motivation. Those people experience fear as the root of everything. I used to feel that way, so I know. But for me (probably because of medication, not because of some great evolution as a being), fear is no longer the root of everything, nor of every negative emotion. For me, there is no single root. Sometimes I get angry because of a belief that something I see happening is *wrong*, morally. That rarely involves fear, for me. Sometimes I get angry because I feel uncomfortable, emotionally, physically, or spiritually. I could intellectualize and say that involves fear that the feeling will continue. But it doesn't *feel* that way. It simply feels like anger.

Yesterday my partner accidentally hurt me physically. I got angry and cried. But there was no element of fear there. It was strictly physical discomfort. I was not afraid he'd continue hurting me. The day before, I got angry 'cos he said a crucial line in a movie before it happened, and it spoiled the line for me. I was angry because he gets pissed when I do things like that, and I didn't think it was fair -- double standard. But not because I "feared" he'd do it again.

I think people are different, and trying to find a single root cause for people's behavior or feelings is inappropriate.

[How to view insecurity]

There are two ways of looking at insecurity. One is to assume that insecurity is all your own fault -- if only you didn't have these internal weaknesses, you'd be able to happily enjoy your relationships with your partners without ever asking anything from them in return, other than to be there when they felt like it.

The other is to look in your environment for things that might be making you insecure. Is one of your partners suddenly behaving in ways you didn't expect? Treating you in ways you consider unreasonable? If that could be addressed, would you feel secure? If so, maybe you're feeling uncomfortable for a good reason. Maybe your discomfort is not evil and harmful, but an important warning sign.

Let's say your partner comes up to you one day and slaps you (nonconsensually), and then repeats this twice a day for a week. You might feel angry about this. What would you assume is the source of the anger? Is it because your partner's behaving in a way you don't like and don't understand? Or is it that you have poor pain tolerance? (That's what your partner is saying. That's what your friends are saying.) Let's say your anger gets out of control on the eighth day and you hit your partner back hard enough to knock zir down. Ooh--now your anger is being called "very harmful." What should you do? Go to a firewalking NLP seminar to learn self esteem and pain tolerance? Or tell your partner that this behavior is unacceptable?

[What if a potential partner seems insecure about something you don't think zie should be insecure about?]

Are you sure that her disability is what she is unhappy/insecure about? Or are you just assuming because you note "unhappy/insecure" and "disabled" are both qualities of hers?

Ask one question about her disability. That will open the door to her talking about it, without her feeling pushed.

And let her give a damn if she wants to/has to. It's her body and she certainly has a right to feel about it as she pleases. Hold your own opinions and let her know what they are. But don't tell her to adopt your opinions. That comes on its own time.

[How do you deal with a partner who's insecure and self-deprecating? part 1]

It can be draining to be with someone who's down on zirself. It depends on how much you let that process get inside *you* vs. just letting yourself be there and witnessing the person as zie goes through the process. My primary partner did that for me (I spent a good year, maybe year and a half, very insecure a lot of the time; he supported me through it in part because it didn't really get inside him).

One of my sweeties is rather insecure at times. When zie begins talking about it, I tell zir what I truly think zir abilities are, and then I let it go. I can't make zir feel good about zirself all the time; I can help some when I am around, that's all.

I think (gender generalization alert) that there is a language difference between men and women that causes men to view most women as having low-self-esteem when we really don't, and women to view most men as arrogant, when they really aren't.

[How do you deal with a partner who's insecure and self-deprecating? part 2]

Witnessing isn't the same as observing or being distanced. Witnessing is being an active participant without being directly involved, like a notary signing a contract between two other people. I dunno if I can describe it in more detail than that without sounding like a new-age woo-woo. Maybe ... if you have kids, it would be like helping them learn to ride a bicycle -- you can help, but ultimately they hafta learn to ride it on their own. You can go ahead and let them fall down a few times without getting worked up, presumably, because you *know* they're capable of learning it.

The woo-woo way of describing it is that when you are helping someone through an emotional crisis, it's better to give the person compassionate ("universal") energy but not *your own* emotional energy. If you give your own energy, you get drained faster.

To do this requires trust that eventually the person will come through the crisis to the point where their behavior when they're insecure isn't a big bother to you. If you don't trust that that will happen, then it is difficult to witness, because you are putting pressure on fast results.

[How do you deal with a partner who's insecure and self-deprecating? part 3]

(1) If you tap into Woo Woo universal energy to help Mr. X, you may be able to help him in a way that seems personal to him without exhausting yourself. Not to the degree that he would like, since he wants someone else to take full responsibility for his life, and that is impossible to give. But possibly to the degree that a healing process might start.

(2) Insecurity and self-esteem issues don't always come with expectations of being taken care of. (Not denying your experience, just saying that I think you're describing only *one* sort of insecurity issue.)

(3) Even if a person expects you to take care of zir, the way you should treat zir is the same as the way you should treat someone who doesn't expect this: give what you comfortably can and then respect your own needs. I agree that when you're involved with someone, this can be hard; and you may end up needing to distance yourself to a degree, possibly changing the relationship. But sometimes if you treat such a person as if they didn't have these expectations, they respond to that.

I think the 'witnessing' ability is something that comes with practice and some people are better at it than others. I've developed it in part in conjunction with a spiritual path. At this point, WRT the people in my life who seem to have some insecurity issues, it is pretty automatic for me to adjust and balance, and I don't feel particularly guilty because I've worked on accepting my own limitations (so their insecurity issues are less likely to trigger my own. :-)

I also steer clear of the "leeching" type of insecurity very carefully, because I feel I have a responsibility to my primary partner not to throw our energy down a drain (if I have a problem with a partner, he ends up getting involved too because it affects my mood and what I want to talk about).

If it's the "leeching" kind of insecurity and you are giving your own energy and you don't trust that the person will stop leeching any time soon, it's pretty difficult.

If you're going to be in a relationship with someone, you need to feel that their behavior is acceptable over the long term (they might have some behaviors you hate, but those behaviors can't surface so often that you feel overwhelmed by them).

If the person has some behavior that you can't tolerate, such as leeching expectations, then I do think that you need to re-think your decision to be involved with that person.

So I guess the question is: what kinds of insecure behavior can you tolerate? And a related question one might ask oneself: how much does the insecure behavior affect you *directly* (by including a demand on your personal energy) vs. *indirectly* (because you hurt *for* your partner)? It's the indirect sort of effect that can be ameliorated by the application of "witnessing."


[What if the relationship's not working?]

You tried monogamy and discovered that it wasn't for you as written. Lots of people find themselves in that situation, since you can't really know how you'll react to something until you're there. I am puzzled, though, why you then concluded that the only choice was to unilaterally end the relationship. It seems to me that if you stay with someone for several years, and you still care about them, you more or less owe it to them to say "This thing about our relationship isn't working and can we negotiate some changes?" rather than dumping them. If you want out anyway, I can see using something like that as a lever for dumping them (I did that once, sort of), but that's different.

IMO, one discussion does not suffice to determine where the middle ground lies.

[Importance of style in negotiations]

Negotiation style: My partner has repeatedly told me "I'm really glad you like my family; that's very important to me." I'm sure that if I didn't like his family or acted nasty to them, I wouldn't do as his partner. However, he has never told me in so many words, "I absolutely need you to act friendly toward my family." If he did, I'd feel he was making a demand that I feel a certain way or that I hide my feelings if I didn't feel a certain way, and I'd resent it. I'd feel self conscious about how I was acting around his family and it might actually cause me to like his family less.

[Communicating and understanding your partner in negotiation]

Negotiation -- within the framework of trying to understand why partner does X and partner showing understanding, respect, and empathy -- works really well for us. We like negotiation. Actually, part of what we call negotiation one might call "knowing why partner does X." Often if we know why partner does X, we find it easy and natural to do some combination of behavior modification and not minding so much.

For the first nine months I didn't discuss my feelings of jealousy with my partner. Unfortunately, my partner took that to mean that I had no problems with what was going on, and it escalated to the point where I had big problems with what was going on, and I had to tell my partner, and my partner felt that I was suddenly dropping a bomb on him. So now we go perhaps overboard in the other direction and signal each other whenever feelings of jealousy start. Slowly the feelings occur less often, less intensely, and in fewer situations, although there are still some that set off alarm bells.

[Negotiating with a partner opposed to polyamory]

At one point in time, my partner and I had strongly different needs and beliefs around polyamory/monogamy. I wanted us to be monogamous because I was experiencing a very uncomfortable level of emotional distress around polyamory. He wanted us to be polyamorous because he had a strong desire to be able to touch and cuddle with other people, and my definition of monogamy did not include that.

We agreed to be monogamous temporarily.

My partner said to me "It's up to you whether we return to polyamory. But I should tell you that I am not sure I can tolerate a strict monogamous relationship forever."

I said, "I know I cannot tolerate a polyamorous relationship that was causing me the level of distress I was experiencing. If we re-open the relationship it will have to be using some formula that causes me less distress."

To my mind, in this discussion both I and my partner issued sort of ultimatums -- we admitted that this was a serious problem that could lead to a break-up, but in a way they weren't strict ultimatums, because both of us held open the possibility that our needs might change or that the situation might be negotiated to our satisfaction.

As it turned out, we did develop a formula that I decided might cause me less distress. So we re-opened the relationship with the agreement that we could negotiate a return to monogamy if it were needed. It has turned out so far not to be needed.

[How can I convince my wife to have a threesome?]

You can "convince" someone to do something by showing them that they will get something out of it for themselves.

I wouldn't have sex with someone just because they loved me and wanted to express their love that way. I prefer to have sex with someone because I want to. Same goes for threesomes. So if you want to have a threesome with someone, you can try to find out whether there is any form of threesome that they would actually want to try.

[How can I change my partner's faults?]

If you see something as a fault instead of a trait, then IMO you are always subtly putting on pressure for that trait to change. Putting pressure on something to change tends to make it stronger, ironically. If it's let alone, energy tends to drain out of it and it is possible to change it by focusing on something else.

I give someone advice two or three times, and at that point if they make no changes, then I conclude that they must want emotional support rather than advice, so I try to give that instead. "Yeah, I know how it is, it sucks to be shy."

If I realize *I* have something riding on their modifying their behavior, then alarm bells go off. I ask, "supposing they never change? Would I want to tolerate the behavior for the rest of my life? If not, what should I do?"

All issues between people who are in close relationships are by definition issues of the relationship itself. By saying that this problem in your relationship is your husband's fault, you are giving him control over your happiness.

Redefine the problem. Here are some possible redefinitions (no guarantees of accuracy):

Handling feelings

[Dealing with jealousy by looking into your past]

My past does not directly connect much with how I respond in the present. Changes in my feelings have much more to do with present stimuli than with revamping my past.

Take jealousy for example: My jealousy began to lose its force when it became OK to talk about it with my partner and when it became clear that my partner was willing to change his behavior, to a certain degree, to accommodate it.

I also explored and learned where some of the jealousy came from. That was interesting, and it helped my partner understand me better, but it didn't make much of a difference directly in how I felt in the present.

I don't feel jealous over how my partner's other lovers treat zir, but I did feel jealous in kind of that way a couple of times when my partner was pursuing someone who is acting unavailable.

For several years I felt that a child part of me was running large chunks of my life. I did a ritual in which the child part was provided with an older sister to help her grow up. So rather than digging back into my past, I am trying to grow up in the present. That works well for me.

[Feeling bad because you feel bad]

It works best for me when I don't try to line myself up to some perfect ideal paragon of humanity, and I just go ahead and do what I have agreed to do, and accept the feelings, and share them with my partner(s).

If my partner gets to spend some time alone with a person we both care about and don't see enough of to satisfy us, I feel envious.

If my partner gets misty eyed over someone and babbles about zir, I feel threatened. I know there's not likely to be a real threat, but there it is.

So we talk about it and usually my partner tries to avoid gushing about zir sweeties unless I'm in the mood and we try to equalize our time with people we both want to be with.

You might ask yourself whether your feelings are at the level of "just stuff to deal with" or whether they are strong enough that they indicate you're moving too fast into this relationship. I know that if my partner had been monogamous for 10 years and suddenly became unmonogamous 'cos of a specific person, I'd feel a bit threatened by that person's power over my partner, and I might wish to monitor their relationship closely for a while, and not encourage several days of alone time until I felt more comfortable with the situation.

[Origins of recurring problems]

If I have a problem, I am the best person to take responsibility to solve it. But I don't agree with the implication that if I have a similar problem with several people, that means the problem must be internal to me. It might be a mismatch between what I want or who I am and the culture of the area in which I live, for example.

Example: I love to touch people I like. For a long time, because I lived in areas where casual touching wasn't part of the culture, most of my partners and friends did not like to touch much, and I thought that there was something wrong with me for wanting to touch so much.

Then I moved to an area where casual touching was more common and more accepted. I concluded that there wasn't something wrong with my desire to touch people; there had been a mismatch between me and the culture I was in.

I think that all craziness between partners is a result of the interaction between them and not the result of only *one* partner's stuff. Second, I think it is quite possible to have partners who are similar enough to each other that particular relationship problems are similar from one relationship to another. Especially if part of it is cultural (see above).

[Communicating strong feelings instead of suppressing them]

I used to suppress my Stuff a lot because I believed I shouldn't be a bother. But then I realized that when the Stuff eventually came out, it was a lot stronger and more angry for having been ignored for so long, and then I got into the vicious cycle you describe of feeling guilty for having a reaction that's "out of proportion" to the situation at hand.

What worked for me was learning that I could bring up a problem as soon as it arose, and if I did so, I was able to deal with it and let go of it a lot faster, with an emotional reaction that was more in proportion to the problem.

That only works with some people, of course. My partner doesn't get defensive easily and doesn't use withdrawl as his first response. But we also work hard on understanding our reactions to each other during fights or outbursts and on learning to give each other what we want.

A lot of people are "fixers" and need to be reminded that some things can't be "fixed" by tackling the problem head-on.

[What if you're attracted to your partner's partner?]

Jealousy is so much harder to deal with when you're also envious because you're in love with *her* too. At least for me.

Try not to be upset with yourself for not liking the way things are. You want him, you want her, you don't have either of them. They're taking each other away from you. And that sucks! Really! Admit it -- you want what you want.

Now, at a separate time say "It sucks, but that's the way it is, and there will be and are good things about my life too."

It's much easier to accept your emotions than to try to "should" them out of existence.

Please do consider telling your partners of your feelings. That is the only way you might get through the pain to the point where you'd feel pleasure in watching them together again.

Telling them doesn't mean they have to do something about it, other than to say "Gee, we're really sorry." But it can really clear the air. And in some cases compromises can be worked out.

It's hard. It's embarrassing. But it can be really worth it. (Sheesh, I sound like a soft drink commercial.)

A new sweetie of my partner's recently told us of some jealousy zie was feeling toward me/us. It wasn't pleasant for any of us to deal with but I really appreciate that zie told us.

I know the temptation to leave someone so as not to be a bother. But I hope you don't do that without trying openness first. It can open doors to worlds you never dreamed of.

[Appropriate ways of expressing feelings]

It's a bad idea to justify harmful actions on the basis of the feeling underlying them. I think that whatever one is feeling, one has an obligation to express those feelings in ways that are not abusive or harmful.

One can choose not to act on a weak feeling, or one can choose to magnify it.

One should be very careful about suppressing feelings, because if one gets into the habit of doing this, they tend to magnify *themselves* and become very strong feelings that one must act on in one way or another.

And if one's primary way of dealing with feelings is to suppress them, then one does not usually have tools for dealing with feelings that one must act on; in that case, one is more likely to act them out in harmful or abusive ways.

Case in point: For the first few months I was with my partner, I experienced relatively mild feelings of jealousy whenever we were at parties and he spent time cuddling with other women. I suppressed those feelings. He had no idea I felt them. But I began to get obsessed with them and began to act anxious. I was not magnifying the feelings purposely, since I thought jealousy was bad and pointless. They were magnifying themselves, because I had been ignoring them for too long.

Then I hit a breaking point and no longer could contain my feelings. I tentatively expressed them. But since I'd never expressed them before, they caught him by surprise and he reacted defensively. Then they began flooding out full force, and the resulting tangle caused a lot of damage to our relationship.

I wound up feeling ultra-sensitive to certain behavior and I had to ask him not to do those things in my presence, even though they are things that most people would consider harmless. And if I had brought up my feelings at the beginning, maybe it would have been more easily resolved.

Now that most of the damage done by suppressing and erupting jealousy is resolved in our relationship, dealing with blips as they appear is working well for us.

[Disliking a partner's behavior]

I consider jealousy harmful -- if not to me directly, at least to my relationship with the person whose behavior is causing the jealousy. If my jealousy causes me to withdraw for several days in private hurt, that tends to negatively affect my relationships.

This has nothing to do with whether the partner meant to cause the harm -- just as if my partner accidentally drops a knife on my foot. To deal with the jealousy I need either to withdraw from that person ("they can't understand that I get cut when a knife is dropped on my foot, so I'd better stay out of the kitchen when they make dinner") or tell them what the behavior is that causes my feelings ("I get cut when a knife is dropped on my foot").

It's a given that considering where the jealousy comes from is important; no one is suggesting that we "just" deal with the jealousy. OTOH, if I try to analyze myself when I am upset, I get nowhere, so I must first try to deal with the jealousy as a feeling, just as I need to punch pillows when I'm angry.

Once I begin my analysis, I find that the jealousy always comes from an interaction between internal and external, not simply one or the other.

Then I (and my partner if zie's available) need to decide how to juggle things. Maybe my partner doesn't care a lot about the behavior that causes my jealousy and is willing to forgo it. Maybe I choose to stay away from situations where that behavior occurs. Maybe we talk a lot about it and over time that calms the jealousy. We've done all those things.

I've traced my jealousy back to some root causes that I can't eliminate. In some situations, I feel left out, and that causes jealousy. I haven't figured out a way to prevent this or talk myself out of it, so I think of it as a feature of who I am. I can deal with it by removing myself from the situation, but I prefer to use that only as a last resort, because I don't like to feel that I'm running away from things.

I have a filter that stops jealous behavior too -- one of the problems early on in my partnership was that my partner had no idea I was feeling jealous. But the filter affects my intimacy with my partner.

I wouldn't *expect* it either, and I was ready to leave my partnership rather than expect any changes (because it came down to that choice). But my partner let me know that zie'd rather change some of zir actions than lose or compromise our partnership.

If I had not let zir see any of the jealousy or if I had not let zir in on any of my process of dealing with and thinking about the jealousy, I might never have known that zie was willing to change some of zir actions.

What turns me off most about jealousy assumptions is the "either/or" mentality. People seem to think that either one person has to change zir behavior or the other person has to change zir feelings, never anything in between. It seems very rare that people are willing to address jealousy in the spirit of negotiation. I think if they did, it would not be so scary and threatening.

[What do you do if you're feeling uncomfortable with one of your partners?]

Perhaps you want an in-between thing -- that is, you don't want a committed relationship with her. If that's what you want, that's fine. You get a say too, you know. And there are no rules that say you have to marry everyone you get involved with. And there's no point in marrying someone you don't want to marry -- it doesn't make anyone happy.

I'd advise talking about it with her soon -- she may be relieved that you want to be an in-between thing, and then I think you'll both feel better for having it out in the open.

And if she isn't relieved, if she is not happy about it, I think that she should know anyway, so she can plan what to do.

There are no rules that you have to have a lover sleep over in your house.

Of course if she really wants to, and if your other partner really doesn't mind, then it also might be worthwhile to rethink your ideas about what's appropriate. I know how it is to feel guilty about something that really is OK with your partners, but working through the guilt by doing it anyway can be useful. That's how I learned to feel comfortable being poly...I used to feel guilty going off to spend an evening with a lover when my partner was home alone. But I don't feel so bad about it any more 'cos I've seen that it doesn't cause problems (usually).

[How do you handle conflict in a relationship?]

What I needed to learn in order to thrive in a relationship was not how to sound more understanding, not how to see the other person's point of view -- I was already so good at those things that it was killing my spirit -- but how to stand up for myself and insist that *my* point of view be heard and understood, how to express my negative feelings, how to say "I want" and "I don't want", and how to say "I really don't like the way you're doing that."

Only when I could take up the sword of judgement along with the lotus of compassion was I able to stay in a relationship comfortably.


[Handling manipulation]

Write down a Bill of Rights -- what you believe you have a right to choose in your life and what you are willing to do for others. For example, you might write "I will be polite to people in the house, but I have the right not to socialize with them" and "I have the right not to tolerate accusations; therefore I will leave the room if a discussion turns into accusation" and "I have the right to choose my own friends for whatever reasons I choose and to choose not to consider someone a friend for whatever reasons I choose."

Then whenever someone starts this game, hand zir a copy of your Bill of Rights and say "This is what I am willing to do. If it's not halfway, then it's not. Take it or leave it" and refuse to participate further in the discussion.

If you stand up for yourself, you will not prevent his getting upset or frustrated. If that's your primary concern, then your best bet is to do whatever he wants. :-( If you say no and mean it, he will probably get more frustrated at first. But over time, if you stand firm, a new solution will emerge.

I was in a similar situation with someone who kept putting more demands and restrictions on me and would get frustrated and angry when I resisted. I would get sick/anxious when he was angry, so I'd do what he wanted so he'd stop being angry. I ended up leaving that relationship partly because of that dynamic. One of the tenets in my Bill of Rights is that *no one* has the right to control me through fear.

He may feel that you don't care. That's up to him. You can't control how he feels. You might reflect that back to him, with an emphasis on reminding him that this is his feeling, not some Universal Truth -- "I understand you feel right now that I don't care about you. I'm sorry that you feel that way. I do care. But I am not willing to do {this}."

A book that helps a lot in teaching people to communicate this way is GETTING THE LOVE YOU WANT by Harville Hendrix.

[Controlling your feelings]

I don't agree with the implication that *anyone* who feels threatened "has utter control" over that feeling and chooses it, or deliberately chooses partners that will play into it.

Some people are just plain scared at the beginning of a relationship or when a relationship changes to something different. They can't be talked out of being scared necessarily but it is *temporary* once they see that things are becoming stable.

[Negotiating vs. delivering ultimatums]

When a negotiation turns into a power struggle, you pretty much need a third party to mediate, either a couples counselor or an observant and fair friend.

It looks to me more as if you are trying to control your life than hers. Controlling her life would be: "you can't be poly, and you also can't leave me, or I'll make your life miserable."

But simply "I don't want to be in a poly relationship" is not directly controlling. You are saying "Here's what I can tolerate." You and your partner gets to decide whether there is any overlap between your tolerances and zirs. And you get to decide jointly where in the overlaps to settle.

From here, it looks as if it wasn't the sine qua non in itself that led to problems, so much as some combination of context, delivery, and reaction to it.

In other words, the problem is in the relationship, the interaction, not simply in what you did or what she did. She might say: "If you hadn't said X, this problem wouldn't have happened." You might say: "If you didn't require Y, this problem wouldn't have happened." You're both right, therefore no one can be blamed any more than anyone else. Therefore blame is pointless and the best way to solve the issue is to start over from scratch with "What do I want?" "What can I tolerate?" and look for overlaps.

[Is it OK to want some control over your relationships?]

I think it is very important for many people to establish a *degree* of control in their relationships with others. Insofar as a partner can affects a lot of your life, I think establishing some kind of understanding about how that person will behave is important to feeling that you have some control over your own life.

For example, my partner and I have a written agreement that specifies how we can and can't pursue other relationships. This was done specifically because we needed some form of control over our situation so that we didn't keep surprising each other with unpredictable behavior.

In my case, jealousy is a feeling that I get when I have already lost something that is important to me, or I realize that I never had it to begin with. It's not fear, it's reality.

However, the "something" is not a person but a particular kind of relationship with a person.


[What if your partner doesn't trust your poly desires?]

(Reassurance) It's not the sort of thing that can be explained; it can only be shown through action and time.

Part of a solution may be to accept that this is a feature of your relationship and let C have her feelings.

If the feelings are *very* unpleasant for her, then you may want to explore what exactly about your friendships feels the most threatening to her and restrict some of that behavior (without giving up the friendships themselves).

If she thinks the feelings can be dealt with, then the best solution may be to give the feelings some space without trying to change your behavior or reassure them away. Witness them, and do reassure, but don't expect that to make the feelings go away. Just let them be.

Both of you can work on finding the place where you can have what's most important to you and she can avoid prolonged, unpleasant feelings.

For many people, it is not just sex that sets off jealousy.

How would you feel if you were asked to spend time with your friends without touching them? Would you still be able to find other ways of connecting with them that would satisfy you? (I've had very romantic relationships that involved no physical contact.)

Time, connection, communication, compromise, willingness to sacrifice.

The thing that helped most for me was my partner's offer to try monogamy (by my definition) for an indefinite period of time, and my partner's giving me a gift of something that would be only for the two of us, something that was important to me.

[Learning to trust your intuition]

If I trust myself, then I also trust my ability to "read" other people and to tell whether a relationship is good for me. I can thereby develop trust in my partner -- "OK, this person seems like a good person to have a relationship with."

Part of trust for me is also knowing what I can't know, what must be built on observation rather than hunch. If I am with someone new I can make an educated guess about whether they'll go outside the relationship at inappropriate times, but I can't know. If my partner has suddenly started behaving very differently (going outside the relationship inappropriately, when zie hadn't done that before), I will also need to fall back on observation for a while to figure out their new patterns of behavior. That's why, when my trust in someone is broken (which for me means that I can no longer successfully model their behavior), it takes me a long time to rebuild it.

While I am rebuilding trust, rules help me, because they provide an external framework (if the person follows the rules, that is). Later on when I have made new models of the person, I don't need the rules so much.

[What do you do if your partner is threatened by your other relationships?]

When you talk about or spend time with your partner (not sure which), your husband may feel that his role in your life is threatened. Arguing over primary/secondary may be a red herring -- He may just feel that he doesn't have enough control over your relationship with your partner and by association his own relationship with you.

Do you let him control, to any degree, when you spend time with your other partner, or when you talk about your other partner, or what you say? Can he say "Not tonight"? Can he ask you for several days' notice to get used to the idea that you're seeing your other partner?

Does he feel OK about sulking for a little while if you say you're going to spend time with your other partner? (When I felt uncomfortable, it was important to me to be able to sulk and not to be told how I "should" feel.)

What you *do* about the statements your husband makes depends on you and your husband. Would it be acceptable to you to forgo having a ladylove for his sake? Or would it be very uncomfortable for you? Would it be acceptable to him to feel threatened? Or would it be very uncomfortable for him? Is there any middle ground where both of you feel reasonably OK about the situation?

Throw out "shoulds" and "principles" and throw out the past. Focus on what each of you really wants, and what each of you can tolerate (never mind what you *should* be able to tolerate). Then if there is a middle ground, an overlap, go there.

I could not be in a primary relationship with someone without veto rights. Can he? (Never mind whether he "should" be able to.) Can you accept his having veto rights? Or do you need the freedom never to be told "no"? (Never mind whether you "should".) Is there any overlap? Go there.

In my case, my partner and I have veto rights over new relationships, but not existing ones. But if we're having a problem about an existing relationship, we take it very seriously. No veto rights is not the same as a license to ignore a problem.

Consider changing the rules if they aren't working as they stand. Leaving is easy. Working out an agreement between people with different needs is much more of a challenge, often a worthy one.

With regard to manipulative behavior:

1. Give it some room. Everyone feels and behaves irrationally or manipulatively at times. Don't expect perfection.

2. Understand the feelings that lead to the behavior -- without judgement. Often what leads to the behavior is a feeling of powerlessness. Understand where it's coming from and whether you are doing anything to contribute to it.

3. Don't tolerate behavior that you truly consider abusive, but do leave room for emotional outlets. For example, I tolerate stomping around the house, stony silence (for a time), occasional sniping remarks, but I don't tolerate "Fuck you" or hitting.

The most important thing I ever learned about relationships is that it's more important to do to someone as *they* wish to be done to than to do as *I* wish to be done to. (See Harville Hendrix's book, Getting the Love You Want.)

[What if you distrust one of your partner's other partners, but don't want to seem manipulative when you discuss it?]

Separate your feelings from your ethics. You don't like her, so of course you were relieved when it looked as if she were going to be out of his (and your) life, and of course you're frustrated that she's still going to be around. It's OK to have those feelings. The more you allow yourself to feel them without trying to push them away or judge them, the quicker they will pass (at least, that's how it works for some people).

What you *do* is a separate issue. You say that your ethics make you hesitate to ask him to leave another relationship. I have been in similar situations and I have the same ethics about pre-existing relationships.

On the other hand, I also have standards for my own comfort. I insist on the right to remove myself from the company of someone I don't like and to keep that person out of my house or other physical "territory."

YMMV, but the point is to separate your feelings from your ethics involving others and to remember that you should have ethical standards for taking care of yourself, too.

Can you talk to your partner and figure out some ways to minimize the other partner's impingement on your life, so she's more of an irritating whine than a jet-engine roar? Maybe there is some way for your partner to see both of you without the other partner's being *your* problem too.

As for worrying about issuing ultimatums: At its simplest, an ultimatum is a statement of fact. It's saying "This action will have these consequences." If your SO asked you to commit murder as a condition of your relationship, you'd probably say "No" without worrying whether you were issuing a manipulative ultimatum. If so, then you can also make a statement about the level of the other partner's involvement in your life, without its being manipulative.

[What if your partner is suspicious of people you're interested in?]

I often wind up being suspicious of people who are interested in my partner but who ignore me. In order to feel comfortable, I need a relationship of some kind with the person, too -- not necessarily a close friendship or a sexual relationship, but something that tells me zie knows I exist, isn't trying to avoid me, wishes me well, and if I have a problem, I could talk about it and zie'd make an effort to help.

If I feel I have that kind of relationship, then my suspicions fade, and they are almost entirely gone by the time I see my partner isn't going to jump into a bottomless pool of NRE with zir.

We have managed to a degree to get involved with some of our "circle of friends," but it can be tricky. It's trickiest if we are both attracted to the same person, because zie is probably going to be attracted more to one of us than the other, and that can lead to hurt feelings. (We are competitive.) Couples are also tricky sometimes because my partner is not especially comfortable in close quarters with a lot of men -- OTOH, we've had some very nice experiences with couples, too.

We most often divvy people up so that one of us maintains a friendship with the person and the other a relationship. This works best if only one of us is attracted to the person or vice versa.

[What do you do if your partner's other partner seems to be manipulative?]

Now that you are beginning to know your partner a little better, do you think he is likely to be affected by this kind of manipulation? Or can he make fair decisions even if she is trying to manipulate him?

I call this kind of manipulation "squeaky wheel poly". If he is going to run to her every time she manipulates him, then you will lose him unless you manipulate louder, and that doesn't seem like your style... But some people aren't taken in by the squeaky wheel stuff. He may be one of them. If so, and if she really is a squeaky wheel type, she'll either go elsewhere when she sees that she can't influence him, or else she'll learn different behavior.

If you trust his judgement, then what I'd do in your position is try to stay away from her and ask that I not be asked to interact with her, but otherwise not pressure him about the relationship, other than to check in about your feelings, and his, every now and then.

If you are not sure about his judgement, then I would talk about the situation with him some more, make sure my concerns were heard and understood before I agreed to be primary with him.

Have you talked with him about your belief that she manipulates, lies, and may try to break up your relationship? What has he said about this? What does that tell you about his judgement?

I had problems with one of my partner's partners, and for a while I constantly *wished* that they'd break up. But I never *asked*, and wouldn't have, any more than I would commit murder (although I freely *fantasize* about committing murder at times).

It's OK to want them to break up. Asking them to is different, and it sounds as if it's against your ethical system. But don't feel guilty about wanting them to. IMO, you should focus your ethical concerns more on your actions than on your feelings. Are you willing/able to let him have other partners? Are you willing/able to try to work out problems that might arise with other partners? If the answers are yes, then you're capable of living a poly lifestyle with him.

When you negotiate primaryness with him, you might consider a veto agreement for new relationships. That way a situation where there's a problem with another partner is much less likely to arise in the future, and you'll be pretty sure that it'll only be that one person that's a problem, not other future partners as well. Would that help?

If there were a "safeword" or "slowword" agreement about the relationship -- something like "anyone can slow this relationship at any time, or stop it at whatever level it has progressed to" -- would you feel more comfortable about exploring it? Knowing you had some control? I know that I feel better in those circumstances.


What if your therapist thinks poly is just a phase?

In my experience, good therapists expect people of all ages to go through many phases. People don't quit growing and changing. The therapists I know of (and I) would see a phase simply as a legitimate interest or choice, but one that passes.

An interest or choice should not be *assumed* to be a phase; a therapist cannot see the future. However, I do think it's legitimate for the therapist to discuss the *possibility* that an interest may pass or someone may make a different choice.

I strongly agree with the person who said the best way to find out if a therapist can support your choices is to ask directly. My partner and I found a poly-supportive therapist that way.

[Choosing a therapist]

Simple problems respond to a behavioral approach. Complex ones don't, necessarily. I would caution against people's believing that all their problems can be *solved* in 6 to 10 sessions.

My advice for picking a therapist would be to choose one who works with a variety of methods -- not just talk therapy, because many problems don't respond to talk therapy alone, and not just body work or emotion work or spiritual work, but a combination, and a therapist who is insightful enough to tell when to use the various methods.

[Is it OK to see a therapist?]

Some problems really do need to be bounced off other people to be solved; they cannot be solved within the relationship except with great difficulty. And in such a case, the other people should ideally be sensitive, reflective, able to assume a relatively unbiased perspective, and willing to put a fair degree of energy into the issue.

It's great if you have friends of that sort, but some people don't. Some people have friends who are busy, who maybe don't understand relationship problems particularly well, who aren't all that great at being unbiased.

In such a case, if the problem is the sort that really does need the input of a third party, seeing a counselor or going to a group is the best solution. That isn't going to fix the problem on its own. It's going to be a reasonable guarantee of getting someone to help you focus on the problem yourself.

I don't think there is something shameful about relationship problems such that they should be kept among friends and only taken to a professional as a last resort. I can't remember where I saw it, but some book I read suggested that if people waited to go to a doctor as long as they wait to go see a marriage counselor, doctors would be morticians.

[Isn't therapy just "buying a friend"?]

Why is therapy considered "buying a friend with specific talents," when car repair, financial advice, teaching, medical care, massage therapy, job counseling, and hauling are not?

IMO, the view that a proper friendship should provide therapy, or that therapy is a "paid friendship," shows how much shame still surrounds the idea of talking about one's life problems with others -- there's still a strong belief that such things should always be kept "in the family". It's also a woefully rigid view of friendship. People go about friendship in many different ways: some people talk about their problems, some people go fishing. The former is not a better form of friendship than the latter.

[When counseling gets difficult]

Counseling often feels difficult when important issues are being worked on. If your partner gave up because it felt too difficult, it might be helpful to try counseling again, and this time stick with it. I think starting it every few years and then quitting when it gets uncomfortable and then letting the problems lie unsolved for another few years would be a bad pattern to get into.

[How we could tell we got a good counselor]

My partner and I knew that we had a good couples counselor when, after the session, I said: "I like him, but I'm afraid that he might have sided with me more than with you," and he said: "I thought he sided more with me."

Communicating with your partners

[When do you bring up a developing interest in someone?]

We try to talk about new relationships as they are developing, but we reserve the right to tell afterward if things happen suddenly. However, we also reserve the right to veto a partner's budding relationship after the Deed if the new person comes across as a one-eyed purple spiky instrument of the devil.

Part of our understanding is that anxiety is to be expected.

The last time my SO got involved with someone, I talked with zir new partner explicitly about my discomfort seeing my SO being physically affectionate with someone else. Zie said zie understood how I felt. That took a lot of the pressure off.

[Sharing negative feelings]

One of the things I like best about my current relationship is that I can cry freely and I don't have to worry about upsetting my partner by doing it. If I knew my partner was upset by my crying and didn't want me to do it, I would have to shut down a whole lot, or keep away from him at times when I felt like crying.

[What if there's no communication in your relationship?]

You have a right to expect a reasonable degree of communication in your marriage. I would consider someone who's extremely resistent to working with me on what I need very close to being abusive.

Cheating will force things in the end. Are you considering it as a last ditch effort to make your wife open up? I do know situations where that worked, but it's very risky, kind of like trying to perform surgery with dynamite.

You would like to find a way that doesn't involve your confronting your wife. You want to avoid creating a stressful situation. However, you can't do that, because the stress is already there -- you can only put off confronting the stress until later, or do it now. If you cheat, you put it off, but it will appear at some time you can't predict, possibly a very inconvenient time for you and your kids.

Hendrix later goes on to say that the best way to help someone feel loved is to show them that you love them in the ways *they* want to be loved -- then they might be willing to do the same for you.

[Communicating and resolving negative feelings]

I think that it's very important for me to act on my jealousy under certain controlled circumstances, because it helps my partner to understand the strength of what I feel, which helps zir to more easily internalize the new patterns of behavior we've agreed upon.

The best way we've come up with for doing this is that I say I want to express some feelings and ask my partner to act as a "container" for those feelings (the terminology comes from GETTING THE LOVE YOU WANT by Harville Hendrix). That tells zir that I am not asking zir to fix my feelings but just hear them and honor them.

We find that a combination of sharing feelings and negotiating behavioral solutions to the jealousy-making phenomena works best -- better than one or the other by itself. And this also avoids the problem of jealous fits in public or out of the blue. We don't always succeed but we come close.

[How much should you tell your partner about your emotional ups and downs?]

In my relationship, I require some mental privacy. That means that while I am welcomed and sometimes encouraged to communicate about my moods, I am not required to.

Telling your partner your illogical thoughts may not stress zir all that much. When I did this to my partner at one stage in our relationship, I don't think it bothered him all that much. They were my thoughts and I wasn't asking him to do anything about them but listen.

[What if a partner doesn't see zirself the way you see her?]

Why does she *have* to see herself as intelligent/funny/beautiful/clearthinking/sexy? It seems to me that that would be asking her to adopt someone else's view of her, and I think her own view of herself is more important. It would be nice if she came to that view of herself on her own, and that generally happens over time if someone has love in her life. I don't see any point in pushing or rushing it.

I think it's enough for someone to be able to love others and herself a lot of the time. And to love others and yourself, you do not have to think of yourself as a paragon of humanity. You just have to accept yourself for who you are a lot of the time.

-- Stef, For The Promotion Of OK Imperfection (FTPOOI)

[What do you do when your partner can't talk about feelings?]

Some people find it extremely difficult to put their feelings into words; some people hate feeling *obligated* to talk about their feelings.

If that's the case, saying "talking about my feelings changes them" may be the only way someone knows how to say "I don't know how to describe my feelings in a way that you will understand" or "Please stop prying; I feel like a dissected insect."

If that's the case, it would be a shame if malicious intent were ascribed, and further prying wouldn't do much good.

My partner is somewhat like this at times. I've watched him sit silently for minutes at a time, struggling to put his feelings into words. He's also at times gotten extremely frustrated if after one of those struggles has yielded something, I say "Why?" or make some rational argument against what he said.

Now, it may be that someone can't deal with a partner who pouts and doesn't respond to pressure to talk about his feelings. That's up to them to decide. But it's for sure that there is no way to resolve a conflict if someone ascribes nasty motives to another's behavior. I think it's much more of a Good Thing if one bends over backward to ascribe *reasonable* motives and to try to understand why the behavior might be the only reasonable thing to do, given how things look on the inside to that person.

[Is it criticism to say that someone is shy or insecure?]

If you say someone is "too" shy for something, it does seem critical to me. Your partner may disrespect himself or overemphasize his faults, but that doesn't mean you have to. If I hear someone running zirself down around me, I usually put a "positive spin" on what the trait. If he were to say to me "I'm too shy," I might say "Maybe you just prefer one-on-one interaction, or net interaction, and dislike small talk."

Wants and needs

[Self-sabotage of your wants]

I really dislike the school of thought that looks first to self sabotage to explain every failure. There are a great many reasons why someone might not have the friends they want or the relationships they want, and internal ambivalence only one of them. Others include lack of knowledge how to meet or communicate with people, or being in a culture (even a part of the country) that doesn't value what you value or what you have to offer.

I prefer to think of failure to get what you want as a mismatch, and to begin searching for specific areas in which there might be a mismatch.

[What if another partner is getting all the attention?]

Avoid becoming a squeaky wheel if "squeaky wheel" means whining a lot and making unreasonable demands. OTOH, I think it is very important to communicate your *needs*. If you are always making room for your partner to run off to someone else who is squeaking loudly, your needs may not get met, and that may destroy the relationship -- your partner has a right to know that, and may not be aware of your needs.

If another relationship isn't going right, the goal is not to communicate a *concern* ("is this guy good for you?") -- that's her business -- but to communicate a *need* ("I need to know where I stand, so I can make my own decisions about this relationship, and I need you not to flake out of our plans, so I can make my own decisions about my social life.").

[What if you're not happy with your poly situation?]

So the other man is not particularly comfortable with polyamory, especially the "open" part; and she can be swayed by his demands into spending more time with him than she might otherwise. I call this "squeaky wheel poly".

You might begin by pointing out that she spends more energy on him than on you and ask her to answer honestly whether it is because he is more important to her (not necessarily "primary"), or whether it is because he simply makes more demands.

After that, it would seems that the only recourse you have is to negotiate with her by describing your basic needs in the relationship -- i.e., that when she plans time with you, she follows through unless it's an emergency; that she not spend all her time with you discussing problems with him -- making it clear that you'll enforce them (by withdrawing from the relationship if necessary), and asking what she needs to give you what you need.

If she really wants a relationship with *you* and is not just using you as a haven from the other man, she will probably come through. If she is with you primarily because you don't make demands on her, then you're probably better off without her unless you don't mind the way things are.

[What if you feel left out?]

All relationships have glitches. It's how you handle them that's important.

It's not "natural" to feel jealousy when one is excluded -- that is, not "everybody feels that way." But it's natural for *some* people (as in, even if they are self-aware and demonstrate reasonable level of competence in all areas of their lives, they still feel this).

I don't expect my partner and I to share all our partners exactly equally. However, if I am physically present, I expect to be included in whatever goes on.

If my partner goes to bed with someone who doesn't want me to participate, and I am expected to stay in the bedroom during the proceedings, I would feel excluded.

If zie goes to bed with someone elsewhere, and I am not included, that's acceptable, although I expect zir lovers to acknowledge me (as you mentioned).

We don't consider these preferences to represent unreasonable levels of insecurity. We consider it a matter of etiquette that if a small number of people are together in one place, everyone should be included in the activities unless it's specifically agreed otherwise.

[What if your partner is asking for something you don't know you can deliver?]

When I was in that position, I've said "I understand what you want from me and I accept that you want it, but I can't promise to give that to you, because it involves a change in my emotional state, and I can't predict my future emotional state to the degree that you are asking me to."

One thing I struggled for when my partner and I were carving out our relationship was the space to feel what I felt, when I felt it. My partner is cheerful a lot, and at first he wanted to try to make me cheerful. It didn't work; if anything it had the opposite effect -- I continued to feel anxious and depressed at times, but I also felt guilty and fretful about it, which made it worse.

Thomas Moore's book Care of the Soul was one of the first places I encountered the idea that sometimes a melancholy or dissatisfied mood is good and appropriate and something to be given room, explored. If you're melancholy or dissatisfied, listen.

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Last updated: 12/20/96
Created by: Stef
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Copyright 1996 Stef Maruch